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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