Independent Lt. Gov. Candidate Jennings Calls For Strong Local Partnerships
By Andy McKeever On: 03:21AM / Friday July 18, 2014
Angus Jennings is helping to build a new political party in the United Independent Party.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Angus Jennings says even if he is elected to lieutenant governor, that won't stop him from being at local public hearings or sitting in with planning boards.
In fact, he says that is what is one of the things is missing from the state administration — a focus on the local governments.
"I think on a fundamental level, what we can bring to the voters is that some of the most important decisions are made in city and town hall. We have a recognition and a respect for the home-rule traditions that are not only embedded in our cultural but also embedded in our constitution," Jennings said.
"In my view, the current administration has viewed home rule as a stumbling block to economic development."
Jennings has partnered with Evan Falchuk in forming a new independent political party — United Independent Party — and the two are hoping to lead the next administration. Falchuk is seeking the governor's seat while Jennings is on the ticket to be his lieutenant.
"We noticed an immediate uptick in press interest now that we can say definitively, Falchuk/Jennings is on the ticket," Jennings said of submitting the signatures needed to be on the ballot. "That's given us eight or nine weeks of lead time."
The party is seeking a new framework to operate. The two candidates say they want to increase the focus on local politics and bring more people into the fold.
"I've never been a party line kind of guy. I've always been an independent thinker. I don't fit clearly into either of the two boxes and I think a lot of people feel that way," Jennings said. "More than half of the voters in Massachusetts are unenrolled right now but 100 percent of the legislators are either Democrat or Republican."
Jennings' background is in municipal planning, and he spends quite a few of evenings in various town halls. As a consultant, his work even took him to Pittsfield City Hall to work on the zoning needed for the Rice Silk Mill renovation.
As lieutenant governor, his role would be partly to continue doing that — to continue helping towns plan out projects and implement them.
"I've always been focused on implementation," he said.
Fully implementing any project plan includes private capital, he said, and their administration would implement changes to help that. For example, he would push to revamp the way federal transportation dollars are allocated.
Currently regions have a Transportation Improvement Plan, which a regional board approves. Jennings said the process could be more "nimble" to help give private investors more confidence that a certain project will or will not move forward. The process, he says, would be more clear for the public to see as well.
"Those kinds of public investments, to maximize the value of these public dollars, you want a return in the form of private investment," he said.
The Metropolitan Planning Organization oversees those funds; the local MPO operates through the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission. Regional planning agencies are another area Jennings said he wants to "re-envision" and to give more responsibility.
Jennings also said his party is proposing to double the historic tax credits from $50 million to $100 million. This, too, will help developers have more confidence in the credits and wrap that into their funding packages. Jennings said this will help repurpose old buildings.
"There is no transparency in how those funds are allocated so the applicants who don't get the funding don't know why they didn't get it," he said.
Jennings said and Independent administration would also bring back the Office for Commonwealth Development, which oversaw housing, energy and environmental affairs, conservation and recreation and coordinated with the Department of Transportation.
"This administration got rid of it and there were a lot of people in my field that felt that didn't make any sense because that was a step in the right direction in breaking down the silos," Jennings said.
He is also calling for a "top to bottom" review of municipal mandates.
"If something is so important that it needs to be mandated, then there has to be resources to pay for it," Jennings said.
The party has been campaigning for more than a year as the two leaders try to build if from the ground up. Jennings said getting enough votes this year in the election will open the door for a independent candidates throughout the state at various levels of government.
However, not being attached to a party makes the two work even harder. While Democrats and Republicans have already built networks of people to help get their name out there, the independents don't have that.
"Our campaign staff has to work very hard and our volunteers have to be fully engaged," Jennings said.
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