Middlesex County's Gain is the Legislature's Loss

Monday, January 17, 2011

The January 14th departure of veteran Waltham state rep Peter Koutoujian to become interim sheriff of Middlesex County is a loss for the House but a gain for Koutoujian and the county.

I first got to know Peter a dozen years ago when he was House chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health and my firm was lobbying on behalf of the American Cancer Society. At the time, we were advocating for an increase in funding for smoking cessation programs.

Peter didn't just care about preventing smoking-related illnesses and deaths, he was passionate on the subject. He was deeply and fully engaged with the coalition seeking as much money as possible every year from the state's share of the settlement of a huge lawsuit against the tobacco companies for cessation programs.

In 2004, he was also among the leaders at the State House who helped enact the bill banning smoking altogther in the workplace, including of course restaurants and bars, where the wait staffs and other employees had worked amidst harmful cigarette and cigar smoke since time immemorial. During the bill-signing ceremony, held on the plaza outside the Bowdoin Street entrance to the State House, Peter served as master of ceremonies and did a marvelous job overall, but especially in killing a lot of time with stories and banter as we all waited (too long) for Gov. Mitt Romney to arrive on the scene.

A couple of years ago, when Bob DeLeo became Speaker of the House, Peter became House chair of the Joint Committee on Financial Services, a move generally considered a promotion because of the heavy-duty financial/regulatory matters the committee must deal with. Certainly, it was a recognition of Peter's talent and growing stature in the House.

I can't be the only observer who looked at Peter and saw a potential House Majority Leader or even a Speaker one day. His future in politics is still big; it just won't play out in the legislature. From a huge base in Middlesex County he could, for example, move fairly easily into a race for Congress or Attorney General.

Before putting on the sheriff's badge the other day, Peter was going on his 15th year in the legislature, but he is only 49. He has lots of time.

Speaking of time, I hope Peter continues to hold his annual "time" at the Black Raven in Waltham, complete with the live Irish music. I'd usually attend with my son, Brendan, who works at a nearby company, and Peter would always ask for him when I saw him later at the State House. I like to think that Peter, as the devoted son of two devoted parents, recognized the bond that Brendan and I share.

Reaching further in public life, Peter Koutoujian had to go from the State House. I am sorry to see him go, but I hope he goes as far as his dreams do.

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