Franklin County still voting to a louder beat

  • A voter places a paper ballot in a classic wooden ballot box in Colrain. File photo

Recorder Staff
Published: 11/7/2018 10:00:00 PM

Take four ballot questions and 26 Franklin County towns, and you’ll often find our results stand out among the 351 Massachusetts municipalities, election after election.

For example, Question 1, to impose nurse-patient ratios, went down to defeat with a 70 percent to 30 percent vote statewide, and for those who gave it a better chance of passing locally, they were almost right. The question was rejected here by a much narrower margin, 58.3 percent to 41.7 percent.

The question passed with better than 65 percent of the vote in Wendell and more narrowly in Leverett (591-524) and Shutesbury (639-480) – three towns where more progressive voters left their mark on several issues.

Question 2, calling on the state Legislature to create a citizens commission to recommend a potential U.S.Constitution amendment limiting election spending and corporate rights, was approved by 71.5 percent of the state’s voters, but in Franklin County, the approval was by nearly eight in 10. In Leverett, Shutesbury and Wendell, again, it was passed more forecefully, by 89 percent of voters.

Similarly, Question 3 – to maintain protections on the basis of gender identity in the state’s public accommodation law against discrimination in facilities that include bathrooms and locker rooms – passed statewide, 68 -32 percent, beating back an effort by opponents to repeal the 2-year-old law in the nation’s first statewide referendum on transgender rights.

The question was supported in Franklin County by more than 77 percent of voters, and was backed by more than 88 pecent of Shelburne’s voters and more than 89 percent of voters in Leverett and Shutesbury.

A referendum on a single-payer health care system in Massachusetts, which appeared on the ballot in most county towns – primarily as Question 4 – won with nearly 77 percent of the vote, according to a Boston Globe report based on 93 percent of the communities reporting.

In Franklin County – where only Gill, Erving, New Salem, Orange, Warwick and Wendell did not have the question on their ballots – it passed with 78.3 percent of the vote. In Leverett 87.5 of voters approved. In Shutesbury, 89 percent approved of the non-binding measure, which called on the legislator in that district to vote to create a single-payer health care system in Massachusetts

“We’re really happy with the results,” said Judy Atkins, who chairs the Single Payer Task Force of Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution, noting that some of the results when the referendum appeared 29 times since 1998. It passed in 2000 in the Hampshire-Franklin Senate District with nearly 69 percent of the vote, in the 2nd Berkshire District in 2008 with 75 percent of the vote and in the 1st Franklin District in 2012 with 72.3 percent of the vote.

“We’re doing this because we want to go to the Legislature and write a Medicare for All bill and have it at least brought to the floor for a vote,” she said. Single-payer proposals that have been brought before the Legislature in the past have never made it out of committee she noted.

“We need a grass-roots push on legislators for this bill to be debated,” said Atkins, calling for other groups she represents – Western Mass. Medicare for All and the Massachusetts Campaign for Single-Payer Health Care (Mass-Care) – to meet with advocates Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, and incoming state Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, and Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, to develop a strategy for seeing a new measure to be introduced early next year and debated.

“This time we want to see it go out to the floor,” added Atkins. “Interference from big money in the electoral system always keeps us from getting what we really want. That’s why this is connected to the broader fight for democracy.”

Single-payer legislation has been introduced every session for nearly two decades — most recently as a “Medicare for all” bill co-sponsored by Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, and Reps. Solomon Goldstein-Rose, D-Amherst, and the late Peter Kocot, D-Northampton. The Senate did overwhelmingly endorse a study of how the costs of a single-payer health care model would compare to the state’s current health care spending, but the House failed to take up the measure.

Mark said the overwhelming support the question received in his district, which includes Greenfield, “helps me to build a case for why I support it. It bolsters my argument with the Health Care Finance Committee and with the speaker that the overwhelming majority of my district is supporting it.”

Mark, who says he “would love to see” the referendum voted in districts that aren’t represented by someone who supports single-payer health care system in Massachusetts, said he believes “it would be a great cost saver, in the state budget and for businesses that wouldn’t have to compete for benefits, and for local schools and municipalities.”

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