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The four 3rd Berkshire district state House candidates are working to distinguish themselves as election day looms

Commonwealth of Massachusetts
The 3rd Berkshire District comprises Southern Berkshire County in the southwestern corner of Massachusetts.

In an otherwise sleepy political season in Berkshire County, the race is on for the open 3rd Berkshire state House seat.

Democrats Jamie Minacci, Patrick White, and Leigh Davis are running in the Democratic primary, while Marybeth Mitts is running as an independent. The current State Representative for the Southern Berkshires, Democrat Smitty Pignatelli, is not seeking re-election after more than two decades on Beacon Hill. He’s chosen to stay out of the fray and not offer an endorsement in the contest.

“I think all four of them bring some unique abilities to this race, but I want them to see a much broader view of the region, the district, more so than just these 40,000-foot view of the world," Pignatelli told WAMC. "I think you’ve got to be really specific about what can we do for the Berkshires, the 3rd Berkshire district. The 3rd Berkshire district, is very different than the second, and even more different than the first. So, I think we need to look at the region as a whole, but be more specific on the Southern Berkshires. That's what I’d like to see more of.”

At a candidate forum in Becket this month, the four offered actionable policy points in an effort to differentiate themselves ahead of the first major test of the political calendar: the September 3rd primaries.

Stockbridge select board member White said the heavily tourism dependent region has been leaving money on the table.

“We need more revenue, and I think we should get the revenue from visitors," he said. "39 states charge for tickets. I don't know- I live across the street from Tanglewood, literally across the street. 39 states, if you buy a ticket and you're a visitor, you're a tourist, money goes into those local roads and bridges and housing. Not here. They do in Texas, they do it in Florida, they do it in Georgia. Not exactly low tax states. We're going to need new revenue sources to deal with some of these issues, because I don't think the Boston is ever bailing out the Berkshires. People have been coming to these meetings for for 100 years making those promises to you, and I'm not going to do it. But I think there's ways to get it done.”

Asked about how she would specifically address the needs of the 3rd Berkshire district’s rural communities, Great Barrington selectboard Vice Chair Davis said formalizing intertown collaboration was the answer.

“I'm part of a program or a group with Smitty Pignatelli, and we are looking at revitalizing and regionalizing the EMS service," she said. "You have a wonderful, wonderful volunteer department here, wonderful fire department. You're doing a lot, you're working now with Washington. We need to get that buttoned up. I am part of a hub and spoke group within that with Smitty’s leading to look at ways to regionalize the EMS and to specifically help Becket so that you're not carrying the weight of different towns. So obviously, you're working with Washington, which is great right now, but we want to make sure that Becket is looked after and that you are not the mutual aid, that there is something set in place.”

Minacci of the Stockbridge select board answered an audience query about balancing economic growth with environmental concerns in an ever-heating world increasingly wracked by climate change.

“The wetlands are a great climate protector," said Minacci. "They absorb all this extra moisture and heat that has been coming. So, we need to keep working on that. We can't build in our wetlands. We have to be careful with zoning and how we build our homes. We have to be mindful of the materials we use and how we're going to heat our homes. I went to 1Berkshire about the [regional economic] blueprint, and one of the silos is recreation, and that is one of the economic drivers to the Berkshires. People are coming here to hike and swim and canoe and just to rest, because we have green and we have space, so we need to protect that, and that is in an economic development.”

Responding to a question about how immigration has impacted Berkshire County, the race’s sole independent, Lenox select board member Mitts, said that more should be done to support recent waves of new community members.

“There's a great number of Haitian and Afghani families in Berkshire County that have been relocated here," she said. "These immigrant families have been living in hotels in Pittsfield and Great Barrington, and they will lose their status in the hotels as of September 29th. It's been incredibly difficult for them because they have no kitchen facilities where they're located. That's super difficult because they're eating food that is not native to their culture. Maybe they're being provided pizzas, local food pantries are giving them things, but it's not their food, it's not their cultural experience. So, I think it's really important that we build. These people are critical to our community. I think it's really important that we welcome them to the Berkshires. I know that many of the kitchen staff in many of the restaurants in Lenox specifically are immigrants. They are living in Lenox currently, but they should be housed in better housing.”

The general election is November 5th.

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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