PITTSFIELD -- James Arena-DeRosa, a Democrat seeking his party’s nomination for lieutenant governor, says he’s a progressive who’s been "an advocate my whole life." Beginning next year, he said, "I want to be an advocate for the cities and towns of Massachusetts."
The Holliston resident, who visited Berkshire County recently, said he combines that background with practical fiscal experience as the regional U.S. Department of Agriculture administrator in the Obama administration, overseeing several programs and a $12 billion budget.
Arena-DeRosa, 57, faces Steve Kerrigan, Mike Lake and Jonathan Edwards in his bid for the Democratic nomination.
The candidate grew up in Walpole in a working class family, then graduated from the Catholic Xaverian Brothers High School in Westwood and then from Harvard.
His resume includes working for a decade for Oxfam America, the anti-poverty organization and as Northeast regional director for the Peace Corps for nine years. For three years until 2013, he was Northeast regional director for the USDA, overseeing nutrition programs and others for the federal department.
Arena-DeRosa said he’d have no trouble "being a partner" with any of the five Democratic candidates for governor, but he believes there is room for a lieutenant governor who is "the eyes and ears" of the administration on emerging issues, especially those spawning "outside the Route 128 beltway.
Arena-DeRosa said he hopes to keep in touch with people "working at the community level" around the state, believing that is often where the most effective solutions arise.
"Beacon Hill doesn’t always have the answers," he said.
He said he’d like to be an official who can raise issues in Boston, like the conditions that led to the closing of North Adams Regional Hospital, before problems reach the crisis stage.
However, Arena-DeRosa said he also is comfortable working with lawmakers and officials around the United States and in other nations because of his past positions.
Hoping to advocate common sense approaches to meet progressive ideals, Arena-DeRosa said he favors school breakfast for all Massachusetts students, believing good nutrition at the start of the day can have a positive effect on health and on the ability to learn. He said Massachusetts recently was ranked 48th in the nation in terms of providing student breakfasts.
He also favors raising the minimum wage, saying that more money in the pockets of low-income workers would go directly into the economy, benefitting other residents and businesses as well.
During his Berkshire County visit, Arena-DeRosa said he learned more about the potential impact of state assistance for centers that allow small agricultural businesses to grow or in providing easier transportation of produce to city markets.
And he strongly advocated funding for infrastructure projects, including extension of broadband services, as an common sense alternative to expensive incentive packages doled out to large firms to locate in the state or expand.
Infrastructure improvements also more directly benefit smaller firms, he said, which are more likely to remain Massachusetts over the long term.
He said he is not entirely opposed to casinos, but believes all towns within a region surrounding a proposed site should have a say on the project, not just the host town. And he supports voters having a chance to repeal the authorization.
The candidate said he supports single-payer health insurance for all residents, in part because soaring health care costs are squeezing the middle class -- along with the cost of quality education -- as much as stagnant low wages.
Arena-DeRosa said "fracking is not the answer to our energy needs," referring to natural gas obtained through the controversial process. He said he’s heard "a lot of concerns" expressed about a proposed new gas line through central and northern Massachusetts.
Concerning wind power, Arena-DeRosa said he believes there should be a strong measure of local control over the siting of wind facilities.
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