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Downing Talks Climate Bill, Police Reform With Berkshire NAACP Members

A bald white man in a button down shirt gestures with his hands in front of a wall with framed pictures and a banner.
Josh Landes
Ben Downing.

Massachusetts Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Berkshires native Ben Downing spoke and took questions at a meeting of the county’s NAACP chapter Wednesday night.

Downing, a Pittsfielder who now lives in East Boston, represented western Massachusetts in the state Senate for a decade before leaving office in 2017. His father Gerald was Berkshire County district attorney.

After joining the solar industry after the leaving the Senate, Downing is one of the first candidates in the 2022 race.

“We need a governor who sees and feels and understands the impacts of economic and racial disparities, the urgency of climate change, the consequences of healthcare inequity, long before crisis strikes," said Downing. "I'm running because I see these problems. I see the tired old politics that produce them. And I refuse to accept that returning to that normal is good enough.”

Republican Governor Charlie Baker hasn’t said whether he’ll seek a third term. Harvard Professor Danielle Allen is also exploring a run as a Democrat.

“If we're going to build a fairer, stronger Massachusetts, we need leadership willing to take on those big messy fights," said Downing. "Leadership that fights to protect the civil rights of women and immigrants. Instead of blocking proposals to do that. Leadership that supports unions and workers organizing instead of undermine leadership that invests in public higher education, instead of increasing tuition fees and student debt.”

Questioned about the governor’s veto of a comprehensive climate bill in January, Downing expressed frustration.

“As much as you know, electrons and clean energy are the most important thing in climate, the most important thing is time, right?" he said. "Like, we don't have time when it comes to climate change, and the lack of urgency and the, you know, the dismissiveness of Governor Baker to veto legislation, which was 90% aligned with the plan that his own agencies came up with, is frustrating to no end. And in particular to blatantly do so because the real estate lobby told you that one of the provisions would drive up costs?”

Downing said he is optimistic the state could still more fully embrace clean energy.

“Those jobs are in every corner of Massachusetts, and we have the ability to put people to work, right?" he said. "And again, to do that work in a way that directly benefits communities that have borne the brunt of fossil fuel addiction over the better part of the last generation, right? To actually right that wrong. Like, that's equity, we have the ability to do that. And yet, this administration seems to not have that sense of urgency.”

Downing was questioned about the amended police reform bill Baker signed in December.

“So the governor took the state police training out of the mass training center," he responded. "So it had been made independent, right? That ought to remain independent, instead of being under the colonel. And then I would go back to the State Senate’s language on qualified immunity, and the State Senate’s language on no knock warrants, which was led by our own senator in the Berkshires, right, Senator Hinds. So much stronger provisions on those two fronts.”

Asked if he would allocate resources away from rising law enforcement expenditures into community investments – particularly, the scandal-plagued Massachusetts State Police – Downing said he was researching the issue.

“You’re looking at, I believe it something like, you know, several dozen state troopers who are the highest paid employees in Massachusetts," he said. "And again, right, many of them are risking their lives, but we don't know if that's the highest and best use of those resources.”

The general election is November 8, 2022.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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