Economic innovation and supporting the military through better technology topped the agenda when U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan spoke at UMass Lowell
earlier this month.
Trahan, a Democrat who represents the district that includes Lowell, said that a major part of her work on the House Armed Services Committee involves making sure that the nation invests in technology that helps to keep military service members and the country safe.
She said it was a pleasure to work within an ecosystem of defense innovation and technological development in Massachusetts. That ecosystem includes UMass Lowell, where the HEROES
and Fabric Discovery
centers are doing groundbreaking research on “smart” fabrics for military uniforms, better parachutes and other projects in conjunction with the Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center in Natick.
She also cited UMass Lowell’s research partnerships with the military in cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. And she spoke of how highly regional companies value the pipeline of skilled and hard-working graduates the university produces.
“So many folks rely on the talent that comes out of UMass Lowell,” she said.
Trahan’s conversation with Chancellor Jacquie Moloney
was part of the Moses Greeley Parker Lectures
. Moloney asked Trahan about her congressional trips to the Mexican border and Israel. Trahan said both were highly informative and gave her a chance to build relationships outside the capital with some of her colleagues.
She said she was particularly impressed by Israel’s innovation economy – and believes it is partly the result of the military service requirement for all 18-year-olds, many of whom go on to university afterward.
Because Israel’s armed forces leave most situational military decision-making to those on the front lines, Israelis learn at a young age to make decisions under pressure and take responsibility for them. That matures them in a way that prepares them for entrepreneurship later, she said.
“If you imagine you’re 18 years old, you’re making life-and-death decisions around how you’re going to defend your border … you’re not a risk-averse person,” she said. “It’s an unbelievable attribute that they have in their economy. When you think about the innovation and all the startups that Israel has by young people, I think there’s a direct correlation with this responsibility that they’re given.”
That got Trahan and many of her colleagues thinking about creating a unified National and Community Service Administration that would bring together disparate service programs – military service, AmeriCorps, Teach for America, the National Health Service Corps and community service programs – and expand them.
Trahan is a co-sponsor of the ACTION for National Service Act, which would create such an agency and fund expansion of those programs. HR 3464 is now in the House Education and Labor Committee, on which Trahan also serves.
Increasing participation in national service could promote the same kind of decision-making and responsibility among young people in the U.S. as compulsory military service does in Israel – and could ultimately benefit the innovation economy here, Trahan said.
Asked about her emphasis on bipartisanship, Trahan admitted that before starting her first term, she didn’t know whether it would be possible to work across the aisle on legislation.
However, she said she has succeeded in working with Republicans on bills that would require colleges to provide clear and standardized financial aid award letters to prospective students; improve water treatment infrastructure to keep sewage out of waterways; and provide incentives for small businesses to enroll their employees in 401(k) retirement savings plans.
“I think our country works best when sensible Democrats are working with sensible Republicans to get things done,” she said. “I see opportunities to work with Republicans all the time.”
Inevitably, the issue of the House’s impeachment inquiry came up. Trahan called for President Trump’s impeachment after the release of the Mueller report, which detailed Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election to help Trump.
Trahan said she ran to change the country, not to impeach the president, having seen how divisive the impeachment of President Clinton was when she worked on former U.S. Rep. Marty Meehan
’s staff. However, she now sees the inquiry as vital to preserving the constitutional balance among the three branches of government, she said.
“I got in this race to erase the income inequality gap,” she said. “People aren’t exuberant about this. … It really does weigh heavily on folks.”
She praised the civic engagement and enthusiasm of young people, too. Many were in the audience, including UML students, high school students taking a U.S. government class at Westford Academy and a group of young women from Lowell High School, which had an early dismissal day. Trahan took time after the formal program ended to talk with them and pose for photos.
Joy Destiny, a senior at Lowell High, was among them. She said her friend Sophia Cigliano, who was also at the talk, got her involved as an intern for Trahan’s campaign two summers ago. Destiny knocked on doors and called people up to help get out the vote for Trahan in the 2018 Democratic primary.
Destiny said she especially appreciated Trahan’s positions on immigration and political asylum. She also believes that Trahan, because she grew up in Lowell, “gets” people like her and her family.
“My grandmother’s an immigrant,” Destiny said. “She (Trahan) knows the struggles of Lowell and how people work here.”