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Paul Mark, left, and Brendan Phair shake hands at Thursday's state Senate debate held in the Pittsfield Community Television studios.

State Senate Candidates Clash on Abortion, Fair Share, Police Reform in Debate

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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The candidates answer questions on energy, abortion, homeless, police reform and other topics during the hourlong debate with PCTV's Shawn Serre as moderator. 

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — State Senate candidates Paul Mark and Brendan Phair covered regional and national issues in a debate hosted by Pittsfield Community Television and iBerkshires on Thursday evening at the PCTV studios.

The two had significantly different views on abortion rights, gender-affirming care, police reform, and the Fair Share Amendment.

Phair, an independent candidate, described himself as "pro-life, pro-second amendment, pro-energy, pro-business, pro-parental rights, and pro-law enforcement" in his opening statements.

Mark pointed out that he and his opponent have a sharp contrast on the issues but commended Phair for keeping personal matters out of his campaign.

"There is definitely a clear contrast in the issues and I think that was highlighted tonight," he said.

Phair works as a paraprofessional educator at Taconic High School and is a newcomer to the political scene. He is also in support of tax cuts and tax relief and is against the state's 2035 electric vehicle mandate.

He emphasized the need to bring people to Massachusetts and fight population decline, referencing the 2012 loss of a congressional seat and the loss of a Berkshire County state representative in 2023 because of depopulation. (Mark's 2nd District as it is comprised now will be absorbed into other districts next year, leaving the county with three seats.)

"We need to expand our tax base. We need to bring our heating costs down, we have one of the highest heating costs in the country," Phair said.  

"We definitely need to retain and attract businesses and people here in Massachusetts. We need lower taxes and tax relief now because of inflation. Massachusetts has a lot to offer, we have incredible recreation here, it's a beautiful place to live, it's a really good place to raise your kids. However, it's becoming too difficult to make ends meet and it's very disheartening to see people move out of state and so I'll do everything I can to improve Massachusetts and make it reach its full potential."

Mark, a resident of Peru, is a six-term representative of the 2nd Berkshire District. In his tenure, the district has consisted of 29 different communities in Berkshire, Hampshire, and Franklin counties.

He described his humble beginnings when his father was laid off from his warehouse job: needing government assistance, being evicted and foreclosed, and not being able to make vital repairs in the family home.

A year into college, he realized he could not afford to be there and began a unionized career at Verizon as an outside tech.

"I'm a member of a union because of that there are all kinds of great benefits that union members fight for to get from the employer, including tuition. And that tuition plan allows me to go back to school and achieve in 10 and a half years that I worked there, an associate's degree, a bachelor's degree, a master's degree, a law degree, a doctoral degree," Mark said, reflecting on his experience with the union.

"And I mentioned it for two reasons: One, I never give up and no one works harder than me when I care about something, and two, opportunity. A barrier was in my way when I was 19 years old. That barrier was financial. I was able to overcome it because of opportunity. I'm running for State Senate for the same reason I serve in the state house, to make sure that everyone in this district has the same opportunity for success that I've had."

The winner will replace former state Sen. Adam Hinds, who made an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor and recently stepped down to become CEO of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate

The moderator was Shawn Serre, executive director of Pittsfield Community Television, and the debate panelists were iBerkshires Pittsfield Bureau Chief Brittany Polito, WAMC Berkshire Bureau Chief Josh Landes, and Berkshire Edge Managing Editor Shaw Israel Izikson.

Do you support Governor Baker's executive order to further protect reproductive health access and gender-affirming care in the wake of the Supreme Court overriding Roe v Wade? Should it be codified?

"I think it's important. I think Governor Baker made the right move and I think it is important that we make sure that regardless of people's personal needs or personal background, that they have the access to the health-care services that they need and deserve and that is what separates Massachusetts from some other areas of the country where we see some really horrible surprising things that I couldn't imagine 10 years ago even would be happening in 2022 America," Mark said.

"And so part of the action we took in the Legislature in response to the (Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization) decision, in response to what's going on with the Supreme Court was to make sure that people that are in need of this type of care, whether it's reproductive health care, gender-affirming care, or any other kind of personal priority regarding their own personal rights and personal health care, that they have that access and I'm really honored to have voted for that."

Phair said supporting abortion access is "embracing a culture of death."  

The candidate also supports "crisis pregnancy centers," which the state has identified as organizations that seek to dissuade people from accessing abortion care. warns that they are often misleading, inaccurate, and not licensed medical facilities that are required to follow codes of ethics or standards of care.

