State Representative Mark Running For Re-election
|State Reps. William 'Smitty' Pignatelli, Paul Mark and Steve Kulik at the Mill Town Tavern on Thursday night for Mark's annual gathering and fundraiser.|
DALTON, Mass. — The "check Mark" campaign has begun.
State Rep. Paul Mark will be seeking election for a third term. The 2nd Berkshire District representative says he has learned the ropes over the last four years and now his influence on Beacon Hill and leadership roles are expanding.
He is hoping to continue that growth and advocate for the Berkshire and Franklin County towns he represents.
So far, there's no one challenging him.
"I think I've been able to do a lot of great things in the legislature and I feel like just four years in, I am really starting to get a feel for how things work. I'm really starting to get a voice heard," Mark said.
"That first freshman term is tough. While you are down there advocating for your district, you are also learning the job. No matter what job you had before, you can only be so prepared."
This year, he was appointed vice chairman of a joint subcommittee researching student loans and debt, a rare opportunity for someone in just a second term, Mark said.
"The biggest thing I've been pleased with is the student loan and debt subcommittee. To be given that opportunity and that responsibility at a relatively new point in a legislative career, it really meant a lot to me," he said.
"I really tried to take full advantage of it. We held hearings all over the state; we got an amazing response; we've brought a lot of attention to the issue. And now we've been able to do good things related to higher ed in the budget."
On Thursday, Mark held his annual get-together with supporters. With an election upcoming, Thursday's gathering doubled as a fundraiser for the upcoming campaign.
"Every year I like to get together with supporters and friends and we do an event that falls around my birthday and we get the team back together and they come and ask me about a lot of issues going on,." Mark said. "I've been lucky in that every year that I do this, more people come. So, I think that is a good sign. I think it means people are happy with what they are seeing, that they appreciate the work that I am doing and that they feel they are being listened to."
Mark was first elected four years ago and almost immediately his district was changed — and he, too, moved to Peru accommodate the changes. The redistricting process changed the district to one that covers both Franklin and Berkshire towns, the largest being Greenfield.
"It was a positive impact. I was sad to lose some of those towns but I stayed connected with the people. Even though they call a new representative, a lot of people stay in contact with me as well." Mark said. "We work as a region so it is not like there is a fence around the towns."
Now in both counties, Mark said he has had some successes for the region and there are still things he'd like to accomplish.
"I still think there is a lot of work to do when we talk about broadband. We've been able to finish the middle mile but there is a lot more work to do with the last mile," Mark said. "As the only the legislator in the entire state that actually lives in a house where there is no high-speed internet service, no cell phone service, no cable TV, it is a very important priority for me."
He also has is proposing an employee stock ownership bill that encourages employees to have the ability to own the company they work for instead of having it be sold to an international buyer. The bill has just been released from committee and he is hoping to push it through before the end of this term.
Thursday's event coincided with Mark's recent birthday and is a chance for him to discuss issues with supporters.
He also also finished a genetically modified food labeling bill through his role on the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture he hopes to finish. Meanwhile, his work on the Joint Committee on Higher Education is ongoing and through the subcommittee, an array of new bills are expected to be filed next session based on the recommendations.
In this year's budget process, Mark said he has been successful in advocating for higher education funding and hopes to continue pushing bills to freeze tuition and fees at state schools.
He added that he is still pushing for Chapter 70, local aid, and regional school transportation in the budget — all areas in which there are proposals for significant increases.
He also filed an amendment in the capital bond bill to build a pre-release housing center on the Berkshire County House of Correction campus as well as reverse a proposed cut to the Berkshire County sheriff's office in the budget.
Mark doesn't know how many of the bills he is pushing will get passed this year but whatever is remaining will be on his list of priorities for a second term.
Thursday's gathering at the Mill Town Tavern saw representatives from an array of agencies — from cultural and business organizations to elected officials.
"I appreciate the support of everyone who was here tonight and everyone who stood by me for four years now. It is has been an amazing opportunity and amazing experience," Mark said. "I really enjoy having the chance to work so hard in making sure we are being listened to in Boston. It is so important."
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Outsiders Up for the Challenge
SHEFFIELD, Mass. — In a state that sees only blue and red, it ain't easy being green. But Lee Scott Laugenour, the Green-rainbow candidate for state representative for the 4th Berkshire District, is up for the challenge. In fact, he said, he "wouldn't do it any other way."
"Every campaign has its challenges, it's hard work," he said in a phone interview. "You have to really enjoy the hard work. And I think campaigns such as mine that are outside of the big money paradigm are sometimes a little easier in the rural towns."
The party platform for the Green-Rainbow party is based on the "10 Key Values." Among them are grassroots democracy, ecological wisdom and decentralization, issues that, according to Laugenour, are very relevant to Berkshires residents and business owners who have fallen on hard economic times.
"People are telling me that finding out about my campaign is refreshing," said Laugenour, who took to his bicycle to campaign. "Basically right now we have a one party system so debate doesn't occur. No one is arguing on Beacon Hill. The checks that they cash are not free. Money isn't free. We are going to be the ones who don’t cash the check."
