Area legislators address chamber

  • Rep. Paul Mark STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • Rep. Natalie Blais STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • Rep. Susannah Whipps CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Sen. Jo Comerford STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/21/2019 10:38:37 PM
Modified: 6/21/2019 10:38:24 PM

DEERFIELD — Legislators joined the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce Friday as it elected its new officers and continued its celebration of its 100th birthday.

After Mark Abramson, a real estate agent with Coldwell Bank Upton-Massamont Real Estate, stepped down as chairman of the board, incoming Chairwoman Elizabeth Fisk, of WHAI/Bear Country, took the helm.

“I’m so honored and excited to work with this board,” Fisk said.

Abramson said he will continue to serve the chamber in other capacities.

Then, representatives Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, Paul Mark, D-Peru, and Susannah Whipps, R-Athol, spoke, as did Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton. Jonathan Gould, hilltown community liaison for Sen. Adams Hinds, D-Pittsfield, who had meetings in Pittsfield Friday morning, also spoke. Legislators told more than 150 community members and business leaders about how they are serving Franklin County, specifically.

“Sen. Hinds is looking at revenue, redistricting and making the region strong,” Gould said. “He’s also concerned with transportation, broadband, infrastructure and improving the education system.”

Gould said Hinds will continue his work on creating a state outdoor office of recreation, as well as affordable housing, mental health, the opioid crisis, unemployment, health insurance, farming, manufacturing and more.

“The issues I hear about in my travels for Sen. Hinds as the hilltown community liaison are land use, marijuana, farming, APR, public safety, sustainability and forest use,” Gould said.

Comerford started by saying she was at the chamber’s legislators’ breakfast last year while in the middle of her campaign. She said just one year has made a big difference — she’s been serving almost six months.

“It’s inspiring to serve you,” Comerford said. “It’s the most beautiful district in the commonwealth.”

The freshman senator said she constantly tells her colleagues in Boston that western Massachusetts deserves its fair share, because, she joked, it supplies its water, a lot of the food grown here and the trees that breathe for the city dwellers.

Comerford said she understands the importance of public health and making a community stronger, so she will continue to work toward that by bringing rural public health hearings to Franklin County and other areas of western Massachusetts.

Higher education is another concern.

“We need higher education to make businesses grow,” she said. “The Legislature needs to get it right.”

Comerford said she will also continue to work on children’s issues, transit and constituent services.

“We want to create good laws,” she said. “We need to put out good legislation, bring money to western Massachusetts and work on constituent services, like regional transportation.”

Blais said she is always thinking about the challenges facing rural communities. She said she is also working on creating an outdoor recreation office, because it will be an economic driver, as well as improve people’s health.

She said she is also trying to establish a rural jobs act that would attract businesses to Franklin County and beyond, shining a light so that business owners want to locate there.

Along with those issues, Blais is addressing the Chapter 70 formula for rural schools, as well as school transportation funding.

“I’m also working with local farmers and agriculture,” she said. “I’d like to see them diversify their crops, including allowing them to grow hemp on APR-restricted land.”

Whipps, who is serving her third term in office, said she has been impressed with Blais and Comerford as freshmen legislators.

“You’d never believe they are with the work they’re doing,” Whipps said.

She said she hopes people understand that it is hard work to represent rural areas, because there are so many towns, cities and boards.

Whipps said she has been focusing on the opioid crisis, because so many in her district are affected. She said teachers are impacted when students are traumatized by what’s going on at home, business owners are affected by employees calling out and grandparents are raising their grandchildren.

“This is a multi-generational issue,” she said. “It affects all racial and economic backgrounds. Franklin County and western Massachusetts are light years ahead of other areas in dealing with this issue.”

Whipps said it is very important that people receive support in recovery.

Mark said he will spend the year working on redistricting throughout Massachusetts.

The longest-serving legislator of the local delegation said as chairman of the redistricting committee, he will continue to make sure the upcoming 2020 census is open, accurate and fair.

“Massachusetts has been recognized in the past for its fairness,” he said. “This is an opportunity for that to continue.”

Mark said the census is not partisan and it matters tremendously. He said it’s how district lines are drawn for senators and representatives.

“We can’t draw those lines until we have official numbers,” he said.

Mark said the 2020 census will begin next April and will run through July or so.

“People need to get their information in,” he said. “This affects state and federal programs and funding. We need to get every person counted.”

The next chamber breakfast will kick off the United Way campaign Sept. 27 at Franklin County Technical School.

Reach Anita Fritz at
413-772-0261, ext. 269 or

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