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Topping Templeton in Democratic primary, Mass. State Rep. Paul Mark is one step closer to replacing Hinds in state Senate

Josh Landes
State Representative Paul Mark.

Massachusetts State Representative Paul Mark of the 2nd Berkshire District decisively won Tuesday’s Democratic state Senate primary over Williamstown resident Huff Templeton with over 85% of the vote. He’s one step closer to taking over for Adam Hinds, who’s stepping down from representing the Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden district at the end of the year after a failed lieutenant governor campaign. Mark’s House district will soon be phased out of existence following the latest round of redistricting. He faces independent candidate Brendan Phair in the general election on November 8th. WAMC spoke with Mark about his victory, the general election, and the lack of Western Massachusetts candidates making it through the primary.

MARK: It's disappointing, specifically the lieutenant governor's race. And so we had Senator Adam Hinds running a great campaign, I think talking really well about issues. Obviously, a good guy, I think a personable guy, all the right talking points and boxes to check, and then coming up short in that convention. And the reasoning everyone was given, well, Berkshires, the Berkshires aren't that well known, it's hard to get any traction. And then seeing Eric Lesser, you know, another great senator, does a really great job for Western Massachusetts, always championing issues that I think are really important in Western Massachusetts, and I think effectively played, hey, having a balanced ticket, having someone from Eastern Massachusetts and Western Massachusetts would make sure we're caring about the whole state, again, coming up short- I don't think it speaks to the campaigns that either Eric or Adam ran out or who they are as people. I think it speaks to, it is extremely difficult to get people in the other part of the state to understand that we exist and that extends to running for office as well. And then I think some of the issues- They're not different, east versus west, but I think they have different flavors. And so when you're talking about housing, housing means a different thing in Great Barrington, in Springfield, than it does maybe in Boston or Cambridge. And so not having that same scope and maybe not having that same relatability to what people in the city, in the in the metro area are thinking about, you know, just naturally hurts us. And then there's always parochialism. So if we feel like, hey, we want someone from Western Massachusetts, and that's the argument being made, then maybe their guard goes up and says, well, wait a second, we don't want to give up our power. So while it's bad for us, it's also kind of understandable.

WAMC: You're a pretty progressive guy, Paul. You're a Bernie Sanders supporter, you back Medicare For All. Broadly, progressive-backed candidates on Tuesday, performed poorly in the Democratic primary. We saw activists like Chris Dempsey lose to Diana DiZoglio in the auditor race, we saw labor attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan fall short against Andrea Campbell in the Attorney General race. As someone who has represented farther to the left stances, any thoughts on what this means for the internal conversation about progressive politics or the left end of the party moving forward?

I don't think it's a problem that progressive values and progressive issues aren't popular. I think it's more an instance of how are you presenting the message, and how- Are you listening to what the voters are talking about this turn, this this campaign cycle? Or are you telling people only what's important to you? And as a candidate, it has to be a balance. There has to be, this is what I care about, these are the values I hold, this is what I've been passionate about, you know, since I first thought about running for politics, but also, I want to know what you're thinking about and I want to know how these two points can coincide, can collaborate. So again, like just talking about something like transportation. Out in the eastern part of the state or the western part of the state, there's differences in what transportations looks like. And as a progressive or as a moderate, there's differences in how we fund transportation. But you can talk successfully about the common ground and about the overarching goal that we want transportation or housing or health care affordable and accessible to as many people as possible, I think that's a way to get over those barriers. And I don't think every candidate necessarily realizes that

Maura Healey unsurprisingly swept into a big election day win against the inactive campaign of Sonia Chang-Díaz. Are we watching a coronation or an election of Maura Healey this year?

I think it's an election, and I think she's got a lot to a lot of work to do. When she came up to Pittsfield a couple of weeks ago and made a lot of stops around the Berkshires, she explained very clearly to anyone that was talking with her that the election will start for real on September 7th. The Republicans had to pick a nominee, and she pointed out that no attorney general has actually won this governor's election and no woman has ever been elected governor of the state. So I think she realizes that there is a lot of work to do, you cannot take anything for granted. And I'm really hopeful that she's going to not do what others have done in the past and kind of act like, well, this is preordained, and she's going to spend a lot of time out in the region, out throughout the state. I saw on notes that she's already going to be in Springfield today, so I think that's a really good sign. And it's all about hard work and it's all about voter turnout in Massachusetts. If we turn out, then Democrats win elections. If we sit home and assume that Maura Healey’s going to win, then you never know. It's a wildcard. Because the Republicans are fired up and they're always going to turn out.

