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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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Gubernatorial Candidate Kayyem Focuses on Future
By Andy McKeever On: 01:36PM / Saturday November 16, 2013
Juliette Kayyem talked with the Berkshire Brigades on Wednesday.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Juliette Kayyem doesn't do luck. She does preparedness.

After being called on three times to lend her hand to the government in the wake of tragedy, she is trying to get out in front by running for governor to make sure Massachusetts is prepared for the future.

"We need to solve the problems of today and there are many. But, we need to solve the problems in a way that is sustainable in the future," the Democratic candidate said at a meet and greet on Wednesday with the Berkshire Brigades.

Kayyem's career began as a civil rights attorney before she moved into homeland security. She served on the National Commission on Terrorism and later was appointed by Gov. Deval Patrick as the state's first undersecretary for Homeland Security, leading the state's push for security planning.

She moved back to the federal level as President Barack Obama's appointment for assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs. There, she coordinated responses to major tragedies such as the BP oil spill and the H1N1 flu outbreak while also planning on issues such as immigration.

"Two presidents and a governor have asked me to make government work when it matters the most but it matters most all of the time and that's the way I would think of it as governor," said Kayyem, who also adds lecturer at Harvard, former Boston Globe columnist and mother of three to her resume.

Kayyem said her task in those roles was not just focused on terrorism but all of the factors that contribute to safety and security — such as gun control or climate change.

"I know people hear homeland security and they think terrorism. But, it is not that. Homeland security is as much about the homeland as it is security," she said.

Her views on climate change is one example of how she would prepare the state for the future. While Kayyem believes the state should reduce carbon emissions, she also believes it should build infrastructure to reduce the effects. She said it was only a few miles and low tides that kept the state from being significantly impacted by last year's Hurricane Sandy. Since the state can't solve the problem alone, Massachusetts needs to be prepared for the changes.

Another way the state needs to prepare is economically, because she doesn't believe the state's revenue projects are correct — particularly with the amount expected from the tech tax that was repealed and income from casinos. Nor does she believes the current tax system will provide the needed revenue for the future.

"We're not sure what we can expect from that," Kayyem said. "It is the obligation of the next governor, you need to figure out what does the budget look like and what is realistic and unrealistic sources of revenue."

She is calling for a complete overhaul of the tax system, reforming the criminal justice system, and finding where to reduce expenses.

Kayyem's career has been focused on public safety but she wants to do more for the people of Massachusetts.

"I think we're going to have to start talking about a new tax system that is fair for everyone and gives the state a source of revenue not just for today but in the future," she said.

And as with other democrats, she is calling for investment in infrastructure and education — saying those are ways the state can best prepare for the future.

She said the state shouldn't be backing down from economic competition with other states or countries but push to make the state the best.

"All of us on the Democratic side are going to talk to you about jobs, education and infrastructure. And that's good. I'm going to talk about raising the minimum wage and that's right. And paid sick leave and that's right. That's the bare minimum. What we need to prepare for is a stronger, resilient state in the future," Kayyem said.

Kayyem said the state needs to have a vision of what it wants to be in the future and set a path to together. There are jobs in transportation, life sciences, technology and biotechnology, she said, and government needs to cut through the minutiae to get to the solutions. Government can't just look for a quick solution, she said.

"One of the good things about being a new politician is you can see the challenges of politics," she said.

For example, Kayyem said while officials debate charter schools, they should instead be discussion how the children are currently learning and how the state can prepare them for those future jobs.

Kayyem says the government's job is to be progressive and work for everybody in the state.

"Government has the capacity to do good for people every and also that government can always do better. There is no finish line," she said. "Government's job is to open doors and make sure everyone belongs."

Kayyem joined the race for governor in August and is vying for the Democratic nomination along with Martha Coakley, Joseph Avellone, Donald Berwick and Steven Grossman. Also seeking the corner office is independent candidate Evan Falchuk and Republican Charles Baker.

Kayyem says she brings a "new kind of leadership," which sets her apart from the other candidates.

"I represent a new kind of leadership, a new generation that we saw represented in Boston race, where people like me, who have different skills — I know government but maybe politics is new to me — can actually provide a vision and a way of moving forward that is different and something people want to hear," she said.

More information at www.juliettekayyem.com.



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Coakley, Back in Berkshires, Says Economy Priority
By Andy McKeever On: 10:00PM / Wednesday October 16, 2013
Gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley met with the Berkshire Brigades on Wednesday afternoon in her second trip to the Berkshires since announcing her candidacy.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Martha Coakley returned to the Berkshires on Wednesday and spoke to potential supporters about why she believes she is the best candidate for the governor's office.

The attorney general announced last month that she would be seeking election in 2014. This is her second visit to the Berkshires since announcing; she was to receive the Northern Berkshire Business and Professional Women's Woman of Achievement Award in the evening.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Berkshire native met with members of the Berkshire Brigades to ask for support and answer questions about her candidacy.

"I'm asking people to look at my record, what my vision is and what we've be able to do in terms of promoting a healthy economy in the attorney general's office, tackling problems, getting results and working for people in Massachusetts," Coakley said.

The campaign is still relatively green: Her staff is still recruiting volunteers and setting up office space. But, she has been meeting with active Democratic groups and "just walking into diners and meeting people."

"It's been a busy four weeks and I've gotten a great reaction from people who feel optimistic that the economy is getting a little better but they understand that we still need more work around it," Coakley said. "I think a lot of people feel it is time for a good woman in the office and I think people have been impressed with what we've been able to do in the attorney general's office."

Coakley says what she's heard from voters is that the economy is of most concern. She said people are working "twice as hard to be where they used to be" and the opportunities are not there.

"People want to move here and stay here so when we keep our health care costs down, our energy costs down, we will be successful in making this economy turn around and make sure it is for everybody," she said.

She says the economy can turn around and she has already worked with high levels of government on promoting economic activity. Coakley said the state level of government needs to work together for the people of Massachusetts.

Coakley says she's been meeting with people around the state to hear their concerns.

"Policies are great, implementation is great but there is a reason we have government — because we want it to be there for everybody," she said. "We work to solve problems and the next governor of this state needs to make sure we continue that economic turnaround for everybody."

Part of turning the economy around is having a good education system, she said.

Coakley says she supports longer school days and years and bringing together nonprofits and businesses to create job training programs for those who need new or different skills to return to the workforce.

"I know that we have wonderful system where we let the kids out just in time for the spring planting and we bring them back after the fall harvest. But, it is 2013 and our kids need to compete in the global marketplace," Coakley said. "I believe we need longer school days. We need better education for everyone and we need to look at how the school year is structured."

Coakley also lent her support to the Raise Up campaign of which the Berkshire Brigades are part. That campaign is gathering signatures to place questions on the ballot of raising the minimum wage and requiring all workers be given earned sick time.

"I support both of these. To me, those are no brainers," she said, adding that everybody can agree that a worker cannot live on the current minimum wage.

Coakley is the third Democratic candidate to meet with local voters in the past week: Dr. Donald Berwick and Steven Grossman, state treasurer, were here last week. Also, third-party candidate Evan Falchuk was at the Fall Foliage Parade.



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