Area legislators running unopposed in primary

  • BLAIS

  • HINDS

  • COMERFORD

  • MARK

Staff Writer
Published: 8/27/2020 4:26:57 PM

Four area state legislators — Rep. Natalie Blais, Sen. Adam Hinds, Sen. Jo Comerford and Rep. Paul Mark — are running unopposed in the Sept. 1 state primary.

The respite from campaigning has given the candidates the opportunity, they say, to focus on working for constituents, especially given the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rep. Natalie Blais

In January 2019, Blais, D-Sunderland, was sworn into office as the first female representative for the 1st Franklin District, one of the most rural districts in the state with 19 communities that span three counties. She said running unopposed for re-election has had its advantages, as the lasting pandemic has required “all hands on deck” to support constituents.

“I ran in order to help people,” said Blais, who attended 16 of the 19 Annual Town Meetings in her district. “I ran on a platform for challenges facing rural communities. It feels as though that work has never been more important than right now.”

Much of her work has been focused on infrastructure — broadband, roads and bridges, climate change, education, health care, jobs and the economy. Working alongside communities, businesses and nonprofits, Blais said she continues to advance economic development priorities. Even before taking office, she helped to bring the $72 million Knowledge Corridor rail expansion project to fruition.

As an advocate for rural issues, Blais recently helped secure $500,000 to support the local farming industry and a $350,000 bond bill to aid in broadband buildout in the hilltowns. She also helped secure planning dollars for a senior center expansion project shared by Buckland, Shelburne and Ashfield.

Blais said she is aware of the unique challenges her district is facing when it comes to state investment, and the advocacy required to ensure area voices are heard. She said she enjoys hearing the word “rural” spoken by her fellow representatives and senators during discussions.

“It shows progress for issues unique to our small communities,” she said.

Sen. Adam Hinds

Hinds, D-Pittsfield, represents 52 communities of the Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden District in the state Senate, and is running unopposed for his third term. He said his experience and familiarity with different “vehicles” will help him pass key legislation.

“You get a sense of how to be persistent,” Hinds said. “If you have an idea going in, you can use different vehicles to have a few swipes at an issue. If a bill’s been filed, I could pull it out of a standalone, or apply it to a different bill or fiscal vehicle that’s moving forward. I’m finding there are lots of ways to get the work done.”

Hinds said constituents have voiced concerns about the secondary impacts of decisions made regarding the return to schools. He has heard from voters who are worried about having access to child care, as parents may be returning to work while students are learning at home remotely. He recently helped file a bill, the Parent Protection Act, which he said essentially states that a parent who is unable to fulfill work duties, or must miss work because of a lack of child care, cannot be penalized.

While Hinds and fellow senators and representatives have been staying busy with phone calls and Zoom meetings, he said he was frustrated by the inability to interact with communities and have a regular “informal catching up.” He said he didn’t realize how often he would engage with community members at summer events, until he couldn’t.

In addition to increased transportation, Hinds advocated for improved high-speed internet access in rural communities. If Western Massachusetts can improve broadband and transportation access, he said, it can use the “comparative advantage” of the area, its quality of life, affordability, etc. to draw in new residents and expand local economies.

Hinds and Comerford both helped secure borrowing authorization for $225 million in funding for rail projects, including the east-west rail from Pittsfield to Boston, the Valley Flyer, the Berkshire Flyer, and east-west rail connecting North Adams, Greenfield and Fitchburg.

Sen. Jo Comerford

Due to the pandemic, Comerford, D-Northampton, is unable to canvas door-to-door in the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester District, but she is finding other ways to hear from voters ahead of Sept. 1.

“Mostly what campaigning looks like at this stage, because I don’t have a primary opponent, it looks like doing the work,” Comerford said. “Doing the work for people, and engaging with them as deeply as possible.”

Comerford was appointed by Senate President Karen Spilka to serve on the state’s Food Security Task Force. She said its members have advocated for numerous proposals, including a grant program that will see $36 million distributed to farmers and food producers to increase the resiliency of the food system.

“Helping our farmers get strong, and our food network and food producers get strong, helps our food security within the commonwealth,” she said.

Comerford said farms have had to adjust to unforeseen changes to the food network due to the pandemic. As large food purchases, like universities and restaurants, were closed and stopped purchasing mass quantities of food this spring, the individual person or household became the main buyer for many farmers. She said grant money could help farmers acquire new refrigerated storage units to keep produce longer, or implement new packaging and delivery systems.

While the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) recently announced the extension of free, public high-speed WiFi at designated hotspots through the end of 2020, Comerford said this is not enough. She said going the proverbial last mile on high-speed internet is a major priority.

“We can’t lose sight of the fact that it means people will be working in their cars in winter, potentially,” she said. “And kids going to school in the backseat for whatever online learning they’re doing.”

Rep. Paul Mark

Also on the ballot is Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, running unopposed in the primary for another term as representative of the 2nd Berkshire District. Mark has served as representative of the district since 2011.

According to his biography on the Legislature’s website, Mark’s philosophy has been shaped by his blue collar background, his commitment to family, and his passion for learning and education.

Since taking office, he has been involved in the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County, the Berkshire County Opioid Task Force and Veterans Mediation Training.

His biography states that Mark has served on numerous committees since being elected, including the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, and the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse. He currently serves as chair of the House Committee on Redistricting.

Mark could not be reached for comment by press time.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579. Reporter Mary Byrne contributed to this report.


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