Election Day 2012Berkshire County voters turned out in droves on Tuesday to select President Barack Obama for re-election and Elizabeth Warren as the state's first woman U.S. senator. County voters also came out strong for statewide ballot questions that would force automobile dealers to provide their software to independent auto repair shops by a wide margin and the use of medial marijuana, which also passed.
A non-binding resolution opposing the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, also found strong support.
A more controversial question, the so-called "death with dignity" or physician-assisted suicide, also found some support, although by late Tuesday it did not appear to have passed statewide.
State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, easily cruised to re-election in the 4th Berkshire District against Green/Rainbow challenger Lee Scott Laugenour. Michael Albano, former mayor of Springfield, won the 8th District seat on the Governor's Council against Republican Michael Franco.
Lester Dumoulin removes the ballots in Clarksburg at the end of Tuesday's election that saw high turnout for the presidential and U.S. Senate races.
Adams Town Clerk Haley Meczywor was a little harried as the polls were closing on Tuesday. She'd seen nearly 3,700 voters come through the door since 7 that morning.
"This is my first presidential election," said Meczywor. "I've done other elections, but this was the first presidential one."
Adams saw a 66 percent turnout in the end, with 3,926 of its 5,981 registered cast ballots. Meczywor said it was a constant stream throughout the day that had just tapered off around 7:30.
The Obama ticket won the day with 3,010 votes to Romney's 818. The independents did well in Adams, with Libertarian Gary Johnson garnering 52 votes and Judith Stein getting 25.
Warren continued her impressive victory in Berkshire County with 2,688 votes to Brown's 1,198.
On the ballot questions, Adams gave thumbs up to No.1, the right to repair bill, 2,588-917; No. 2, the "death with dignity" question at a close 1,928-1,864; and No. 3, medical marijuana at 2,339-1,409. The nonbinding No. 4 resolution on overturning the Citizens United decision polled 2,564 to 718.
Meczywor said a number of Democratic observers and one independent were on hand earlier in the day during some of the busiest times. "It was crazy," she said.
Clarksburg also saw a high turnout of 76 percent, although Town Clerk Carol Jammalo had been hoping for 80.
"It's still good, it was a good day," she said as the ballots were being removed from the boxes for counting by polling worker Lester Dumoulin.
The results were the same as other towns: Warren pulled in 515 votes to defeat Brown's 334; Obama dominated even more, taking 613 to Romney's 232.
U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, running unopposed, only polled 680 votes, or about 60 percent. On the ballot questions, Clarksburg voters also passed three No. 1, 617-207; No. 3, to 480-431; No. 4, 549-159. Voters balked at No. 2, the physician-assisted suicide, narrowly defeating it 436-408. Question appeared to have been defeated statewide even as the other statewide questions passed.
WILLIAMSTOWN & LANESBOROUGH
Early reports of high turnout in the northwest part of Berkshire County proved to be reliable.
By day's end, 77 percent of the registered voters in Williamstown and 73 percent of the registered voters in Lanesborough cast ballots in the presidential election.
"I'm glad it's over," Lanesborough Town Clerk Judith Gallant said at the end of a long day. "We had 1,612 voters out of 2,205 registered voters. That's an excellent turnout for us."
Eighty-one percent of Williamstown's votes were garnered by President Obama, who got 3,012 votes to Gov. Mitt Romney's 640.
In Lanesborough, Romney fared slightly better, but still lost 1,144-430. Obama took 72 percent of the votes in the town.
U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, running unopposed, talled 1,251 votes in Lanesborough and 3,038 in Williamstown. All other offices were unopposed.
The city saw a turnout of 66.5 percent, with Obama polling 15,600 votes and Romney at 4,044. Warren picked up 14,438 votes to incumbent Republican Scott Brown's 5,397.
The city passed all ballot questions: No. 1, 12,736 to 4,306; No. 2, 10,133 to 8,830; No. 3, 12,244 to 6,479; and No. 4, 12,308 to 3,490. Question No. 5, which appeared on South County ballots and one city precinct, was nonbinding call for Congress not to cut social services. It passed in Pittsfield 819-377
11:20 p.m. North Adams
Local Democrats erupted in cheers at the Freight Yard Pub — and the waitresses did a little dance — as the news broke to call the election for Barack Obama.
The elation followed the victory speech of Elizabeth Warren, for whom local Democrats had been stumping for months.
"This is Massachusetts' gift to the nation," said Richard Dassatti of the April 4th Coalition, who was sitting with a tableful of Warren supporters to watch the election.
"Sometimes when you meet a candidate something hits you, something they say just hits you in the heart," said Democratic City Committee member Joyce Wrend, who added that Warren had energized her and the base.
