By Angelique H. Caffrey
To say traveling is a passion for Pennsylvania Representative Matthew Baker might be a bit of an understatement. During his lifetime, he’s been privileged to visit about 35 countries, Morocco being among the most exotic. His trips around the world began in his youth, when his older sister began taking him with her on excursions. Not only did those travels open his eyes to the rest of the world, but they made him appreciate his hometown of Westfield.
He recalls his journeys with her fondly: “She was 12 years older. Since we didn’t grow up together at home, we traveled. We got to know each other. Every year, we took a major trip. I learned a lot culturally and educationally.” Sadly, Baker’s sister died more than a decade ago from diabetes-related complications. Baker helped take care of her before she passed away, making sure she received the attention she deserved during her final years, a testament to their unique bond.
Today, Baker’s most frequent excursions take place along Route 15, heading from his congressional district in the northern tier of the commonwealth to Harrisburg. Since the early 1990s, he’s taken this route, representing his constituents from a decidedly rural part of the state. It’s a position he never sought to hold in his early years, but is privileged to have.
Like many of his colleagues in the House, Baker began his career in the public sector. After graduating from college, he worked in a Wellsboro law firm whose senior partner was Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. At that time, Representatives didn’t have appointed staff members to help them, so the senior partner asked Baker to fill the role of staffer. “He wanted to hire me for two jobs: District Aide and law firm worker. We didn’t have to have separate State Representative offices then; you could just work out of your law firm.”
For more than 12 years, Baker did double-duty. Along the way, he fell in love with public service. “Handling hundreds of constituent requests for services and concerns every day really taught me a lot about the law and law-making,” he says. When his supervisor passed away due to cancer, the firm asked Baker to run for the House seat. It took four years for him to agree, and he won. Because the laws had since changed, Baker opened a separate State Representative office and has worked there ever since.
Next year, Baker will be the fourth-ranking senior member of the House, which gives him a novel perspective on the PA legislature. He’s seen plenty of changes, including the advent of social media and emails. He firmly believes in concentrating on the positives of those changes. He also strives to show respect in all areas of his life. “I love to write personal notes to everyone,” he explains. “I think it shows civility and allows people to find common ground. We need more civility.”
He’s pleased that the transparency and accountability has grown in the legislature. “In the 1970s, there didn’t seem to be as much information available to the general public with what was happening,” he says. “Now, people can track bills and amendments, as well as how a person voted. People have more access to their legislators and are more engaged.”
Baker has spent his lifetime focused on his career, and he considers his constituents to be an extended family. His wife, whom he met locally and married 27 years ago, has steadfastly supported him through long days and nights. Though Baker’s journeys are less global these days, he still has a heart for learning. He fills his free time with reading, which he feels keeps him grounded. “I have a personal devotion, a daily devotion, every day. Being faith-based is the constant in my life that keeps me focused.”