"The government dictating to insurance companies that they can't charge patients for fees, for co-payments, and telling them what they can and cannot do is wrong," Phair said.

"What's even more wrong is our legislators embracing a culture of death as opposed to embracing a culture of life. We have gone all in on a culture of death. There's no more debate anymore about finding a middle ground. We have abortion on demand, abortion for any reason, at any point right up to the point of the mother dilating. We've reduced the age of consent from 18 to 16 and we took away language that required life-saving medical care for babies that survived abortion and our legislators voted to take that away. That's terrible."

Mark said he found it "really disturbing" that 50 years of a precedent disappeared overnight and women became "essentially second-class citizens in certain parts of this country."

"Massachusetts has no choice but to make sure that we step in and that we make sure we are leading the nation because states are the laboratories of democracy when the federal government fails," he added.

 "So I'm proud of what has been accomplished in the Legislature and I think it was the right thing to do."

Phair claimed that the Roe v Wade decision, built on prior cases on privacy rights, was not based on any legal precedent and was made up with no basis in law.

"It was a horrible decision. It was a contentious decision at the time, and it is 50, 60 years later, in part, not only because abortion is so terrible but the legal decision itself was wrong," he added.

"There were no historical experts on the pro-abortion side back in 1973. They created a right to privacy.  You do not have a right to privacy to take the life of an innocent human being and now, like I said, we've gone all in here in Massachusetts and the Roe Act that was passed in December of 2020 puts us on par with China, North Korea, and Vietnam. Three of the worst countries as far as human rights abuses. So I support life. I'm also against physician-assisted suicide as well."

Do you support the Fair Share Amendment? If you don't, how should the Legislature fund the state's failing infrastructure and educational needs?

Mark has voted for the amendment in the Legislature four times and emphasized that the 4 percent surcharge only goes into effect on earnings over the first $1 million.

"The surcharge does not go in until you pass $1 million so if you make $1.5 million, it only takes effect on the 0.5 million, $500,000. So effectively, the first $20,000 a week you make you're OK. After that, it kicks in and it becomes a constitutional amendment which allows us to change the tax structure," he explained, adding that in the past, a graduated income tax is passed through the Legislature and come to the voters for ratification as part of the state Constitution.

Phair thinks the amendment is a divisive "false narrative" and that the state has enough revenue for infrastructure, citing a 76 percent increase in the state's budget over 12 years.

"I don't think it's fair. I think we need to expand our tax base and I think the passage of the Fair Share Amendment will decrease our tax base," he said.

"We're already seeing an outward migration of people to other states. Massachusetts has the fourth highest net deficit in the country of people leaving the state going to other states versus people from other states moving here, and a lot of our residents, they're moving to New Hampshire, Maine, and Florida. Those are the top three, not in that particular order."

Phair added that amending the constitution to change the tax rate is also a bad idea because it will take time to rectify "when the consequences go bad."

"Having the constitutional authority to charge the extra 4 percent doesn't change how the regular income tax structure works so, in theory, the current income tax rate is 5 percent, if this was causing a problem, there could be exemptions, there could be changes to the regular tax code to put it into service," Mark responded.

"Right now we have a lot of revenue in the state. We're really lucky Washington has for once done a good job of making sure that funding is coming through to us at a time of great need but it's important to remember those times don't stay the same. When revenue starts to dip again, which is inevitable, our schools and our transportation still need funding and this can help us get there and close the gap."

In 2020, the state Legislature and the Senate took on a very passionate debate about police reform, including topics like qualified immunity.  What are your thoughts on that reform? Did it go too far? Did it not go far enough? Are you pleased with the way it's written?

Phair would have voted against the police reform bill because he doesn't think it is necessary. He believes that Massachusetts doesn't have the problems with police abuse that occur in other parts of the country.

He has spoken in support of body cameras because both police and victim advocacy groups support them.

"I think our men and woman in blue do an excellent job and I don't think they should have been blamed for the actions of a horrible police officer 1,400 miles away in Minneapolis," he said, referencing the 2020 police killing of George Floyd.

"I think this was an excuse for our legislators to beat their chest and demonize our women and men in blue. A lot of the protocols and procedures that were put forth in this bill, our law enforcement are already ahead of the curve. They already had these procedures in place with extra protocols and paperwork and making sure things were done correctly and to minimize abuse of citizens."

He added that legislators who supported it are talking about more police reform bills, asking "how much more of a burden should we put on our police officers?"