Jobs, tax and debt and health care are foremost on Laugenour's list of issues he hopes to tackle in Boston. He is not alone. Mark C. Miller, also a Green-Rainbow candidate, is campaigning for state representative for the 3rd Berkshire District and the party has candidates for governor (Jill Stein) and auditor (Nat Fortune). Miller said he "just gave up on Democrats" after they abandoned the single-payer proposal for state health insurance.
"You would think we are a progressive state but we're not," he said. "There's a lot of distrust and anger at both major parties, so they love the idea of a person who is neither. People are fed up and desperate and frustrated."
Both Laugenour and Miller have seen that frustration play out time and again while on the campaign trail.
"People have so many worries, they're just trying to scramble," Miller said. "They don't believe in politics, they have no interest in politics; they're alienated. When I've gone door-to-door there are definitely folks who say they're not going to vote, who say 'that's not for me baby.'"
Kenny Butler, campaign manager for independent candidate Stefan Racsz in the 2nd Berkshire District, said that he has also come up against cynicism among voters.
"Both major parties are very entrenched and powerful," he said. "People are getting tired of bailing out big businesses, it's so anti-democratic. These are not big towns; not like Boston. You know what you're paying in taxes."
Mark Miller is hoping to gain traction in his hometown of Pittsfield; Stefan Racz is positioning himself as an alternative to his major party opponents.
Yet, despite the voter disgust and apathy, or perhaps because of, Butler said people are drawn to the grassroots appeal of Racsz's campaign.
"This campaign is a small business," he said. "This is all about the individual. People think for themselves. They look at themselves and they decide for themselves. I don't think we've been given choices until recently. If voters have the choice, they'll make the choice."
Whether that choice is in favor of the blue the red or the green, Miller is heartened by what he sees as an organic reaction in favor of major political change. He cited Transition Town, a community group that has gained attention in Great Barrington and North Adams, as evidence of that change.
"That's happening just automatically," he said. "Berkshire County is ahead of the curve. A lot of people have been loyal Democrats all of their lives but they see that disintegrating. The problem is getting people's attention."
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Three Make Case for 2nd District Seat
Michael Case, left, Paul Mark and Stefan Racz meet Monday night for a televised debate at BCC with David Cachet of Pittsfield Community Television.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Candidates hoping to represent the sprawling 2nd District on Beacon Hill met for the second time Monday for a televised debate at Berkshire Community College that covered topics from charter schools to raw milk.
Democrat Paul Mark of Hancock, Republican Michael F. Case of Washington and independent Stefan G. Racz had debated earlier in the day on the local Vox Radio station; Monday night it was in front of the cameras for The Pittsfield Gazette and Pittsfield Community Television, with David Cachat of PCTV's CityLink moderating.
Perhaps the most interesting thing coming out of the night was that the three candidates weren't all that far apart. They said communities should have control and input on major developments within their borders, such as casinos and wind power, and funding for education and infrastructure — as long as the state paid its fair share.
Their differences were more matters of degree with a few exceptions, such as legalizing marijuana: Case, a retired police officer and military veteran, was against; Racz for, and Mark, an attorney and telecom worker, only for medical marijuana.
They stressed the importance of farming and open space for the largely rural, crescent-shaped region that slices through Berkshire County and into Hampshire and Franklin counties.
"We are providing some of the most gorgeous views in the state," said Racz, a Buckland selectman. "We need to preserve that for future generations."
While supporting alternative energy, he was concerned that wind-turbine siting here would mean ridgelines and the destruction of the environmental beauty. The loss of farms and failure to preserve open space could put lands at risk for developers.
Case said he supports wind turbines but only if the community has significant input and agricultural programs for farming. "I've spoken to many farmers who own a lot of land," who may be land wealthy but cash poor, he said. "They're just barely getting by. We need to give them tax breaks."
Mark said he did not support the state's wind siting law, which limits local input, but would back the expansion of raw milk sales to home delivery. He also spoke in favor of agricultural cooperatives such as Denis Guyer, the man they're trying to replace, is setting up in Dalton.
Racz said he didn't support milk price regulation; Mark and Case said they did, with Case adding only if it was not to the detriment of the farmer.
Both Case and Racz said they'd support a single destination casino in the state because, said Case, "it would draw other than just gambling because it would have shows, and other conventions ... it would be good for the economy of Massachusetts." Racz said he believed "one casino would be a testing ground for income to the state," as long as it did not infringe upon current cultural venues.
Mark said he supported the Senate bill that had planned for three casinos. "I don't think gambling is a magic cure-all but I don't see anybody else really proposing anything to make new jobs," he said. "I am against slot parlors and racinos because they don't have the job creation element so you would only get the bad parts of gambling."
All three said the state's health insurance reform had worked well to expand access but didn't think it had done well enough in controlling costs.
"I don't think it was the best solution, I think a single-payer would have been a much better solution," said Mark. "We could serve as a model for the nation."
Racz said the reform was an innovative idea but the state hadn't felt the total negative impact because elements of the federal health insurance reform will begin kicking in in Janury. "There's not enough money right now," he said, in part because insurance companies were raising rates. "We have to focus extremely heavily on insurance companies and the drug companies. ... make sure they're towing the line."
