Columnist Eric Nakajima: Effective voice to overcome loss of clout

  • Eric Nakajima running for 3rd Hampshire District at the Gazette Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Thursday, August 30, 2018

We live in deeply unsettling times. Nationally, President Donald Trump has validated the worst impulses of racism and xenophobia that exist in our country.

The GOP under Trump is working harder than ever to reverse any progress we’ve made to combat climate change or promote human rights.

Closer to home, we’ve experienced a dramatic turnover of political leadership that leaves our region without any seniority or clout on Beacon Hill to advocate for our interests. I’ve known Stan Rosenberg for over 30 years, and share the keen sense of loss of his leadership that I’ve heard from so many people. Unfortunately, he’s gone.

I am running for state representative because we need an effective voice for our region — not just to play defense against Trump, but to make progress on long stalled initiatives to address the key issues of our times.

My first priority as state representative is to push for full funding of public education and to end the disaster of local school district funding of charter schools. For too long, we’ve shortchanged our schools and put enormous pressure on municipal budgets and property taxes. It is unsustainable and wrong.

We will never make progress on critical investments like universal preschool unless we start to establish our priorities as a commonwealth. That begins with fully funding our public schools.

Second, our economy and climate suffer from a lack of investment in transportation and green infrastructure. Our state’s transportation system is broken and we lack a vision and commitment to fully integrate bicycles, buses and rail into a statewide network that will connect each region and allow people of all incomes and backgrounds to reliably meet their daily needs. That includes complete streets, public transit and East-West high speed rail from the Pioneer Valley to Boston.

There is no greater threat to our planet than climate change. On Beacon Hill, we need further progress lifting the cap on net metering, passing a carbon fee, and expanding investments in things like electric vehicles and charging stations. Wherever possible, we should look for ways to simultaneously address climate change and economic inequality.

One of the first bills I will work on will be a new program for the Massachusetts School Building Authority to provide financial assistance to school districts that pursue construction of zero-energy school buildings. Rosenberg has told me that no legislator is working on this issue now. This can be a smart way to simultaneously invest in our kids and reduce our carbon footprint.

My experience on the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee and serving in former Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration make me hopeful for the possibility of change and reinforce for me the urgency that we try.

As assistant secretary for innovation policy for Patrick, my job was to work with legislators, municipal officials, educators and businesses to find promising ways to extend the reach of our state’s growing economy to communities and people who have been left behind. Working collaboratively, we passed legislation and forged partnerships that are making a real difference in communities across the state.

In the Pioneer Valley, we launched training programs that are connecting underemployed people — often women and minorities — to new jobs in advanced manufacturing.

In Holyoke, we developed an integrated strategy that is doing everything from renovating public housing and educating young people for STEM careers to opening a new culinary school at Holyoke Community College. My role was to bring people together, listen openly and creatively to community partners, and then use my knowledge of state government to bring resources to bear that could support local efforts.

On the regional school committee, I considered my first obligation as chair was to stabilize the leadership and governance of our district so we could continue to recruit outstanding staff and start to minimize the outflow of students to area charter schools. After nearly two years, I am proud that we have accomplished a great deal. In fact, the out-migration of students to charter schools has begun to reverse itself. Our schools are still considered to be among the best in the state.

Today, the greatest challenge our schools face comes from inadequate state funding that strains town finances throughout the 3rd Hampshire District. Economic inequality is compounded by exploding levels of student debt, unaffordable housing and failures in our insurance-driven health care system. The solution to these problems requires effective, progressive leadership on Beacon Hill.

Listening to you as I have gone door-to-door throughout this campaign, I know that you share my concerns. That is why I am excited to work with you to organize, connect with allies across the state and advance legislation that will meet our needs.

There would be no greater honor for me than to represent my hometown in the Legislature. I would love to earn your vote on Sept. 4.

Eric Nakajima is a Democratic candidate for state representative in the 3rd Hampshire District.