For Dassatti, campaigning for Warren in these last days was a chance to do at home what he'd done elsewhere during Sen. John Kerry's failed presidential campaign eight years ago. "I got to go to my old neighborhood," he said, and knock on doors and reconnect with families he'd grown up with and talk about the candidate.
Wrend said it was that boots on the ground through calls and canvassing that aided turnout - 60 percent or more in the county alone - for Warren. State Rep. Gailanne Cariddi said she started knocking on doors in July for Warren.
"This is probably the most organized campaign in Western Massachusetts that I've ever seen in all my years," she said. "The many volunteers were so great and I'm so gratified at the results."
A crowd of about 60 people were at Images Cinema in Williamstown to follow the results of the election on MSNBC and CNN. Not surprisingly, some of the biggest applause were for Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren when she stepped to the microphone on the other side of the commonwealth to give her acceptance speech.
If there were Republicans in the group, they were keeping mum. Among the comments overheard in the crowd earlier in the evening: "Utah to Romney. There's a big story." ... And, when a pundit identified as a GOP strategist admitted at about 10:15 that there was no way Gov. Romney could win the presidential election, another expressed some of the divisiveness that's driven this campaign: "Well, at least he's honest. How about that, an honest Republican."
Warren swept the blue Berkshires by 60-70 percent in each community, with only two still awaiting results. Even Otis, which went with Brown the last time around, swung to Warren 53 percent to 47 percent. Brown did manage to pick up Monroe just over the North Berkshire border, eking out a 51 percent win. His tallies were far better in the central part of the state and the Boston suburbs.
Nah, we don't think the president had time to stop in Lenox. But somebody brought this cardboard cutout of him to the polls.
Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli was the clear winner in the 4th Berkshire District on Tuesday.
By late in the evening, with tallies still coming in from the smaller towns, the incumbent was leading challenger L. Scott Laugenour 11,018 - 2,417
10:42 p.m. Lenox & Florida
The president may not have been in Lenox but his spirit sure was as voters went for the incumbent 3-1. Obama and Biden polled 2,318 to Romney's 677.
Warren also did well with 2,218 to Brown's 825.
Brown did slightly better in Florida but still lost. The Republican polled 164 votes to Warren's 220. The president had a significant margin, winning Florida 254 to Romney's 127.
Happy Democrats at the Freight Yard Pub in North Adams after the Senate race is called for Warren.
Warren won in Williamstown 3-1, gaining 2,921 votes to Brown's 789 votes. Lanesborough also went blue, handing Warren 1,078 votes to Brown's 499.
They didn't listen to Sheila Hebert in Williamstown and Lanesborough. She told them not to vote for her but they did anyway, giving her 1,630 votes for the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee. Except she's already on it.
Meanwhile, the other two candidates for the seat, Chris Dodig, who is currently serving, and Mark Schiek received 1,256 and 537, respectively. Read the full story here.
North Adams went big for Elizabeth Warren, handing the Harvard professor 4,094 votes to U.S. Sen. Scott Brown's 1,584.
The city also went for the president over the state's former governor, with Obama taking 4,427 to Romney's 1,144.
@iberkshires 1,000 ballots in Stockbridge by 5:30.— Andy McKeever (@A_Mckeever) November 6, 2012
5:00 p.m. North Adams
|Above, Unique Payne, left, Takheena George and Yvonne Camacho with the Vote Mobile; left, a voter checks the city's ward map.|
A constant stream of people were flowing into St. Elizabeth's Parish Center, causing minor backups and a sidelining of Ward 3 voters until the registration table cleared.
City Clerk Marilyn Gomeau displayed an impressive mastery of city streets as she herded unsure voters to their proper polling wards. A quick question of address and the voter was directed to one of the four ward stations set up in the gym. The city clerk was "crazy" busy and didn't have time to speak.
Outside, a few people were holding Warren signs - not Obama ones - a sure sign where the focus is on this election. Someone did leave a Romney and Scott Brown sign with a flag to keep them company amidst the Warren supporters.
MCLA was transporting students and others from the college to vote in the "Vote Mobile." Volunteer driver Yvonne Camacho said the van has been making driving back and forth every 15 minutes - at least 50 students had taken advantage of the trip.
They included Takheena George and Unique Payne, both from the Boston area, who were excited to be voting in their first election. "I didn't realize all the ballot questions," said Payne.
U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, right, was campaigning for Elizabeth Warren in Pittsfield.
Congressman Richard Neal doesn't have to worry about his election this year so he spent Tuesday visiting polling places throughout the county in support of Elizabeth Warren for U.S. Senate.
