Democratic gubernatorial candidates visit Berkshires
PITTSFIELD -- Attorney General Martha Coakley vows to avoid the pitfalls of her failed U.S. Senate bid four years ago by listening to the voters and not assuming victory in the governor's race this fall.
Don Berwick, a former healthcare administrator under President Barack Obama, wants to overhaul the state's healthcare system, if elected the next Massachusetts chief executive.
The two of the five Democratic gubernatorial candidates were in the Berkshires on Sunday meeting with voters, discussing their campaign strategy and goals as they seek the Democratic nomination in the Sept. 9 state primary.
Coakley and Berwick are vying to square off with the Republican nominee for governor in the Nov. 4 general election, the winner to succeed Gov. Deval L. Patrick who isn't seeking a third, four-year term.
Speaking to supporters and local reporters during campaign stops in Pittsfield and North Adams, Coakley said she has learned from her upset loss to Republican Scott Brown in the 2010 special election to fill the vacancy created by the death of U.S Sen. Edward "Ted" Kennedy.
"I am taking nothing for granted as yesterday's [voter polls] are old news," she said. "I found out you learn more things when you lose than when you win."
At The Marketplace Cafe in downtown Pittsfield, Coakley spent nearly an hour speaking with a variety of potential voters from high school students to retirees.
She intently listened to 18-year-old Jacob Edelman of Monterey, bound for Brandies University in the fall, explain how his sister who recently graduated from college, wants affordable housing in order to return home. Coakley realizes housing, jobs and the lack of countywide high-speed Internet access are among the reasons the population is declining faster than the rest of Massachusetts.
"We need to be teaching computer science in our high schools," she told Edelman. "We would like you to come back [to the Berkshires] in four years because you will have smart ideas."
Coakley also supports tailoring an economic strategy that makes sense for each region of the commonwealth.
"What works in Northampton or the Merrimack Valley may not in Berkshire County," she noted. "We want to build an economy that's sustainable."
Long-time Coakley supporter, Berkshire District Attorney David Capeless, says the state's top prosecutor is being herself by connecting with the voters, rather than following the poor political advice she received in the senate contest.
"I think she's an independent voice, a public servant whom is conscientious and won't be political," Capeless said. "She will do the right thing and that scares other politicians."
Berwick held a brief question-and-answer session with about 60 supporters and interested parties at the law offices of Pittsfield attorney Sherwood Guernsey.
Berwick is the former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid under president Barack Obama. Prior to that, he served as president and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, a nonprofit organization for helping improve healthcare throughout the world.
Berwick's principal platform includes a reform of the state's healthcare system, one he called of the most effective -- but expensive -- in the country.
"We've got to care about healthcare," he said. "It's 42 percent of the state's budget. A few years ago, it was 19 percent.
"I have nothing against doctors or nurses," he said. "They're heroes. But our system is one that encourages volume. But we built it, we can get out of it."
His suggestions included more teamwork and co-operation among healthcare agencies and, more importantly, cutting out rising administrative costs.
Healthcare was not Berwick's only talking point. He believed that the state should continue to expand its reliance on solar energy and wind energy.
He also suggested that "only about half" the individuals in prison should be there. Many have drug and mental health issues that could be better treated elsewhere and for less money.
If elected, he said, he would appoint a "climate change czar" to address the social and economic impacts of climate change. And, he said, he would make it a point as governor to visit the Berkshires.
"Don't tell anyone," he said. "But this is my favorite place in Massachusetts."
To reach Derek Gentile:
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