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Candidates Face Residents at BBA Political Forum

Sep 04, 2018 06:00AM ● By Brian Choquet

(Left to Right) Mike Soter, Ryan Chamberland, Patrick Malone and Kevin Tagliaferri speak at the BBA Political Forum.

written by Brian Choquet, Contributing Writer

Candidates for State Representative for the 8th Worcester District, comprising Bellingham, Blackstone, Millville and Uxbridge, gathered at Coachmen’s Lodge on August 7 for a “Meet the Candidates Night” hosted by the Bellingham Business Association (BBA). From 6:30 to 8 pm, candidates spoke directly to voters and took hard-hitting questions from an audience of over 100 people.

The non-partisan event opened with BBA president John Orthman as moderator for the event. “The BBA is non-political,” said Orthman. “So while we may host a program such as this to present information to residents in order to help them decide on a candidate, we will never endorse a specific candidate.”

BBA president John Orthman opened up the event and then proceeded to be the moderator.

Orthman then introduced each of the four candidates: Republicans Ryan Chamberland of Blackstone and Mike Soter of Bellingham, and Democrats Patrick Malone of Uxbridge and Kevin Tagliaferri of Bellingham; three of these candidates have never previously run for a district-wide position. Soter ran for Norfolk County Commissioner in 2014 but was unsuccessful.

Each candidate was given 10 minutes to introduce himself and explain his platform. Afterward, audience members were given the opportunity to ask the candidates questions, with each having one minute to answer.

Going in alphabetical order, the self-described “lifelong Republican” Chamberland took the podium first. Running with the endorsement of current district State Representative Kevin Kuros, Chamberland said he is a staunch opponent of higher taxes, of Massachusetts becoming a sanctuary state and of non-citizens voting in local elections.

He aims to support additional school funding and the fight against the opioid epidemic. The 30-year-old politician became an elected official for Blackstone’s Board of Selectmen at age 23—the youngest ever to be elected to that board.

“I made a point to make sure that I engaged from a very young age and to be part of the solution, not the problem,” said Chamberland. His other positions include being the Director of Legislative Affairs for the Massachusetts Department of Correction and Deputy Campaign Manager for former State Rep/current State Senator Ryan Fattman.

“I have the experience. I’ve been a local official. I know how state governments work. I’ve been there; I’ve done it,” said Chamberland when asked what makes him the best candidate to represent the district on Beacon Hill.

Patrick Malone, the youngest of the four candidates and a recent University of Massachusetts Amherst graduate, spoke next.

“I’ve learned that people are angry about a lot of things,” said the 22-year-old State Representative hopeful. He mentioned Millville throughout the night, citing recent cuts to multiple town resources, including street lights, trash pickup and the closure of their senior center because of the town’s dire financial situation.

Other issues Malone mentioned included the worry over clean drinking water in his hometown of Uxbridge, and the fixing of Massachusetts’ Chapter 70 program—a program that provides state aid to elementary and secondary schools.

“I think that these problems are solvable,” said Malone, who holds a degree in political science and economics and was previously a legislative intern at Massachusetts’ Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse. “If John F. Kennedy can inspire a generation to go to the moon, then we can get somebody to fix a pothole,” he said.

Bellingham’s current Chairman of the Board of Selectmen, Mike Soter, was the third to speak. A thirteen-year resident of Bellingham, he has been chairman of the board for the past three years and a member of the board for an additional four years. 

“As a selectman for seven years, you start seeing different things happening from the state,” said Soter. “They want to tell us what to do and how to do it, but they never want to fund it, so we’re stuck as residents trying to figure out ways to fund those mandates.”

Soter went on to explain that Massachusetts’ problems stem from poor spending and prioritizing of funds. “We do not have a funding problem in this state,” said Soter, who dismissed the idea of needing more taxes to fix the issues the district is facing.

Like Malone, Soter also called out Chapter 70, labeling it as outdated by today’s standards.
The last to speak was Tagliaferri, a lifelong resident of Bellingham, and a juvenile court lawyer who describes himself as an “advocate for the people,” owing to years of working first as a social worker and then a lawyer for underprivileged kids.

While this is Tagliaferri’s first attempt running for a public service position, he is currently the Chairman of the Bellingham Democratic Town Committee.

“I believe that what’s good for the region will be good for the district,” said Tagliaferri, who noted his close relationships to other State Representatives in Massachusetts. He hopes to use these good relations to help advocate for better resources for the people of the 8th Worcester district.

“I believe there are resources out there that need to be fought for,” said Tagliaferri. “I intend to go up to Beacon Hill and fight for those resources and get the fair share for this district.”

Questions from the Audience

During the Q & A portion of the event, Massachusetts’ move toward a $15 minimum wage became a hot-button issue among audience members. Two small-business owners expressed their worry over the added expenses from higher wages. One audience member heatedly cited a study that claimed that both parents in a two-parent home needed to make $22.50 an hour to raise two children.

“You guys don’t even want to pay $15 an hour. It’s a poverty wage as it is. What do you expect people to live on?” heckled the man as candidates attempted to answer his question on why 3 of the 4 of them oppose the $15 minimum wage. 

Chamberland and Soter unanimously agreed that the “grand bargain” bill (which introduced the $15 minimum wage) was bad for small businesses, with Soter stating that “the grand bargain bill was the worst bill that could have been signed.”

Malone, who has worked with small businesses for most of his life, also expressed this sentiment, saying, “I understand the spirit of it. I’m not sure it’s the best way to do what it’s hoping to achieve though.”

He, along with Soter, feel that the focus should be on providing more vocational training, including funding vocational programs in schools, to give people opportunities to work in higher-paying trade jobs.

Tagliaferri was the lone supporter for the bill, stating that “wages have been flat for decades.” With increased wages, he believes workers will funnel more money into the economy, which will benefit everyone, including the businesses paying the higher wage.

The issue of affordable housing was also brought up, one woman asking what each candidate’s thoughts were on the implementation of Chapter 40B projects in the area. (Massachusetts Comprehensive Permit Act: Chapter 40B is a state statute that allows developers of affordable housing projects to bypass certain zoning laws.)

Soter took an aggressive stance against the statute, saying that these projects can cause a burden on the school system. He plans to join efforts in the state house to revise 40B and hopes to give more power over affordable housing projects back to local government. Chamberland agreed with Soter, but also noted, along with Malone and Tagliaferri, that he needed to become more knowledgeable about the statute.

Malone offered his initial thoughts on the issue and his belief that affordable housing can help keep young college graduates in the area.

“They go elsewhere to find work,” said Malone. “You talk to small business owners around here and you hear a surprising amount of the time that their biggest hurdle is finding talented workers, skilled help, good employees because they are leaving.”

Tagliaferri understood people’s concerns about more developments in their area, but pointed out that there is also a shortage of affordable housing in the area.

“Poor people need a place to live,” said Tagliaferri. “I would support that the state keep a consistent 40B policy,” he added, assuring that affordable housing would be spread across towns fairly.

The state primary election will take place on Tuesday, Sept. 4, in the Bellingham High gymnasium.






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