After visiting a few polling spots in the city, U.S. Rep. Neal stopped by Del Gallos Restaurant where he predicted Democrats to win.
"I think Warren wins and I think [Barack] Obama wins a narrow race," he said before meeting voters in the restaurant. "I feel confident that my new Congressional District will vote for her."
Neal predicts President Obama will win in Ohio, Nevada and Iowa to secure victory.
The Berkshires is notoriously Democratic with Warren's competitor incumbent Sen. Scott Brown winning only one of the county's 32 towns. The election will likely be decided around Route 495.
After visiting polling location, Neal said the county has a "very effective ground game" with a large voter turnout and a lot of signs for Warren.
Neal started election day in Springfield where he voted early and then had a breakfast with organized labor officials. From there, he came to Pittsfield and will stop in Lenox before heading to Westfield, Holyoke and Longmeadow. He plans to watch the results in Springfield.
11:45 a.m.: Williamstown
All indications point to a high turnout in Williamstown.
At 10:45, parking spots were few and far between at Williamstown Elementary School, the town's only polling station, and there were lines to check in and check out for every precinct. Poll workers reported that it was the lightest it had been all morning.
Voter Kevin Combs (above right) was outside the school at 11 a.m. with a sign encouraging voters to vote "yes" on Public Question No. 4. He said when he arrived to vote at 7 a.m., there already were people queuing up when the polls opened.
A colorful mock voting booth at the Milne Library.
Specifically, the question, which is on the ballot in most Berkshire County towns and both cities, seeks an amendment " affirming that 1) corporations are not entitled to the constitutional rights of human beings, and 2) both Congress and the states may place limits on political contributions and political spending?
"I don't like the idea of someone having any more say than anyone else. And when the Koch brothers can go out and spend a million dollars a day on negative advertising, and I can't do anything about it, it makes me feel like ... the system's not working."
Voter Guide: State Rep. Candidate L. Scott Laugenour
Lee Scott Laugenour
Q1: Right to Repair: Yes.
Q2: Assisted Suicide: Yes
Q3: Medical Marijuana: Yes
That piece of advice was given to Laugenour years ago from the owner of the Marriott Hotels, where Laugenour worked for 25 years, moving up from the front desk to a regional vice president. The California native found his way to the Berkshires in 1993, when he was attracted by the cultural scene. He started as part-time resident and later moved to Lenox full time.
Now, he is mounting his second attempt to represent the 4th Berkshire District in the state House of Representatives as a "fresh voice" for a government he feels is no longer working. On Beacon Hill, he is hoping to push out "corporate interest" that is keeping the government from fully serving the people.
"I don't believe our government is working," Laugenour said on Friday, just days before the election. "I think a number of people want to see some change."
Laugenour says he is going to be the "one voice" in the State House for that change for those who want things to run differently. Particularly, Laugenour wants to revamp the tax system, have the state to take over health care, increase green energy use and bring more money into cities, towns and the education system.
"We have an unfair tax system right now," the Green-Rainbow candidate said. "We are losing money."
Laugenour says he'd create a "fair tax" system by increasing the exemption for income tax to $46,000 — thus creating a more progressive tax. By taxing income more than $46,000 at about 8 percent, Laugenour says it will increase revenue for the state as well as create more of a "net" fairness because lower incomes would be paying less.
Increasing the exemption avoids going through a constitutional amendment, which would otherwise would be required to create a progressive tax, he said. Additionally, Laugenour says there are too many tax exemptions and the state should close some of those to increase revenue.
While opponents could argue that it would drive business away, Laugenour said he'd incentive businesses to move to the state by removing health-care costs. Laugenour advocated for the state to put aside 5 percent of gross incomes to pay for all of the state's health care needs.
"Universal health care is as important as roads and bridges," Laugenour said, adding that other countries he has lived in have been successful in creating universal systems. But in the United States, he says lobbyists have derailed that conversation.
The increased revenue gained from a new tax system would allow the state to provide investments in education, cities and towns, and public transportation, he said. He recalled when he was going to school, his music teachers had a closet full of instruments that he could borrow, which triggered his interest in music and eventually led him to the Berkshires.
Now, he said, many students don't have those options and those type of extracurricular classes require parents to pay a fee, which does not provide equality across economic levels. As a former English teacher in Japan, Laugenour said he highly regards public education and wants to raise the level here.
Another service role the government could play would be to allow municipalities to own their own utilities, he said, and would encourage undoing a law that outlaws that type of ownership. In the 20 or so communities that do still own their electrical services, the storm response has been stronger and the rates are lower, he said.
