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Whately man on the run for statewide office

WHATELY — See Edwards run.

Wayland. Marlborough. West Roxbury. Acton.

Run, run, run, Jonathan Edwards. Run for lieutenant governor.

The four-term selectman’s first try at seeking statewide office, after working on the campaigns of Congressman John W. Olver, presidential hopeful Paul Tsongas and state Sen. Stan Rosenberg, has him shaking hands, making appearances and making his name known,leaves you understanding why it’s called running for office.

For Edwards, who’s trying to gather 10,000 voter signatures to get on the September primary ballot, the campaign is also on a listening tour, he says. Listening not only to “the nuances that are unique to each region,” he says, but also keying in on the nuances of the gubernatorial candidates.

“It isn’t so much about what I want to achieve in the state as lieutenant governor,” says the 56-year-old hopeful. “It’s about what they want to achieve as governor. ... It’s my job to listen to them, learn about them, to understand what they want to achieve as governor.”

That’s because the No. 2 job in state government is about being able to implement the governor’s vision and to help tackle challenges in achieving that vision, says Edwards, who sees those skills as his own personal strengths.

As co-founder of SmartPower, a national, nonprofit firm promoting clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency from 2002 to 2012 working across political boundaries in states like Pennsylvania, Arizona, California and Michigan, Edwards was able to get people to agree on projects to meet their own objectives. And as selectman in the town his parents moved to in 1981, Edwards has also championed increased oversight of the regional senior center and creation of the three-town ambulance service, while also working on the New England Sustainable Knowledge Corridor Climate Action advisory board.

“I know I’m good at implementation, fixing challenges and working with people across any number of tables to find commonalities and solve problems,” said Edwards, who also points to the need to know how different regions and how local governments work.

Edwards, one of three Democrats running for the job, grew up in Peterborough and Hanover, N.H., as well as the area outside of Pittsburgh, Pa., and earned a bachelor’s degree from Skidmore College and a public administration master’s degree from the University of Massachusetts.

His name — although familiar because of the 18th century, Northampton-based Puritan theologian and the contemporary singer-songwriter — isn’t well known, but that’s not necessarily a problem, he says, for a post in which “you’re somewhat at mercy of someone else’s political fortunes. They vote for a governor, they don’t vote for a lieutenant governor. You’re tied to somebody else’s success and abilities.”

To compensate for coming from a Franklin County town with a population of 1,500, he says, “My approach is to be everywhere. I don’t say no to anything unless I have a conflict with a family responsibility.”

Other Democratic contenders are Steve Kerrigan, the former state attorney general’s chief of staff and aide to Sen. Edward Kennedy who also headed the Democratic National Convention from 2009 to 2012 and the presidential inaugural committee, and Michael Edward Lake, who ran in 2012 for state auditor.

Edwards, in addition to working as founding executive director of the Retirement Security Alliance in Washington, D.C., and a staff member of the deficit watchdog Concord Coalition, has worked in Massachusetts and other states with SmartPower’s Solarize Massachusetts campaigns, bringing that effort to incentivize solar power installation in towns including Montague, Northampton and, most recently, Whately and Amherst.

As SmartPower vice president before he left to form his own consulting firm in 2012, Edwards says he learned how to convince various segments of the population around the country — including those who wouldn’t necessarily buy into “the environment” as a cause — that renewable energy was in their interests.

“If you want people to buy into green energy, you’d better figure out the value propositions for that segment population,” said Edwards, relating how he did that with a politically polarized board of county supervisors in Pennsylvania focused on energy independence and climate change and won their unanimous support.

“It’s building consensus,” he said. “I built stakeholder partnerships and collaborations that can be implemented in any number of issues: jobs, education, health care. That’s critically important, because far too often we don’t sit at the same table as other people because we’re so afraid we might disagree with them. This is a democracy, and it’s OK to disagree.”

Another lesson Edwards drew from his years at SmartPower is the importance of the state’s clean energy sector for creating jobs.

The Patrick administration’s done a good job, Edwards said, at building the clean energy technology industry, so that the state is ranked second only to California in this economic sector, with a nearly 12 percent boost in clean energy jobs between 2012 and 2013, to a workforce of nearly 80,000. But that, he says, “pales compared to what it potentially could be. We have the foundation to really be where the clean tech industry lives and breathes. The trick to that is making sure we keep an eye on the vision ball, and making sure we’re prepared to implement the innovation with what we have in terms of precision manufacturing and other skills. We can’t sit back and say, ‘Isn’t this great what we have?’ It’s what’s next, over the horizon.”

Western Massachusetts, with its relatively lower cost of living, is well poised to take advantage of that opportunity, he said, but with population projections pointing to a future of young workers leaving the state, it will be important to key on the potential growth of this sector, as well as of biotechnology, to be “part of the solution.”

With his experience in marketing and consulting in energy technology, as well as his work in local and regional government and state politics, Edwards says he has a set of unique strengths to help carry Massachusetts forward.

“I think I have the insights to add to the vision,” Edwards says. “But it’s the governor’s vision.”

On the Web: www.edwardsformassachusetts.com

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

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