Ben Downing

Ben Downing: Tiny Ripples Of Hope

Oct 7, 2019

In a speech to students in apartheid South Africa, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy declared, “this world demands the qualities of youth.” As I walked around the Boston Climate Strike last week, I heard those words over and over in my head. I heard those words and thought of the audacity of Greta Thunberg, fed up with adults doing nothing on climate change and choosing to do the opposite. A single teenager on strike, became 6 million people marching across the world. Six million of the “tiny ripples of hope” Kennedy would refer to later in the same speech.  

One Friday, my wife helped organize the local Lights for Liberty rally against the border detention camps. Then on Saturday, we joined with our local elected officials recognizing my great Grand Uncle Albert Downing, an immigrant who gave his life serving his adopted country in WWI. And On Sunday, the President slandered my Congresswoman, Ayanna Pressley, with racist taunts and jeers. Sadly, this weekend seemed to capture every aspect of immigration debates during the Trump presidency - hate, history and hope competing for what will shape our future. I am optimistic it will be hope, but hope is not enough. 

Ben Downing: Moving The Line

Jul 4, 2019

With a single regulatory change, the Trump administration wants to reduce poverty. Shockingly, that change is not an innovative effort to create jobs, lessen the burden of housing or healthcare costs, or improve education. It is an attempt to change how the federal government measures and defines poverty. People will not receive new benefits or opportunities, the federal government will just stop recognizing that they are poor. 

Ben Downing: Never Say Never

Jun 13, 2019

The Baker administration recently announced a plan to double Massachusetts’ procurement of offshore wind. Given the mounting data about the severity climate crisis, the announcement is good news. Tapping into the potential of offshore wind is key to solving climate, especially in the Northeast. Just as important is the lesson about the scale of action needed.

Ben Downing: Foster Care

May 9, 2019

Kay Lazer’s recent series in the Boston Globe on the Massachusetts foster care system is equal parts heartbreaking and maddening. It should be a call to action and a reminder that the impact of public policy decisions can be felt for years after the fact.

Ben Downing: Let's Get Transportation Moving

Apr 4, 2019

The transportation debate in Massachusetts has been locked in a battle of false choices for far too long. Failure to recognize this has left us a transportation system built in the 1970s, to serve the Massachusetts of the 80s, burdened by debt from the 90s, unable to help us grow in this century. Here is one proposal for moving forward.

Ben Downing: Women's History Month

Mar 14, 2019

Throughout March we honor women’s contribution to progress and remember all that must be done to ensure full equality today. In honor of that I want to recognize the incredible women in my life. I am the proud grandson of Gertrude Martin Downing, who raised nine kids after her husband passed away suddenly, and Shirley Trusselle Brackett, who beat back Polio, the proud son of Pamela June Brackett Downing, whose quiet strength is the only thing more impressive than her creativity, the proud brother of Maggie Downing whose can do spirit helped clean up after Katrina and is helping revitalize a canal in Washington, D.C., the proud husband of Micaelah Burke Morrill, who knows more about how to actually turn innovation into real things than anyone I know and also happens to be an incredible friend, mom and wife. I could talk for hours about all of them or any one of them, but none of them would like that and my guess is none of them would think that is in the spirit of this month.

Ben Downing: Moral Capitalism

Feb 13, 2019

Recently, Congressman Joe Kennedy called for a “moral capitalism,” in which our economy is “judged not by how much it produces but by how widely it shares.”

Ben Downing: Tackling Climate Change

Jan 10, 2019

The news of nine Northeastern states and the District of Columbia coming together to address transportation climate impacts is good news. All the leaders, Democrats and Republicans alike, including Governor Baker of Massachusetts deserve credit for taking the important first step of publically forming the alliance and committing to action.

Ben Downing: Toward A Green New Deal

Nov 27, 2018

Fires across California, exacerbated by climate change, have left dozens dead and billions of dollars worth of damage done. The 4th National Climate Assessment just released highlights the massive toll inaction on climate could take on our economy. As the evidence of present impacts of climate change grows it is only dwarfed by darkening future projections. With this backdrop, a new Congress is beginning to convene. Debate has sparked about how the newly elected Democratic majority should tackle climate change. In particular, the advocacy of Representative elect Alexandria Ocasio Cortez has ruffled feathers.

Ben Downing: Choose Better

Oct 31, 2018

Even with leaders who inspire and appeal to our better angels, even with strong gun laws, wicked things will happen. But we also know with better leaders, who offer more than just thoughts and prayers, we can have far fewer days like Saturday October 27th in Pittsburgh or days before in Newtown, Orlando, Chicago and too many more.

Ben Downing: The Hopeful Alternative

Oct 4, 2018

For the past 2 years, I have worked for a company that develops, owns and operates solar projects. Given that, I have stayed away discussing energy & climate issues in these commentaries to avoid any appearance of conflict. However, after the recent Merrimack Valley Gas Fires took the life Leonel Rondon, injured dozens others, left thousands without heat and hot water and caused millions of damage, I felt compelled to write.

Ben Downing: A Place To Start

Sep 13, 2018

In 2012 and 2016, I joined with my colleagues to expand protections under Massachusetts hate crimes laws to our transgender neighbors, friends, co-workers and family members. Those two yes votes were some of my proudest in 10 years in the Senate. This fall those protections and progress will be on the line at the ballot box.

Ben Downing: End Of Session

Jul 31, 2018

I had planned on preparing a summary of the soon to be finished Massachusetts legislative session. However, as I researched the various pending pieces of legislation being debated, I couldn't help but focus on the broader dynamics driving the process. Increasingly, each two-year session has been defined by the long, slow build up to a final days’ logjam. To some degree, this is unavoidable. Timelines dictate activity. However, the trend is noteworthy, not just for its hectic nature, but for who it benefits.

