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Sen. Lesser jumps into race for Massachusetts LG

State Senator Eric Lesser
State Senator Eric Lesser
State Senator Eric Lesser
State Senator Eric Lesser

A second state Senator from Western Massachusetts is running for Lieutenant Governor. Longmeadow Democrat Eric Lesser, who is in his fourth term, joined the field Tuesday. The 36-year-old former Obama administration aide represents the 1st Hampden and Hampshire district. He spoke with WAMC's Ian Pickus.

Why are you running?

Thanks for having me and happy new year. For me, it's really about knowing what the job is, which is to support our next governor and be a partner to that governor, and really make sure that they're the best governor in the state. And for me, it's really going to be bringing the perspective of someone with three young kids who lives far away from Beacon Hill, but is going to be committed to making our state more affordable and livable for our families.

I think a lot of us feel like Massachusetts is such a special place. We've got so many assets here, we have so many things going for us. But it's getting harder and harder to make it work. Because it's too expensive. Our transportation is totally outdated. Housing prices are skyrocketing. Childcare costs are going up. So what I bring is the perspective of someone whose work to make east-west rail between Pittsfield and Boston a reality that's now on President Biden's desk, worked to bring the life sciences industry further west to the Berkshires and the Pioneer Valley, worked to build more housing, to allow more of our young people to stay close to home. And that's what I'm going to focus on as lieutenant governor.

Why are those goals things that you can’t accomplish in the State Senate but could as lieutenant governor, given the fact that the LG constitutionally doesn't have a ton of official duties that are outlined? You say you know what the job is, but how do you put some of those goals that you've mentioned into practice as LG if you were to win?

Well, first, I think you look to recent history. Tim Murray, for example, was Deval Patrick's Lieutenant Governor, helped make rail service between Worcester and Boston a reality. That was a long term project that a lot of people had talked about over a long period of time, it was the Deval Patrick and Tim Murray administration, and really Murray's specific focus on it, that made it ultimately happen.

And you saw from the census results that just came out, it's had a transformative impact for Worcester, has created thousands of new jobs and significant new opportunity for families in central Mass. So we're gonna work on extending it further west, bringing it to Springfield, bringing it to Pittsfield. If you look at what's coming in the next several years for our state, one of the single biggest things is going to be implementing the Biden infrastructure bill. I have extensive experience working in Washington in the Obama administration during the 2009 stimulus. Now we'll be on the state side implementing the 2021 stimulus. So we've got to get that done. We've got to get rail done. We've got to get our job training programs scaled up, we've got to close the waitlist at our vocational schools, and we've got to get the housing crisis under control.

Don't some of these things sort of depend on who will be governor? And we don't know that answer yet.

No, absolutely. But I'm ready and excited actually to partner with any of the Democratic candidates for governor. Right now they're all women. And I'm excited about that. And I'm really excited to make sure that our next governor that her administration is a success. I've worked closely and know all the declared candidates and there will potentially be others that join and I'm ready to be a partner to any of them.

Are you eager to see Attorney General Maura Healey run for governor?

I'm certainly a very big fan of Maura’s and I've worked closely with her over the years. We work together on a Narcan bulk purchasing program at the height of the opioid epidemic that allowed police officers, firefighters, school nurses access to Narcan to help reverse overdoses, saved hundreds of lives. I worked with her on closing the pharmacy shopping loophole, that was legislation I sponsored to close the loophole for highly addictive narcotic prescriptions. And just recently, actually, just last year, legislation I wrote was finally passed after six years to create a new Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights, which is a new protection for nearly a million student loan borrowers in the state. But I know Sonia Chang-Diaz, well, she's a partner of mine in the Senate, a colleague of mine, we've worked together on quite a lot of issues. And I'm also a big fan of Danielle Allen's and we've gotten to know each other over the over the last year or so. And I'm a big fan of her work. So it's a great field and there's going to be a lot have discussions and a lot of opportunity moving forward.

Did you give any thought to running for governor instead of Lieutenant Governor?

I did not. You know for me, it's really I'm excited about lieutenant governor, I'm really focused on I want to do the job of lieutenant governor. I spent a lot of time talking to former lieutenant governors in the state. And I also talked to several lieutenant governors and other states that I've worked with and partnered with and have gotten to know over the years and think I have a good handle on the expectations of the job, and most importantly, the potential for that job, you know, to really help people and help families in our state. That's what I'm focused on.

What would you say to the idea that Massachusetts, at least on the statewide level, has kind of lagged other states in terms of diversity in these positions? And, you know, we've never in Massachusetts had a female elected governor. And is it appropriate for a white man like you to be lieutenant governor, given the opportunity for more diversity in that role?

Well, I'm very excited about the potential of us electing a female governor, that's a great opportunity. And like I said, I'm a big fan, I really share the values of the other of the candidates for governor who have announced. As for lieutenant governor, you know, I have a perspective to share as well. And the district I represent, a lot of people, especially in Eastern Mass, I think are not familiar always with Western Mass and with the greater Springfield area. In particular, my Senate district has some of the most densely populated urban areas of the state and some of the most rural, I have some of the highest income areas in the state, also some of the lowest income. I represent multiple industrial communities with big manufacturing legacies and a tier one academic research hospital. So there's a lot going on in my Senate district, and I've worked to give voice to everybody in it and will work to give voice to similar communities around the state.

In the western end of Massachusetts, we're not always used to seeing all these statewide political headlines, but with Ben Downing, who ran for governor and then decided to end his campaign, your fellow state senator Adam Hinds, who's also running for lieutenant governor, and now you in the field. You know, a lot of people are sort of in the action this time around. What differentiates you from someone like Adam Hinds, who's also running for the same role now?

Well, I think it's great that so many people are running and I'm a big fan of Ben Downing’s. I served with him in the Senate. I'm a fan of everyone who's running and I admire everybody who's running. I think what I bring to the table is a proven track record over the last several years of delivering some of the progress and some of the hardest issues at the height of COVID last year, I was the lead author of the economic rescue package we put together that save thousands of small businesses across the state, largely minority owned and immigrant owned, you know, hair salons, nail salons, barber shops, small restaurants, corner stores, that were getting crushed by the shutdowns as the virus spread last year, we got hundreds of millions of dollars out the door for them in a very short amount of time.

I'm the only candidate that brings real understanding of the federal government having worked in the Obama administration during the response to the Great Recession, that's going to be a very important element of the role moving forward, especially with so much federal aid coming from the Biden administration. So all I can do is run my race, focus on my values, and most importantly, get around and listen to people and learn from people around the Commonwealth about what they need.

What grade would you give Karyn Polito as lieutenant governor?

Well, I'm not gonna give a specific grade, I'll say that she did a very good job reaching out to and being a liaison to cities and towns. I worked with her a lot. She had an economic development portfolio, as lieutenant governor and as I chaired the Economic Development Committee, we work together on two big economic development packages. So you know, I think in many respects, she did good work.

I intend to continue that the trend at least of recent lieutenant governors of really being a partner, really being the front door to state government for our cities and towns. And just as an example, we worked on the MassWorks reauthorization just a few years ago, which is one of the most important tools for cities and towns to do infrastructure work, sidewalk replacements, intersection upgrades, you know, the nuts and bolts stuff. That's really important to deliver for communities because it helps unlock growth and jobs.

If you're elected Lieutenant Governor, you are the governor in waiting and although that can seem like an academic thing, sometimes, here in New York state where I'm speaking to you from we saw how that can play out in 2021. So are you ready to be governor if push comes to shove?


A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.
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