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Stockbridge Select Board member Patrick White discusses candidacy for Massachusetts House

The Massachusetts state capitol in Boston
WAMC/Ian Pickus
WAMC/Ian Pickus
The Massachusetts state capitol in Boston

Now that longtime Berkshire County State Representative Smitty Pignatelli will not seek a 12th term, Stockbridge Select Board member Patrick White is jumping in to replace the Democrat in the Massachusetts state House. Great Barrington Select Board vice chair Leigh Davis launched her campaign for the seat on February 16. White says his career in business, non-profit leadership and public office in the town have prepared him to represent the Third Berkshire District on Beacon Hill. White, who won a second three-year term on the selectboard last year, discussed his candidacy with WAMC’s Ian Pickus.

I've had a long career. I founded a number of startup companies. I'm an entrepreneur. I serve as a selectman in the Town of Stockbridge. I serve currently as the chief financial officer of a local private school. I know how to get things done. From Dalton to Sheffield, Lee and Lenox, Great Barrington, I work with local leaders all around the town I currently serve to do just that. I have a long record in my experience on the Select Board, in getting things done and in bringing executive leadership to bear to move the needle for the Berkshires.

What would you say your top accomplishments have been locally?

Let’s start with environment. First few months in office, I recognized that we had a challenge to preserve our old growth forest. I secured funding for it. I helped save the 300 and 400-year-old trees at Ice Glen. I immediately put in place our climate leader called the Municipal Vulnerability program, secured funding for culverts. That culminated in having the lieutenant governor out here in Stockbridge, where she announced a partnership with the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans to secure $2.4 million in funding for conservation. Speaking of the Mohicans, I've worked closely with them on returning documents that had some of their ancestors’ signatures on them on Indian burial grounds. And I wrote the proposal that formed the Stockbridge Mohican Commission, which will be a partnership with the tribe and local towns folk to move these issues of reconciliation to front and center. I kept our municipal budget down to a 1% increase last year and I did it by going through line by line of that budget. I've got a financial background, I understand how things work. And I did that while not cutting any services, any salaries. In fact, on the question of salaries, I advocated for it in the first town in the Berkshires to tie pay issues to consumer price index so that, you know, in the last three years, you've seen in our highway department, our town hall staff, our police department, they've been getting 2% raises, while inflation was over 15% for those three years. I believe people need a living wage. And I work hard to make sure that people are paid and can keep up and can afford to live and work in these communities. You know, I'm just really good at what I do. And I frankly want to bring those skills to the statehouse. I've got just one criteria for making decisions. What’s in people's interests, and I work hard to have their back.

It’s very rare for a Berkshire County seat in the statehouse to open up. Representative Pignatelli has been there for two decades. How would you grade his time in office? I mean, do you see yourself being a legislator like Pignatelli has been if you were to win the seat?

I think he’s done a great job and I think you're exactly right. I was expecting him to spend another decade in the statehouse. I threw my name in for exactly the reason that you outlined. It happens so rare. I spent an hour yesterday with Senator Mark in Dalton, where, you know, we were laughing and planning and this is someone I've had a relationship with a long time. I've had a relationship with Smitty for a long time. I will rely on the expertise of our delegation, I’ll be part of the delegation. I will rely on our neighboring towns, delegates to the statehouse. I've worked to build consensus. Town government is consensus government. Towns in Massachusetts don't have a mayor, you know, and if you want to get things done, you got to know how to work with people. Whether you're an executive at a local business, or a fellow legislator, a leader in town hall, whether you're someone with an issue. What Smitty has been fantastic at is constituent services and I know exactly where he’s coming from. I have a goal to get back to people within two hours if I get an email or call from them. Can you do that every second? No, but I work really hard to make sure that leadership is about individual's needs. It's about a group and regional needs. And I fully embrace that.

How would you describe your own politics? Because the statehouse is different from local government, as you say, and the parties have a big role to play on Beacon Hill. We have overwhelming Democratic majorities in both chambers, a Democratic governor now. Where do you fall on that spectrum?

Well, I'm a Democrat. I believe in democratic principles. I believe housing is a human right. I believe that even people who are different from you are worth knowing. I believe that leaders should work to make sure people get along, not divide them. I reject the politics of division, everything that so much of our current national politics stand for. You're right, the statehouse is overwhelmingly democratic. You know, Boston has 19 state representatives. My 18 towns have one, which I hope will be me. If you don't know how to get along with people, if you don't know how to recognize what their needs are, you're not gonna be able to build consensus to what your needs cover. And I'm completely comfortable in my skin, but I'm also comfortable in my beliefs. And I believe we need progressive government. I believe we need to recognize, though, that some of the ways we’ve done things for a long time we need to challenge. I'll give you one example. Town government, town services, town investment and infrastructure are all based on property taxes. Overwhelmingly, our budgets are based on property taxes. We've got one of the lowest median incomes in the state here in the Berkshires. We need to recognize that there's challenges on homeowners and challenges on budgets, and whether you're raising your family or retiring here, we've got to understand that there's opportunities for us to reimagine how we fund local government. I am a firm believer that every dollar that we can pull into local government from a source other than property taxes is a dollar we can save the homeowners in our district. That’s why I support tourism taxes in all its forms. I love the fact that we have a tourism driven economy. I don't think we do a good enough job at saying, if you’re buying a concert ticket and there's a $22 service fee, how come there’s not a $5 town fee to make sure that the region can build housing? We've got to look at ways to fund government that does not rely on the backs of property taxpayers.

Following up on that, did you think that the tax relief bill promoted by Governor Healey was good policy?

You know, I think that tax relief of course is really important. I prefer tax programs that are weighted toward the folks with the most need. When you asked what kind of Democrat I am, I'm kind of a Kennedy Democrat. And I will echo what Kennedy said, which was really echoing what the Apostle Luke said, “To whom much is given, much will be required.” I believe that. I have a friend who lives in town here, he’s an oncologist, and he told me that at Berkshire Medical Center, a third, think about this, a third of the folks who go for treatment at the cancer center choose between food and medicine. How can we live in a society where that's okay? Where folks have to choose between food and medicine. I believe that folks have to pay their fair share, and I’ll support policies that provide relief to the folks at the low end of income, preferencing that over relief at the high end.

What about making the case for regional equity? Many people who represent Western Massachusetts on Beacon Hill find that it's difficult to get attention to the needs of this part of the state. What would you do about that?

The math doesn't support rural power. It doesn't. Like I said, you got 19 reps in Boston, you got one rep for 18 towns. If you're not able to work with the people in Boston to help them understand and align their interest with ours, you're not gonna be able to get things done. I use two examples. One is, you know, we are the climate sequestration part of the state. We have forests, we have rural landscapes, we’re the breadbasket of the state. We have farms. Helping people understand that it's in their interest to protect our resources and to invest in these communities makes the most sense. You know, we can't just go hat in hand and expect folks to give us a bailout. It's not going to work that way. We're going to have to build relationships, and I've lived in Boston for over 20 years. I know how Boston works. I’ve lived a block from the statehouse. I am completely comfortable in aligning our rural interests with those of our gateway cities and other -- more densely populated and therefore more strongly represented in terms of numbers – districts. I believe there's a way to do that and to bridge the gaps between rural and more urban needs. I grew up in this town. I grew up in the house I currently live in. I have spent a life between Boston and the Berkshires and I am comfortable in bringing Boston closer to the Berkshires in a metaphoric sense, you know, in really trying to help people understand how we're all in this together.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.