Why are you running for re-election? And how would your background and experience guide your work in a new term?
I’m running because there are projects I’ve been involved in over the years that I want to see through to completion. There are a number of coming efforts that I’d like to get going with, and it’s a critical time. I think my experience and position in the Legislature will be a benefit to my constituents in this district.
There is, of course, South Coast Rail, where I’ve been very much involved and able to help get advanced as a result of my chairmanship of the Transportation Committee. And I think to make sure that opening of service in 2023 goes well, I’d like to continue in the Legislature on behalf of that.
I believe that in terms of the Port of New Bedford, in terms of shipping and fishing industry, we are on the cusp of some major improvements. And then separately, of course, is the introduction into our region of expanding wind power. And the climate issues are so important both to transportation and the environment.
One of the things I’m very proud of, and perhaps a contrast with the other person who’s running, is that I’ve been a part of this community in the district for 40 years, and I think that’s made me a better legislator, a stronger one, and in touch with the people here.
What are the top three things you want to accomplish if you’re re-elected?
I think that it’s broad and not district-specific, but one of the important things I’ve always tried to accomplish as a legislator is to make sure that the overall state finances are in a sound position, so that all of the array of programs that the commonwealth supports can be sustained. While state finances are very good now, I’ve seen enough cycles where it turns downward, so I’m very proud that we have a historic amount of money, it appears, in the rainy day fund. So, number one is maintaining the health of state finances and that means balanced budgets, of course. That means a debt load that is sustainable.
The other one is to continue to make sure that our education financing for local school districts continues to increase. It’s increased every year — except those recession years — every year I’ve been in the Legislature.
Let me just amplify on education. It’s not just spending money that’s critical; it’s having the results. In the case of Mass. students statewide, we regularly lead the nation in math and reading skills for fourth-graders. And even more important in a worldwide sense, if Mass. was a country, our reading skills would be tied with eight other countries. And as for math skills, we would only be behind Singapore. And so, it’s important for the public to know that not only are we seeing the funds, but results for education.
Probably third is related to climate change, and the fact that it’s important that we bring Mass. to the forefront, where I think we are on the issue of climate. And certainly, we’ve seen in different parts of the country and the world the impact of carbon emissions.
[On the] most recent transportation legislation, I was chair of the conference committee, transforming our transportation system to more electric vehicles, greater use of [electric vehicle] charging stations, and a substantial commitment that our resources are increased — and that looks to wind and solar. Before I became a rep, I was on the town Conservation Commission, and that reflects my strong interest in the environment.
How should the state lawmakers help Massachusetts families cope with high inflation?
I’m not an economist, and the cause of inflation is not just national but worldwide. It appears to relate to the war in Ukraine as well, so the issue of inflation is to, I think, make sure that in critical areas where inflation has hit people in Mass. and they are dealing with the consequences, that as a state legislator I work on ways to help provide them relief during this period right now.
The proposal the other candidate has embraced is to cut the gasoline tax. That’s a bad idea for two reasons. One, the gasoline tax funds our road and bridge repairs and goes into the protected transportation trust fund. But two, the gasoline tax is actually paid by the gasoline companies. And the history shows — and it was borne out in Connecticut this spring — when you cut the gasoline tax, they tend to pocket it and it doesn’t reduce the price at the pump. So, to give tax cuts to those who are the least deserving hurts our inflation fight.
We have passed in the House, we have passed in the Senate — it’s in conference committee — direct rebate checks as a result of the inflation in energy costs. In that way, we provide the relief directly to people in Massachusetts, instead of Exxon and Shell, and do not endanger the monies we need for the transportation trust fund to take care of our roads. I don’t think we need to be giving big business tax cuts as a result of inflation, I think we need to be giving relief to our citizens.
What would you do to address the housing affordability crisis in greater New Bedford?
The housing cost issue is one of our biggest challenges in the region because what we’re experiencing now is a double impact of not just the lack of housing inventory for people, but a greater pressure that’s coming our way. And so, what might have been just the housing cost impact on people, if there was such a thing as a normal market, has been exacerbated because as people have left the even-higher-limited housing markets of the Boston area coming to other regions outside the 495, it’s been a double whammy.
I’ve had meetings locally with an organization that has some innovative housing programs, PACE, about trying to promote and increase the number of units available through accessible housing prices, as compared to market price. So, I look at the state’s role as one that we have to increase the availability to have projects and programs like that increase.
How do you envision your role in completion of the South Coast rail project?
When South Coast Rail service starts in 2023, the regional — Bristol County, and a bit of Plymouth County — fire departments and emergency medical services departments would be expected to respond, as opposed to the T, if there were an unfortunate incident or even worse.
And so [I’m] working with [New Bedford Fire] Chief [Scott] Kruger, then to the fire chiefs in Fall River, Taunton, and ultimately Lakeville, to identify exactly what kind of safety and even extraction equipment the fire departments would need, being the first responders. So, they identified roughly $900,000 worth of equipment, made a plan to deploy elements of the equipment, and then using my experience in my transportation role, I was able to get the authorization funding in the transportation bond bill, which we completed Sunday (July 31).
So that’s, I think, a perfect example of how I have the experience and the position in the Legislature when there is a local idea. And I have no doubt that different kinds of competition items will come up and I would get notified. That’s why I want to serve again to make sure that transition is done right.
Where do you stand on abortion rights?
I believe that the U.S. Supreme Court incorrectly in its June decision overturned Roe vs. Wade. I think that 50-year-old decision was what lawyers like to call settled law, and correctly identified for a woman the constitutional right to make critical health care decisions with regard to a pregnancy on her own with, if she wants, the advice of her physician. I do not believe it was constitutionally correct as a result to push to the states what would otherwise be a fundamental, privacy-based right that had long been recognized.
What is the last book you read?
“Say Nothing,” [by Patrick Radden Keefe], which was about the period of the Troubles — and I’ve always hated that term — in Northern Ireland. I’m not of Irish descent, but it’s always been not just a historical period because it is something that I think lives today, and that’s why I think it’s drawn my interest where, based on religious differences, people would end up in such violent situations, and so disturbing for entire populations. And so I found the book to be worth reading for what we all can learn about where such differences can have such terrible consequences.
What’s the last TV show that you binged on?
“Only Murders in the Building.” I think it’s great! To see Steve Martin and Martin Short and some other cameos that I’m not sure I recognize, it’s just a clever comedy, and so when season one came out, my wife and I simply sat there and nonstop watched it.
What’s your favorite place in the South Coast area? And why?
I’d say the new view recently available to the public at the Mattapoisett Bike Path.
Email Grace Ferguson at firstname.lastname@example.org.