PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The three Democratic candidates all believe that Republican Gov. Charlie Baker can be beat in the fall.
It is just a matter of which one of them will be on the ballot against him.
Will it be former Newton Mayor Setti Warren, former Secretary of Administration and Finance under Gov. Deval Patrick's administration Jay Gonzalez, or author and activist Bob Massie?
"There is a not a single issue where the majority of people feel he is doing a good job," Gonzalez said of Baker.
Polls have constantly shown Baker as being a very popular governor. But, the Democrats say when it comes to the issues, the Republican is just "status quo." Massie said Baker is using a "Jedi mind trick" when it comes to his popularity. But, Massie believes there is a "blue wave" growing throughout the state and with the likes of Elizabeth Warren being challenged on the ballot again, he expects Democrats to head to the polls in big numbers.
"He won by the smallest margin in the history of Massachusetts," Massie said. "This is not as hard as it looks [to beat him]."
Warren said defeating the incumbent is based on being truthful about the state's needs. He quoted Patrick as saying that "Democrats need to grow a backbone" and clearly lay out exactly what it will take to address issues such as transportation, education, and the opioid crisis.
"We cannot be afraid to tell the truth about what it is going to take to get the state heading in the right direction," Warren said.
All three of them want to be the candidate for the Democratic Party. On Sunday, the three handled nearly two dozen questions in making their pitch why they should be supported.
The candidates agreed on many of the issues, but Massie said he brings a deeper, more "structural and more systematic" look at the issues to the race and a lengthy track record in advocating for Democratic principles.
"It is important to get the governorship so we can lead state by state by state," Massie said.
Gonzalez said he is the only the candidate who served a leadership position in state government. That experience is what gives him the ability to not only set an ambitious agenda for the state but to also deliver on it.
Warren said his agenda will include significantly more resources being pushed to education, transportation, and the opioid crisis. And to pay those investments, Warren said he'd push to get millionaires and billionaires, particularly in the eastern part of the state, to contribute more in revenue.
"We've got to as people doing really well to contribute more," Warren said.
He said he'd revamp the Chapter 70 funding formula for schools and push for free public college. He'd look to bolster the regional transit authorities and develop east-west rail and north-south rail. And for opioids, he'd like to see a significant push for clinicians and treatment beds.
The debate was moderated by state Sen. Adam Hinds, who has been working on developing a model for north-south rail. He asked the three candidates what they would do to move that along.
Massie said he would look at the entire transportation system. He is calling for a 10- to 15-year plan, which starts with developing a look at all of the state's transportation needs, determining the wants, what it will take to do it, and have a statewide conversation about how to get there.
"We would launch on a 10-year plan," Massie said, saying transportation is the cornerstone of prosperity for communities.
Gonzalez agreed with the importance of transportation being a driver of economic growth. The issues facing such investments are with the revenues to fund it. Gonzalez believes that the so-called "millionaires' tax," which is a ballot question asking to implement an additional tax burden on incomes over $1 million in a year, will provide the extra revenue needed for the system.
"We need to be looking at east, west rail and not just Springfield being the end of west, but Pittsfield the end of west," Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez also believes in placing a priority on broadband expansion. He said it was a priority of his when working in the Patrick administration and he still can't believe that not every corner of the state has access to high-speed internet.
"It is like running water, to have access to high-speed internet. That this hasn't been done is amazing to me," Gonzalez said. "We will do whatever we need to do at the state level to get this done. ... We're falling down on the job under Gov. Baker. This will be a priority for me."
Massie again took a wider look at the issue, saying the lack of broadband access stems from an economic system that gives too much power to corporations.
"I see it as a system problem partly driven by economic power that does not have our interest at heart," Massie said.
It is the same system that is raising electricity costs, he said. He authored a report outlining exactly how the state can move to renewable energies to lower costs. And he'd break apart the rules that give utility companies the ability to essentially set the conditions on public bidding, apply, and then be part of the decision to win the bid.
"We are being misled and ripped off by the utilities," Massie said.