Now looking across the aisle, Geoff Diehl triumphing over Chris Doughty in the Republican primary for governor. Diehl, of course has the support of former President Donald Trump. Any thoughts on what it means when you when you look across the aisle to your colleagues on the Republican Party in Massachusetts to see what seems like a pretty unclear triumph of Trumpism in that party?

I don't think it's a reflection of my colleagues in the legislature. I think most of my colleagues in the legislature on the Republican side are not that far to the right. But it seems like the people that are voting in Republican primaries are definitely there because Mr. Diehl has won a couple of elections statewide in their primary now, and that seems to be the message, is that, yeah, we're buying into the Trump stuff, we're buying into the national stuff, and we want to bring that to Massachusetts. And I don't think that's a winning formula in Massachusetts. I think that's going to help turnout for Democrats. It's going to help the ticket for all statewide Democrats, and I think it's going to result in a pretty solid victory this this fall for Maura Healey.

Now, as you run for the state senate seat, Mr. Mark, the purview of communities is expanding somewhat dramatically from the soon to be nonexistent 2nd Berkshire district. What are the issues that you're coming up on across other parts of this new district you'd be taking over? I'm thinking about issues like the PCB dump debate in Lee, I'm thinking about issues like crime in Pittsfield. Walk me through some of your thoughts on what you're encountering as you expand your portfolio.

What I see is that a lot of the issues are the same, they just have a local nuance. And so I hear a lot about housing. And so, I was at an event in Sheffield, and they're talking about housing and affordable housing and the availability of people to buy, and then you hear about the same thing in Pittsfield or North Adams. And again, while the issue remains, the underlying issue, what that looks like in each of these communities can be significantly different. And so you have conversations about what should Airbnbs look like, what should zoning look like, and other places you have conversations about, well, we need to build more affordable housing to begin with. And in still other places you're talking about, the most important thing you can do with housing is make sure that people who are hitting a time of distress aren't kicked out of their homes, that they don't actually lose that housing, in the form of having like rental assistance and vouchers available, because then once you once you're out, it starts a spiral that can lead to you know, longer term problems. But I find a lot of similarity throughout all four counties, even. But you can be in a town like Southwick, and what ends up different is they relate to the news in Hartford. Many of them talk about being a bedroom community of Hartford, and while again, care about the same things, where they're getting their news and what their peers and their neighbors are talking about is slanted by that news and can like take on a little bit of a different form, I guess.

Now in the general you face independent candidate Brendan Phair, who's running far to your right as a pro-life candidate with a lot of strong conservative viewpoints. Any thoughts on that contest, which, again, I would say oddsmakers probably keep it squarely in in your court heading into this, given the support you've received in the primary. But any thoughts on this next contest?

The campaign for me is going to stay the same as it’s been from the beginning. And my mission is, how do I meet as many people as possible? How do we make sure that all 57 of these communities know that once elected, if they choose to elect me, they're going to have a person they can get in touch with, they're going to have a person who's going to be visible in their communities, they’re going to have a person that’s going to have office hours roving all over the entire district as it is, and that they're going to have someone that I think lines up well with how the great majority of people in our senate district and in our region feel about the issues. And so for me, the strategy doesn't change. It just continues to be, work as hard as possible, put everything I have into getting there, and then the minute the election happens, if the results are what we, what I want them to be and what the people choose, then I'm going to immediately start working on getting ready for January, because that's what's most important, is, as we lose a member of our delegation because of redistricting, that on January 4th or whatever day it is next year that we get sworn in, that we don't lose a single beat, that we are ready to go and that we are ready to keep making sure that the Berkshires and Western Massachusetts have the voice that they need and are never forgotten in a body now of 200 people that is going to have only four voices representing them.

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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