In early spring 2010 I was a new Green-Rainbow Party (GRP) member working in Jill Stein’s campaign for governor of Massachusetts, with no thought of running for office. I likely would have remained a Democrat if our congressman, who once was a vocal supporter of single-payer health insurance, had not stopped talking about it publicly.
However, after a few months of listening to Stein’s campaign and seeing fellow GRP member Scott Laugenour challenging an incumbent Democratic state representative in the next district, I changed my mind in late March. I would highlight the Democrats’ abandonment of their traditional positions by challenging an otherwise unopposed Democratic state representative in the single-municipality district in my hometown Pittsfield.
That November, concluding an amateurish, under-funded and mostly one-person effort, I received 45 percent of the vote.
When the victor resigned to take a court post the following summer, I was the first of six to declare my candidacy to replace him in a special election. The result on Oct. 18, 2011 was the Democrat, a former city councilwoman weakened by a contentious primary, won with 1,940 votes (33%). I received 1,748 votes (30%). The independent, another former city councilwoman, received 1,325 votes (22%) and a former independent who was newly enrolled as a Republican got 899 votes (15%).
The consensus: (a) in any one-on-one race I would have won, and (b) in any mere three-candidate race against any of the three Democrats who were in the primary and one other of the candidates, I would have won a seat in the House of Representatives.
As background for this campaign—Pittsfield is still a “GE town,” for the three General Electric businesses it had in the city making large power transformers, weaponry and developing plastics. Fifty years ago it employed about 13,000 people locally. Although the company closed down its transformer plant and sold its arms and polymers businesses, its money and political influence permeate the Chamber of Commerce, the local daily newspaper and the county’s biggest bank, just as its PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) permeate the banks of the Housatonic River as it wends through Pittsfield’s southeast neighborhoods on its way to Long Island Sound.
Unlike its controversial PCBs, GE’s clout is seldom spoken of, even though some of it is exercised through my 2010 opponent’s predecessor as state representative, a GE lobbyist and part-time Pittsfield resident.
If GE has its way, the Housatonic River PCB cleanup will be what the company and its allies in Massachusetts environmental agencies call “environmentally benign” and will cost the company only tens of millions of dollars—maybe less. In the now-unlikely event that besieged environmentalists have their way; it will cost a lot more. The federal Environmental Protection Agency’s stand for a comprehensive cleanup seems to be waning, with the close working relationship between President Obama and his “jobs czar,” GE chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt a possible factor.
Part of my defeats both years had to do with my failure to do more with this. I put out no statement on it, and in the one joint candidates’ appearance, the moderator treated it as a minor issue.
The 2010 race was dominated by the widespread sense of betrayal at the incumbent’s seeking two public-sector jobs at the same time, not commenting about it, and then refusing to debate. It was a gift to me, but one I failed to capitalize on, and obscured my efforts to be heard on issues I—and I’d hoped voters—cared about.
One of the 2011 campaign’s successes is that my advocacy of single-payer health insurance turned all three Democrats (in their primary) and all my opponents in the post-primary race into single-payer proponents, even if it was half-hearted and confused. Unfortunately, in the previous year I had failed to get it on the ballot in the district as an advisory question; in two adjoining districts voters endorsed single-payer health insurance, only to see the votes ignored in the news columns.
Of the four 2011 candidates I was the most comprehensively opposed to allowing three casinos and a slots parlor operate in Massachusetts, the most articulate (I think) for more accountability and transparency in the Legislature, and the most insistent for fairer taxes (a tricky issue given the state’s constitutional prohibition of a progressive income tax).
I hammered away at the Democrats for the city’s unemployment that was higher than the state average and for lower-than-state-average wages and percentage of high school graduates going on to college. The third part of this unholy trinity, I pointed out, was related to the fact that the city’s per-pupil spending is $1,000 lower than state average.
I may be running again, possibly by the time you read this, possibly in 2014. As the newest member of Pittsfield’s Green Commission (nothing to do with political Greens), I’ve discovered it needs my perspective. I’m 66—that’s 99 upside down —and think we Greens have a lot to learn from Occupiers and vice versa. Onward.
Mark Miller is a former reporter and newspaper editor, who joined the Green-Rainbow Party in late 2009. His campaign website’s URL is http://markmiller2012.org.