Representing a range of backgrounds, experience and expertise, five Democratic candidates for the state Senate seat left vacant by Stan Rosenberg met with voters Tuesday evening.
Hosted by the New Salem Town Democratic Committee, with members of other Democratic committees from area towns, write-in candidates Jo Comerford, Steven Connor, David Murphy and Ryan O’Donnell, as well as Chelsea Kline, the only candidate on the ballot, met with around 100 would-be constituents at the Town Hall.
The candidates each had a chance to make their pitch as to why they are best suited to represent the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester Senate District. They also heard residents’ areas of concern, including transportation, health care, education, state funding and more
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“If elected, if I have the privilege of being your state senator, this won’t be the first or the last time I am in your Town Hall,” said Comerford in her opening statement.
Comerford touted her experience as a leader for various local organizations, including the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, Center for Human Development, the National Priorities Project and the American Friends Service Committee.
A progressive, Comerford has recently worked as campaign director for MoveOn, a liberal advocacy group. She said her leadership experience and accessibility will make her an effective leader if voters choose to send her to Beacon Hill on Sept. 4.
One point that Comerford stated — that garnered applause from the crowd — was that there are railroads, unused, laid across Massachusetts from east to west, but without enough or any passenger trains operating on them. This major transportation problem, she said, should be fixed to provide more economic benefits to the area and the rest of the state.
The other candidates agreed with Comerford that transportation in the area must be addressed, and that increased funds for local transportation would ultimately be beneficial.
Connor, a U.S. Navy veteran and director of 14 years at the Central Hampshire Veterans’ Services, said his experience managing veterans’ services in 11 communities makes him a strong advocate for veterans and his experience with large annual budgets and compassion make him suitable to represent all constituents.
“My parents really taught me to care about the less fortunate people, the marginalized in our community groups,” said Connor, who has lived and raised his family in both Franklin and Hampshire Counties.
Connor also asserted that the costs of Special Education, while undoubtedly rising, should be paid by the federal government, which has not held up its “promise” to do so.
Connor said he would ask the Massachusetts attorney general to sue the federal government over the issue if elected.
Kline detailed her past struggles and how she overcame them, as well as her experience helping “nontraditional” adult students become acclimated to college life at Bay Path University.
Once a young single mother struggling to stay financially afloat, Kline went on to earn her college degree and become an advocate for progressive policies. She said the help she received from government programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, taught her the importance of those programs.
She hopes to expand state services and funding in health care, education and social safety net programs if elected.
“I see that we have policies that are being enacted without being written by the very people that they serve,” Kline said, expressing a desire to change that.
Kline also said unfunded mandates by the state are often harmful to small communities and their budgets. She specifically named mandates around marijuana and solar power, and said they should be tweaked to be less harmful to rural communities.
“The driving force of my life is to make a difference,” said Murphy, an Amherst-born attorney and former political aide to Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy.
Murphy worked for the Department of Justice during the Clinton Administration, and, at the state level, was the legislative director of the Department of Children and Families in Massachusetts.
With Rosenberg gone, and seats being vacated by state Reps. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, and John Scibak, D-South Hadley, Murphy said western Massachusetts is “losing almost 100 years of legislative experience,” and that his work with legislators makes him the right person for the job.
Murphy said he has and will continue to advocate for expanding health care. He said he supports a single-payer system and aims to fight for the disadvantaged. He said the state should have more oversight over health care systems.
“Government isn’t always the bad guy in the room. We can do some things better than the private sector, because the private sector is all about money,” Murphy said.
O’Donnell, a member of the Northampton City Council for five years, a University of Massachusetts graduate who went to public schools and grew up in “affordable housing,” said he not only understands the struggles of the common person, but also has useful experience making decisions that affect others.
“I think I’m unique in this race,” O’Donnell said. “I’m the only one who has direct, elected, legislative experience.”
O’Donnell said state funding of public transportation should be increased and that cutting buses is not the way to balance a budget, “because it reduces ridership,” and therefore revenue.
O’Donnell agreed with the other candidates that more tax revenue can, and should, be raised by taxing the wealthiest in the state.
He, like the others, supports a single-payer health care system, and wants universal access to health care, but also recognized that legislation like the Affordable Care Act is imperfect and more should be done to lower health insurance costs.
Date: July 26, 2018