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Berkshire Candidates Debate for Seat in Mass. Legislature

The two candidates competing for a seat in the Massachusetts legislature’s 4th Berkshire District squared off in a debate Wednesday evening. WAMC’s Berkshire Bureau Chief Lucas Willard attended the event and filed a report…

Last night, the Berkshire Beacon sponsored a debate between current  4th Berkshire District Representative democrat William “Smitty” Pignatelli and Green-Rainbow party challenger L. Scott Laugenour at the Lenox Town Library. The candidates discussed environmental policy, taxation, health care, education, and more.

The first question asked was on the topic of medical marijuana. Both candidates were asked their opinion of ballot question #3 and whether they support legalizing medical marijuana.

Laugenour went first, and said that he supports legalization but said it’s a choice for the voters.

Pignatelli said he will not support the ballot measure he claims is poorly written, and said that the drug may not be right for some people. He mentioned the dangers of bringing “another illegal drug” into the Berkshires, and discussed the need for healthy prescription practices, in talking about the area’s rate of prescription drug abuse.

In the next question relating to how each candidate plans to help cities and towns make repairs to infrastructure, Pignatelli talked about his experience in local politics, and the need for a new Transportation Bond Bill.

Laugenour responded saying that he was upset to see local aid decrease over the past few years but also suggested that the state government redefine infrastructure.

In a question about whether the candidates support single-payer health care, Laugenour said he’d support a bill on day one, and said that the current Massachusetts legislature is influenced by powerful interests to prevent the passage of a bill. Pignatelli stated that he’s been a sponsor of the single-payer health care bill for the past six years, but also defended the recent health-care cost containment bill signed into law in August.

The debate grew heated after Laugenour criticized Pignatelli and the state legislature for passing the 2009 Education Bill,  which he said strips teachers away from their collective bargaining rights, and compared the bill to the actions of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

Pignatelli strongly objected to Mr. Laugenour’s claims that teachers in Massachusetts are being stripped of their union rights.  

Laugenour touted his endorsement from the United Auto Workers. Pignatelli mentioned his support from the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

The environment and clean energy took up the remainder of the debate. Pignatelli talked of his support for renewables including solar and wind if it goes through the local process. He mentioned his rejection of the Wind Energy Siting Reform Act, which he said would take away the rights of communities in Massachusetts stand up to wind developers. Pignatelli also voiced his support for hydroelectric power.

Laugenour said he would advocate for municipally owned wind and solar, and said more investments should be made to make renewable energy more accessible to the public.

On the cleanup of the Housatonic River, Pignatelli and Laugenour went back and forth about process. Pignatelli said that he supports the DEP’s adaptive approach to the cleanup, and that dredging should focus on the on the hot spots, including Woods Pond. Laugenour said that 100% of the PCBs should be removed from the river, and accused Pignatelli of only supporting the removal of 25% of PCBs. Pignatelli said he personally cannot make estimates on how much can be cleaned from the river.

In their closing statements, Laugenour cast himself and Green-Rainbow party as a voice of opposition that can be brought to Boston.

Pignatelli again touted his experience and that Massachusetts needs to continue to push in the right direction.

The candidates continued to push for more time until the meeting was eventually called to a close a half-hour later than scheduled by the moderator.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.