Warren said tackling electric costs starts with revamping the Department of Public Utilities.
"We need to have a department of public utilities that actually works for the public because they are not right now," Warren said.
He, too, supports renewable energy, specifically solar. He said as mayor he had a program in which municipally-owned systems shared power with low-income residents to help lower their bills. It is programs like that he'd like to expand to a statewide level.
Gonzalez said not only do companies have too much power in the DPU but too much power with the governor. He said Baker won't oppose natural gas pipelines or put in policies to accelerate renewable energy. He'd like to see the state adopt carbon pricing. An added benefit is that green energy jobs are one of the fastest growing sectors.
For economic development, Massie said he'd create regional economic plans. Particularly, he said he'd focus on local businesses, change investment rules to promote more local capital investment, have programs to promote local spending, expand business models such as co-operatives, and integrate those economic strategies with goals regarding other issues such as the environment or criminal justice.
Warren also promotes small, local businesses. He'd like to see the state increase its available technical assistance and micro-loan grant programs to help local business grow quicker.
Gonzalez said his economic development goals will be based on finishing the job of expanding broadband and increasing workforce training programs to train workers for the advanced manufacturing jobs.
Massie's focus includes on support farming. He said he'd want to support young farmers taking over farms, promote locally grown food, create land trusts so that those who may not be able to afford the land can still farm it. He said food is a key piece to the state's economic future.
Warren said he'd make sure farmers were able to receive more micro-loans and small grants to survive.
"It is going to take real resources from the eastern part of the state," Warren said.
What none of the candidates said they would have done was give tax breaks to General Electric to move to the Boston area when the Housatonic River has yet to be cleaned. Massie said he'd move away from giving tax breaks to large corporations. He said he doesn't want to give more money to companies that already make a lot of money just for the favor of having them come to the state. Instead, he'd move those tax breaks to small and local companies to become the base of a sustainable economy.
"I want to build homegrown businesses," Massie said.
Warren said he wouldn't have given a tax break and if he had his way, he'd have proposals such as the one for Amazon to include goals such as expanding rail. He said his concept was to pitch Amazon for Worcester and have the company help the state build east-west rail.
All three candidates are supportive of labor unions.
"I think we need unions now more than ever. We are losing the middle class," Gonzalez said.
The former health care executive said there is a Supreme Court case pending that could weaken unions. But it was unions that build the middle the class in the past.
Warren said there is a myth about unions that it raises the costs. But he worked with 17 unions as mayor and was still able to eradicate a structural deficit, grow the city's reserves, and get the process to build five schools starts, all of which are being done with union labor and is on budget and on time.
Massie said it was in the 1980s when he edited a book on labor rights and he has been a longtime union member.
"I have fought for unions. I have defended unions. I believe they are essential to our community, essential to our economy," Massie said.
Nursing unions have pushed for a ballot initiative to set laws around the number of nurses staffed in a hospital. All of the candidates said they'd be in favor of that. Massie has a lengthy history of medical issues and said he knows firsthand the difference a nurse who has the time to give to a patient versus one who doesn't.
"I would not be here without the care I got from nurses, hundreds of nurses," Massie said.
He believes another supportive step is moving toward single-payer health care, which Massie said he's been advocating for in the United States since the 1970s when he received treatment overseas in a country with universal care.
Single-payer health care has been a cornerstone of the Gonzalez campaign. The former executive for Celticare said he is the only one in the race who has experience in the industry. He said he'll be able to work through the ins and outs of the complicated system to create a single-payer model that is "simpler, cheaper, and better."
Warren added that a secondary piece of staffing levels of nurses is making sure there isn't a shortage. He said many people are dropping out of college or not going at all because of the cost. He wants free public college for all to ensure there are enough skilled workers, including nurses.
Public colleges are one piece of Warren's educational platform. He said the state's education funding is providing inadequate amounts to districts that need it the most. He opposes the expansion of charter schools and wants to create more equity in the Chapter 70 state education funding formula.
"We've got to ensure every single district gets funding to education every single child," Warren said.
