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2nd Franklin race only local legislative contest

The one legislative race on Tuesday’s ballot for some Franklin County towns pits two businesswomen from neighboring towns against one another, although they agree on the critical need for jobs in the legislative district that centers on those towns.

But freshman incumbent Rep. Denise Andrews, D-Orange, and her Republican challenger, Athol Selectman Susannah Whipps Lee have differing views on the role of government and different ideas on how they would help bring economic development to the newly configured Second Franklin District.

Meanwhile a Templeton man, Richard F. Schober Jr., is running as an independent, although he’s made public statements dismissing his own candidacy as un-winnable, saying that he wants to offer voters a choice that’s not tied to either political party.

The new district, centered in Athol and Orange, consists of Gill, Erving, Warwick, New Salem, Wendell, Royalston, Phillipston, Templeton and Petersham and includes part of Belchertown.

Although campaign coverage in the new 11 1∕ 2-town district became sidetracked by a bizarre incident involving Andrews passing along to Athol Police a citizen’s report — now apparently discredited by a police probe — involving an alleged drug purchase by Lee, there are substantive differences between both party candidates.

Andrews says her experience during the past term, as well as her work on developing an economic development roundtable for the district, are among the qualities that distinguish her for re-election. The economic development work, which has focused on the existing district with Greenfield as its largest town, has moved over the course of six meetings to identify improving east-west transportation as a key need and is targeted at identifying specific projects in the future.

She points to her work in supporting public education, including getting increased funding for regional school transportation and $11.3 million for transportation of homeless schoolchildren.

Health care reforms that she supported, aimed at making the health care delivery system more efficient, are aimed at squeezing out of the system as much as $200 billion over 15 years, some of which which can be re-allocated to fund public education and higher education, Andrews said.

A member of the Revenue, Election Laws and Labor and Workforce development committees, Andrews said she sees the need for revamping the funding formula that provides state aid to public schools so that it better takes into account poorer communities that need additional aid.

Andrews has taken heat for voting against proposals to require greater transparency on Beacon Hill, including making committee votes public and requiring advance notice of upcoming votes, explaining that it came soon after she took office, when “you have zero-competency on Day One on rules, so you look toward experienced leadership.”

Andrews said she takes pride in voting against allowing casinos in the state, and voted against changing the collective bargaining rights of municipal workers on health insurance design. She also voted against a controversial “stand your ground law,” granting the right to use lethal force if they believe they or their home are being threatened, explaining that she believes that is the role of law-enforcement professionals.

Little similarity

Lee, who has said she supports “stand your ground” legislation, says her overall philosophy is vastly different from that of Andrews.

“The only similarity we have is gender,” says Lee, who has honed her business skills in her family’s Athol-based business making flood gates.

“I don’t believe government creates business,” the Republican candidate says, emphasizing her belief that government needs to reduce requirements like unemployment compensation and workers’ compensation insurance so that businesses can thrive.

While Andrews pointed to Massachusetts as “probably the second strongest state in the United States in our bond rating, with our rainy day funds and our revenues up,” Lee calls Massachusetts “a very business unfriendly state.” She said the Gateway Communities Act needs to be amended to offer business tax incentives in towns with fewer than 30,000 residents.

“We don’t have 10 years,” Lee said, pointing to the 10-year economic development program Andrews has advocated for the region. “We have people who are losing their homes, and we’re losing the continuity of our community. We’ve hit rock bottom, and we need to start building back our community.”

She faults Andrews for voting last April against a restriction on use of welfare electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards to buy pornography, firearms, tickets to movies and theater shows, cosmetics, travel, jewelry, bond for defendants, tattoos, body piercings and gambling. The restrictions were approved, 123-33.

Lee criticizes Andrews as a “tax-and-spend Democrat,” adding, “She says only 90 percent of time has she voted with (House) speaker. But the other 10 percent is voting to the left of the speaker.”

Andrews said she voted against restricting EBT card use by welfare recipients for purchase of cosmetics, tickets to movies and theater tickets, travel, jewelry, tattoos and other uses because the cost of restricting its use at various kinds of stores would have been tremendous and not worth the “billions” in added cost to the state, with little evidence of the widespread fraud argued by proponents.

“It’s disingenuous; it doesn’t change anything,” said Andrews, who said she rejected the proposal along with other progressives in part because philosophically, she has “an overall respect for people.

“We have the ability today to address fraud in the system,” Andrews said. “People can get cash on their cards, and there are restrictions on alcohol and firearms. I believe that in general, people make the right choices. The very-right Republicans and Tea Party folks want to control and dictate what people spend their money on, and basically don’t trust them and don’t want that program in place anyway.”

If Andrews is criticized by Lee for being too liberal, the incumbent argues that her votes have accurately reflected the current Second Franklin District, which still includes Greenfield.

“The current district is left of the speaker,” Andrews says. “She’s a little out of line in understanding that, with Greenfield in the district. Greenfield is very left of the speaker,” based on what she calls the “data point” of results in the 2010 special U.S. Senate election.

“My philosophical bent, personal, will stay congruent,” Andrews said. “In my job as rep, I need to hear what the people want … on each of the pieces coming forward.” She said she believes the newly configured district is more conservative, but said she will continue her “due diligence” to see what the voters in the district want.

“The first thing is to see who they want to represent them,” she said. “That vote on Tuesday will be very telling.”

Schober, a progressive whose candidacy may cost Andrews some votes, favors single-payer health care and points to business tax credits like those for the film industry as wasteful state programs that ultimately use funding that could be better spent on supporting local schools.

Schober said he shares some of the same political values as Andrews. But he added, “I think she’s been ineffective. The things she lists as priorities — jobs and economic development, excellent education, creating vibrant communities — have not shown any positive results. This region is actually getting worse.”

You can reach Richie Davis at:
rdavis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269

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