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Shirley Arriaga campaigns for election to Massachusetts legislature from Chicopee

Shirley Arriaga is an educator at Chicopee High School
Shirley Arriaga
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Shirley Arriaga
Shirley Arriaga is an educator at Chicopee High School

The 8th Hampden District house seat is open because of State Rep. Joe Wagner's retirement

There is a growing field of candidates running for the seat in the Massachusetts legislature now held by State Representative Joe Wagner of Chicopee.

After more than 30 years in office, Wagner announced last month that he would retire after his current term is up.

Chicopee City Councilor Shane Brooks was the first to file papers to run in the 8th Hampden District. Most recently, fellow City Councilor Joel McAuliffe and Shirley Arriaga, a 10-year veteran of the Air Force, announced their candidacies.

All are Democrats. No Republican candidate has announced.

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

Shirley Arriaga

I enlisted in the United States Air Force back in 2010, the height of the Afghan - Iraq War out of a sense of duty. And that is the exact reason that I am running out of a sense of duty to my community. Chicopee is my home. This is where I'm raising my family. And I need to serve my community to the best of my ability. And that is why I decided to run for state representative.

Paul Tuthill 

You mentioned your military service, what else in your background do you think qualifies you to be a state representative?

Shirley Arriaga

I do possess a law degree from Western New England School of Law. I have a master's in law two years shy of becoming an attorney. I haven't practiced, but I've been educating myself on law, how it works in and out so I can best advocate for those in need, those that I would be responsible for and hopefully representing in the near future. This was a plan that I had a very long time ago, when I was actually just a child, I envisioned my future and I wanted to aid others. And I believe the best way that I can help others is in politics. So I have obtained my Master's of law. And I additionally have experience working as a congressional liaison or director of Veteran Affairs for Congressman Richard Neal. So I have been working in one way or another, advocating for individuals in Chicopee, in Western Massachusetts, in Massachusetts for a district I am here to serve. So my time serving and multiple aspects right military 10 years in the military, protecting and defending our great country, serving as a director of veteran liaison for Congressman Ritchie Neal here in the First District of Massachusetts. And my law degree that will definitely help and be advantageous to the people here in Chicopee, right, my constituents, my neighbors, in fighting for us and representing us on Beacon Hill. So I believe all of these different aspects and my passion for justice, and at others qualifies me for this position.

Paul Tuthill 

What would your priorities be as a state legislator?

Shirley Arriaga

I will keep it this simple. And some might think it is too simple. But right off the bat, accountability, transparency, we need to advocate for what our community needs, we need to listen and act on those needs of the people, not of what we think will be beneficial, but what is currently happening here. So I will be advocating for the benefit of my community overall, what will be best for Chicopee? What is it that my constituents my neighbors really need? What is their priority? Because that will be my priority.

Paul Tuthill 

Tell me one or two things that you think Chicopee needs that you as a state representative could help deliver?

Shirley Arriaga
Well, definitely need to work on helping small businesses, I believe, of course, our small businesses the blood work,the heartbeat of any community, right? If they're suffering, the economy suffers the people, the city will suffer. So we need to help and invest in small businesses, we also need to upgrade our transportation. Chicopee is a great place.,however, transportation here is not ideal. You have to walk 10-12 minutes easily to a bus stop. Right? So we need to improve that so folks can get to their jobs, right. Additionally, our veterans, we always need to think of our veterans and our seniors, how can we help them by lowering taxes by keeping the property tax lower and initiatives and programs to help keep that and nevermind education, which I believe is a priority and should be a priority for every community. Education is key. Our children are the future, right? Everyone says that, but they will be the workforce. And currently, as an educator, I am visually seen on a daily basis, what needs to be done to improve our education system. Our youth here needs those. So those are some of the top issues that I will be focusing on our veterans, our seniors, education, right and our young people because they are our future. Small businesses and transportation.

Paul Tuthill 

The state legislature within the last couple of months, allocated about $4 billion in COVID recovery money that came from the from the federal government the American Rescue Plan Act or ARPA funds, as it's commonly known, there's still about $2 billion left. How would you like to see some of that money spent?

Shirley Arriaga

I would definitely would love to see a good chunk of fat go into infrastructure. Right, let's finish repairing all our streets or highways or bridges and less invest In our school system, I can't stress enough how much and how important the school system the public school system is. And they need all the help they can get in depth, I am aware that they have received funding. But trust when I say it is not enough. Day in and day out of the school's public school system, and there's so much more that they need,and some of that funding will go along with that.

Paul Tuthill 

Your mentioned local transportation needs in Chicopee. The City of Boston is using some of its ARPA money to provide free fares on some bus routes. Is that something that you could see happening here in Chicopee?

Shirley Arriaga

I say, definitely, this is something we should definitely sit down and talk about. If Boston can do it, we can absolutely do it. It's only gonna benefit folks. If folks can get to work. If kids can get to school, some high schoolers have to take the bus, right transportation, and we can help the community get around to the places they need. And they will advance their careers, the education in the long run is going to pay off. Right, the economy will flourish because of it. So yes, this is something that we should definitely have a conversation about, and talk about how to make it possible here.

Paul Tuthill 

What's the most important thing that a state representative does?

Shirley Arriaga

They advocate for their community. So there's a lot of different legislators, right? There's the state rep, the senators, and they're all going to Boston and they're advocating for their districts how to improve it. They need to have that firsthand knowledge of what's going on and how. And in order to do so they need to know what's going on. Right. And once they do that can go to Boston and advocate. This is what's going on here. And I'm sure if it's going on in my community in my district, it's also happening elsewhere. Right. So not only are they going to be able to share information, but it can work together to Yes, help their district but also overall will help others right. So advocating for their district.

Paul Tuthill 

You're running to succeed.the most senior member of the legislative delegation from Western Massachusetts, Joe Wagner, who's held that seat representing Chicopee in Boston for 30 years. Have you talked to Representative Wagner about your plans,or sought his sought his advice?

Shirley Arriaga

I had been attempting to speak to Representative Joe Wagner. He is a very, very busy person, as we all know, I'm hopeful that I will be able to chat with him in the near future. But yes, as you stated the most senior member Representative Joe Wagner has done incredible work for Chicopee. He has done great work overall. And it would not only be an honor but a privilege to serve as the next state representative here in Chicopee. Knowing that his legacy is so incredible, right? There's so much to gain from his experience, his knowledge, his guidance. So yes, definitely. I look forward to speaking with Representative Wagner, and I cannot thank him enough for his service to our community.

Paul Tuthill 

Finally, is there anything else you want folks to know about you your campaign as you as you kick off your, your, your candidacy?

Shirley Arriaga

Yes, absolutely. I just want my constituents and my neighbors here to know that I am here to serve them. I am here for what is best for Chicopee for a district overall, I will be held accountable. I am not a politician. Right. I am just an individual that attended law school individuals who serve our country. I'm a mom. I'm currently an educator over at Chicopee High School. I just want what's best for my community. This is my hometown just like it is for so many others, and I just want what's best for it. I am the person who is dependable. I am accessible and I will be transparent as much as I can. There is nothing that I intend to hide from my community. I am here to serve them and advance the prosperity of our community