ORLEANS — Mixing business and politics isn't everyone's cup of tea, but state Sen. Dan Wolf had plenty to say about both at last week's annual meeting of the Orleans Chamber of Commerce.
The Cape Air founder, a Democrat from Harwich, received an award from the Chamber Nov. 15 at the Captain Linnell House for his “years of dedication to our community.” He chose not to run for another term and has been spoken of as a future gubernatorial candidate.
Every legislator on Beacon Hill has “district envy” when they think of the Cape, Wolf said with pride. On the other hand, “Yesterday, I spent six hours in my car – three up (to Boston), three back.” That's not a bad thing, he added, because legislators “are the only people who can fix it.”
Wolf does have another way to get to Boston. His pilot's license – “I learned to fly in Chatham 40 years ago this spring” – is still used in service of his airline, though his training in aeronautical mechanics is less needed. His Cape Air colleagues, he said, banished his toolbox to Guam, the airline's farthest outpost.
Founded nearly 30 years ago, Cape Air started out with a handful of employees and has about 1,200 now, Wolf said, with “destinations all over the world.” Replacement of its 95-airplane fleet has begun; last week, Wolf was in Naples, Italy to speak with the manufacturer.
Wolf said he owns 20 percent of Cape Air, employees another 20 percent, and investors the remainder. He urged the business leaders in the audience to consider the “tremendous tax advantages” of a succession plan that includes workers.
The senator and his wife met in 1984 at The Impudent Oyster in Chatham (“Lots of recipes on the menu are still Heidi's recipes.”) and raised three daughters in Harwich. As they grew, he said, he became more and more uncomfortable about the world they and others were facing with its limited economic opportunities, troubled educational system, and crumbling infrastructure. “It shouldn't take you three hours to drive 80 miles to Boston,” he said.
So he ran for the state Senate, succeeding Rob O'Leary, and has concentrated on economic development, labor and workforce issues.
“The biggest local challenges,” he said, “are making sure we get wastewater right. Another big challenge is housing,” including workforce housing. The biggest social issue, he said, is the opioid epidemic. “It's in every school on Cape Cod. We are the epicenter.”
Then Wolf began his most controversial remarks.
“What happened last week, who we elected, was a national tragedy,” he said of the Nov. 8 presidential election. “It's not a question of ideology, it's a question of character and the level of debate.” Citing actions and statements by Donald Trump that he said “lowered the political discourse,” Wolf said each of his daughters, now in their 20s, had called after the election in tears to ask, “'Dad, what can we do?' I didn't have answers.”
In the midst of Wolf's remarks, a woman (she declined to be identified afterward) rose to object. “Our political beliefs belong to us,” she declared, to some applause.
“I love that discourse,” Wolf said, “that someone stood up to interrupt me. All I can ask is that you be fact-driven.”
Wolf said he was “sorry to leave you uncomfortable. This is a time that we should all be uncomfortable. No one should be comfortable about what happened last week.” He sat down to a strong round of applause, with some standing.
After the awards ceremony, the senator returned to the podium to urge Chamber members as small-business owners to make their voices heard on Beacon Hill. “Legislation is written by big corporations, not small-scale providers,” he said. “The Statehouse needs to understand Snow's vs. Walmart.”