Representative Tim Madden takes stock of four terms

After eight years and countless ferry rides, the former state rep looks back on his time at the state house, and looks forward to time at his own house.

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Tim Madden (left) presented selectman Greg Coogan with a birthday cake at the 2014 groundbreaking for the new Oak Bluffs Fire Station. —File photo Michael Cummo

It was only fitting that four-term Rep.Tim Madden did not deliver his farewell speech to the state legislature last month, because he didn’t want to miss the last boat home.

“I spent the day before in Falmouth, intending to go, but the weather was looking pretty bad,” he told The Times in a recent phone conversation from the Nantucket home that he shares with his wife and three daughters. Outside, temperatures had gone south of 20°, the result of an Arctic, ferry-canceling blast that hit the region the day before. “It could have been a couple of days before I could get back to Nantucket,” he said. “I got what turned out to be the last boat. It was a slow boat, but it was better than no boat at all. It’s great to be home.”

Mr. Madden was the first island resident to be elected to the state legislature since Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket were redistricted out of their collective seat 40 years ago. Of the 160 Massachusetts state representatives, the gregarious man from Nantucket was the only legislator who had to rely on a boat or an airplane to get to work, and to get home, never a sure thing for an islander.

He said the travel, and the time away from home, were his main reasons for stepping down. He’s been making the commute to Boston for almost two decades — before his election in 2008, he worked for 10 years as Nantucket’s legislative liaison for his predecessor, Rep. Eric Turkington, from Falmouth, who occupied the seat for 20 years.

“When I started doing this, you would just go to the airport or the boat, whichever was more timely for where you were going,” he said. “I kept an office in Falmouth. That was my hub. I’d leave Nantucket on Monday mornings and hit either Falmouth or the Vineyard or both, and get to Boston Monday night. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday I’d stay in Boston, and do the reverse on Fridays, and hopefully get back to Nantucket Friday night.”

There have been many nights when he couldn’t get home. “I’ve spent my share of nights in hotels, and more than a few nights in Erik Turkington’s guest room,” he said. “It’s all part of the job.”

Travel within the the Cape and Islands district — Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, the Elizabeth Islands, and four Falmouth precincts, including Woods Hole — also has its challenges. A trip to the Vineyard from Nantucket can take longer than the trip to Boston.

“One time I made a commitment to attend a groundbreaking on the Vineyard on a Saturday,” he said. “I got the early boat off Nantucket, drove from Hyannis to Woods Hole, got on a boat, went to the event, got back on a boat, got in my car, drove from Woods Hole [to Hyannis], got back on a boat. It was a 12-hour day for a 15-minute affair.”

Mr. Madden said logistics aside, he made getting to the Vineyard a priority.

“I wanted to get to the Vineyard often, and I feel like I honored that,” he said. Mr. Madden said his wife, Nantucket native Dr. Diane Pearl, recently made her first trip to the Vineyard in 40 years. “She fell in love with the Vineyard,” he said. “She said up-Island reminded her of Vermont, with an ocean. She came home and started looking at real estate on Chappy; yet another boat ride,” he said, laughing.

Mr. Madden paused the interview so he could take delivery of a new wood splitter.

“We have some trees that have to come down,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of trees on Nantucket, but we have a horse farm, and you have to keep the pastures clear. It’s nice to have the time to do things like this. With Island winters, you can never have too much firewood.”

Capitol challenges

Mr. Madden said that educating his Beacon Hill cohorts on the logistical and financial challenges of island life was a constant challenge.

“When we were looking to establish a Veterans Affairs office, I would show other legislators the Nantucket boat schedule,” he said. “There’s three boats a day. You’d get the 6 am boat and most likely not get home until 10:30 at night. It’s $400 to take your car round-trip to get to a doctor off-Island, and that’s if you can get a reservation. A lot of legislators are stunned when they realize what it entails.”

Mr. Madden said the existence of a sizable blue-collar population on both islands is lost to many on Beacon Hill. “I hear them say, ‘Well, why do they live on the island?’” he said. “They don’t understand. A lot of people have deep roots on our islands — that doesn’t mean they’re rich.”

Home-rule home runs

In his freshman year as a congressman, Mr. Madden requested and was appointed to the Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government. Not the most high-profile appointment to seek, but it was part of a strategy to better serve his district. Almost all “Home Rule” petitions — legislation filed to address the needs of a particular municipality — must go through that committee. Home-rule petitions can be particularly valuable on the Cape and Islands, where unique conditions, such as a highly seasonal economy, astronomical real estate values, and dwindling housing options for year-round residents require innovative solutions that would not pass statewide.

“Our district files more home-rule petitions than any district in the commonwealth, starting with Nantucket,” he said. “I thought being on the committee would help move the bills through, and it did.”

