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Editorial: As election nears, we can’t forget all Sen. Rosenberg did for our region


Published: 8/29/2018 8:59:59 AM

With the elections just ahead, we’re hearing a lot about the void left in the western Massachusetts delegation with the retirement this year of Reps. Stephen Kulik and John Scibek, the death of Rep. Peter Kocot and the resignation of Senate President Stan Rosenberg.

We’ve also heard the perennial candidates’ claims of experience while shunning the identification as politicians. “Politician” is a loaded term, and anyone running for public office — or even serving in office — goes out of his or her way to avoid it.

Yet for all of the history of corruption and other negative associations that get attached to holding public office, it may be an overgeneralization — especially in a region that for the most part has been served well by its elected officials at the town, state and even federal level. Maybe it’s been a matter of luck or a genuine interest in making sound political choices given our legacy of town meetings and hands-on, volunteer-driven local government.

But over the years, one public servant in particular has distinguished himself for tremendous accomplishments — not only to the district he’s served, but to the state as a whole.

Stan Rosenberg, who became a state senator in 1991 after serving five years in the state House, succeeding John Olver, for whom he’d been an aide from 1980 to 1983, rose through the ranks to become Senate president.

Yet he remained visible and accessible in the district, and retained a close connection with his towns and constituents in an open style that was true to his nature.

He also pushed for changes to legislative rules that provided more time for Senate members to review bills before voting on them. And before assuming the presidency, as Senate redistricting chair in 2000 and 2010, Rosenberg worked to make that process more transparent and open to public participation.

But it’s here in his home turf that Rosenberg has been especially appreciated. Year after year, Rosenberg was a fierce supporter of funding for higher education, especially for his alma mater, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the giant economic engine that feeds this region — but with implications for the strength of Greenfield Community College as well.

Rosenberg, with a keen understanding of the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester Senate District, was always able to articulate its priorities and to bring people together in Boston and around the district to build collaborations.

As the founding director of the Arts Extension Service, Rosenberg understood the importance of a vibrant arts environment and oversaw programs to build the cultural economy through support for cultural funding and facilities.

And as someone who grew up in the foster care system, Rosenberg was an advocate for foster children and founding co-chair of the first-in-the nation Massachusetts Legislature’s Foster Kid Caucus, and leading supporter of improving funding for the Department of Children and Families.

Rosenberg was instrumental, as Senate president, as Ways and Means chair and as a senator, in advancing projects throughout the region, including a new Franklin County courthouse, Franklin County House of Correction, GCC renovations and the Greenfield parking garage.

His annual day-long conference for municipal leaders around the region brought together local and state officials to grapple with shared issues and to improve understanding between Boston’s state bureaucracy and rural communities.

The state’s first openly gay legislator, Rosenberg was instrumental in winning the battle for same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. And he has been a leading advocate for a constitutional amendment to allow progressive taxation in Massachusetts and a “fair-share” amendment that would require millionaires to contribute an additional 4 percent in taxes to the commonwealth.

When Franklin County towns fought back Kinder Morgan’s efforts to develop a gas pipeline through the region several years ago, Rosenberg helped lead the local legislative delegation to see that local environmental and economic concerns were addressed before the state Department of Public Utilities and federal regulators.

He was not only an advocate for progressive policy and a bulwark for this often forgotten region, but Rosenberg was also a Senate reformer, pushing through a less hierarchical “shared leadership” approach that broke with the body’s more autocratic past.

So it was curious when Rosenberg stepped down as Senate president and resigned as a member of the Senate this spring, that what’s been left is a cloud of innuendo and suspicion over his inability to adequately protect the Legislature from his husband’s sexual harassment on Beacon Hill. That scandal continues, and investigations have yet to clear Rosenberg from wrongdoing.

The behavior of Rosenberg’s husband may be reprehensible and criminal. Yet we do perhaps as great a wrong in our failure to publicly appreciate and acknowledge Stan Rosenberg’s years of dedicated service and tremendous contributions to this region and to our commonwealth.

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