Two FSU alumni elected to Statehouse

Framingham State alumni Jake Oliveira, 34, Class of 2008, and Adam Scanlon, 24, Class of 2019, were sworn in as Massachusetts State Representatives on Jan. 6, 2021.

Oliveira, a Democrat, represents Hampden’s 7th District, which includes the town of Ludlow and as well as parts of Belchertown, Springfield, and Chicopee. Scanlon, also a Democrat, represents Bristol’s 14th District, which includes North Attleborough and parts of Mansfield and Attleboro.

Oliveira said as a newly elected policymaker, one of his main focuses will be taking on the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People are hurting right now,” he said. “The virus is taking its toll on our physical health. The isolation is taking a toll on our mental health.

“First thing is working with our partners in the federal government – our congressmen, our U.S. senators – to make sure that there’s funding relief that’s coming from the federal government to our states and our communities,” he added.

Another key issue Oliveira intends to focus on is education and eliminating student debt.

“Within our public education system, we need to make sure that we have reliable funding that’s promised – especially to our gateway cities and struggling school districts,” said Oliveira.

In regard to higher education, he said, “Our community colleges, our two-year degrees, our certificate programs, our vocational programs, that still require some level of higher education – we need to make sure that those programs are funded so it doesn’t fall onto the backs of students even further right now.”

Oliveira said he was the first in his district to enter the race for state representative and he did not face a primary challenger.

“There was actually another Democrat who was in briefly, but before the filing deadline of the paperwork, he dropped out and supported me,” he said. “It allowed me to focus directly on the general election campaign right away.”

Oliveira said he was familiar with his Republican opponent, James Harrington, as they had both previously served on the Ludlow School Committee together.

“He already had name recognition outside of our hometown of Ludlow,” said Oliveira. “So, when we were moving into the general election, I knew it was going to be close and we focused our campaign on direct contact with voters.”

Oliveira said having direct contact with voters was difficult this election season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was very hard this election season for any candidate running for any office because you kind of had to change the way you campaign,” he said. “There are very few events that you could go to, to interact with people.

“When I got into the race, it was in early February, which meant that the virus really was out there, but it wasn’t well known. And it wasn’t at a pandemic level yet,” he said.

Oliveira said he had to move a number of scheduled events – making fundraising far more difficult.

“I’m a people person,” he said. “I enjoy meeting new people, and it was really hard for me at the beginning of the campaign – in March and in April.”

Oliveira said following Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s Phase-3 initiative, he wrote an op-ed in his local newspaper that outlined how he would socially distance canvass.

“I would wear a mask. I back away six feet from the door. I would carry hand sanitizer,” he said.

He added going door-to-door was different than in past years because more people were home due to the stay-at-home advisory issued by Baker.

Oliveira said in previous years, when a candidate knocked on doors, there might be a 20 to 25% answer rate, but because people were home, it was closer to a 40% answer rate.

“People were cooped up for so long that they were looking to talk to people,” he said. “They saw you coming on in as something that was helpful to them – just to manage the crisis.

“We knocked on thousands of doors between July all the way to election day in November,” he said. “And I think that’s what really makes a difference in these types of campaigns.

“You’re going to represent roughly 42,000 people, and you can make an impact by introducing yourselves to folks at their doorsteps,” he added.

Oliveira’s margin of victory against Harrington was approximately 0.7% or 169 votes. The final vote tally was 11,262 to 11,093, according to the Associated Press (AP).

He said although he won the election, there was a mistake made by one precinct on election night that doubled his opponent’s total vote count, leading Harrington to believe he had been victorious.

“In any type of campaign, campaigns typically have what they call poll runners that go to each one of the polling locations and collect the numbers that are printed out from the ballots that are counted by the machine,” he said.

“We had people there at all 12 of the polling locations in the district taking pictures. They’d send them into our campaign. We tally them in an Excel spreadsheet, so we would get the numbers before it was even reported in the press,” he added.

“When we got those numbers in by about 9:30 [p.m.] on election night, we knew we were winning by a very slim, slim margin – by 134 votes,” he said. “Unfortunately, and it was human error and she ’fessed up to it, but the town clerk in one of the communities in Belchertown, who is the chief elections officer, actually doubled my opponent’s count in one precinct when she reported it to the AP.”

Following the mistake, Harrington declared victory.

Oliveira said he waited until the next morning to contact the Belchertown City Clerk to confirm the numbers reported were correct.

He said the city clerk admitted to her mistake and called the AP that morning. The race was then called in his favor.

Two-and-a-half weeks later, Harrington asked for a hand recount, following which Oliveira picked up an additional 35 votes, he said.

Reflecting on his time at Framingham State, Oliveira said it’s not just about getting a degree, but also about meeting people during college that makes it all worthwhile.

He said he is still in contact with many of his friends from college, and they keep in touch often through group messaging.

“Many of us were members of the Freshman Experience Program in Larned Hall during our freshman year of college, and we’ve stayed together all the way through,” he added.

Oliveira said although he made a lot of friends in college, he will never forget the professors he had and what they taught him.

