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Western Mass. Votes To Decide Open Senate Seat

This is a picture of the inside of the Massachusetts State House
Jim Levulis
/
WAMC

For the first time in a decade, voters in the westernmost portions of Massachusetts are charged with the task of filling an open state senate seat.

Democrat Adam Hinds and Republican Christine Canning are vying to replace retiring State Senator Ben Downing. The Democrat was elected in 2006. Hinds won a contested primary in September while Canning was unopposed. Hinds spent 10 years in conflict negotiation with the UN before returning to western Massachusetts to head Pittsfield’s anti-gang efforts in 2014. He became executive director of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition in 2015.

“Philosophically in my mind we have a pretty chaotic scene at the national level,” Hinds said. “I want to show that right here we can do politics differently. That we absolutely need to be united as residents and in the political scene if we’re going to take on the challenges that we face in the district. To me we’re going to prove that despite what’s happening at the national level we can do it different here. We can do politics differently and we can be inclusive, collaborative and working together to solve our big challenges.”

The Democrat announced his candidacy in February. Meanwhile, Canning has spent much of her career in education regionally and overseas. She calls herself a whistleblower; she reached a settlement with Pittsfield Public Schools in 2009 after claiming she was improperly fired after raising concerns about drug use, discrimination and violence among students.

“If you put me in a mud hut in Africa and tell me to teach or you put in the Empire State Building with every electronic, either way a student is a student and a learner is a learner,” Canning said during an interview with WAMC in April. “A constituent is a constituent. I don’t care – if you are in need we’re going to find a way to help you.”

Canning, a Berkshire County native, launched her campaign in April. The Republican says her experience outside the region will allow her to spur change in western Massachusetts, especially the economy.

“GE pretty much has gone,” Canning said. “SABIC is leaving. We need something to replace it. But, currently what we have are things that are still resonating from the 1980s and 1990s. That’s 30, 40 years ago. I really want to look at business without borders and e-commerce. I’ve found that for the workplace development here, they’re still stuck in a time error. I have to go to Boston and New York City for trainings. I think the trainings need to come here.”

Hinds, a native of the Franklin County town of Buckland, bested two attorneys — Andrea Harrington and Rinaldo Del Gallo — in September’s Democratic primary. If elected, Hinds says he wants to focus on supporting small and medium-sized businesses.

“That means addressing things like strategic workforce development,” Hinds said. “It means improving our critical infrastructure. We’ve seen that energy is a big factor. A priority for me is finalizing Last Mile broadband and ensuring our transportation system is upgraded and experiences efficiencies.”

Hinds has received the support of many area elected officials, the overwhelmingly majority Democrats. Senator Downing, who announced his retirement in January, endorsed Hinds in October.

“He’s [Hinds] been a bridge-builder,” Downing said. “He [Hinds] has been someone who has reached out to folks who may have seen their interests as being opposed to one another and brought them together to help build a better tomorrow. In my mind that’s exactly what you want in your next state senator.”

Canning acknowledges the hold Democrats have had on area political offices recently, but notes that about 65 percent of Massachusetts voters are registered Republican or unenrolled.

“Really have we benefitted from them [Democrats]?,” Canning said. “I’m sorry, no. There are some good programs they have brought in. I actually worked with Ben Downing on one law change. But there are other things where the politics have really hurt us. I think there’s a point where you can spend, spend, spend, but where is the money coming from? We all grew up knowing that money does not come off of trees. How much can you actually tax people until there is no more tax base?”

Regardless of who wins in November, Hinds and Canning will have big shoes to fill. Downing is seen as a key voice for more than 50 western Massachusetts communities and holds many leadership roles in the Legislature including chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy and vice chair of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development.

Hinds and Canning are scheduled to debate at 7:30 tonight on WGBY television.   

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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