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Western Mass. State Senator Hinds will step down Sunday to become new CEO of Boston’s Edward Kennedy Institute

State Senator Adam Hinds kicks off his campaign
Josh Landes
/
WAMC
State Senator Adam Hinds kicking off his campaign for lieutenant governor on the steps of Pittsfield, Massachusetts city hall in 2021.

Outgoing Western Massachusetts State Senator Adam Hinds will leave office ahead of schedule, resigning Sunday to become the new CEO of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. A failed bid for lieutenant governor in the Democratic primary put an end to Hinds’ three two-year terms representing the Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden district. Hinds has endorsed the campaign of fellow Democrat Paul Mark, state representative for the 2nd Berkshire district, in the race to replace him. Mark faces independent candidate Brendan Phair in November’s general election. Hinds spoke with WAMC about taking over the Kennedy Institute and his parting message to his Western Massachusetts constituents.

HINDS: The Kennedy Institute has been focused on really educating the public on not only the role of the Senate, where Senator Kennedy spent his career, but also encouraging involvement in democracy. And they're taking on a new effort that really caught my attention, which is, since January 6th, how can the institute play a role in national dialogue and really wanting to make sure that we can create an address for where people are coming together to confront the challenges to our democracy. And so, to me, that's what has me excited. It's a real combination of my background in international negotiation and involvement in domestic politics, and [I] couldn't be more excited.

WAMC: Coming into an institute based on Senate politics, you've been a state senator in a predominantly democratic state, which, you know, has a Republican Party, but certainly not one with the same balance of power as, say, in the US Senate. What kind of experience are you bringing from the Massachusetts State House to this job?

Well, look, we have had a lot of opportunities to make sure we're reaching across the aisle. For example, when, after the Nevada shootings, we were acted very quickly to address bump stocks here. And so, being in the room with Democratic and Republican colleagues to identify what we would do in relation to gun legislation. So there are plenty of those examples that take place here in Massachusetts as well. But to me, it's really about, as we're going through this, I’d say, a crisis in democracy, to borrow some recent headlines in the newspaper- They often center around the US Senate, and so I think it's one thing to diagnose the problems, it's one thing to talk about a civil discourse, but we also need to go further and create the space for dialogue across the aisle to understand where we go from here.

When you look at the Republican Party in 2022, do you get a sense that leadership in that party is coming from the Senate or coming from the extremes of that party that might use these extraordinary actions to move the window of conversation on what's appropriate in the US Senate? So essentially, is it a tail wagging the dog situation, or vice versa?

Well, here's where Senator Kennedy, is a good role model, right? He was not afraid to be very clear about his principles, about the policies he stood for, you know, planting a flag on universal health care, for example. And then that's your starting point in how you reach across the aisle and find partners. And so the institute is actually working with kind of similar institutes for former Republican senators. And so I think that is an important piece. You're working with the folks who you can actually have a dialogue with, and that's an important model that Senator Kennedy has provided us.

One of those groups is the foundation named after the Republican Senator Orrin Hatch. You know, I'm interested- When you're in that bipartisan situation where you're working with a foundation named after someone who, for example, was a staunch anti-abortion activist and the author of the Hatch Amendment, what is that like when it seems like the conversation is so polarized with some of these groups?

So one of the kind of hallmark initiatives that the Kennedy Institute has taken on with the Orrin Hatch Foundation is something called the Senate Project. And it launched this summer, first with a nationally televised debate between Bernie Sanders and Lindsey Graham on Fox News. And then there's been subsequent debates and there are more being planned. And so it's one of these situations where, and again, drawing on my international negotiation, it's one thing to say what you want. And what we're finding now is you need the other side to actually get things done. That's one of the reasons we're seeing such a stagnation in our federal government. And so, you know, that's part of what the Institute is trying to model now, is that you can actually have conversations with folks you might disagree with, and it's something that's drastically missing right now.

The Institute has struggled financially in recent years. This year, it received $5 million in [American Rescue Plan Act] funding to pay off debts, and it operated at a $27 million loss between 2015 and 2019. What is your message as the new leader of the Institute about where to go from here with securing that that financial foundation?

It is the case that, you know, we've really have to- One of my first challenges will be to make sure we have a business model that works and that the Institute is sustainable into the future. I've got to tell you, we've been producing award-winning civic education material, we have room for growth there. For example, you know, with COVID, we've seen that virtual learning is adopted more widely. And so we can really expand beyond the amazing replica of the US Senate chamber that we have on site in Dorchester and Columbia Point right next to the JFK Library. And really expand to, really reaching into every state in the nation. And so there's that type of thing that the business model is going to shift naturally. The fact that we're really planting a flag and saying we're going to be a part of these important national level dialogues is also going to shift our fundraising, and so I think we have a plan that will allow us to make sure we're in stable financial footing. And so I'm looking forward to taking that on when I get my legs under the desk.

Do you feel like you owe anything to your constituents by leaving before the end of your term?

You know, this was probably the hardest part of the decision. And after conversations with the Senate President and others, we determined that it's an okay time to leave in the sense that we're past formal sessions, we're past the primary to identify the folks who will compete to replace me. We don't expect any more formal roll calls and the like, and I already announced to my constituents that I would not be back in January. So, all of that combined makes me confident that the state representatives and my colleagues in the Senate would cover anything that's needed. My staff will stay in place until the end of the term, so, the first week of January. And then finally, you know, this isn't the first time a legislator has left to take on a new job or opportunity. And so, you know, we've done this before, and I feel confident that the regional will be represented strongly.

Now, will this be taking you out of the Berkshires, Adam?

Yeah, you know, what’s funny is, the first question I'm getting today is, do you have a place in Boston? And so I think we'll- I'm used to that commute from Western Mass to Boston, and now we'll still have two locations, I think. Rather than one in Pittsfield, we'll switch it over to Boston to try to navigate supporting my wife's career and my own.

Any last words as a state senator to the WAMC listening audience here in the Berkshires, Adam?

You know, I would just say this has been absolutely the honor of my life to represent the region I grew up in the state senate. There's nothing I wanted to do more than roll up my sleeves and take on the challenges that we've been confronting, whether it's infrastructure investment and transportation investment, our flawed school funding formula, just the basics to make sure every kid has an opportunity and our economy can thrive. And that's what we've done. And so to be able to leave now after six years and point to specific progress in each of those areas- I'm proud of the work that I've done with a lot of the constituents and residents and so I at least have that to look back on

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