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Candidates Clark, Sena explain their priorities

With a pandemic on everyone’s mind, it may be hard for anyone to remember that the special election to replace Jennifer Benson as state representative for the 37th Middlesex District, which was postponed from March 31, will take place June 2. 

The two major-party winners of the special state primaries held March 3 were Republican Catherine Clark of Lunenburg and Democrat Danillo Sena of Acton. In mid-March, the Press asked each candidate to answer five questions in preparation for the original election date, and both replied promptly. Last week, the Press sent two follow-up questions about the coronavirus emergency, asking about matters as they stand now; the new questions and answers appear at the beginning of the interview for each candidate.

The candidates’ answers, edited only for consistency in style and punctuation or clarity, are printed here. The answers were not edited for length.


Cathy Clark
Republican candidate from Lunenburg
  

Cathy Clark. (Courtesy photo)

What do you think is the best way for Massachusetts to reopen from the emergency closure in the coming weeks or months?

I think the governor’s approach of phases is appropriate. However, I am very concerned for small businesses, particularly in our area of the state where small business is the backbone of community. I am encouraged by two more additional pieces of legislation that just passed in the Senate, targeted to help small business. One is for those that were ineligible for the PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] on the federal level, and the second is the MassMakers [a state bill to promote local commerce], geared toward encouraging economic growth of small businesses.  

The approach of using data and opening in phases is the best approach given where we are at currently; of late, the decline in numbers is encouraging. The enormous effect this lockdown has had on small business, however, has to be a priority. I recently had a virtual meeting with businesses impacted by the lockdown. Readjusting and thinking outside the box can only address a percentage of needs to keep a business going. Forward-thinking actions such as relaxing regulations to help small businesses need to be implemented to help them succeed. 

What can the Legislature do to protect local aid to towns as state revenues plummet?

That of course is a big concern; I will advocate for further federal funding in an effort to ease some of the effect on our towns. One of my strengths is the ability to persevere, and we need consistent effort. This is going to be one of the biggest challenges in our communities. 

Massachusetts does have a large rainy day fund with $3.5 billion; however, without a scope of how long this could continue, it is unwise to drain the account. I do think pent-up consumer demand will push economic activity in the short term, but a proper plan will have to include more federal assistance to help our state and local budgets. 

As a member of the Legislature, what committees would you be most interested in joining?

The Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy, based on working with members over the years on the need for the muni[cipal] choice legislation. I am also interested in the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure; this is based on my experience as a licensed Realtor as well as my work over the years with the consumer division of the attorney general’s office. 

Of the major bills currently pending before the Massachusetts House of Representatives, can you tell us about one or two you strongly support?

An act relative to pay parity for county correctional officers. This bill creates a baseline for paying correctional officers; currently correctional officers in the district are subject to difficult conditions at Souza-Baranowski [Correctional Center]. Also I would support an act establishing a personal financial literacy curriculum in schools. This would include having students learn about understanding loans and interest, among other things. 

What major policy areas would you want to focus on as representative for this district? 

Utilities and infrastructure; my experience in utilities as well as the continual growth of our district and my real estate background help in this regard.

Which of the recently proposed bills in response to COVID-19 do you think are important to move ahead? 

[Answered March 17]

An act relative to taxes while the executive order is in effect. This would suspend certain taxes, bringing some relief to businesses. Additionally, an act providing for emergency cash assistance in response to COVID-19. Also, an act authorizing waiver of the one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits. 

[Updated May 12]

I fully support further COVID-19 bills that have been critical during this crisis, including pandemic insurance for the self-employed, which has helped small business owners and self-employed [workers]. In addition to this, hazard insurance for essential workers as well as the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures.

And finally, if you are our representative in the Legislature, do you expect to march in Harvard’s Fourth of July parade next year or attend our fireworks at Fruitlands in 2021? You would be very welcome!

I would love to partake in the parade! My family and I have always enjoyed Fruitlands as well. I had a family baby shower there years ago and more recently my daughter’s bridal shower, and she had her engagement photos there as well. I have enjoyed the views of Prospect Hill for many years, including visiting in my youth. It is a wondrous gem.


Dan Sena
Democratic candidate from Acton
  

Dan Sena. (Courtesy photo)

What do you think is the best way for Massachusetts to reopen in the coming weeks or months?

I think it’s critical, as the discussion begins around reopening the economy, that we make sure to continue to follow public health guidelines and public health experts, because it would be damaging to Massachusetts businesses and workers long-term if state government is so focused on short-term gain and not mindful of long-term damage not just to people’s health and potential loss of life, but also to the economy.