Phair supports qualified immunity for emergency medical personnel and police officers.

Mark thinks that the most important accomplishment of the police reform bill is the training standards established to ensure that everyone gets the best possible professional service they can get. The biggest shortcoming of the bill for him is the needs of small towns in accessing funding for the training.

"We need to make sure that there are bridges available through funding to ensure that smaller towns that already have a difficult time attracting and retaining officers are able to get them fully trained and have them full time without them taking the training and then running off quickly," Mark said.

"So making sure that we are not leaving this as an unfunded mandate is really important to me living in a rural community."

When asked about the Black Lives Matter movement, Phair spoke against it.

"Black Lives Matter movement is a Marxist organization. They're anti-life, they're anti-Second Amendment, they're anti-nuclear family, they're anti-Semitic and they're prone to violence," he said.

"And all the money that they've raised, they've raised I believe $76 million and it's not going back into our minority communities. That is such a shame. We should be honoring George Floyd. What happened to him was horrible and for Black Lives Matters to engage and promote violence in 2020 is bad enough but people are just taking advantage of victimhood ideology and making money off of it. It's terrible."

The website of the organization established as Black Lives Matter in the wake of Floyd's killing, says it has spent less than 10 percent on overhead costs and has reinvested more than $25 million into the Black community.

Mark pointed out that the movement began more than 10 years ago as a hashtag after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin.

"I think what's most important to talk about as a white person living in extremely white Berkshire County when I think about the anger that people in different communities must feel, when I think about the persecution that people that don't look like me have felt, it's really hard for me to judge how they should act and judge how they should react," he said.

"And I think about again, back to my story, there was a moment where I felt down, I felt out, and I'm lucky here I sit with a suit, and I clean up and people look at me differently and they talked to me differently and I think there's a lot of people around this country and in the state that don't have that same possibility and I don't blame them for being angry."

Phair said there are a lot of organizations that start off with good intentions when it involves victimhood ideology, organizations "completely implode and politics take over and they become radicalized, and they don't do the right thing and it's all about an agenda."

He added that he believes in peace and not violence.

"I would add I agree with a peaceful movement is generally the best way to proceed and acts of violence are not acceptable," Mark replied. "But that being said, it's not my place to judge how different communities feel."

Halfway through the debate, the candidates were given a chance to ask each other one question. Phair asked Mark if doctors should be allowed to provide gender reassignment care to children under the age of 18, which he is against.  

He is also against other gender-affirming methods such as hormone therapy and puberty blockers and believes that parental rights include children not being able to change their preferred pronouns or name at school without consulting them.  

Mark said a person going through this process is not doing it recreationally and pointed out that a physician's duty is to "do no harm," meaning that if a doctor and patient come to the decision together, it is the right one.

"I think it's important that, in almost any case, whether it's choice, whether it's gender-affirming care, that the government stays out of it," he added.

"That the government lets people make the decisions that are best for their life. And that's part of freedom to me."

Mark said he feels it is important for people in that community to have the opportunity to live the life they want without fear, bullying, or any kind of mistreatment — including government observation that could not be in the best interest of what the person is going through.

Other topics included the state's budget, education, homelessness, and energy costs.

The hourlong debate can be watched on Pittsfield Community Television here.

Tags: debate,   election 2022,   State Senate,   

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Pittsfield Starbucks Closed Temporarily

By Sabrina DammsiBerkshires Staff

A sign outside the coffee shop assures customers the closure is only temporary. 
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Your alarm goes off, you get ready, and you leave for school, work, or whatever your appointment a little bit early to get a cup of coffee to start your day, only to find that the Pittsfield Starbucks, located at  555 Hubbard Ave., is closed. 
The sign has been removed, and the drive-through is blocked, but Starbucks coffee addicts need not worry — this closure is only temporary. 
The coffee shop closed its doors temporarily on July 7 to undergo a standard renovation with the chain's new Siren System, a Starbucks spokesperson said. 
According to the signage, the reopening date is projected to be Aug. 21. 
According to its website, the Siren System is part of the chain's Starbucks Reinvention plan, which aims to improve the experience for partners and staff by responding to changing needs and increasing demands. 
"As a standard course of business, we continually evaluate our store portfolio using various criteria to ensure we are meeting the needs of our customers," the spokesperson said. 
The chain's article on unveiling its innovations said, "Over the past few years, the number of cold beverages ordered has surpassed the number of hot drinks year-round. And, two in three drinks ordered have requested customizations such as extra espresso shots and flavorings."
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