Mr. Madden said one of the first bills he got passed was a home-rule petition that increased the first-time homebuyer’s exemption for the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission transfer fee. “The law was passed when you could buy still a house on the Vineyard for $200,000,” he said. “That really needed updating.”

Mr. Madden said his most memorable home-rule petition victory came after a Nantucketer literally missed her own funeral.

“A [mortuary] lobbyist group was fighting Nantucket having a funeral home after the only one on the Island closed,” he said. “The best piece of ammunition I had was a letter about a woman who actually missed her own funeral. Because we didn’t have a facility, her remains had to be sent off-Island to be in a licensed facility. The day her funeral was scheduled, we had one of those storms where the wind blew for three days, and the body could not get back to the Island. She had a lot of family that had flown in from the West Coast. They went ahead with the ceremony as best they could.”

Mr. Madden said he filed a home-rule petition to allow the town of Nantucket to own the funeral home and to hire someone from off-island to run it. State law mandates that management of a funeral home had to have at least 10 percent ownership in the enterprise. “The funeral-home lobby reached out to their reps to oppose it, because they saw it as precedent-setting,” he said. “We got it through at the 11th hour. I spent hours in the senate, walking them through the bill. When I explained it, every one of them said, ‘You’re kidding me,’ and we got it done. Quite frankly, the legislature is overwhelmed. There’s probably close to 8,000 bills that have been filed over the two-year session; maybe 600 have actually been signed into law.”

Looking ahead, home-rule petitions from the Cape and Islands face an uphill battle. In 2016, Provincetown, Truro, and Wellfleet attempted to pass home-rule petitions enabling the towns to tax seasonal rentals. In September, all three bills were designated “accompanied by study order.” “It’s a polite way of killing a bill,” Mr. Madden said.

Nantucket and Provincetown also submitted legislation to create a “Housing Bank,” which would fund affordable and workforce housing with real estate transfer fees, similar to the 2 percent fee that goes to the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank. Mr. Madden said he was not surprised that stiff opposition organized by real estate industry lobbyists and Republican legislators killed the bills. “When that was voted at Nantucket town meeting in April, we knew the chances of it passing were basically zero,” he said. “We filed to get a sense of what the issues would be the next time around. The real estate lobby makes it very clear that they are opposed to any increase to any fees for a real estate transaction. They say it hampers growth and it’s punitive toward them, and the burden should be spread across the tax base instead of a real estate transaction. They opposed the original Land Bank bill too.”

But Mr. Madden said he thinks the landscape is changing, at least for the seasonal rental tax.

“I think you’re going to see some movement on this for the first time, because Airbnb is forcing the issue statewide,” he said. “More and more real estate investors and mom-and-pop operations are renting by the night. Legislators are hearing that even their neighbors are renting out rooms, without paying fees or taxes, or having inspections. Now all of a sudden it’s in everyone’s backyard.”

Ultimately, Mr. Madden said all of his votes on Beacon Hill were primarily informed by his constituents. “If I’m all of a sudden hearing from 15 of my constituents, people who I know and respect, I’m not going to vote for a bill they oppose,” he said.

Wins in all sizes

Asked about the accomplishments he will savor while sitting by his hearth this winter, Mr. Madden cited the transformation of the Oak Bluffs lobster hatchery to John T. Hughes Hatchery and Research Station, the passage of the Ocean Act — the nation’s first comprehensive plan to protect critical marine resources and foster sustainable uses in the state’s ocean waters — and the Martha’s Vineyard vanity license plates, which benefit Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS) and other Island nonprofits, as a few that came to mind.

Mr, Madden said he also takes great pride in the passage of H. 2782, a “Farm to School” bill, signed into law by Governor Baker this September. The bill was the result of a collaboration with Vineyard students that created a joint task force to spread “Farm to School” programs across the state, and declared October “Massachusetts Farm to School Month.”

“Some of the small victories have been ones that have meant a lot to me,” he said.

There’s also a personal victory he will savor. “It’s not lost on me that I’m the only islander that ever held this seat,” he said. “I think I’ve shown the people of this district that you can represent them from the islands, and I’m sure we’ll see more islanders elected in the future.”

Mr. Madden said he wasn’t sure of his future plans, other than catching up with his family, splitting wood, and when the spring arrives, surf fishing and shellfishing.

Mr. Madden’s successor, Dylan Fernandes from Falmouth, was sworn in on Beacon Hill on Wednesday.

Asked what advice he would give Mr. Fernandes about staying connected with the Vineyard, Mr. Madden said, “I’d say to read the papers. The Times and the Gazette are both excellent newspapers. Take time to read them, read the editorials, and learn to read between the lines.”