Health insurance has improved greatly, said Case, but "what we don't know yet is what the cost is going to be. I've heard as high as 42 percent of the state budget is going to health care now. ... Single-payer may be a dream down the road but not right now with the economy the way it is."
They said they would advocate for the state to pay its fair share of the regional school transportation. Racz said the state should take on the contracts for busing and let the schools use the money for education. They agreed it was important to the students to ensure so-called circuit breaker special education funding from the state and were leery of charter schools.
"It's a good idea but you don't want them taking money away from the public school system," said Mark. Case said parents should have the option, but "it's a drain on the public schol and they don't take the children who have problems."
Racz said regular public schools should be held to the same standards of review since charter schools can be disbanded if they don't live up to their mission.
Case said more incentives should be offered to attract and retain businesses. "We need to make the business climate in Massachusetts competitive with other states." Mark said the new creative economy should be supported and bringing health care costs under control and broadband to the region will help spur growth. "Local jobs mean local revenue."
Racz said one of his initiatives is the 2nd Berkshire Business Alliance, a conduit for small businesses in the district to ally and bring the issues affecting them to the attention of the representative. "You have to remember, small business carried us through this recession; they didn't get bailouts."
All three said they would have voted against last year's increase in the sales tax.
Each pledged to do their best to listen to constituents. Case said he would keep an office, likely in Dalton, for constituent services and a staffer to meet with selectmen throughout the district to help keep him apprised. Racz said he would "not favor the town of Buckland over the town of Dalton, Windsor or Peru" and he would get feedback from the towns.
Mark, at 31 the youngest of the candidates, annoyed his opponents with claims that he would keep going to all 22 towns in the district because he was "the only with the energy to keep doing it." The older men said their energy was fine, thank you very much, although Case had a little fun later with Mark by pretending to nod off during his opponent's closing remarks.
The debate will be rebroadcast on PCTV; we should have audio up later Tuesday.
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Mark Earns Endorsement From Three Environmental Groups
SHELBURNE FALLS, Mass. – Paul Mark, the Democratic nominee for state representative in the 2nd Berkshire District, has received the endorsement of the state's three main environmental groups. Sierra Club Massachusetts, Mass Clean Water Action, and the Massachusetts League of Environmental Voters endorsed Mark this week.
"Paul is committed to reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, promoting renewable energy resources and growing our local economy by doing so," said Phil Sego, political chairman of the Mass Sierra Club. "This district is already leading the way and, with Paul's help, will continue to do so."
"Paul has made the preservation of the natural beauty of the district one of his top priorities, and supports smart investments in the clean-energy jobs which are critical to our recovering economy," said Lora Wondolowski, Massachusetts League of Environmental Voters' executive director. "We look forward to working with Paul in the State House during the next legislative session."
"Clean Water Action was impressed both by Paul's broad support in the district and his commitment to protecting our environment and our health in Massachusetts," said Jeff Knudsen, political director for Massachusetts Clean Water Action. "We believe that Paul Mark is the clear environmental choice in this race."
Clean Water Action boasts 80,000 members in Massachusetts, and Sierra Club has a membership base numbering 26,000. MLEV is not a membership organization, but rather works largely through broad voter contact on important environmental issues.
"These powerful endorsements are a signal of my commitment to environmental stewardship," Mark said upon receiving the endorsements. "I couldn't be happier to have the support of all three groups."
The groups are co-hosting an Environmental Champion dinner for Mark after the election.
Paul Mark has earned 30 endorsements from political groups and elected officials. A full list of his endorsements is available at www.votepaulmark.com.
The 2nd Berkshire District includes part of Pittsfield and 21 towns in Berkshire, Franklin and Hampshire Counties.
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Olver Endorses Paul Mark for 2nd District
DALTON, Mass. — U.S. Rep. John W. Olver has endorsed Paul Mark, Democratic nominee for state representative in the 2nd Berkshire District. Olver, along with state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing and other members of the Democratic ticket, will host an event for Mark on Thursday, Oct. 21, at 5:30 p.m. at the Dalton
American Legion, at 258 North St.
"As our state representative, Paul will work on behalf of our most rural communities to improve the quality of life there and to encourage economic growth in sectors across his district," said Olver in a statement. "I believe Paul will work to ensure that residents of the 2nd Berkshire District have a strong representative at the table, as they have had with Rep. [Denis] Guyer."
Guyer is vacating the seat he's held for four years.
"Candidate Paul Mark has an impressive background, including a doctorate in law and policy. Throughout his campaign he has demonstrated independence and leadership, and he has presented a thoughtful, but multifaceted approach to dealing with our current economic challenges," continued Olver. "I expect Paul will utilize his education, resources and intuition to represent his constituents at the State House with great success."
"I'm proud to have the support of Congressman Olver. From his time as a state rep himself, through his years in Congress, he has been an invaluable voice for Western Mass," Mark said upon receiving the endorsement. "Just like Congressman Olver, I'm dedicated to having a presence throughout my sprawling district."
The 2nd Berkshire District is the largest and most rural in Massachusetts, and stretches from the New York to New Hampshire borders, much like Olver's Congressional district.
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