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Harrington running for Massachusetts House in newly-configured 7th Hampden District

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Chip Harrington is the Republican candidate for State Representative in the 7th Hampden District.

The Ludlow Republican narrowly lost the election in the district in 2020

A longtime local elected office-holder in Ludlow is running for a seat in the state legislature from Western Massachusetts.

James “Chip” Harrington is seeking the Republican nomination for the Massachusetts House of Representatives’ 7th Hampden District.

Harrington ran for state representative two years ago. He lost narrowly to Democrat Jake Oliveira. The incumbent is giving up the seat to pursue another office.

Aaron Saunders of Belchertown has announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination.

WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill spoke with Harrington.

James “Chip” Harrington

I've always just had a strong passion for public service. I've been involved for 32 years on a local level, being a selectman in Ludlow and school committee member, I've been doing that for the last 18 years. So really just public service has always been sort of a passion for mine. And I think that the legislature needs some common sense. Leadership right now. And we need some balance in the legislature as well to

Paul Tuthill 

Why do you think you're the you're the best candidate here?

James “Chip” Harrington

I think I bring a lot of unique experience. You know, I run my own business, I did that for 14 years, I also began my career in corrections as a corrections officer. And worked for the trial court. So I've worked with people who are struggling with addiction, and people who are looking to kind of change their lives around. I've been a part of that for many, many years. And I currently do that for the Department of Corrections, work in the Programs Division writing, curriculum for offenders who are getting ready for release. So that in addition to you know, raising my own, my wife and I raised our children in the area, I'm just I've always been very much involved in a lot of different aspects of public service. And like I said, mentioning, going back to my years as a member of the board of selectmen and school committee member, I've always kind of taken a real hard look at finances for the community, and feeling very strongly that, you know, communities need people who are going to spend spend their money wisely, and not frivolously in any way.

Paul Tuthill 

What do you see is the most important role a state legislator does?

James “Chip” Harrington

Well, I mean, on the surface, its constituent services, you know, people call their legislators, because they're having issues with state government in some way. And, you know, this past year with COVID, in dealing with it past two years, I should say, you know, people who were, you know, unemployment benefits who were waiting, or they had lost their jobs or job reduction, you know, they reached out to legislators, making sure that they were going to be getting, you know, responses in some way. So, you know, constituent services is always number number one, and just being responsive to the people in your district. But, you know, going beyond that, you know, there are things we've been on the school committee for the past 18 years that have been on, you know, we need to put a much stronger emphasis on vocational education, we are pushing kids, young people into colleges, which is wonderful, that's great. But so many students are being saddled with college debt right now. And we're not doing a good enough job of of incentivizing young people to get into the vocations. Because there are some really good paying jobs there. Precision manufacturing, along with, you know, the traditional trades, we get, we need to treat that equally as we do with a college education, you can graduate with a trade and make a really good living immediately without being saddled with college debt.
Paul Tuthill 

Should we be extending free public education beyond the 12th Grade?

James “Chip” Harrington

Well, first of all, there's no such thing as free anything, right? Somebody's paying for it. So I know that gets tossed around quite a bit on the federal and state level. So it's being paid for by somebody, it's just a question of, are we going to put more back on the on the taxpayers back than anything else? And it's a it's an important discussion to have. But the reality is that, you know, we just need to be cognizant of how those funds are allocated and how they're how they're spent. We have a good funding source and good funding revenue coming in, it really comes down to how you're spending those funds. And, you know, not saddling the taxpayer with too much debt. Certainly, and, you know, free public education, as they keep on saying is never free, somebody's paying for it.

Paul Tuthill 

Speaking of money there, Massachusetts currently has a couple billion dollars in COVID Recovery funds from the federal ARPA program that has not been spent have not been allocated. What should be done with that money?

