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Laugenour Launching Green Party Bid For State Rep.

By Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff

Photo by Susan Geller
L. Scott Laugenour in 2010.
LENOX, Mass. — In recent elections, the Green Rainbow Party has come closer and closer to securing a seat on Beacon Hill and Lee Scott Laugenour is launching another attempt to become the party's first representative.

Laugenour is gathering signatures and expects to host an official campaign launch in the coming months. After falling short in 2010 for the House's 4th Berkshire District, Laugenour says the campaign is "stronger" than ever before.

"We're stronger and more experienced," Laugenour said on Thursday. "The campaign is stronger, we are stronger. Our strength comes from the people."

A fundraiser last year has already put the party ahead, he said. Laugenour said he is starting this campaign with as much money as he spent all of the last election. With that, he has hired a campaign manager, which he lacked during the last run.

"We saw the need for an effective manager and are now strong enough to hire one," Laugenour said.

Laugenour plans to host an official launch at the end of May to take on Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, who defeated Laugenour by a sound margin of 652-159 in 2010. Laugenour says the campaign is not "against" Pignatelli but more a shake up in "politics as usual" to increase the number of voices in government.

"We have a real deficit of democracy," Laugenour said, adding that at this point the 4th Berkshire District appears to be the only contested race. "It's not a campaign against anybody."

Laugenour was also involved in Mark Miller's campaigns in 2010 and in the 2011 special election for the 3rd Berkshire District. Miller fell less than 200 votes short last year of becoming the Green-Rainbow Party's first state representative, an increase from his 2010 bid in which he was barely 1,000 votes shy.

Laugenour said his campaign will be built on sustainable energy policy, health care reform and a general need for different voices.

"Politics as usual isn't serving the community," Laugenour said. "We're just in a downward spiral right now. It's a big money, corporate-dominated structure."

Laugenour says a single-payer health care system is the "obvious" solution to growing health care costs but it is not being enacted because of the "big money" in politics.

"Fifty percent of our budget goes to health care and the solution is obvious but is being thwarted," he said. "We're not making progress."

As for energy, Laugenour supports all types of green energy. While drilling for oil is not done much in Massachusetts, the country is drilling just as much as it always has despite an emphasis on green energy. The state needs to discuss even more green options.

"Is it wind, solar, geothermal? It's probably a combination of them all," Laugenour said. "Let's give our communities a goal to reduce their carbon footprint."

However, he opposes a controversial wind siting bill that officials claimed would streamline the permitting process for wind turbines because of the lack of local control.

"It was allowing a three-member panel to be the voice of the community," Laugenour said. "It's a little bit of a house of cards."

Laugenour said there needs to be more discussions and options for communities to pursue green energy.

"We're all about finding solutions," Laugenour said. "We're supercharged and excited."

Laugenour has just about enough signatures to place him on the ballot and he is just getting them certified now. He expects to be on the ballot on May 15.
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Outsiders Up for the Challenge

By Nichole Dupont

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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Green-Rainbow Candidates Chance to Shine

Tammy Daniels

David Cachat of PCTV interviewed, rather than moderating.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The incumbents didn't show but their challengers were more than happy to take the spotlight on Monday night for the state representative debates on Pittsfield Community Television.

Rather than a back and forth between the Democrats and the Green-Rainbow Party nominees, David Cachat, coordinator for PCTV's Citylink, spent a half-hour each interviewing tbe Green-Rainbow candidates for the 3rd and 4th Berkshire districts.

It was a rare chance for a third party whose gubernatorial candidate, Jill Stein, has had to battle to be included in debates.

The debates were organized by PCTV and The Pittsfield Gazette in September. Fourth District incumbent William "Smitty" Pignatelli of Lenox had begged off citing calendar confusion (another debate has been proposed for next Monday) but Christopher N. Speranzo of Pittsfield, running for a third full term in the 3rd District, bowed out on Friday.

"I'm running for representative for the 3rd Berkshire District because I want the job. I want it so much that I plan to serve the entire two-year term," said Mark C. Miller, taking a swipe at Speranzo in his opening statement of what would have been the 3rd Berkshire debate.

Speranzo's come in for criticism for reportedly going after the lifetime job of clerk-magistrate in the Central Berkshire District Court while also running for another term as representative. If he wins and then gets the court job, a special election will have to be held to fill his seat. More than one political pundit has pointed out that's exactly how Speranzo came to office after his predecessor Peter Larkin quit for the private sector only days after being sworn in.

"I don't know whether he's a victim of terrible timing or what, but he's got a decision to make," said Miller, who speculated Speranzo expected to be elected anyway just by running as a Democrat. "If I'm elected all that will be moot ... but I am disappointed we can't have a dialogue."

Miller's comments evoked applause from what audience showed up for the two debates. Both he and fellow Green-Rainbow Lee Scott Laugenour are running against the expectation that Democrats — or Republicans for that matter — are safe bets.

Miller, longtime journalist and former editor of The Berkshire Eagle, said it was time to change government. The Democratic-controlled Legislature "works in the shadows," he said, and needs legislators willing to buck the system. "They won't miss one Democrat from Pittsfield; what they might not miss is a challenge by an independent legislator."

Laugenour had raised the same theme in his earlier interview. A longtime executive with Marriott Hotels in the Northeast, he said his position had given him an inside look at the power and influence-peddling behind the scenes in both parties. "There was a lot of secrecy behind that thick curtain."

Both believe the electorate is ready for a change, noting that the majority of voters in Massachusetts aren't enrolled in either party. Where some are turning toward tea party conservatism, the Green-Rainbow Party is offering an option for progressives.

