History Professor Robert Allison is preserving tales of state politics and policy-making through oral history interviews that will live in the Massachusetts Archives.
Allison is documenting the recollections of former Senate presidents and House minority leaders through a series of recorded interviews.
“Everyone I’ve interviewed thus far has been open, honest, and thoughtful,” said Allison, who conducted his hour-long interviews in the Senate president’s office at the State House. “After listening to them, I now have greater respect for everything that they have accomplished.”
Since August, Allison has conducted interviews with former Senate Presidents William M. Bulger, who held the seat from 1978 to 1995, Thomas Birmingham (1996-2002), and Therese Murray (2007-2015) and former Senate Minority Leaders David Locke (1989-1993) and Richard Tisei (2007-2011).
Next on the list are Robert Travaglini (Senate president, 2002-2007) and Brian Lees (minority leader, 1993-2007).
“Bob brings to the table not only an expansive understanding of Massachusetts history and the General Court, but also the ability to engage our subjects in a fashion that results in the valuable perspective so necessary to our project’s success,” said Michael Comeau, executive director of the Massachusetts Archives.
Senate President Stanley Rosenberg came up with the idea for the project and worked with Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr to bring it to fruition in collaboration with Allison, the Massachusetts Archives, and the Senate Office of Education and Civic Engagement.
Politics mixed with humor
Allison shared an amusing story from Birmingham, who, shortly after he took his Senate seat in January 1991, made it a point to tag along with his daughter’s third-grade class on a State House tour.
“Tom said that people must have thought he was a doting father,” said Allison. “But the truth was that he followed the class to learn where the other offices were.”
Commitment in the face of challenges
Allison questioned the political leaders about four main areas: background, leadership, legislative process, and legacy.
“Some of the issues they faced included budget crises, education, and gay marriage,” said Allison.
A common theme is the political leaders’ committed effort.
“The clear message was that they were all dedicated to their work and the concerns of their constituents throughout the commonwealth,” he said. “They also credited their political success with the relationships they shared with their colleagues, treating one another with the utmost respect.”
Once completed, the interviews will be retained as a permanent, public records series by the Massachusetts Archives for research purposes and available for viewing online.
A second series of interviews with members of the House and other lawmakers may soon be in the works, according to Allison.
“That’s the beauty of history,” he said. “It’s an ongoing thing that’s always being made.”
— Tony Ferullo