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Mass. gubernatorial candidate Chang-Díaz discusses qualified immunity, environmental justice, racial equity with Berkshire County NAACP

Massachusetts gubernatorial hopeful and Democratic State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz
Josh Landes
Massachusetts gubernatorial hopeful and Democratic State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz.

Massachusetts gubernatorial hopeful and Democratic State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz answered questions at a Berkshire County NAACP meeting Wednesday night.

Chang-Díaz is the state’s first Latina and Asian-American state senator. She’s facing Attorney General Maura Healey, Harvard professor Danielle Allen, businessman Orlando Silva, and Joshua Caldwell in the Democratic primary, with Republican Governor Charlie Baker opting not to seek a third term.

“Every day in Massachusetts, it is getting harder and harder to live here and raise a family here, right? Housing costs are going through the roof," said Chang-Díaz. "We've got some of the worst traffic congestion in the nation, the fastest growing student debt load, healthcare and childcare costs are going up and up, and hanging over all of that, right, the consequences of climate change are just barreling down on us. And the truth is, leaders on Beacon Hill have been telling working families to wait for too damn long for meaningful change on these problems.”

Asked to highlight two pieces of her priority legislation, the senator chose education first — noting that both early ed and higher ed must be addressed in Massachusetts.

“Both ends are becoming rapidly the province of the wealthy and the privileged, and that is a huge problem for our state," said Chang-Díaz. "Morally, for our students and our families, and also economically, right? This is, our workforce is the engine that powers our economy. So when we fail to invest in it, we are really shooting ourselves in the foot. So universal early education access is a piece of legislation that I have been filing for several years. I'm also glad to support the Common Start Bill, which folks might be familiar with. It was newly filed this year, or this session, to accomplish that universal early education access.”

On the higher ed side, Chang-Díaz is a co-sponsor of a bill that would guarantee debt-free public higher education in Massachusetts.

For her second piece of priority legislation, the candidate chose the Green New Deal.

“We’ve laid out a plan on the campaign for a comprehensive plan for transitioning to 100% carbon free green energy in Massachusetts," she said. "This would actually require probably, you know, a few pieces of legislation as well as executive action that doesn't have to go through the legislature. But I will say that package as a whole and accomplishing that Green New Deal is a second, humongous priority for me.”

In response to a question about pursuing racial equity, Chang-Díaz tied the issue to both to education and labor.

“We already see just the huge gaps that kindergarteners are bringing in to their first day of kindergarten because of the dearth of access to high quality early education and care," said the senator. "And that is also a matter of racial equity when it comes to the workforce, right? So we have, disproportionately it is women of color who are providing early education and care in our state. And we are paying poverty wages in this sector, right? On average, $30,000 a year, which qualifies many families for public assistance.”

She also connected it to environmental policy.

“We need to make sure that the communities that have been at the front of the line for environmental degradation and the impacts of climate change – which, of course, is low income, communities of color, and immigrant communities – that they are the first in line for the benefits, the enormous economic benefits of the transition to a green energy economy," said Chang-Díaz. "That means jobs, that means wealth building through contracts, and siting of new environmental infrastructure.”

According to a 2020 state report, over 56% of Pittsfield residents, more than 23,000 people, live in environmental justice block groups. For the region’s second-largest community, North Adams, almost 86% of its 13,000 residents do.

Asked what amendments she would make to the state’s 2020 police reform bill, Chang-Díaz pointed to qualified immunity.

“Right now, you cannot sue for a violation of your civil rights," she explained. "Let's say a police officer called you a racial slur and threatened to kick you in the face. Under that sort of set of facts, you could sue. But if the officer called you all of those racial slurs but didn't make a specific threat to you, then you would not be able to sue. So we need to decouple those things and change the law there.”

Asked about lowering recidivism rates in the Black community, the candidate pointed to how the state invests in the criminal justice system.

“As we see population go down in our jails and prisons- Which happily, we are, right?" said Chang-Díaz. "This is a great victory that every Bay Stater should feel proud of, that over the last several years, we've seen steady declines in the number of people that we are locking up in our jails and prisons. But unfortunately, the trend line for how much money we're spending in our jails and prisons is going in the opposite direction, right? It totally defies logic. And we need to make sure that we have mechanisms in the law to start pulling those savings out of the carceral system and reinvesting them in communities that have been over policed and over incarcerated for years, so that we can get into a virtuous cycle.”

You can hear the full Berkshire County NAACP question and answer session with Democratic gubernatorial candidate and State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz here:

SCD Berkshire County NAACP Q and A 2-2-22.mp3

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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