New England Patriot

Few take the responsibilities of US citizenship as seriously as Peter Vickery

Published in 2005 Massachusetts Rising Stars — May 2005

The roads are slick, traffic is a mess and Peter Vickery has driven 98 miles from Amherst to the State House in Boston for the weekly meeting of the Massachusetts Governor’s Council. He takes it in stride. The council, a holdover from colonial times, is responsible for approving judicial appointments in the state, and Vickery, a newly elected member, takes this process seriously. “Many of the issues that Western European countries deal with through parliamentary democracy, we in the United States have judicialized,” the native Welshman says. “So policy very often is fashioned through the courts.”

Vickery, 37, ran in November on a progressive platform. He defeated three candidates for the Democratic nomination before handily winning the general election to represent 93 communities in western Massachusetts.

No newcomer to politics, he had already drafted election reform legislation for the nonprofit Fairvote Massachusetts, of which he’s president; won a lawsuit forcing the powerful and now-former speaker of the state House to hold a special election for a vacant seat; and been active in the local Democratic Party and the National Writers Union (he writes about African- American legal history). “I’m from a union household, from a working-class, labor party area,” he explains, “and politics had always been an obvious way to effect important changes.”

If politics was a natural direction, his path zigzagged to get there. Raised in Swansea, South Wales, Vickery was the first in his family to attend college. “[My father and grandfather] didn’t fail to go to college because they weren’t smart,” he says. “It was because they didn’t have the opportunity. I think with the opportunity comes responsibility.”

He studied modern history at Oxford (Jesus College), before earning a diploma in law from the University of the West of England. His marriage to American Margaret Birney, an architectural historian, brought him to the United States, and he became a citizen in 2002 (the couple has three children). He enrolled in law school at Boston University and set up shop in Amherst upon graduating. Since January, he has been a solo practitioner of intellectual-property law.

His childhood hero was David Lloyd George, the Liberal Welsh politician and reformer of the early 20th century who started out as a small-town lawyer. “He represented some Nonconformist working-class people against the church of England because the church wouldn’t allow their loved ones to be buried in the cemetery [Nonconformists were Protestants who split from the Church of England]. I had a similar case back in 2002.”

Vickery represented the Westfield Veterans Council against the Diocese of Springfield, Mass., which banned American flags at the graves of veterans when it took over maintenance of a cemetery. Why? “Mowing,” he says. The injunction against removing the flags was overturned on appeal, so he drafted legislation, still pending, to ensure the right to such commemoration.

He campaigned for his seat on the governor’s council with a similar get-it-done spirit. He attended campaign breakfasts, ran in parades, shook hands, made phone calls and discovered, to his surprise, that he liked talking with strangers. It was grueling, but gratifying, proof that “if you pour yourself into it, speak from the heart about issues that you really believe in and you have wellqualified, enthusiastic staff — then you win.”

Although his party lost in the last presidential election, he remains optimistic about its future. “There are concrete achievements we can bring about here in Massachusetts,” he insists, suggesting single-payer health care and high-quality education. “We can build a city on the hill for the rest of the country. The next time around we can point to what ordinary, working Americans have created and use Massachusetts as the exemplar.” And his role in this? He plans to do his part in ensuring a first-rate, independent judiciary in Massachusetts and to get re-elected to the governor’s council in 2006, all while maintaining his full-time legal practice and raising three young children. “After that, I wouldn’t rule anything out,” he says, “apart from, obviously, the presidency.” He grins. “That darn Constitution.”

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