It is also critical that everyone has a seat at the table around that discussion. I was disappointed that Gov. Baker’s advisory board on reopening businesses only had CEOs and wealthy businesspeople on it. We have seen through the pandemic how valuable our frontline workers are—nurses, first responders, grocery employees, restaurant workers, municipal employees, nursing home staff, and other essential services workers. The voices of these workers, as well as teachers, public health experts, and immigrants and communities of color, should be heard and have a seat at the table, too.

What can the Legislature do to protect local aid to towns as state revenues plummet? 

I am very concerned about the loss of local aid to towns and cities, both in unrestricted local aid and education aid to school districts in the 37th Middlesex District. As a strong supporter of the Student Opportunity Act, which just became law last year, to dramatically increase state aid to all of our schools, my top priority, if elected state representative, would be to protect local aid. I would support closing corporate tax loopholes to raise progressive revenue, to avoid budget cuts that would negatively affect the next generation, including my two children.

I would oppose any regressive tax, such as a sales tax increase, because working families are already struggling as a result of the pandemic, and small businesses would be most affected by a sales tax increase. We know that wealthy corporations and individuals are actually making even more money during the pandemic, so I think it’s fair for them to pay their fair share. State government needs to be a stronger partner with our town governments and local municipal officials, and that includes protecting local aid and providing more flexibility for town governments to better manage their budgets. 

As a member of the Legislature, what committees would you be most interested in joining?

As a supporter of the 100% Renewable Energy legislation and a strong believer in the need to combat climate change, I would be very interested if elected state representative to serve on the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy. I believe the House of Representatives needs to take stronger action on global warming, and given the leadership of former Rep. Jennifer Benson on carbon pricing, climate change is clearly a priority for the people of the 37th Middlesex District. I would also be interested to serve on the Education Committee, given the need to increase state funding for public education and invest in universal prekindergarten, and the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture, to better protect open space, our rivers and streams, and support our family farms.

Of the major bills currently pending before the Massachusetts House of Representatives, can you tell us about one or two you strongly support? How might they affect this district?

I am a very strong supporter of Medicare For All legislation, to make health care a right. That goal is made all the more urgent with the coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, Massachusetts’ public health system is not strong, mostly due to underinvestment from the state. A key part of the Medicare For All in Massachusetts legislation is an over-$500 million investment in public health, to provide more nurses, public health professionals, and equipment, on the ground, serving communities. 

The second bill that I’m passionate about is the 100% Renewable Energy legislation. If we can move away from fossil fuels to decentralized, renewable energy, our energy grid will be more reliable, we’ll have a cleaner environment, and Massachusetts will regain its national leadership in combating climate change.

What major policy areas would you want to focus on as representative for this district?

Fully funding the Student Opportunity Act, including major state investments in special education, school transportation costs, and increased Chapter 70 aid for every community.

Climate change, moving to a commonwealth, economy, and society that fully embrace renewable energy.

Health care, making health care a right, by passing Medicare For All legislation.

Universal childcare. Fully funding universal pre-K, to educate children in their early years, reduce the financial burden many young families face, and improve the quality of life for the whole family.

Which of the recently proposed bills in response to COVID-19 do you think are important to move ahead?

[Answered March 17]

I support legislation creating more flexibility for towns to hold public hearings and committee meetings, while not violating Open Meeting Law; providing unemployment insurance benefits more quickly to laid-off workers; and providing financial support to small business owners and workers whose workplaces have shut down. In times of crisis, the Massachusetts state government needs to provide a more robust social safety net for its residents, and build toward maintaining that safety net for the future.  

And finally, as our representative in the Legislature, do you expect to march in Harvard’s Fourth of July parade next year or attend our fireworks at Fruitlands in 2021? You would be very welcome!

Absolutely, it would be my pleasure! As Sen. Jamie Eldridge’s district director, I have helped coordinate Sen. Eldridge marching in Harvard’s Fourth of July parade for the past six years, and I know how much he enjoys it. I am also a big fan of Harvard’s fireworks at Fruitlands and would plan to attend that as well, with my wife and two children! 
   

How to vote

Polls for the June 2 special state election will be open that day from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the Bromfield School Cafeteria.

However, more residents than usual are expected to vote by absentee ballot or by early ballot by mail, as Town Clerk Marlene Kenney has recommeended. “If coronavirus health concerns prevent you from attending the polls to vote,” says the town website, “please apply for an absentee ballot. The process to vote by absentee ballot is easy!” 

See www.harvard.ma.us/town-clerk or call the town clerk’s office at 978-456-4100 for more information.

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