Ben Downing: Millionaire's Tax

Jun 26, 2018

The Millionaire’s Tax may not be before voters this fall, but the broad support it enjoyed should show legislators the way forward. For decades Massachusetts has underfunded transportation and education. We’ve prioritized tax cuts, to the benefit of the wealthy, and ignored investment, to the detriment of our economy and the public good. Economic inequality has grown, while commute time has skyrocketed, education achievement gaps have persisted, higher education has become less affordable and transit has become less reliable.

Ben Downing: Investing In Education

May 31, 2018

The debate about UMass Amherst’s acquisition of Mt. Ida College is an important one, but it ignores an unavoidable truth - Massachusetts has failed to prioritize and invest in public higher education for a generation. That failure has burdened thousands of students across Massachusetts and deterred countless more from seeking to improve themselves. That failure has left each of the 29 campuses - 5 UMass branches, 9 State Universities and Colleges, 15 Community Colleges - to fend for themselves. That failure has weakened Massachusetts. If we want to lessen economic inequality and create a stronger, fairer economy, we must invest to create a world-class, affordable public higher education system.

Ben Downing: Sales Tax

May 16, 2018

During the recent Massachusetts Republican Party Convention and in public statements since, Governor Baker has called for the Sales Tax to be cut. At best, this is an incomplete position, at worst, it is an irresponsible one.

Ben Downing: Addressing Poverty

Apr 3, 2018

Earlier this year I commented here that policymakers were missing the mark if they did not turn their focus to poverty. Which begs the question, if they did focus on poverty, what should they do about it?

Ben Downing: Ending Hunger

Mar 6, 2018

Massachusetts is one of the richest states in the richest nation on earth and yet, 1 in 10 people and 1 in 7 children struggle with hunger. That’s 701,630 of our family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. It’s 187,920 kids. That is a moral outrage and it should spur action to ensure no one goes hungry. Unfortunately, this hasn’t proven to be the case. Thanks to a recent study by Children’s Health Watch of Boston Medical Center we have a new way of thinking about the costs of hunger and with it hope for renewed action.

30 years ago, Healthcare accounted for 16 percent of the $20 billion Massachusetts state budget. 10 years ago, it accounted for 30 percent of a $28 billion budget. In 2018, it was 40 percent of a $39.4B budget. You don’t have to be a policy wonk to realize that’s an unsustainable trend.

Ben Downing: Poverty In Massachusetts

Jan 9, 2018

As the New Year begins, Governors, Mayors, and other elected officials, will deliver addresses aimed at setting the debate for the year ahead. Most will tout their previous work, all will call for one new effort or another, but few, if any,  will talk about an issue that impacts nearly every other policy - poverty.

Ben Downing: Putting Victims First

Dec 7, 2017

I consider the 10 years I served in the State Senate to be an honor. I met some of the finest women and men I have ever known working there. It was not a perfect place, but I never imagined it could be a hostile work environment.

Ben Downing: Gun Laws And Common Sense

Oct 24, 2017

My Dad had been district attorney for less than 2 years when Wayne Lo opened fire on Simon’s Rock campus the night of December 14, 1992. He killed one fellow student, one professor and injured 4 others before his semi-automatic rifle jammed.

Ben Downing: Graham-Cassidy

Sep 26, 2017

On our national seal, you find a motto of the United States in Latin - “E pluribus Unum” … “Out of Many, One” … it was adopted to represent the coming together of the separate states to form the Union and the basis for our country. We are at our best as a nation when we look at that motto not as a description of the legal arrangement among states, but as the spirit that has guided us for 2 and a half centuries since. Out of many, one.

Ben Downing: In Defense Of The ACA

Jun 23, 2017

Just about 2 months ago, my wife and I welcomed our son Malcolm into the world. Thanks to the miracles of modern science, we have the security of knowing Malcolm won’t have the genetic heart disease that killed my father at 52 and my brother at 26.

Ben Downing: Fighting Addiction

May 4, 2017

The opioid epidemic claimed 2000 lives in Massachusetts in 2016, the third year in a year of significant increases. In 2014, for the first time in 15 years, the fatal overdose rate in Massachusetts was greater than twice the national average. Of 30 states in a recent federal study, Massachusetts had the highest rate of opioid related Emergency Room visits.

Ben Downing: We're Number One, Now What?

Apr 11, 2017

According to US News & World Report, Massachusetts is number one. That is a good thing. Having looked a variety of metrics, McKinsey & US News said, among the 50 states, that our “vibrant academic environment, innovative and supportive health care policies and modernizing economy, measure for measure, make this the strongest state of all.” We should reflect on that and be proud.

Ben Downing: National Service

Mar 14, 2017

It is nearly impossible to avoid discussions about what divides us. Urban vs. Rural. Boomers vs. Millenials. Conservative vs. Progressive. Red state vs. Blue States. These discussions don’t just say something about the different groups their proponents try to drop folks into, they also say something about what is missing in our society - a shared experience.

Ben Downing: Massachusetts’ Gateway Cities

Feb 26, 2017

In the early stages of 2017, there is seemingly much to be happy about in Massachusetts. The state’s unemployment rate is at a very low 2.8% and a record numbers of Massachusetts residents have found work. More than many other states, our combination of higher education, healthcare and high tech institutions and companies has positioned Mass to thrive in the 21st century economy.

Ben Downing: Democratic Strategy In The Trump Era

Feb 16, 2017

Much has been made of how Democratic elected officials are pushing back against the Republican administration’s agenda. Whether it’s Attorneys General filing suit around the President’s executive order banning refugees or Senators pushing back against irresponsible cabinet appointees; all of these actions are necessary, but they are not sufficient.