Blais cites experience working across levels of government


Staff Writer
Published: 8/20/2018 11:03:40 PM

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Seven Democrats are vying in the Sept. 4 primary for the 1st Franklin District House seat being vacated by 25-year incumbent Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington. There is no Republican candidate. The district includes Ashfield, Buckland, Conway, Deerfield, Leverett, Montague, Shelburne, Shutesbury, Sunderland and Whately. This is one in a series of profiles on those candidates.)

Natalie Blais’s elected political experience may be limited to the Sunderland Public Library Board, which she chairs, but she’s been immersed in government service for decades, dating before her current role as Franklin County Chamber of Commerce’s executive director.

After interning for Bernie Sanders when he was a congressman and she was a political science major at Dickinson College, the Vermont native went to work for Vermont’s state auditor, and after moving to Massachusetts, Blais became an aide to Congressman John Olver and after that, Congressman Jim McGovern for a dozen years.

“As a staffer, my job was bringing people to the table,” says Blais, who also worked as assistant to University of Massachusetts Amherst Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy before becoming chamber director a year ago.

Blais has been endorsed by Kulik himself, who said last week, “She has also earned my vote by the way in which she has conducted her campaign as an accessible, responsive, thoughtful and honest candidate. … She’s the person I want to represent me, going forward.”

Her work at the chamber, Blais says, has required her to work with a wide range of people from business, nonprofit organizations and local and regional officials, to establish relationships to advance Franklin County in the same way that being a congressional aide involved with working with local, regional and state officials on critical issues like reviving passenger rail service and building the state’s “middle-mile” broadband network.

In that capacity, she’s already begun discussions with the Franklin Regional Council of Governments on how to market the passenger rail service to assure that expanded service that’s now planned can survive — the kind of advocacy she expects to continue assisting with if elected, by bringing people together.

From renewable energy and transportation to economic development and affordable housing, she said, “I’ve worked on every single issue that affects the 1st Franklin District. … I’m absolutely a collaborator. It’s that ability to work seamlessly across the levels of government that really distinguishes me as a candidate.”

At one forum, Blais criticized the House’s failure to pass comprehensive energy legislation, “and the fact that everything was rammed through at the last minute. There was not a lot of public input. It feels like we’re being left out of the process.”

Blais has called for instituting “carbon pricing” to generate revenue for investments in clean energy and transportation.

She supports efforts to reduce transportation emissions — which account for 40 percent of carbon emission in the state — and invest in clean transportation options as part of a multi-state approach modeled after the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. The revenue would be used for public transportation, electric buses, enhanced rail service, adoption of electric vehicles and charging stations for them.

Blais has called for the governor to enter into a multi-year contract to process Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Healthy Incentives Program benefits at farmers markets. She’s also proposed establishment of a state Office of Rural Policy to ensure its policies and programs are viewed from a rural perspective when created and to advocate for fair program funding for rural areas, recognizing “unique economic and financial challenges faced by rural Massachusetts.”

Blais has called for a cap on charter schools so they don’t “suck the funds out of our local schools” and has said, “We have the ability to provide universal health care. We need the political will to do so. I have the political will. And I have the experience to make a change on Beacon Hill.”

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