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In The Arena

In the Arena: He may get burned

Fanning the flames of discontent is not a new concept in politics, especially when a candidate is challenging an incumbent with a pretty solid base of support.

One of the inherent dangers, however, is that said strategy can backfire, especially if the challenger is too aggressive with his or her rhetoric. Such an overstep can create an air of sympathy for the incumbent that can result in a loss of votes on Election Day, especially among undecided and low-information voters concerned more with the “race” than the issues.

I we think may have seen an example of that this week when, in the context of a Recorder story detailing his race against Greenfield Town Council President Mark Wisnewski, challenger Isaac Mass used a somewhat pejorative term to describe the current council.

“We’ve got some big problems in town, including drugs and poverty,” Mass said. “In some ways, the current council is elitist, assuming everyone is in the best possible position and the council treats them that way.”

Mass clearly wants to hammer home the talking point that this council isn’t really in touch with the issues of greatest importance to all residents of Greenfield. But I think he made a tactical error in tarring the entire body with a broad brush characterization that isn’t necessarily fair or accurate, which, as an added bonus, creates an opening for his opponent’s supporters to tag him as JAR — “just another Republican” — who will say or do anything just to win an election.

And don’t think for one minute that Mass’ party affiliation isn’t going to be an issue in this campaign. Town Council races are supposed to be apolitical, but indications are that local Democrats are already working hard to generate partisan effort against Mass, which would not only benefit Wisnewski, but could also create some coattails for other, like-minded council candidates.

Another thing Mass should consider moving forward — if he does manage to beat Wisnewski, he’s going to have to find a way to work with the very people he’s been running down and that’s never an easy prospect, even with a council as “inclusive” as this one claims to be.

Working the room

Just like Jell-O, there’s always room for a little politics — even in a hall packed with concerned citizens looking for answers to the opiate problem plaguing our region .

During a speech at the recent “Opiate Education and Awareness Task Force” Forum at Greenfield Community College, Senate Majority Leader Stan Rosenberg took a moment to lament the decision by the voters of Massachusetts to repeal the Legislature’s vote to expand the tax on alcoholic beverages — money that he said had been earmarked for substance abuse treatment programs.

“As voters, we have the right and the responsibility to vote for the people who make the laws, and sometimes we have the opportunity to vote to repeal those laws,” Rosenberg said. “A lot of people look at those questions very casually, and don’t think deeply enough about what they really mean.”

Maybe. But 1.1 million-plus Massachusetts voters thought enough of the issue in 2010 to shoot down the tax by a margin of 52 to 48 percent. It didn’t take long, however, for Rosenberg to get to the heart of the conundrum facing the Legislature when it comes to this particular issue.

“It takes a lot for a Legislature to vote on taxes, especially with things that are popular with the public,” Rosenberg said. “I regret so much the fact that this tax was repealed, because it was the funding source which would have had programs like this in place across the commonwealth.”

Listening to Rosenberg, one might think that yet another consumer tax is the only possible method to fund new substance abuse programs, which is pretty ridiculous. The reality — one legislators don’t often like to face — is that the these guys can do whatever they want with our money. The Democrats hold the governor’s office and super-majorities in both houses of the Legislature. Gov. Deval Patrick recently submitted a fiscal 2015 proposed budget of $36.374 billion, which represents a nearly 5 percent increase over the current year’s spending levels. Are we really expected to believe that there aren’t at least a few million in there to address a problem that just about everyone agrees is a danger to our community?

“We have to find the money in this upcoming budget to fund these programs,” Rosenberg admitted. “But there will be other questions on the ballot and there are a few that people are already musing about, and we need to make sure that a large portion of that money goes toward funding these programs.”

Given the fact that he’s about to become one of the “big three” leaders in state government, Rosenberg is in a unique position to make that happen — with or without the political cover that the much-maligned state ballot process so often provides.

Chris Collins is the Franklin County News Bureau Chief for WHAI, WPVQ and WHMP Radio. He is a former staff reporter for The Recorder, and is a Greenfield native.

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