With ownership of energy, Laugenour hopes that it would increase the use of solar, wind, hydro and conservation to decrease the state's carbon footprint. He believes that all of those options need to be utilized but it'll be up to the towns to decide which projects they want.
While some argued that the recently spiked wind-siting bill would streamline and encourage wind power, Laugenour says he does not support that bill because it opens the door for more corruption.
Instead of a three-member appointed panel to make the decision for a town, Laugenour said those projects should go to town meeting. That will create more openness in the process because any "secretive" deals could be voted down, he said.
"There are some projects at town meeting that will be supported," Laugenour said. "There are projects I'd vote for and there are projects I'd vote against here... every project is different."
To increase conservation, Laugenour also says public transportation needs to be expanded across the state.
Voter Guide: State Rep. Candidate William 'Smitty' Pignatelli
William 'Smitty' Pignatelli
Q1: Right to Repair: Yes.
Q2: Assisted Suicide: No
Q3: Medical Marijuana: No
"I still love my job. I still have a lot of passion for this job and we're doing great things," the incumbent Democrat said on Thursday. "I think Massachusetts is on the right track for fiscal stability."
Pignatelli will be back on the ballot on Nov. 6 against challenger Lee Scott Langenour for the state House of Representatives seat for the 4th Berkshire District.
Coming out of a recession, the state is getting stronger and now Pignatelli is hoping to increase funding for cities and towns, increase fairness in transportation funding, close tax exemptions and further support education.
Being the incumbent, the Lenox native, who began his elected career in 1986 as a member of the Lenox Planning Board, points to the accomplishments the Legislature has already made and said he hopes to continue building on that progress. The state is one of three with a $1 billion or more in surplus funds, he said, but the other two are dependent on oil.
That surplus, along with the highest bond rating the state's ever had, positions Massachusetts to make more investments in roads, bridges and dams, he said. With a lower interest rate on bonds, Pignatelli said there will be a serious discussion about rebuilding the state "for the long term."
Transportation, however, is expected to be a major debate soon as Beacon Hill looks at the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority. The MBTA receives about $27.4 million of sales taxes generated from the Berkshires but only $1.8 million comes back to the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority. Pignatelli said he will be fighting to let the county keep the money it generates to fund and expand the BRTA.
For cities and town, Pignatelli said there is growing investment from the state in local aid but the Legislature has also given municipalities tools to raise their own revenue with the optional hotel-motels and meals taxes as well as the Community Preservation Act.
"The state can't be the answer to all of a community's problems," Pignatelli said. "They have to be somewhat self-reliant."
The state could also have tools to raise additional revenue by re-examining the tax code and making sure the exemptions are going to the "right" people. While Pignatelli said he'd like a progressive tax, he doesn't see a constitutional amendment to make it happen passing. Instead, 2013 should be the year the Legislature picks through the tax code and adjusts it, he said..
"The idea of taxes in any shape or form is always an uphill fight with the Legislature," Pignatelli said.
Municipalities and businesses will see an economic benefit from the health-care cost reform the Legislature passed this year. The reforms emphasize preventive care and limits cost increases to 3 percent, he said.
"Health care was bankrupting our state," Pignatelli said. "We have to start stressing healthier living."
That change will be monitored but Pignatelli said he believes the bill will limit the rising costs.
Education has also seen an increase in state funding, he said, in both infrastructure as well as aiding cities and towns. Regional school transportation is still underfunded, he said, and to help the district's schools that "promise" needs to be reached.
"I think we to recognize and embrace the importance of education," Pignatelli said.
While there has been a push in the state for regionalization in schools and municipalities to lower costs. Pignatelli said he doesn't support a "full-blown" regionalization but would like to see great collaboration.
However, the threat to the district's growth is an "epidemic" of drug use, Pignatelli said. He said he will be voting against the state ballot initiative to allow medical marijuana the same way he voted against the ballot initiative to decriminalize possession of small amounts of the drug a few years ago.
"Since then, we've had an increase in South County teens using marijuana," Pignatelli. "We have an epidemic and I don't want to introduce another drug that we don't have control of."
Pignatelli said the state has made strides toward reducing drug use by implementing the prescription monitoring program, which monitors which pills doctors prescribe to patients. Pignatelli said he'd like to see an increase in rehabilitation centers along with strong controls to keep addicts in them. He'd like to see more beds in the already existing detoxification clinics like the McGee Unit at Berkshire Medical Center.
As for the environment, Pignatelli says he supports solar the most and would like to see more Berkshire buildings with solar panels because those are "out of sight, out of mind" but reap a benefit to the owners.
