Although Democrats have a hold on most elected offices in the county, the Berkshires were well-represented at Saturday’s Massachusetts Republican Convention in Worcester. WAMC spoke with delegates at the DCU Center.
Very little about being a Republican from the Berkshires is easy.
“Well, I’ll tell you — it’s really interesting, because some of these people are like, ‘I had to travel from Springfield,’ and like, excuse me, I started at 3 in the morning to get here,” said Christine Canning.
Canning, a Republican from Lanesborough, ran for the county’s state Senate seat in 2016 and in the special election for the 1st Berkshire District state House seat in 2017. Neither bid was successful. A former teacher at Pittsfield’s Taconic High School, she now runs an educational consulting firm.
“Driving out from Berkshire County, what’s really good is to see that there are more of us, because Berkshire County has been pretty much the last 50 years all Democrats in, and one party, and it’s nice to see that there are obviously a lot of people from Berkshire County here who are eligible to vote and are making a difference,” said Canning.
Hailing from what’s become a deep blue part of a historically deep blue state, Canning’s brand of Republicanism exists in a gray area.
“It’s really interesting because there’s Republicans and then there’s Massachusetts Republicans, and for a Massachusetts Republican, someone might say Christine Canning is conservative," she said. "But if I go other places, people think I’m so left wing and Democrat. It depends I think on where you are in the nation.”
According to state statistics from February 2017, there are just under 8,000 Republicans in Berkshire County, making up around 9 percent of registered voters. Statewide, there are less than half a million — about 11 percent of registered voters.
At the convention, anti-gay activist Scott Lively drew enough support to advance to a primary against first-term Governor Charlie Baker. Canning says that’s one issue that sets her apart from the roughly 27 percent of delegates who supported Lively.
“There’s no excuse for this in this day and age," said Canning. "It’s just reinforced Jim Crow laws, bigotry, and a way to hide hate. And I refuse to be a part of it. And Yes, I am Republican, but I’m not that kind of Republican.”
Canning would rather focus on pocketbook issues.
“One of the things is that if you look at Worcester County, how much better they have been doing — and it’s fiscal responsibility, it’s fiscal accountability,” she said.
Steve Miller is an Associate Professor of Mathematics at Williams College, and sits on the Mt. Greylock School Committee. He says Republicans are underrepresented in the Berkshires — especially on college campuses.
“There’s a lot more who have similar views, but unfortunately the culture makes it very difficult for students, faculty, and members of the community to speak up along these lines,” said Miller.
His major issues are illegal immigration, national defense, and education.
“But another reason that I’m here is Williamstown and Lanesborough have shared a middle school and a high school for the last approximately 50 years, and we recently voted to merge completely the school districts," Miller said. "So now we have a unified school district for the two elementary schools, the middle and the high school.”
Miller has been involved in the finances of the merger.
“How do you allocate state funds now that you have a common district? How do you provide support?" asked Miller. "One of the reasons I’m here is to talk to people about efficient ways to have shared services and build up contacts. We have dwindling populations and large buildings. We have to figure out, how can we efficiently use resources across multiple towns? How do you coordinate across multiple towns? We’re going through a lot of these problems together, and I’m here to talk to people about what we can do.”
“There’s a certain stigma associated with being conservative in Massachusetts, and especially in the Berkshires,” said Christopher Tufts.
Tufts is 21 and lives in Great Barrington. He was at the convention — his first — as a volunteer for the John Kingston U.S. Senate campaign.
“Fundamentally, I mean — a belief in smaller government," said Tufts. "I believe in the autonomy of the individual. I don’t feel comfortable with having the government regulate every single aspect of our lives. One of the primary things that really frustrates me about Massachusetts is our gun control laws here. It seems like they’re overbearing and they target law abiding citizens like myself.”
Despite the stigma, Tufts says he’ll persevere as a Republican in the Berkshires.
Said Tufts, “It’s one of those things you kind of have to work around, but — I am who I am, I have strong convictions, and I’m not going to change those because I might be scrutinized.”