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Quartet eyes Pittsfield rep seat

Contrasts regarding casinos, government-run health insurance and charter schools highlighted Monday’s state representative debate.
Four candidates are seeking the Third Berkshire District seat in a special election on October 18. Chris Speranzo quit the job this summer, six months into the term.
This week’s event at Berkshire Community College marked the first gathering of the four candidates. Pittsfield Community Television telecast the debate, part of a collaboration with The Pittsfield Gazette.
The ballot will feature Democrat Tricia Farley-Bouvier, Republican Mark Jester, Green nominee Mark Miller and independent Pam Malumphy.
“Choose the candidate who has the best experience,” said Farley-Bouvier, who has worked as an educator, city councilor and mayoral secretary.
“I want to be voice of Pittsfield in Boston,” said Jester, who qualified for the ballot through a September write-in campaign.
“Politics as usual isn’t working for Pittsfield,” said Miller, who lost to Speranzo eleven months ago.
“I also bring a unique perspective with my involvement in the community,” said Malumphy, a former city councilor who volunteers with the Gladys Brigham Center, Berkshire United Way, the STEM pipeline and other organizations.
Soaring costs
Moderator Brandon Walker asked the candidates how to tame the state’s spiraling health costs.
Malumphy said that the state’s individual insurance mandate marked an attempt to “do something really wonderful” but also is an example where “we didn’t put the mechanics in place.” She would “love to see us move toward single-payer health care.”
Miller said he’s a major single-payer advocate. Not having a government-controlled system represents a “monstrous injustice.” The existing mandate to purchase insurance is unaffordable and “a huge gift to the private health insurance industry and the pharmaceutical companies.”
Jester said the state has compromised the insurance industry with regulations and mandates. “Bring once again into the state competitive health care,” he urged. “Drive the cost of insurance down.”
Farley-Bouvier said she also would like “to work toward single payer.” She has reservations, however, because government-run insurance tends to underpay providers. “How are we going to sustain Berkshire Medical Center?” she asked.
Small businesses
Walker noted that the candidates agree job creation is a top issue. He asked them how specifically they can help small businesses.
Jester said the region has a long history of growing small businesses. “What we really need to do now is concentrate on keeping the small businesses we have today,” he stated. The pathway toward that goal, he suggested, involves controlling governmental regulations and fees.
Malumphy believes Pittsfield should “use a portion of GE economic development funds” paired with state incentives to help existing businesses.
Farley-Bouvier touted a plan to increase fiber-based internet access. A “fiber to premise” system will boost business options. “The capacity we have right now is a garden hose,” she noted.
Miller said Pittsfield must face that “we were a GE town but GE is gone.” He would tap into the expertise of those with specific ideas and knowledge, such as Farley-Bouvier’s interest in internet fiber. “I would interview everybody in sight,” he said of his economic development efforts.
Turbine placement
A wind power-siting law on the state docket earned mix reviews.
“Siting has been so controversial,” said Farley-Bouvier. She likes the “streamlining” that has been proposed, but worries that the process must ensure environmental protections.
Jester is “not in favor of the wind siting act” because it removes local input.
He also noted that wind turbines can be unsightly in scenic areas.
Miller said there’s “really a desperate need for more energy” but he likes “local control whenever possible.”
Malumphy also doesn’t “like taking away local control.” On the other hand, the process must be realistic. In general business terms, she said, “there are regulations that are so burdensome that come from the state.”
Miller is the lone firm opponent to the state’s plans for licensing three casinos.
“It’s a predatory industry,” he said. Casinos target those with addictions. A casino takes local money “and ships it right out.”
Farley-Bouvier has questions about the plan but isn’t necessarily opposed. She wonders about the true cost of casinos, including social impacts. Protecting local cultural venues is a major concern.
Jester is “pretty sick and tired about hearing about casinos.” He favors licensing a single casino.
Malumphy also would “have advocated for one casino,” citing Connecticut as an example of too many casinos. Like Farley-Bouvier she dislikes the way the bill came about “behind closed doors.”
Charter schools
The candidates voiced qualified support for charter schools but don’t want one of the independent publicly funded schools in Pittsfield.
A charter school proved “very beneficial” for Jester’s niece, but he feels funding and accountability are problematic. “We need to keep a closer eye on them.”
Farley-Bouvier would “fight against’ a Pittsfield charter school. She noted, however, that “not every school is right for every kid.” The funding formula for charters is “very unfair” and they don’t necessarily enroll representative populations.
Malumphy finds charter schools viable “as an alternative in urban areas” but not the rural Berkshires.
Enrolling elsewhere
She then caused mild sparks by criticizing Farley-Bouvier’s leadership of the school building needs commission and noted her opponent has “sent two of her three children to a different school district in Lenox,” which sends state money out of the city.
Farley-Bouvier said the decision to opt for the choice program is “a family decision based on the unique educational needs of our children.”
Polls will be open on October 18 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.  – Copyright 2011 The Pittsfield Gazette, Inc.