Belchertown’s Saunders announces bid for 7th Hampden District seat

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Staff Writer
Published: 2/27/2022 2:42:25 PM

A former Ludlow selectman has announced his candidacy for the state House of Representatives’ 7th Hampden District, which will now include Franklin County and North Quabbin towns under redistricting plans.

Aaron Saunders, of Belchertown, is vying for the spot Rep. Jake Oliveira is giving up to run for the state Senate seat Eric Lesser will abandon to focus on his campaign for lieutenant governor. All are Democrats. Saunders served seven years on the Ludlow Selectboard and spent six as the chief of staff for former state Sen. Gale Candaras.

“I saw a lot of the good that can be done when you have effective people in office,” he said, adding that he announced his candidacy “at a time when we really need strong leadership on Beacon Hill.”

Saunders, 41, said his priorities include advocating for increased local aid, preserving open space, supporting regional economic development, and fighting for mental health and addiction recovery resources. He also said the region receives a woefully inadequate amount of money from the State-Owned Land (SOL) PILOT Program. PILOT stands for “payments in lieu of taxes.”

According to the Office of State Auditor Suzanne Bump, state lawmakers will sometimes exempt places — such as outdoor recreation spaces and some solar energy production areas — from paying property taxes if they believe it is for the public good. However, property taxes account for an average of 58.3% of local government revenue. The SOL PILOT Program empowers lawmakers to reimburse municipalities through direct payments or other methods.

Bump has sponsored a bill to fix the SOL PILOT Program by fully reimbursing communities for the taxable value of state-owned land and ensuring their state reimbursement never decreases.

Saunders said the 7th Hampden District currently consists of parts of Belchertown, Chicopee, Springfield and Ludlow. But, he said, redistricting maps set to go into effect in January 2023 means this fall will mark the first time voters cast ballots as residents of the new 7th Hampden District, which will include Belchertown, New Salem, Wendell, Ludlow, Pelham, Shutesbury and Petersham.

“It’s a very new district in terms of geography and political identity,” Saunders said.

Saunders is the co-founder of Loophole Brewing, which opened in Ludlow about three months before the country came to a near standstill due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said that was “an interesting time to launch a business, but the craft brewery now has 800 accounts throughout Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. He said the renaissance of microbrew in the region has been an important lifeline, bringing in tourists from all over.

Saunders lives with his wife, Melissa, and their three daughters. He and his wife are 2003 graduates of the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He said his family has been incredibly supportive of his decision to run for a state representative seat.

“If you don’t have your family with you,” he said, “it’s darn near impossible to get it done.”

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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