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Statewide Candidates Queried on Mandates, Hospitals
By Andy McKeever On: 05:49PM / Sunday January 26, 2014
Candidates for lieutenant governor and governor attended Sunday's forum.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Candidates running for the Democratic nominations for lieutenant governor and governor fielded questions from the audience on Sunday as part of a forum hosted by the Berkshire Brigades.

The local Democratic organizing arm had invited the candidates to introduce themselves in the run up to the local caucuses and the state Democratic Party Convention in June. The primary election is in September.

The candidates were first allowed 5 to 10 minutes to talk about themselves and their platforms, after an address to the group by U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, and later mingled with the crowd.

Read by Brigade member Lee Harrison, the lieutenant governor candidates were asked about their relationship with whoever is elected governor while the gubernatorial candidates were asked about access to physicians and unfunded mandates.

All of the gubernatorial candidates said any state mandates on municipalities should be coupled with dollars to fund them.

Joseph Avellone said mandates dig into unrestricted aid, which is aimed to help towns reduce their property tax burdens on residents.

"The state has a very important role in helping to fund local government because of our property tax set up. But it can't come with a lot of unfunded mandates," Avellone said of unrestricted, local aid.

Donald Berwick called the mandates "unfair" and said "the responsibility should lie with those who pass the mandates." He called for a "realistic revenue policy" that includes lowering health-care costs, closing tax loopholes and switching to a progressive tax.

"We've got to look at this as a whole," he said.

Martha Coakley simply said any mandate requiring funds must be supplemented by the state or not done at all.

"I don't like them. I think they should end. If the state is going to mandate something — and I'll add the caviad on that costs money, some mandates don't but most have a pricetag attached — the state either has to provide ways to supplement that or not do it," Coakley said.

Steven Grossman particularly said circuit breaker accounts for special education need to be fully funded. It isn't just mandates, he said, it is issues like road infrastructure that burden towns as well.

"That may not be an unfunded mandate but it is a requirement that we fix the roads and bridges. As governor, I would make sure we provided at least the $300 million the Legislature decided to do and all of the money would be released by April 1 so the cities can bid them out."

Juliette Kayyem said unfunded mandates signal a lack of transparency in government. She also called for towns to work cooperatively and invest in regional planning and investments.

"I think they are wrong generally unless they have a separate revenue source," she said of the mandates.

As for access to hospitals, Kayyem, a security expert, said she would "give a little tough love" as governor to increase safety. She also said she would invest in first responders and medical staff. Further, she called for changes to zoning bylaws to protect individuals from natural disasters, which was part of a two-part question of hospital safety.

Grossman said he'd implement a program to send new medical school graduates to so-called Gateway Cities and rural areas for a few years and, in turn, the state would forgive their loans.

Berkshire Brigades President Sheila Murray introduces the candidates.

Coakley expanded on access to health care, citing its particular importantance to Berkshire County, saying she wants to use case managers for people and families facing chronic health issues. That should brought into the schools as well, she said.

Berwick began his career in rural areas as a doctor and says he knows the issue well. The solution is to strengthen the overall system and "re-engineer" to one that is focused on patient outcomes instead of pay-for-service. The rural areas are in a better position to make that switch, he said.

Avellone agreed with medical loan forgiveness programs but also added that there needs to be more opportunities for residencies. He also said loan forgiveness would be extended to other practitioners and not just doctors.

As for the relationship with the governor, the lieutenant governor candidates all said they would form a team with the elected leader.

"What we've seen with the Patrick-Murray administration when the lieutenant governor was still serving was a partnership," Lake said, referring to former Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray who resigned nearly a year ago. "You need that level of partnership and commitment."

James Arena-DeRosa said the lieutenant governor role would be to bring together public and private sectors for long-term planning.

"Too often politics is about the next election," he said.

Jonathan Edwards said the role would be to help roll out and implement policies the governor crafts. Knowing the issues in all of the towns, the lieutenant governor can help to "sell" the plan.

"I'm nothing but a wingman. I'm a leader but also a wingman," Edwards said.

Steven Kerrigan, too, said he would be a partner with the governor in helping to make sure that the government is "efficient and effective." He says the role would also be building trust between the administration and the voters.

"We can work on job No. 1, which is building back a gap in trust between the voters and the government," Kerrigan said.



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Republican Candidate For Governor Baker Stumps In Pittsfield
By Andy McKeever On: 03:38AM / Wednesday January 22, 2014
Charlie Baker, on the right, meets with the Berkshire County Republicans on Tuesday night after taping a show on PCTV.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Charlie Baker says that in order to get the best results, you have to "have both teams on the field."

Baker met with the Berkshire County Republicans on Tuesday at Zucco's Family Restaurant.

