State House candidates answer questions on Williamstown forum /

From left, Paula Kingsbury-Evans, moderator Jennifer Howlett and John Barrett III attend Thursday’s Candidates Forum in Williamstown.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. – The most obvious difference between the two candidates for Berkshire’s 1st seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives was the first issue the pair addressed in a forum Thursday night.

Incumbent John Barrett III immediately focused on his long career in public service, recalling his days as county commissioner, his decades as mayor of North Adams and his nearly five years working in Boston.

Newcomer Paula Kingsbury-Evans highlighted her youthful enthusiasm, the ties to the North Berkshire community she formed as a student at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, and her ties to a Boston-based progressive political organization.

“I’m a talker,” Kingsbury-Evans said. “I know that from myself. And I love talking to voters. My favorite part of the campaign so far is being able to hear what strengths and weaknesses residents think the community has.

“While I may not have any formal experience in government, every day we elect new leaders to positions and give them the opportunity to learn to be part of the political side of their community. I am supported by an organization called Incorruptible Mass, which has 13 other candidates, so I’m not going to State House alone, I’m going with friends by my side and allies.

Barrett stressed that it is not yet known how many of these 14 Incorruptible Mass candidates will win their primaries on Sept. 6 and pointed to his own connections in Boston and how they will help voters back home.

“When you walk into the State House, it’s important that you have strong connections,” he said. “I think that’s part of the reason I was able to bring…funding for Mass MoCA to the town of North Adams and also with the Greylock Glen project in the town of Adams. Relationships are how it happened.”

Barrett and Kingsbury shared a platform created by the Williamstown chapter of the League of Women Voters. The event was hosted by the Williamstown Police Department in its training room and filmed by the town’s community television station, Willinet.

On Tuesday, September 6, the two will face off in the Democratic primary to represent Adams, Cheshire, Clarksburg, Williamstown, Florida, Hancock, Hinsdale, Lanesborough, North Adams, New Ashford, Peru, Savoy and Windsor on Beacon Hill. Since there are no Republican candidates entered in the party’s primary for the seat, the winner of the September 6 Democratic primary will be the presumptive representative for the next two years.

Barrett, who won a four-person race in a 2017 special election to replace deceased state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, faces her first major challenge as an incumbent.

The two rivals expressed similar positions on Thursday on many major issues, including abortion rights, single-payer health care, the environment and support for higher education.

They differed on some others, including a question submitted online about whether they would support a minimum wage and mandatory rest day for farm workers.

Both candidates said they were unaware of a push in the Commonwealth for this particular labor reform, but Kingsbury expressed unequivocal support for the idea. Barrett stressed the importance of supporting small family farms throughout his district.

Both said the state should do more to increase the availability of affordable housing, but they focused on different approaches.

“It’s actually a very common problem for me,” Kingsbury said. “Exactly a year ago I got my first apartment in North Adams, and it was a tireless search. It took months and months to contact people. … As our population dwindles, one of the ways we could increase our population is to encourage young people from the two colleges in this neighborhood to stay in the neighborhood.

“It’s very hard to do without having affordable housing for a recent graduate or current student.”

Barrett stressed the need for state support to rehabilitate the existing housing stock.

“Affordable housing was very important to me in my previous life in politics, including what we tried to do in the town of North Adams,” he said. “This state is committed – in policy emanating from the administration – to building new housing. We need to begin rehabilitation of existing properties in the state of Massachusetts. I have filed three bills asking for money so that we can rebuild our neighborhoods in this state, especially here.

“Instead of letting [homes] fall into the wrecking ball, we should work to rehabilitate them, make them affordable. Start developing affordable housing programs by taking those run down properties, fixing them up, creating a low interest mortgage with a low down payment so that the young starting family can have the ability [to own a home].”

One of the sharpest exchanges of the night came early on, after Kingsbury identified transparency in government as one of her top priorities if elected to the House. Barrett countered by defending his own personal transparency, saying he had always been upfront about all the votes he cast in the Full House and in committee and asking Kingsbury directly which vote she would like to know.

Kingsbury responded by asking Barrett why he voted against a bill that would have required the identification of the votes of all House members in committee. Barrett replied that only two Democrats from the Beacon Hill Progressive Caucus voted differently than him on the bill in question.

At that point, moderator Jennifer Howlett stepped in and reminded the contestants that the event was not intended as a debate but as a common forum for them to discuss issues and move on to the next topic.

One topic where the candidates split slightly is same-day voter registration.

Barrett said he supports reform but is concerned about the ability of municipalities to execute it.

“Right now we have automatic voter registration, which I voted for and supported very strongly,” he said. “We did everything we could. But at the moment, in the town of North Adams, they could not handle same-day voter registration – as had been proposed.

“With automatic voter registration, if you come in to get your license, you come in to get anything state related, you can be automatically registered. Right now you can be registered until, I believe [Aug. 26]. We need to make sure we do [same-day registration] okay, but I want to make it perfectly clear that I voted for same-day voter registration. »

Kingsbury argued that same-day registration would help encourage voter turnout, especially among younger voters.

“It’s also something I’m passionate about implementing in our state, especially as a recent college graduate,” she said. “Encouraging young people to vote is often a harder thing to do, especially with all the deadlines and you forget to turn in your papers, and without same-day registration you can’t vote in the election.

“Especially with this primary coming up, MCLA students are just coming back to campus, and they’re not able to register in time to vote in a primary, which I find shameful, frankly. is a very important issue, especially as we involve more young people in politics.”

Key words: candidates forum, election 2022, primary,

Melvin B. Baillie