Six candidates, all Democrats, are vying to fill the position being vacated by Massachusetts state Rep. Ellen Story. She is retiring at the end of this term, ending an almost 25-year commute to Beacon Hill, and an era representing one of the most liberal districts in the state, including the towns of Amherst, Pelham and the northern half of Granby.
The six candidates — Vira Douanmany Cage, Solomon Goldstein-Rose, Sarah la Cour, Bonnie MacCracken, Eric Nakajima and Lawrence O’Brien — all live in Amherst, and have all been involved in town politics or management in one way or another.
From the first debate, to the most recent — one hosted by the League of Women Voters last week, and another by WWLP this week — viewers have not heard much of a philosophical difference among the candidates. Their responses to legislative priority questions are similar. They are all in favor of increased funding for public schools, making climate change a top issue and creating more jobs. And, they agree on another big-ticket item, an amendment that could change the state’s tax code.
Candidate Lawrence O’Brien, a high school teacher in Belchertown, helped collect signatures in favor of the Fair Share Amendment, which the legislature passed in May. If it makes it to the ballot in 2018, and voters agree, a 4-percent surtax will be added to incomes above $1 million. The amendment fits in neatly with O’Brien’s legislative priorities, which focus on economic inequality.
“I’m in favor of a revenue strategy that calls for reversing the disastrous tax cuts that happened between 1998 and 2002 where, we have lost [billions of dollars] annually in revenue,” O’Brien said.
Vira Cage brought up the Fair Share amendment this week during the WWLP debate.
“I would be excited as your state legislator to vote for it,” Cage said, referring to the required second vote in the legislature on a constitutional amendment, before it makes the statewide ballot in 2018. “That way we can generate the needed revenues to go into public transit and public higher education.”
Cage is a labor activist, and among the candidates, speaks out more frequently on on criminal justice reform. Like O’Brien, she has been elected to the Amherst Regional School Committee. State Rep. Benjamin Swan of Springfield endorsed Cage, who first came to Massachusetts as a refugee from Laos when she was six years old.
Eric Nakajima is an Amherst native and he is the candidate with the most experience on Beacon Hill, working under Governor Deval Patrick as a senior-level economic development adviser. More recently, he was head of the Massachusetts Broadband Institute.
On the Fair Share amendment, “I believe strongly in 2018, [voters] should pass it, so we have the money we need to invest in the Commonwealth,” Nakajima said, taking up the fight Governor Patrick lost, he says.
Paying workers at least a $15 minimum wage is another area the candidates agreed on during the campaign season. Bonnie MacCracken, who also supports a progressive tax, brought up unemployment and cost of living.
“We need to get people back to work,” she said.
MacCracken owns a real estate title-search business. She’s active in local politics has spent some time on Beacon Hill, successfully lobbying lawmakers to pass a bill that protects members of the military from home foreclosures, while deployed.
The director of Amherst’s Businesses Improvement District, Sarah la Cour, has much to say about the state’s revenue needs, in addition to the Fair Share Amendment.
“We need to bring more money into economic development through an innovative high-tech economy,” la Cour said. She’s picked up endorsements from District Attorney Dave Sullivan, state Rep. John Scibak and Sheriff Bob Garvey.
Finally, entering the race at the age of 22, fresh out of college, Solomon Goldstein-Rose, a life-long resident of Amherst, who is endorsed by former Congressman John Olver.
Goldstein-Rose said at the debate this week that the endorsement is one indication that a qualified young person can win, “and work for system change in the legislature,” specifically on climate change.
Not surprisingly, Goldstein-Rose also supports the Fair Share Amendment, and said this week that he will “create new energy jobs through clean energy technology and development, through putting a price on carbon pollution and investing the revenue in our economy.”
The Democratic candidate who wins the September 8th primary essentially wins the race. There are no third-party or Republican candidates.
Who to vote for when there is so much similarity? The devil is in the details of life experience, race and age. Voters could take a tip from the kids who went back to school this week in Amherst, Pelham and Granby: Do your homework.