He is one of two GOP candidates after Mark Fisher of Shrewsbury announced his intention to run in December.

Baker told the local committee that he wants to use his 25 years of experience in the public and private sectors to improve the state's economy and school systems.

"We haven't created a single net new job in 13 years. We have the same number of people working that we had in 2000. How can that be? How can a state that brings everything we bring to the table lag when it comes to growing and creating jobs and economic opportunity?" Baker said.

"The answer is pretty simple. We are wicked smart but we finished 48th or 49th in every single survey that has to do with the cost of almost everything."

Baker boasted of his tenure as CEO of Harvard Pilgrim — taking the job when the company was going into receivership. While nobody thought the company could make a financial turnaround, Baker said he "set the bar high" to turn it around. He said the company is thriving, and he left in 2009 to bring his ideas for success to state government.

In 2010, Baker ran for the governor's office but lost to Deval Patrick, who was running for a second term. But in that race, he learned a lot about the concerns of municipalities around the state. In this campaign, Baker says he won't be spending time just learning the issues but instead focusing his conversations on how to solve them.

What he is hearing is that voters "want is a hands-on governor who can get stuff done" and he cited his time working under former Govs. William Weld and Paul Cellucci as being able to work with a Democratic House and Senate to better the state.

"We saw problems. We got stuff done. We made government work and we put people back to work," Baker said, particularly pointing to education reform as leading to rising to SAT scores, to workers' compensation reform and to the jobless rate going from being the worst in the country to one of the best.

But since the 1990s, Baker said the state "lost its fastball." Economic development as his No. 1 priority, with closing the achievement gaps in schools and working with municipalities to create economic strategies being the focus.

His belief is that the state needs a Republican in office to help bring the best ideas to the table — not just one, Democratic viewpoint. And that theory dates back to his childhood dinner table when his Republican father and Democratic mother debated issues. His parents would debate the "means" while trying to achieve the same "ends."

Baker gave a 15-minute speech before fielding questions from the audience.

"What my parents showed me all that time when I was a kid was, in fact, true. You do get a better product when you have both teams on the field," Baker said. "You do get a better result when you have two teams competing. You get a better government and better process when you have more than one set of ideas engaged."

The solutions to the state's problems aren't complicated, he said, because the answers are there. It is just finding the best solutions and "replicating" them.

"I know how to set the bar high. I know how to build teams. I know how to hold people accountable and help them get over the bar," he said.

One thing he'd like to implement if elected is a massive regulatory review. He said government adds regulations to businesses but seldom cleans up prior ones, allowing them to pile up. Now there are cases where complying with one state agency can lead a business to be out of compliance with another.

"The state needs to speak with one voice on this," he said.

He is calling for legislators to do a full review of the regulations every couple of years and debate the need and effectiveness of them. He is also calling for standing committees that will work with those who will are being regulated because "some of the best ideas" will come from them.

Overall, Baker described his leadership as one that "dreams big" and "sets the bar high." He wants the state to work hard and for the taxpayers to get value out of the money they put into the system.

"I don't want Massachusetts to be great just here, here and here. I want Massachusetts to be great everywhere," Baker said.

After a 15-minute speech Baker fielded questions regarding issues of senior care, homelessness, business, veterans and transportation. Baker was also a guest on Berkshire GOP's television program "Out Front TV" on PCTV.

Baker is the most recent of the gubernatorial field to visit the Berkshires; Fisher is expected to visit the region in the coming weeks. On the Democratic side, Martha Coakley, Joseph Avellone, Donald Berwick, Steven Grossman and Juliette Kayyem have all held at least one campaign event (Coakley, Grossman and Berwick have held two) in the Berkshires. Independent Evan Falchuk was in the Berkshires twice.

While this was Baker's first trip since entering the race in September, he told the crowd that it won't be his last.

Correction: An earlier version failed to note that Republican Mark Fisher had entered the race for governor. iBerkshires regrets the error.



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GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Baker Visits Pittsfield
On: 09:48AM / Thursday January 16, 2014
Charles D. Baker Jr.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Republican candidate for governor Charles D. Baker Jr. will visit Pittsfield on Tuesday, Jan. 21, to appear on a local access show and meet with voters.  

Baker will be the guest on Berkshire GOP's television program "Out Front TV." The monthly cable program is broadcast throughout the Berkshires and in the Western Massachusetts cities of Greenfield, Northampton and Westfield. Jim Bronson, chairman of the Berkshire County Republican Association, hosts the television program.

"We are thrilled Charlie is coming back to the Berkshires," said Bronson. "We look forward to his appearance on our show; he's a terrific candidate and will surely be a terrific television guest."

