In the Arena: A candidate good enough to challenge my ‘endorsement reticence’

Friday, June 01, 2018

I’ve often been asked why I never endorse candidates for office, and my answer has always been the same — I don’t want people voting based solely on my recommendation.

It’s not because I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. Quite the contrary. After two-plus decades of closely observing local and regional politics, I feel I’m in a unique position to offer credible commentary and analysis on local elections.

My “endorsement reticence” has more to do with you than it does me. I’m sort of old-fashioned when it comes to politics, in that I believe it is the responsibility of voters to form their own opinions about the candidates before they walk into the voting booth.

To properly do so requires a bit of effort to become informed, a task far too few Americans seem willing to undertake these days. So-called “low information voters” appear to be perfectly content to let network talking heads do their thinking for them, which I believe is a major reason why our political system is in the — pardon the pun — “deplorable condition” it is.

Further complicating things is that I write almost exclusively about local and regional politics, which is by design. There are thousands of columnists out there writing about the Trumps, Pelosis and Schumers of the world, but not many cover the local stuff, which is where I believe the only governing that really matters happens.

Endorsements are a line I try not to cross, but I find myself struggling with that policy when it comes to certain races, most recently the one to succeed Steve Kulik in the 1st Franklin District.

When Kulik announced his retirement, I considered running for that seat. I have always said that if I were ever going to run for a position, it would be that one — but I would never run against Steve because I believe he is, and has been, a tremendous asset for the district and the region as a whole.

My consideration of a run went as far as a couple of conversations with seasoned local politicians for whom I have a great deal of respect. The feedback was largely positive, and I began to think seriously about leaving the media biz behind and throwing my un-enrolled hat in the ring.

Then Natalie Blais jumped in — and my thinking changed dramatically.

There are currently eight candidates in the Democratic race for Kulik’s seat, with no expected Republican challenger — so for all intents and purposes, the primary and the general election are one and the same. All of these candidates are bright, and seem to have great ideas and a passion for public service — but from where I sit, the only “complete player” in the bunch appears to be Blais, at least at this point.

There are a lot of things that impress me about Blais, but what pulled me off the fence was her performance in the recent Franklin County League of Women Voters First Franklin District Climate Change forum at Frontier Regional School.

The focus was the environment and global warming, and featured a lot of strong opinions and ideas — so much so that I left the room thinking that regardless of who wins, the environment’s interests will be well protected.

As I watched the replay in the days after, I zeroed in not only on the individual answers, but which candidates seemed to have the best “30,000-foot” perspective when it came to a lot of these issues. And Blais was clearly the best on that score.

She was the only one to even mention Article 97, which was a major debating point during the recent battle over a natural gas pipeline. She also talked about the need for the commonwealth to take steps to ensure that any future affordable housing be constructed using zero-net energy technology, a talking point I had, at that point, not heard any candidate mention.

But what really got me was the passion Blais displayed when talking about her reaction to seeing the orange balloons strung up across the center of the Clarkdale apple orchard, delineating what was, at that point, the path of the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline. I remembered how strongly Kulik stepped up during those debates, and this area will need another tough advocate if, or when, that evil genie once again pops out of the bottle.

It was that moment where I began to look at Blais as more than just one voice of eight. She looked and sounded the part. It may have been, for me, the closest as I’ve had to a real-life political example of the adage, “I’m not sure what I’m looking for, but I’ll know it when I see it.”

Of course, that’s just my opinion. You voters need to make up your own minds, and really do your homework over the next three months.

Just know that I’ve done mine, and, at this point, it’s not even a tough call.


Chris Collins is a former staff reporter for the Recorder, and is a Greenfield native. Over the years he has continued to keep his eye on local politics from a variety of perches for different news outlets.