Ben Downing | WAMC

Ben Downing

A bald white man in a button down shirt gestures with his hands in front of a wall with framed pictures and a banner.
Josh Landes / WAMC

Massachusetts Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Berkshires native Ben Downing spoke and took questions at a meeting of the county’s NAACP chapter Wednesday night.

"Ben For Massachusetts"
The Ben Downing Campaign /

The first Democrat to declare a 2022 gubernatorial bid in Massachusetts is a Berkshire County native, prompting both enthusiasm and skepticism back home.

Massachusetts State Senator Ben Downing
Jim Levulis / WAMC

Former Massachusetts State Senator Ben Downing, a native of Pittsfield, says he is running for governor.

Ben Downing: Personal Responsibility Isn’t Enough

Dec 28, 2020

With COVID cases surging, Governor Baker’s primary new response has been to double down on a plea for personal responsibility. The Governor is right, everyone should wear a mask and socially distance. But that isn’t enough. Massachusetts widening economic inequality, combined with the Governor’s mixed messages around economic reopening have hampered our ability to stop the virus’ spread.

Ben Downing: Grief, Loss And Leadership

Dec 10, 2020

Many have talked and written about how President-elect Joe Biden’s life has been shaped by loss. Surely that is true. What has been less discussed is how loss will shape his Presidential leadership. Biden knows what it is to be broken. Our country is broken now. The lessons learned from being broken teach you how to recover. I know that because I am broken too. From my experience and having watched Biden serve in the Senate, as Vice President and during this campaign, there are three key lessons grief and loss have taught him, which will shape his leadership: empathy, perspective and urgency. These less are the main reasons I am hopeful for the next 4 years.

Ben Downing: Hunger, Pandemics And Politics

May 14, 2020

On the one hand - skyrocketing unemployment and surging demand for emergency food assistance from Food Banks, pantries and soup kitchens. On the other hand - farms dumping milk, smashing eggs, plowing vegetables into the ground and farms closing. How can this be?

Ben Downing: Choosing To Become Stronger

Apr 14, 2020

“The world breaks everyone, and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” I have read those words thousands of times. They ring through my head as all our worlds break. I hear them and I remind myself that being strong at the broken places does not mean better, but it does mean different. Nothing good will come out of COVID-19. The vast majority of the death and pain was avoidable. But the blessing in grief, in suffering is that we choose how we respond. We can honor the memories of those we lost with our response. We can choose to become stronger. But it is a choice we must make, individually and as a society.

Ben Downing: Learning Lessons

Mar 25, 2020

I hope this finds you well. Typing those words in an email or speaking them here seems surreal. Instead, let me say this: I hope this finds you healthy, safe and coping with life during COVID19. I say during, because there will be an after. And when we get there, we must have learned the lessons this crisis is teaching us in real time. Chief among those lessons is how our current priorities set us up to prevent, respond to, and recover from this crisis. Each day that goes by, sadly, the evidence mounts that dominant priorities of the last 40 years have set us up to fail on all fronts. If we want that to change, we must change our priorities. Change them away from the prioritizing tax cuts, corporate profits and efficiency and refocus on public investments, strong social safety nets and resilience. 

Ben Downing: Time To Double Down

Jan 16, 2020

In 2008, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (CEC) was created to help develop the solutions, markets and companies to help solve climate change. The hope was Mass would capture the economic benefits of reducing our impact on climate change. The CEC has done just that, supporting the growth of the clean energy industry to 111,836 jobs and helping Mass begin to meet its climate goals. Despite these successes, the future of the CEC is in question, while its mission is more important than ever. 

Ben Downing: Income Tax Cuts Make Us Weaker

Jan 2, 2020

Recently, Governor Charlie Baker celebrated the decline of Massachusetts income tax to 5%. Twenty years ago, Massachusetts taxed income at 5.95%. Through ballot initiative and legislative compromises, over time it dropped to the current rate. Unfortunately, neither the final reduction, nor the total decrease, will make Massachusetts fairer or stronger. Rather, the reduction of the fairest statewide tax benefits the top 1% of earners and makes it that much harder for the rest to prosper. The reduction in the income tax hampers our ability to make investments needed to reduce inequality, combat climate change and revitalize economies outside of Greater Boston. It might look like good politics, but it’s bad policy and all of Massachusetts is weaker for it.

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.