From today's Telegram & Gazette:
LEOMINSTER - The race for the Democratic nomination for state representative in the 4th Worcester District represents a contrast of political leanings, but a common focus on the city that contains the entire district.
Natalie Higgins, executive director of the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts, identifies herself as liberal. Veteran City Councilor Richard Marchand says he is a conservative Democrat. Both are looking in the Sept. 8 primary to represent the Democratic party against Republican Thomas Ardinger in the Nov. 8 general election race to replace state Rep. Dennis Rosa, D-Leominster. Mr. Rosa announced earlier this year he would not seek re-election.
Ms. Higgins, 28, of 333 Elm St., said an internship with state Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, D-Leominster, after her first year in college convinced her that political office was something she might consider.
"For me, who was the first in my family to go to college, this was a whole new experience for me," she said. "I was just fascinated to see this woman who had one foot in the community and one foot in the Statehouse who was making government accessible."
She said that over the past 10 years she has taken advantage of all the opportunities of education, work and training to make sure she was ready to go if the opportunity presented itself to run for state representative.
As executive director of the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts, she has advocated for more affordable and accessible public higher education in the state. She is also on the board of directors for Pathways for Change in Worcester, where she worked before going to law school. As a legislator, she said, she would be an advocate for public schools. She also would work for passage of the Fair Share Amendment, which would create an additional tax of 4 percentage points on income over $1 million to raise money for public education, public transportation, roads and bridges.
Ms. Higgins said she would advocate for the city to ensure that Leominster is recognized on Beacon Hill and receives resources it needs. She said she is opposed to a ballot question that would allow up to 12 new charter schools and is taking a wait-and-see attitude about the legalization of marijuana.
Should it get passed, she said, she would want to work to create appropriate regulations and ensure there is adequate treatment for people suffering from drug addiction.
Along with interning with Ms. Flanagan, Ms. Higgins said, she interned for Gov. Deval Patrick's office and has worked with state Sen. Michael O. Moore, D-Millbury, on a sexual assault prevention and campus safety bill that she hopes will be passed in the next session.
Mr. Marchand, 61, of 224 Merriam Ave., is in his 19th year as a Leominster city councilor. He represents Ward 5. He said he would follow precedent set by past state representatives, including Mr. Rosa, and finish his term on the council if elected as state representative.
"The main reason is I don't want the city to be in a position where it has to hold a special election," he said.
Mr. Marchand also said he would rather that candidates looking to replace him be able to campaign over a regular election cycle. He said it has also proved beneficial in the past to have a state representative serving on the City Council. He said he works well with Mayor Dean Mazzarella and his most recent stint as council president helped heal a rift between the mayor and the council.
A retired educator who worked 29 years as a teacher in Leominster, Ayer and Shrewsbury, Mr. Marchand said education would be a strong focus for him in the Statehouse.
"Public education is my No. 1 priority," he said. "We have a broken system. It is not equitable, with rising costs, in particular for health care."
Mr. Marchand said Leominster schools saw a 6 percent increase in health care costs and what the state allotted was a cut of 0.22 percent. He said while the city appreciates what it gets from the state, the formula needs to be changed. He said he is also concerned about the $400 million proposed for up to 12 new charter schools in the state. He said the money would be better spent on public schools, which address many of the needs charter schools are also attempting to address.
Mr. Marchand is active in the community, including as coordinator of the Johnny Appleseed Festival the past 18 years. He also worked to bring the Thayer Conservatory Orchestra back from the brink of bankruptcy and is active with youth sports.
Of the statewide ballot questions, the one Mr. Marchand feels most strongly about is efforts to legalize marijuana. He said he would vote no, calling it a gateway drug that could lead to other addiction. He also pledged to not vote to raise taxes as a state representative.
During the campaign, Ms. Higgins received almost $15,200 in donations and spent $7,192. She received 175 donations, including $1,000 from herself, $900 from Ellis Arthur, housing and employment coordinator for the state Department of Mental Health, and a $500 donation from Diane Higgins of Checkered Flag Auto Supply, two $500 donations from Maria Jobin-Leeds, political strategist from the Partnership for Democracy and Education, $500 each from the Service Employees International Union State Committee and SEIU Local 509, and $500 from the Massachusetts Nurses Association.
Mr. Marchand received $12,375 from 38 donors and spent $10,889. Donations included $1,000 each from City Councilor John Dombrowski, insurance agency owner James Javaras, restaurant owner Margot Xarras and landscape company owner James McIntosh; $500 from Leominster resident Kayla DeCarolis and two donations of $100 from Mr. Rosa, the state representative.