"I am a huge champion of solar. I think we can do more on solar. I think we need to incentivize individuals and communities to tap into that solar market. Currently, the money goes to the wrong people. The incentives go to the corporations and developers and I'd rather see those dollars go to the consumer," Pignatelli said.
The Berkshires draw tourism dollar because of its "natural beauty" and Pignatelli said he wants to preserve it. Wind could be unsightly, though he isn't against the use of wind in all occasions. He said he voted against the wind siting bill because it lacked local control and thinks such projects should go through local planning boards.
Pignatelli Urges No Vote on Physician-Assisted Suicide
The Lenox Democrat is joining a list of elected officials, medical community organizations, religious leaders, clergy and other groups who say Question 2 is deeply flawed and lacks critical safeguards for protecting patients.
"Question 2 would allow patients to receive a fatal prescription of 100 secanol pills at their local pharmacy without any family notification, and without the benefit of receiving a qualified psychiatric evaluation or consultation from a palliative care expert. This poses grave risks for the commonwealth and how we approach end-of-life care," said Pignatelli. "On Nov. 6, I urge the people of the 4th Berkshire district to vote NO on Question 2."
Among Pignatelli's concerns with Question 2:
• The lethal prescription would be dispensed at a local pharmacy and public health official would have no system for tracking the lethal dose.
• A physician would not be required to be present when a patient takes the pill, leaving him or her vulnerable to complications and injury not resulting in death.
• There is no required psychiatric evaluation despite multiple studies indicating 30 to 50 percent of patients with a terminal diagnosis develop — treatable — depression
• Patients with a prognosis of six months or fewer to live could choose to end their lives, even though most doctors admit they cannot accurately predict life expectancy.
• Patients could choose to end their lives without ever talking to a spouse or family member.
• Patients could obtain a lethal prescription without talking to hospice and palliative care professionals, who are trained to help people with ongoing diseases (some terminal, some not) to manage their symptoms and minimize pain.
Pignatelli cited the recent statement by the Massachusetts Academy of Family Physicians which criticized using the ballot question for such a nuanced and complex area of medicine as a "disservice to the citizens of the commonwealth."
Previously, the Massachusetts Medical Society, Massachusetts Academy of Family Physicians and the Massachusetts Osteopathic Society have each announced their opposition to Question 2.
Pignatelli Receives Number of Endorsements
The Lenox Democrat has received the official endorsement of his colleagues — all Democrats — in the Berkshire delegation. He also received the endorsement of the Berkshire Brigades, the county's Democratic Party organization. Now the longest-serving member of the delegation, Pignatelli serves on the Ways & Means committee and the Higher Education and Arts, Tourism & Cultural Development Committees.
"The Berkshire Delegation endorses Rep. Smitty Pignatelli because we have seen firsthand what his leadership has meant to the entire Berkshires. He has worked tirelessly to meet the needs of his constituents and this region and we are all better of for it. We hope the voters of the 4th Berkshire district will come to the same conclusion when they go to the polls on November 6th," said the delegation of state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing and Reps. Gailanne Cariddi, Paul Mark and Tricia Farley-Bouvier in a joint statement.
The three first-term representatives lauded Pignatelli's leadership and mentoring, and Downing described him as an effective advocate for the region's small communities. "There is no one with which I would rather stand up and fight for the Berkshires than Smitty," said Downing.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association and the Berkshire County Fire Chiefs Association have also endorsed Pignatelli.
"The residents of this district are fortunate to have a candidate with his qualifications and experience running for this seat," said MTA Director of Governmental Services, Joanne Blum. "His commitment to supporting and strengthening public education at all levels as evidenced in his voting record is extremely important to MTA members."
The MTA represents 110,000 teachers, faculty, professional staff and education support professionals working at public schools, colleges and universities across Massachusetts.
"Smitty is always there and willing to assist Berkshire County fire departments and emergency personnel with any issue that may arise," said Lanesborough Fire Chief Charles Durfee, president of Berkshire County Fire Chiefs Association. "Recently, Smitty worked extremely hard to assist Berkshire County emergency officials in resolving a complex issue which hampered dispatching emergency responders in Southern Berkshire."
During the past legislative session, Pignatelli was involved in the coalition that helped to pass a bill that protects call and volunteer firefighters from being dismissed from their primary job if they arrive late for work because they were responding to a call. The legislation broadened the responsibilities of call and volunteer firefighters that may be excused by primary employers to include natural disasters, emergency medical response, and hazardous material incidents.
The Berkshire County Fire Chiefs Association, based in Lanesborough, was formed in 1998 and represents all the fire departments and emergency personnel of Berkshire County.