James “Chip” Harrington

Well, so there's ARPA funds, and then there's ESSER funds, so are probably really kind of the side of our communities that are not public. Education side of it is the ESSER fund. So those funds were sent down from the federal government to help people recover from COVID. And, you know, COVID Relief is going to take a long time before we can get out of this hole. You know, inflation is just is, you know, we're seeing all around the whole country right now. So inflation is going up. But, you know, on the education side of things, those funds are supposed to be allocated for students who really felt really far behind. So providing students who maybe have a special education needs providing them with the additional resources that they need. So whether it's a speech pathologist, or some other type of paraprofessional, those funds should be put into the classroom so those students can receive the help that they need because when we shut our classrooms down for a full year like that, you know, I think hindsight is always 20-20. But I think we look back and realize that was a pretty big mistake on our part, you know, students should be should have been as much as we could possibly do it in front of a teacher, the virtual classrooms did not hit the marks that we I guess, had anticipated that they might show those students that really fell behind those funds need to be put towards programs that can help them get back up to grade level reading, grade level math, and putting them back on track. And then on the town side, you know, those funds. during this entire pandemic, police, fire, corrections, EMS, they worked throughout the entire pandemic. So, I know some of those funds are being put into our public safety programs. And we spend a lot of those funds in reorganizing our schools and public buildings, so that they have new filtration systems in a cleaner air coming through. So there, there are programs that those funds should be targeted towards. But they should not be done frivolously in anyway.

Paul Tuthill 

You mentioned that the decision is to, to keep children out of the classroom for for most of full year, almost a full year because of the because of the pandemic. What what did you think otherwise, of the of the of the state's response to, to the pandemic?
James “Chip” Harrington

Well, I mean, I, I give Charlie Baker and Karyn Polito a lot of credit, because it's a tough situation that they were put into. And I know they did the best they can do. There's there's no blueprint for this, nobody's ever had to go through this before. So I know they did the best they could. I don't agree with every, you know, policy decision that they made, when it comes to COVID response. But again, I wasn't the governor making those decisions. And I would trust that, you know, he had the experts, the medical experts behind him giving him the information that he needs to make a decision. So it's hard for me to be critical of really any governor around the country. When this was, there's no blueprint, this the first time we've had to deal with something like this, they did the best they could. And again, hindsight 20-20, we can look back and say we should have done this, we should have done that, of course. But in the moment, you're doing the best you can. So I think with the deck of cards, they were dealt with, they did the best they could

Paul Tuthill 

What are one or two things that you might have done differently? Or that you disagree with?

James “Chip” Harrington

Yeah, well, like I said, one thing I feel strongly about is how we handled public education. You know, if you look at the Catholic school system, or you know, parochial schools in the state, they were in person the entire time, they never went virtual, most of the schools anyways. And their COVID numbers weren't any different than public school kids. So that's a big lesson right there. I think that that's one misstep that we had was taking students out of school, having teachers teach remotely, we just unless you were really a high achieving student, that was going to be very difficult. So students with any kind of type of learning disability, whether it was severe or even mild, the virtual classrooms did not hit the marks that they should have. And it's going to be a while before we can we can get those students back,unfortunately,

Paul Tuthill 

You ran for this seat two years ago, the district has changed since then, because of the redistricting process. What do you think of this new district?

James “Chip” Harrington

Land wise, it's very large. So when you look at it from the surface, it's, you know, it's Western, Central Mass, it's actually hitting four counties, Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, and Worcester County is hitting four counties in this district. So this district, really, it's the definition of gerrymandering, you know, it was put together for so that a person was an R near their name, even as moderate as I am, and I'm a moderate Republican, you know, I'm a fiscal conservative, socially progressive kind of an individual. But this district was gerrymandered in a way where they're trying to keep anybody with an R next to their name out of the seat. So it's gonna be it's gonna be different. But I think those people in New Salem, Petersham, Pelham, you know, the whole area up there, once they get to know me, they're gonna realize that I'm a reasonable common sense individual, not somebody who's tied to to a party in any way.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.