Rep. Mark bringing small-town perspective to Senate run

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  • State Rep. Paul Mark, right, D-Peru, of the 2nd Berkshire District, visits the music room of Double Edge Theatre during a tour of the Ashfield complex with Director of Community Development Hannah Jarrell, left, and Carlos Uriona, co-artistic director, Dec. 1. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • State Rep. Paul Mark, center, D-Peru, of the 2nd Berkshire District, takes a tour of Double Edge Theatre in Ashfield with Director of Community Development Hannah Jarrell, left, and Co-Artistic Director Carlos Uriona on Wednesday, Dec. 1.

  • State Rep. Paul Mark, left, D-Peru, of the 2nd Berkshire District, begins a tour of Double Edge Theatre in Ashfield with Co-Artistic Director Carlos Uriona, Dec. 1. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • State Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, of the 2nd Berkshire District, checks his phone upon arriving for a tour of Double Edge Theatre in Ashfield on Dec. 1. Ashfield was originally in Mark’s district when he was elected in 2010, before he lost it in the redistricting that followed the census of that year. Mark would represent Ashfield again should he win the Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden District seat being vacated by State Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • State Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, of the 2nd Berkshire District, is a candidate for the Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden District seat being vacated by State Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • State Rep. Paul Mark, center, D-Peru, of the 2nd Berkshire District, talks with Double Edge Theatre Producing Executive Director Adam Bright, left, during a tour of the Ashfield complex with Co-Artistic Director Carlos Uriona on Dec. 1. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • State Rep. Paul Mark, center, D-Peru, of the 2nd Berkshire District, views some of the archives of Double Edge Theatre during a tour of the Ashfield complex with Director of Community Development Hannah Jarrell, partly obscured, and Co-Artistic Director Carlos Uriona, right, on Dec. 1. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Double Edge Theatre Co-Artistic Director Carlos Uriona, left, takes state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, of the 2nd Berkshire District, on a tour of the complex in Ashfield on Dec. 1. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 12/10/2021 3:30:42 PM
Modified: 12/10/2021 3:30:16 PM

State Rep. Paul Mark, who brings a small-town perspective to state politics, is running for the Senate both to increase his impact on legislation and because of redistricting realities.

Mark, 42, is a candidate in the 2022 election for the Berkshire, Hampden, Franklin and Hampshire District now represented by Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, who is running for lieutenant governor.

In recent weeks, the Democrat from Peru, with a population under 1,000, has been on the campaign trail meeting with voters.

“It’s actually been amazing,” said Mark, speaking of the reaction to his candidacy.

The Franklin County communities in the Senate district are Ashfield, Buckland, Charlemont, Conway, Hawley, Heath, Monroe, Rowe and Shelburne.

Mark, who served on the Legislature’s Special Joint Committee on Redistricting, said there was a concern the state would be undercounted for the U.S. census due to the impact of COVID-19.

“They came in way better than we thought,” Mark said of the census results.

However, the census still showed population declines in Berkshire and Franklin counties. Mark noted Berkshire County was on track to lose a House seat. In addition, Hinds was preparing to run for lieutenant governor, and a map was being floated that would have dismantled a Berkshire-based Senate district.

“How do we continue to maximize the voice of the entire region?” asked Mark.

His decision to seek election to the Senate and not the House influenced the new district lines signed into law last month, which eliminated Mark’s current district, the 2nd Berkshire that stretches from the Berkshires to Northfield in Franklin County.

The Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden District also was preserved in the new Senate map, although it did expand eastward and will now become the Berkshire, Hampden, Franklin and Hampshire District.

Importance of access

Mark said he has no ambitions toward higher office beyond state senator, and that he’s committed to getting Western Massachusetts its fair share and ensuring that it is not overlooked.

He was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2010. His freshman class in the House in 2011 was actually majority Republican.

“We came in right in that anti-Obamacare Scott Brown victory wave,” Mark said.

Mark, however, was not elected as a conservative, and he’s not running for Senate as one either.

A clear line can be seen between Mark’s politics and his experiences in both the labor movement and with poverty when he was growing up.

Mark grew up in Western Massachusetts, and when he was 12 years old his father got laid off from his warehouse job shortly before Christmas. This resulted in his family getting evicted and needing to rely on food stamps.

Economic pressures also made it so Mark had to drop out of the University of Massachusetts Amherst during his first year because he was unable to afford tuition.

“What held me back was access,” Mark said.

Mark subsequently started working for what was then the Bell Atlantic telephone company at age 20, and immediately joined the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). The labor union afforded him the ability to get an education while working, paying for the bulk of his tuition, and he subsequently went on to earn an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, law degree and doctorate.

However, Mark said what left an impact on him was that his individual success was the result of people in his union standing together and fighting for one another as a group for the collective good.

“That made such an impression on me,” he said.

Mark also said he saw politicians getting elected campaigning in support of the labor movement, and then voting differently in office.

“I was going to do what I said I was going to do,” Mark said.

Priorities

Some of Mark’s policy priorities are increasing access to college, vocational training and child care as well as protecting the environment.

He wants to fully fund public higher education in the state and would like to have savings plans established where the state would match individual contributions toward higher education.

Mark also is a supporter of single-payer health care.

“At a national level, we need a single-payer system available,” he said.

However, Mark also supports putting into place a single-payer health care system in Massachusetts in the absence of a national system. He has been a co-sponsor of legislation that would establish single-payer health care in Massachusetts for his entire legislative career.

Mark has been endorsed by state reps. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox, Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, and John Barrett III, D-North Adams, as well as former state Rep. Steve Kulik, D-Worthington.

Small-town life

Should he be elected to the Senate, Mark said he would ask to serve on the Higher Education, Labor and Workforce Development, Tourism Arts and Cultural Development, and the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture committees. He also said he would have the status of being an experienced legislator, even though he’d be a new senator.

Mark was a chair of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 and 2020 campaigns for the presidency. He got to know Sanders in 2012 while the two of them were campaigning for Sen. Elizabeth Warren in her first U.S. Senate run. However, he said he became a supporter after learning about Sanders’ policies.

“It became a no-brainer for me,” he said.

Mark currently lives in the Berkshire County town of Peru — the only member of the state Legislature from a town of fewer than 1,000 people. When Kulik and he were in the House together, they were the only two legislators living in towns with fewer than 2,000 people.

“Someone from the small towns understands the difference between that life and city life,” Mark said.

For instance, when he was talking to his colleagues about broadband, he explained to them how he didn’t have high-speed internet at home. At that time, Mark had satellite internet that shut off when he reached a certain limit.

Mark said the biggest challenge he’s gotten so far campaigning is learning the new distances between locations in the district, which stretches from Williamsburg to the New York border, as well as the cellphone dead spots.

With the exception of 2020, Mark said he has put 60,000 miles a year on a vehicle since being elected, and he said he intends to also show up for people in the Senate district should he be elected.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.


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