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MA Democratic Gubernatorial Hopefuls Speak In Berkshires

Jim Levulis

Democratic candidates vying to be the next governor of Massachusetts took part in a meet and greet in Pittsfield Sunday.

More than 250 people showed up to hear the views and ask questions of the five Democrats aiming to be the commonwealth’s next governor. Democratic Governor Deval Patrick is not seeking a third term. U.S. Senator Edward Markey kicked off the event by rallying the supporters.

“In nine months the next governor of the state of Massachusetts is going to be a Democrat!” exclaimed Markey.

The candidates were each given 10 minutes to outline their campaign platforms. Bio-tech executive Joe Avellone started off the round speaking about education improvements and establishing fertile ground for companies. He says the state needs to create stronger partnerships between schools and companies to close the skills gap for jobs in manufacturing, telecommunications and energy. Mentioning a “bold new direction,” Avellone says the ability to create and sustain businesses revolves around curbing health care costs.

“We have the highest health care costs in the world,” Avellone said. “It’s squeezing our families and it squeezes our businesses. Now it’s 40 percent of our state budget. That’s up from 20 percent just 12 years ago and continues to rise.”

Former Medicare and Medicaid administrator Don Berwick followed. Berwick says the state needs to readjust its fragmented health care delivery system to a more continuous care model and institute a single-payer system. Berwick also opposes casinos, saying they hurt small businesses and lead to increased crime. Governor Patrick’s budget expects the commonwealth to gather $20 million in operating tax revenue from the state’s first casino, but Berwick is advocating for a revamped revenue policy. He says it would involve those health care changes, resetting tax loopholes and exemptions, and a fair tax system.

“We need a system of tax in this commonwealth in which people at the lower end of the income spectrum who are suffering today, who can’t make ends meet, they need to pay lower rates,” Berwick said. “People at the high end of the income spectrum who are wealthy and thriving in this economy, they need to be able to pay higher rates. I want to look at that as governor.”

Attorney General Martha Coakley was next. Coakley says the state needs to work with teachers to expand and improve early education and vocational schools. Coakley says she wants to focus on regional economic development by improving broadband and public transportation. She also aims to have the state pay for behavioral and mental health care and reduce the stigma around the topic. Like the other Democratic candidates, Coakley is advocating for a hike in the minimum wage and mandating paid or earned sick time.

“It’s a relatively small percentage of people in Massachusetts and many of them are employees of big, multinational corporations,” Coakley said. “But, I am committed to working with businesses large and small to see how we can do even better in keeping their costs down.”

Treasurer Steve Grossman pledged to double funding for the Massachusetts Cultural Council over his first four years if elected governor. Grossman says he wants to create 50,000 new manufacturing jobs in the next five years by asking the business community what it needs and expanding career technical schools. He also wants to create universal pre-K and restore funding for public colleges.

“Our students are drowning in debt,” Grossman said. “Over $30,000 on average. We need to do something about that. We have cut our funding from 70 percent down to well under 50 percent.”

National security expert Juliette Kayyem rounded out the field. Kayyem says future economic development and vitality revolves around a 21st century infrastructure. She is advocating for improvements in public transportation, broadband internet, and increased connectivity within the state and to neighboring Connecticut and New York.

“We cannot think of ourselves as a global state with the infrastructure we have now,” Kayyem said. “And we will not revitalize our economy unless we can compete in the global market.”

The event was hosted by the county’s Democratic body, the Berkshire Brigades. The candidates are hoping to win the Sept. 9 party primary. Declared Republican candidates include 2010 nominee Charlie Baker and Mark Fisher.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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