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Some In Western Mass. Feel Slighted By Baker's Transition Team

Jim Levulis

For eight years, western Massachusetts has enjoyed unprecedented attention from Beacon Hill. But the new year brings a new governor and administration, and some western Massachusetts lawmakers are not too fond of an early move by the governor-elect.Of 175 members of Governor-elect Charlie Baker’s transition committee, not one is from Berkshire, Franklin or Hampshire counties. Seven members are from Hampden County, home to Springfield and more people than the three others combined. Hampden, Franklin and Hampshire are equidistant from Boston. With Democratic Governor Deval Patrick not seeking a third term, Baker, a Republican, defeated Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley, a Berkshire native, in a tight race. The majority of Berkshire, Franklin and Hampshire counties backed Coakley. Baker took Hampden. Democratic State Representative Smitty Pignatelli of the Fourth Berkshire District says the transition team’s geographical make-up is disappointing, but he’s not making too big of a deal out of it.

“Although it is red flag that needs to go up,” Pignatelli said. “I’d be more interested to see somebody from western Massachusetts in the governor’s cabinet or in a nice secretarial or commissioner position. I’m more worried about those kinds of issues than a transition team, which is very short-lived. They may meet once or twice over the next few weeks, so let’s not get too excited about that. But if when the cabinet is established and western Massachusetts is still excluded, then we have an issue.”

State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier, a Democrat from Pittsfield, says she is concerned about the lack of representation on the team, which is divided into schools, community, health, better government and economic subsets.

“If there’s no one on the transition team from Berkshire County then what does that mean as far as hiring people from Berkshire County or other parts of western Massachusetts in the new governor’s team and having that perspective?” Farley-Bouvier said. “If we don’t have the perspective at the outset it’s going to be really hard to get that perspective – the needs of western Massachusetts, and I mean ‘true’ western Massachusetts, into the governor’s agenda and his priorities.”

Democratic State Senator Ben Downing, who represents 52 communities across the four western counties, gives Baker credit for placing Democrats in cabinet posts so far, but hopes that olive branch is extended geographically as well.

“When you think about those three counties that were left out you have a lot of institutions that can be a part of making Massachusetts everything we all want it to be,” Downing said.  “Whether that’s UMass in Hampshire County, MCLA, BCC, Williams College and the different arts organizations and institutions. I think its missed opportunity in the sense that there are a lot of people that can be a part of a lot of positive things that candidate Baker talked about in the campaign. I’m hopeful its blip on radar and that we can all work together toward our broadly shared goals.”

Baker communications director Tim Buckley says election results had nothing to do with choosing the team. He adds they aren’t the only people Baker is meeting with, specifically mentioning former North Adams mayor and Democrat John Barrett as someone the governor-elect has been in touch with.

“The governor-elect is serious when he says he wants to bring the same success seen in and around some parts of Boston to every region,” Buckley said. “He has proposed very specific proposals for increasing economic activity in different parts of the commonwealth. He has spent a lot time in urban areas and in areas that Republicans didn’t generally campaign in previously. The folks in western Massachusetts can expect nothing less once he takes office.”

With a home in the Berkshire town of Richmond, Governor Patrick has received praise throughout his eight years for including western Massachusetts in his agenda and for being physically present in the region. While at MASS MoCA in mid-November, Patrick said any advice he has for Baker is between him and the governor-elect, but did offer this note.

“The people of the commonwealth, every region of the commonwealth, deserve to have their governor and state government pay attention to them and invest equitable,” Patrick said. “To encourage good things and economic expansion in every corner of the commonwealth. That’s what I’ve tried to be about and I hope that the governor-elect and his team will be about that as well.”

Downing, Pignatelli and Farley-Bouvier have not met with Governor-elect Baker since Election Day.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate 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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