SHELBURNE FALLS — In an eight-way primary contest for a state in which the hopefuls have vastly different levels of experience and very similar-sounding positions, a forum Tuesday gave 1st Franklin District voters a chance to see distinctions among them.
The candidates — Kate Albright-Hanna of Huntington, Andrew Baker of Shelburne, Natalie Blais of Sunderland, Christine Doktor of Cummington, Jonathan Edwards of Whately, Casey Pease of Worthington, Nathaniel Waring of Sunderland and Francia Wisnewski of Montague — responded mostly to questions submitted by the 70 or so people attending the two-hour forum at Mohawk Trail Regional High School.
One question, about whether they had been to elected office, showed the vast range of experience.
Pease, who as a 22-year-old sophomore at the University of Massachusetts was the youngest paid staffer on the 2016 Sanders presidential campaign, said he was elected a class vice president as well as chair of his town’s Democratic committee and Waring, “a very different candidate (who) wouldn’t make a good politician,” was elected a delegate to the state Democratic Convention, while Doktor said she was elected to the board of the Old Creamery Co-Op and Albright-Hanna said she was elected secretary of Huntington’s Democratic committee.
Edwards was elected to five terms on the Whately Selectboard as well as other posts, while Wisnewski pointed to being elected twice to the Greenfield School Committee as well as to Montague Town Meeting and other positions, Baker pointed to his two terms as a Shelburne Selectboard member and his six years on the School Committee, and Blais was elected a Sunderland Public Library trustee.
Yet as someone who’s worked for a decade as congressional aide to Rep. Jim McGovern, and before that Rep. John Olver, Blais declared, “I’m the person who can hit the ground running.” Pease pointed to himself as someone with a lifetime of familiarity with issues in the district “who has the energy and the passion to be bold,” and passion for political action. Meanwhile, Doktor pointed to her legal expertise as well as her part-time farming experience, Albright-Hanna pointed to her work as a “muckraking journalist,” Wisnewski described being “a unique candidate” who’s worked for 17 years all over Franklin and Hampshire counties in education, social justice, and community development. Baker described his experience in green energy and workforce development and community development throughout the district, Edwards emphasized his work in workforce development as well as coalition building, partly as chair of the Franklin County Selectboard Association, while Waring said, “We need someone who’ll represent poor people, not just saying, ‘I’m a rich person, I’m going to be representing poor people,’ to talk about poverty.”
The candidates pointed to their priority issues and those they’d focus on in their first legislative proposals if elected.
Baker called for legislation to ensure that any shortfall in funding for regional school transportation be deducted equally from charter school appropriations and to support “innovative college readiness programs at community colleges. Wisnewski called for reform of Chapter 70 to achieve “full and fair education funding,” and said she would immediately sign on to legislation to create a single-payer healthcare system in the state.
Blais called for fully funding Payment in Lieu of Taxes and ensuring that funding exists before additional land is purchased the state. She said that the “scarcity aid” being proposed for rural public schools also should be provided for rural transportation, health care access, infrastructure and downtown revitalization through a “a gateway cities type program for rural areas.”
Doktor said her priorities include providing single-payer health insurance, better funding public education and reforming the state Department of Public Utilities as a way to move forward with solar and other renewable energy solutions. Edwards said his priorities include fully funding regional school transportation as well as special education at the state level, appointing an assistant economic development secretary for western Mass.
Pease also said he would press for mandatory full regional school transportation reimbursement and periodically updating the Chapter 70 school aid formula, as well as a strong comprehensive clean energy bill in the House to provide clean energy jobs and carbon pricing.
Waring said he would seek a “bill of rights” that provides for raises in the minimum wage to $20 by 2025 and $25 an hour by 2030.
Each of the candidates voiced support for a single-payer health bill, but Edwards cautioned, “We need the political capital to make sure it doesn’t paralyze us and it doesn’t cost us election after election after election. It needs to be done in the right way.”
Waring, as someone who’s had his children on MassHealth, warned, “There are ups and downs to single-payer. There are so many things wrong with MassHealth, and we have to make sure we don’t fall into the same problems with single-payer. Let’s not rush too much into it and pass something that’s not going to work.”
Pease said, “We have to be bold and put pressure on leadership” to see a single-payer plan pass, while Blais — referring to Leverett’s plan to meet Trump voters in Kentucky, said, “We have to break down barriers and reach across the aisles and be willing to have difficult conversations with people who do not believe the same things we do. Not talking to those people is what got us Trump in the first place.”