Gonzalez said he'd support changes to the system and he does not support charter schools.
"It is not in our interest to create a competitive market for public education. Every single school needs to be great for every single kid," Gonzalez said.
Further, he said early education and preschool is "game-changing" for children but many parents can't afford it. He said his priority would create more high quality and affordable preschool programs.
Massie seconded that, saying the first three years are critical in a child's life. He said the state needs creative and innovative workers to fuel the economy, but the education system isn't providing that. He is looking to "redefine" how the state handles education.
"We can't coast on what we've done in the past," Massie said.
Two students at Mount Greylock Regional School in Williamstown had just returned from Saturday's MarchForOurLives in Washington, D.C. They said they, and many teenagers, are interested in politics and policy. So they wanted to know how the candidates would engage with the youth. And, with the march being in opposition to gun violence, they wanted to know what the candidates would do for gun control.
Warren said when he took office the youth commission was structured in a way that adults did the voting and the students were advisers. He flipped that model, making the students the commissioners and giving them a voice in every policy the city took on. He'd expand that model on a state level.
As for gun control, Warren is the only candidate with a military background. He said he carried an M-16 in Iraq and can assure anyone that they have "no business being in our schools, our neighborhoods, our communities."
Massie raised three children so he's had his experience with teens. He'd make sure their voices are being heard. For guns, he said Baker has backed off support from legislation after being pressured by the NRA and he'd push for technology such as fingerprint unlocking devices to make the weapons safer.
Meanwhile, Gonzalez said he'd pursue a ban on assault rifle manufacturing in Massachusetts. He said the rifle used in Florida was manufactured in Massachusetts. Additionally, he said Baker would support lifting a ban on silencers, which Gonzalez said he'd oppose.
"You should never have to go to school or worry about some madman," Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez also supports criminal justice reform. He'd like to see more diversionary programs so that those who are addicted to narcotics get treatment and not just sent to jail. He wants programs in place so that when somebody does come out of jail, they don't fall back into bad behaviors. And, he wants to eliminate minimum sentences and reform the system of fees and fines so that people aren't being locked in jail just because they can't afford the fines.
Massie said there needs to be a stronger push to address the underlying racism in the criminal justice system. He supports diversion programs and finding ways to end the cycle of people repeatedly going to jail.
For Warren, criminal justice reform ties in with his push to combat the opioid crisis. He voiced support for treatment programs.
"We need additional beds for detox. We need additional clinicians," Warren said.
Gonzalez said the state doesn't have enough urgency in addressing the epidemic. He supports treatment programs and would like to see other ideas such as safe injection sites to keep people alive long enough to get into treatment programs.
"This is a crisis across the entire state and we are not treating it with the level of urgency this crisis demands," Gonzalez said.
The debate was sponsored by the Berkshire Brigades and the Berkshire Central Labor Council. The brigades are a Democratic organization that works to get progressive candidates elected on all levels of government.
"The Brigades do not endorse a candidate before a primary but after the primary, we work like crazy to get them elected," Chairwoman Shiela Irvin said.
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BCAC Taps Community For Needs Assessment
By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
Christina Maxwell of the Food Bank of Western Mass talks about food security.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Poverty was the topic of conversation on Friday to help the Berkshire Community Action Council gauge the needs in the community.
Community leaders and experts lead a panel Friday morning at the Berkshire Athenaeum to help spark a conversation among participants focused on poverty and its different catalysts.
"We are all interested in working on the destabilizing effects poverty is having on our community and so we hope that we will get some good information here," BCAC Executive Director Deborah Leonczyk said. "So please give us your ideas, your suggestions. Give us your experiences we need to hear it all."
She said as the federally designated anti-poverty agency in the county, every three years BCAC must "take the pulse" of the community and find out what the needs are. This will inform the action plan for the next three years.
Sutton led an itinerant childhood under the thumb of his alcoholic, abusive biological father. After shuttling between Massachusetts and the state of Florida, he was barely able to make it to the 11th grade before quitting in the first week. click for more