Baker has served as the state's secretary of finance and administration and health and human services. He has spent the past decade as chief executive officer of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. He ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2010.

"Out Front TV" issues commentary and features political guests such as former Sen. Scott Brown, former Gov. Jane Swift, Mary Z. Connaughton, Baker's running mate for lieutenant governor Karyn Polito, Don Humason, Michele McPhee, Jim Wallace and William Sturgeon.

Baker will address supporters at Zucco's Family Restaurant, 451 Dalton Ave., at 6 p.m. The public is invited.



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Democratic Treasurer Candidate Conroy Talks Economics
By Andy McKeever On: 10:12PM / Sunday January 12, 2014
Mary O'Brien, former Berkshire County register of deeds, talks with treasurer candidate Thomas Conroy at Dottie's on Sunday.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Thomas Conroy is seeking a "statewide stage" to fight for economic justice.

The Wayland state representative is running for treasurer and was at Dottie's Coffee Lounge on Sunday to meet with prospective voters. This is Conroy's second statewide campaign after running for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2011, dropping out as Elizabeth Warren became the clear front-runner.

"When I started that journey three years ago, I found that in the gateway cities in the state, I found there wasn't that kind of opportunity and there wasn't the economic justice that I want to see in the commonwealth of Massachusetts," Conroy said of that campaign when he walked across the state including stops in Berkshire County.

The current chairman of the house Labor and Workforce Development said creating economic opportunities is a "passion" for him because his family didn't have much growing up. He said when he was two years old he got sick and his mother had to knock on doors asking for money to train fare to get him to the hospital.

A few years after that, he remembers his father returning from Vietnam with "no savings, no job and no income." But, the family was able to get by and he ended up taking out student loans to earn his business and economics degrees. With that education, he entered the private sector and worked for various businesses.

One company he worked for started to outsource jobs and cut pay. When he "stood up" for his fellow workers because of his experience growing up, he said it nearly cost him his job.

"I've learned a lot of decisions that are made in businesses and how they treat employees — what good business practices are and what predatory, less-than-good business practices are," Conroy said.

After 16 years in business, he went to the public sector in hopes to help spread economic opportunity. Currently, he said he is pushing to raise the state's minimum wage to become the "highest in the country." People should not have to work full time and still be in poverty, he said, and that is what is happening with the current minimum wage.
 

Conroy says he wants the position to help the entire state. Behind him is state Rep. Paul Mark, who helped bring Conroy to the Berkshires on Sunday.

But representing just one district in the state House of Representatives, he can only do so much. He is eyeing the treasurer's office — which is being vacated by Steven Grossman who is running for governor — so he can push for "economic justice" on the "statewide stage."

"I am someone who wants to continue this journey and run for state treasurer so I can reach out to communities throughout the state of Massachusetts," Conroy said.

During the hourlong event Sunday, he pledged to fight economic injustice through the office by building schools through his seat on the Massachusetts School Building Authority, expanding the state's student loan program, lending municipalities money to fix water systems and continuing the Small Business Banking Partnership, which loans state resources to businesses through community banks.

Education is what was gave him the opportunity to come out of the economic hardships his family faced and he wants to use the office to give more people that chance. He said he wants universal early education and wants to expand the MSBA's authority to include building early education facilities.

"Why shouldn't we expand the focus of the treasurer's office from K-12? Let's start earlier. Let's have early education classrooms. Let's build new buildings. Let's put people back to work. Let's put some carpenters and iron fitters and union folks back to work creating classrooms so we can have pre-K kids so every child has an equal chance to succeed," he said.

When it comes to higher education, Conroy said the state has a trust fund from which it issues low-interest student loans. But "the problem is, it is too small. I want to increase it a thousandfold."

Also through the treasurer's office, Conroy said he wants to help towns improve their aging water and sewer systems. He said it will cost $300 million each year for the next decade to fix the state's water infrastructure. The current Water Pollution Abatement Trust Fund has $50 million, which is not nearly enough to solve the issues, he said.

"We have ancient water infrastructure in the state. It's out of sight, out of mind. It's underground and we're not paying attention to it," Conroy said. "It's 100 years old. We've had massive pipes burst in places like Weston and Wayland and all over the state because our water infrastructure is broken."

He wants to "double or triple" that trust fund and loan towns money to improve their systems.

Meanwhile, he wants to continue placing the state's short-term reserves into community banks — rather than have them sitting in foreign bank accounts. The Small Business Banking Partnership increases a community bank's ability to issue loans to help businesses grow.

After providing a short speech on his intentions, Conroy field questions from about a dozen voters. The meet and greet was put on by state Reps. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, and Paul Mark, D-Peru. Many of those in the audience were members of the Berkshire Brigades.



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