“When I was in the government department, we had kind of very, very long-serving faculty members that were terrific, and were a wealth of information,” he said.

Oliveira said he would recommend Framingham State to any graduating high school senior. “Go there and take a look, because you will get a high-quality education at a very affordable cost,” he added.

State Rep. Adam Scanlon said his priorities going into this next session will be to help senior citizens and fight for a “robust transportation system.”

Scanlon said he will fight for education and make sure local schools and institutions of higher education are funded, ensuring that “we continue to curl back at standardized testing and look at ways to educate children in a more individualized type of setting and moving away from standardized testing.”

He said he will also be focused on the environment and would like to see the country adopt completely renewable energy by 2050.

Scanlon said he doesn’t align himself with either the “moderate” or “progressive” wing of the Democratic Party, and said his goal is to do what’s best for his district.

“I want to hear from my constituents, and I’ll act on their behalf. And if there’s an issue that I feel strongly, but what my district feels stronger about, then I’m going to go with what’s best for my district,” he said.

“I like to be a consensus builder, and hear what everyone has to say,” he added.

Scanlon said his Democratic challenger in the primary election, Patrick Reynolds, was a former classmate of his and the race ended up being the closest election that year in Massachusetts.

Scanlon was declared the victor by 118 votes.

In the general election, Scanlon said he defeated his Republican opponent, John Simmons, by approximately 9 percentage points, 54% to 45%.

“I was extremely thankful as not only a candidate, but as a voter, for the vote-by-mail initiative that was rolled out by the Secretary of State’s office,” he said. “And I’m hoping that can continue in the future to help increase voter turnout.”

Scanlon said campaigning during COVID-19 was a challenge for him as well.

“I had to drive around to a ton of houses to get signatures. And it was difficult because normally what you do is you stand outside a grocery store, and just get signatures that way,” he said. “Nowadays, you have to go to people one by one by one – and it’s a very arduous task.”

He said a majority of his campaign was conducted digitally with the help of many organizations.

“The way that we conducted our campaign was largely through social media and phone banking – making a lot of calls to voters in the district, as well as working with a lot of organizations like the Mass AFL-CIO, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, and the Sierra Club,” said Scanlon. “Working with great organizations like this was truly important to our victory.”

Scanlon said he also received a lot of grassroots support as well as assistance from people in his community who just wanted to help out.

His campaign didn’t necessarily have the most money, but “we had the biggest team in terms of grassroots support,” he said.

Reflecting on his time at Framingham State, Scanlon said he had close relationships with his professors and still connects with some of them fairly frequently.

Scanlon also talked about being part of the Student Government Association (SGA) and how his time as a member has impacted his political voice.

“I learned how to put my own voice to action, and I got to be more involved,” he said.

“I was also involved in a number of committees. I was involved on the Strategic Planning Committee, and I was involved with the hiring committee for a new provost, so I got to know a lot of people,” he added.

Scanlon said what he likes the most is being able to reach out to his former professors and ask them their opinions on certain issues, which helps him be a good consensus builder.

“That’s the biggest thing that I learned – and being a good listener,” he said.

Framingham State University President F. Javier Cevallos said he was proud to learn of Oliveira’s and Scanlon’s elections to the Statehouse.

“I know both Jake and Adam personally, and I believe both will make excellent state representatives,” he said.

“I’ve known Jake for several years through his work as an Executive Officer for the State University Council of Presidents, and I’ve come to respect his insight and ideas on improving public education in Massachusetts,” he added.

“I knew Adam as a student at FSU and was impressed by his leadership abilities, which were recognized with an award from our Alumni Association,” said Cevallos.

He said he believes it’s particularly valuable when young people get involved in politics. He hopes Oliveira’s and Scanlon’s time at the University has “provided them with insight into the importance of public higher education in providing access and opportunities to students from many different backgrounds.

“I’m also confident they learned to be critical thinkers who will examine all aspects of an issue before coming to a well-reasoned decision,” he said.

Christopher Latimer, professor and chair of the political science department, said of Scanlon, “Adam was a strong student. … He was very unassuming. I believe that was one of his greatest strengths. Never underestimate him.

“I am always excited when students from FSU accomplish anything they put their minds to,” said Latimer.

“When I hear from students who graduated about the great time they had while at FSU – the jobs they love or the families they have started – I know why I keep teaching,” he added.

David Smailes, professor of political science, said he knows Scanlon well, and from the moment he met him, knew he had a strong commitment to helping others.

“I think a strong case can be made that state and local government are the most important places for governing, since many of the decisions made at those levels directly change the lives of the people of the commonwealth, and I’m glad Adam will be a part of that,” he said.

“I always admired Adam’s willingness to listen to others and his ability to understand their perspective, and I’m sure during his time at FSU, he learned a great deal about the many diverse and challenging aspects of the lives of the people he met here,” said Smailes.

“I have every confidence he will take that experience with him to the Statehouse,” he added.

Olivia Beverlie, president of SGA, said this is a tremendous victory for both Oliveira and Scanlon.

“I hope that they continue to work for a better future for their constituents and the commonwealth,” she said.