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Massachusetts Voters Say Yes To Marijuana, No To More Charter Schools

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    Massachusetts voters Tuesday legalized marijuana for recreational use by adults, and soundly rejected a proposed expansion of charter schools in two of the most watched and hotly contested ballot referendums.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s name was not on the ballot this year but he suffered some stinging setbacks Tuesday.   The Republican governor was a leading champion and highly visible supporter of Question 2, which sought voter authorization to increase the number of charter schools in Massachusetts.  It was crushed by a 62-38 percent margin.

Polling showed the issue cut sharply along party lines with Democrats opposing charter school expansion, and Republicans strongly supporting it.

The defeat of Question 2 was one of the few bright spots Tuesday night for Ray Drewnowski, the chairman of the Holyoke Democratic City Committee.

" Our commonwealth recognizes the need for our public schools and the need to strengthen them," he said.

Gov. Baker issued a statement saying he was proud to have joined in a “worthwhile campaign” to “provide more educational choices for students stuck in struggling districts.”  

The ballot initiative would have authorized up to 12 new charter schools a year in Massachusetts, where there are more than 30,000 students currently on waiting lists for charter schools.  Opponents, including the teachers’ unions hammered home the argument that charter schools drain money out of district schools.

  Massachusetts voters opened the door to the marijuana industry Tuesday.  By a 54-46 percent margin voters approved legalizing the recreational use of marijuana by adults.

Question 4 had been opposed by Gov. Baker and most of the state’s political establishment with the noticeable exceptions of State Senate President Stan Rosenberg of Amherst and Mayor Alex Morse of Holyoke.

The vote means marijuana will be legal for personal use on Dec. 15th.    Retail marijuana stores can open in 2018.

State Rep. Aaron Vega of Holyoke says the legislature will need to act quickly to put new laws and a bureaucracy in place to regulate marijuana.

" The big issues legislators are being told to look at are the tax rates, the potency, and possibly  the issue of allowing edibles," said Vega.

  Not only did Baker end up on the wrong side of the two most prominent issues on Tuesday’s ballot in Massachusetts, but he was one of many in the Republican establishment who did not endorse President-elect Donald Trump.

Baker in fact made it known that he “blanked” his ballot in the presidential election.

He issued a statement Wednesday saying he hoped Trump would work quickly to unite the country after a divisive election.

On a day of triumph for Republicans nationally, the best the beleaguered Massachusetts Republican Party could do was put out a statement crowing that it scored a net gain of one seat in the state legislature, which is overwhelmingly dominated by Democrats.

A ballot question to regulate the confinement of chickens and farm animals that was backed by animal welfare groups was overwhelmingly approved by Massachusetts voters.  A question that would have allowed for the possible licensing of a second slot machines-only casino in Massachusetts was soundly rejected.

Voters in Springfield, Holyoke, and Pittsfield by wide margins authorized adoption of the Community Preservation Act.  Each city will now add a surcharge to property tax bills to create a fund to pay for projects involving historic preservation, open space, and affordable housing.

Daphne Board, who worked on the campaign in Holyoke to pass the CPA said it is projected to raise $460,000 per year.

"People are really tired of seeing their cherished buildings collapse without having funds to work with and be proactive," said Board.

 More than half the municipalities in Massachusetts have now adopted the Community Preservation Act since it was enacted 16 years ago.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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