Tuesday, August 28, 2018
Choosing a new state legislator for the 1st Franklin District this year is like going to Richardson’s Candy Kitchen to buy just one sweet. Lots of good options. Very tough choice.
There are seven good candidates for the seat that will be decided in the Democratic primary Sept. 4. They offer varied qualifications and life experiences, from sharp wits, youthful passion, straightforward common sense, experience working for the underdog or in government and in different parts of the “real” world.
But we can choose only one, and these progressive candidates’ stands on issues don’t draw any sharp distinctions. For example, they generally are for more universally available health care, more money for rural public schools, greener energy, jobs-creating economic development, better transportation and broadband, and a boost to the fortunes of our farmers and poor people.
Because there is no Republican running in the November general election, the Democrat we choose next month will fill the seat of retiring Rep. Steven Kulik, who for 25 years has ably represented 19 towns across a southern swath of Franklin County and some of the western hills of Hampshire County. Kulik’s experience acquired in that time has served us well.
We don’t think experience is a dirty word. When it comes to the state Legislature, experience and knowing the layers and levers of government is a good thing, if you want to become effective any time soon.
So, that’s one litmus test we can apply.
The other is endorsements. Endorsements, like this one, can cut both ways, but it is still worth considering who supports the candidates and why.
When we put the candidates to the test, two floated to the top and one broke through the surface.
Natalie Blais has already worked for years solving our problems and advancing our causes, albeit at the federal level working for now Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, as economic development director for then Congressman John Olver, as constituent services and special projects manager for Congressman Jim McGovern. She was also chief of staff for the Chancellor of UMass Amherst, which like the other jobs, requires intelligence, good people skills, organization and quick command of issues. And for the past year, Blais has been executive director of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce.
All those jobs involve working at the state, local and federal level on the full range of issues that affect us. In her Chamber of Commerce job as Franklin County’s business and economy advocate, Blais has forged relationships with local business and government leaders and with the Beacon Hill lawmakers and bureaucracy. She has advocated for state policies that benefit the rural economy, most recently calling for creation of a state Office of Rural Policy to champion our small-town interests.
And then there are the endorsements.
Most recently, she has been endorsed by the last two people to hold the seat she seeks, collectively for about 47 years.
“I have no doubt that Natalie Blais has all of the experience, knowledge and personal qualities to be among the very best and most effective members of the House and to make sure that our priorities are addressed and never ignored,” Kulik said in his endorsement.
Blais, a 41-year-old former Vermonter who’s lived here since 2005, has also been endorsed by retired 12-term state Rep. Ellen Story of Amherst, retired Congressman John W. Olver, Franklin County Sheriff Chris Donelan, Franklin Register of Probate John Merrigan, Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan, Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz, Shelburne Selectman and former First Franklin candidate Andrew Baker, and the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus.
Story knows the job intimately, and said, “The person best equipped to serve the residents of the 1st Franklin District will have a progressive agenda coupled with time-tested experience and established relationships on Beacon Hill. That person is Natalie Blais.”
Donelan, Merrigan and Sullivan, founders of the regional Opioid Task Force, said Blais “has been a partner in efforts to prevent opioid addiction and expand access to treatment and recovery.”
“You won’t find a more principled person or harder worker than Natalie Blais,” added Sullivan.
Hard to beat endorsements like that, unless you just don’t trust our veteran public servants.
Recently, when Blais was explaining why she worked for people like Sanders, Olver and McGovern, she said she only works for people she believes in. And now she wants to work for us, for the same reason.