"People are ready for a new kind of government a new kind of Legislature," said Laugenour. "It's time for legislators to arrive on Beacon Hill whose only debts are [to] the people whose hand they've shaken in their district, not to the affiliations of power brokering that goes on right now.

"Once people have a taste for it, they're going to like it."

Lee Scott Laugenour, whose image refused to be captured.

Where they stand:

The candidates were asked similar questions during their interviews. What follows is summing up of their stands on the issues.

Taxes

Both candidates said the current system is regressive and hurting middle and lower-income citizens. Miller said he wouldn't have voted for last year's increase in sales tax but would not support the current effort to cut it in half: "That would be absolutely disastrous."

Miller said the state constitution prevents a progressive tax system; however, he suggests raising the income tax across the board while providing exemptions targeting middle and lower-income earners. "That would level the playing field a little and bring in a billion or a billion and half more in revenue."

Laugenour, who also would not have voted for the sales tax increase, said it was in the Legislature's power to change to a graduated tax. Its failure to act has put greater pressure on municipalities to use property taxes for services. "The overreliance on property tax revenue has been building for at least the last 10 years that the Legislature has reduced local aid."


Health Care

The candidates had harsh words for the state and federal health insurance reform. "It's just unaffordable and it's second rate," said Miller. "These are boondoggles for the private insurance industry." Both advocated for a single-payer plan that Miller said was abandoned by the Democrats and the issue that led him to leave the party. Laugenour said health care should be considered as infrastructure.

"It's pretty well proven a publicly funded health insurance system costs less money than ours," said Laugenour, who added he'd experienced such plans while living overseas. "We don't have it right now because we have a lot of insurance industries that purchase influence from the leaders of both parties ... we need people in the Legislature who don't take this money."


Casino Gambling

"Casinos take more jobs and projects out of the community than they bring in," said Laugenour, who referred to a New Hampshire study that found for every job created by casinos, 1 1/2 jobs were lost.

"It preys on addiction so I tend to be against it for an economic development tool," said Miller. "If you're in an economic low like we are now, it's hard to be against something ... but lot of what they make goes right out of the state."

Education

Both support funding for education at all levels but admitted the difficulty in how to do it. Miller said he was not in favor of charter schools because they tend to siphon not only funds but more motivated students from the public schools. Laugenour said it was important to find ways to provide an equal educational experience not reliant on where you lived. The state had been the first to introduce a public education, he said, and should be able to find a way to improve it.

Energy

Miller said he was in favor of alternative energy but didn't think the answer was only in megaprojects like Cape Wind that may well in increase the cost of electricity. Rather, he said, it would be more efficient and cost effective to encourage local activity, such as wind or solar panels on homes and businesses.

"This is decentralized and everyone could take part," he said. "Think of the green jobs that could be developed from this."

 Transportation

Laugenour, who sits on the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority board, is an outspoken advocate for public transportation as a key part of instrastructure. He's made biking around the 18 towns in the 4th District a centerpiece of his campaign (he said he'll take the bus to Boston). He doesn't support the Pittsfield Municipal Airport expansion on environmental and economic grounds, feeling the results won't be worth the cost. Putting the money into expanding bus transportation would have a higher pay off, he said.

"It's because the Legislature does not fund public transportation the way it should," he said. "I'll get a lot more business leaders around the issue of public transportation on evenings and weekends than I ever will to get them to support the airport expansion."

 

The interviews will be rebroadcast on PCTV and are available on the website (where I watched them.)

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Incumbents Cancel on Tonight's Debates

Staff Reports

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Debates for state representative are scheduled tonight, Monday, at Berkshire Community College but the two incumbents have indicated they won't be there.

The debates, sponsored by The Pittsfield Gazette and Pittsfield Community Television, are set to start at 6 with candidates for the 4th Berkshire District and at 7 with candidates for the 3rd Berkshire District.

The debate scheduled for 6 p.m. between incumbent William "Smitty" Pignatelli of Lenox and Green/Rainbow Party candidate Scott Lee Laugenour of Lenox may turn into a one-sided conversation. Pignatelli, who had accepted the debate invitation, informed the Gazette that he confused the date.

The debate may be moved to next week but Laugenour is expected to go on alone tonight. Laugenour, in an e-mail to supporters, said he has also accepted to debate Pignatelli next Monday.

Third District incumbent Christopher N. Speranzo of Pittsfield reportedly informed PCTV by e-mail on Friday that he was "respectfully" declining to attend tonight's debate. The three-term Democrat has been keeping a low profile, especially after it was revealed he was interviewing for the lifetime position of clerk-magistrate of Central Berkshire District Court. He did attend a Democrat kickoff rally in Pittsfield earlier this month, but stayed in the background.

Gazette Editor Jonathan Levine said the 7 p.m. debate will instead be a "conversation" with Speranzo's challenger Mark C. Miller of Pittsfield. Miller, a longtime journalist and former editor of The Berkshire Eagle, is running as the Green/Rainbow candidate.

The debates, such as they are, will be held in BCC's K-111 room and moderated (or interviewed) by David Cachat, coordinator of PCTV's CityLink; seating is first-come, first-served. The event will be telecast on PCTV and live-streamed at www.pittsfieldtv.org.

A second set of debates hosted by BCC and sponsored by the Gazette and PCTV is planned for Monday, Oct. 25, between candidates for the 2nd Berkshire District (Democrat Paul Mark, Republican Michael Case and independent Stefan Racz) and state auditor, including Great Barrington resident and Democrat Suzanne Bump, Republican Mary Connaughton of Framingham and Green/Rainbow candidate Nat Fortune of Whately.

Any updates on tonight's debates will be posted here.

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