BECKET — Becket Select Board member Michael Lavery is running for state representative, and he is taking on the county’s longest-tenured state lawmaker.
Lavery, who won election to the board in 2017, is running as a Green-Rainbow Party candidate against state Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox, for the newly redistricted 3rd Berkshire seat in the Massachusetts House.
On his campaign website, Lavery, 51, lists energy and oil, crime and policing, economy and jobs, and tax reform as four priority issues. In an interview, he said that his top legislative goals include getting Massachusetts to 95 percent renewable energy by 2050, ending long criminal sentences for drug use and shifting the tax burden from the general public to top earners and corporations.
“With the COVID situation improving, I kind of saw a window of opportunity of meeting people in person and getting my name out there and getting my brand of politics out there, which might be a different politics than they are used to with the current occupant of the Berkshires District 4 seat,” Lavery said. “I wanted to run because I always think that more candidates is better, and I do feel it’s healthy for democracy to have choices.”
Pignatelli, 62, was a Lenox Select Board member when voters elected him to the State House in 2002, and he confirmed on Tuesday that he plans to pursue reelection. While Pignatelli represents the 4th Berkshire District, redistricting changes — Berkshire County will have its four representatives reduced to three — will bring both Becket and Lenox into the new 3rd Berkshire District. The new district includes the 6,330 residents of Dalton, which Pignatelli has not represented, and excludes the Hampden County towns of Blandford, Russell and Tolland that Pignatelli currently represents.
The two candidates spoke over the phone after Lavery announced his campaign in a March 16 Facebook post.
“It’s always been a good working relationship, and he’s done what he could whenever [the Select Board] asked for it,” Lavery said.
“He was kind enough to call me, we had a nice conversation, and I said I look forward to a nice, productive dialogue once I find more about his positions,” Pignatelli said. “Michael’s a very nice man. I look forward to the dialogue, and I put my faith in the voters to weigh the differences.”
Lavery, who moved to Becket around 2010, works as operations manager for professional services company Price-Waterhouse Coopers in Albany, he said.
A member of the Berkshires chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, Lavery said that he was registered as a Democrat until recent frustrations led him to leave the party. He worked on the campaign that won state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, his seat in 2016.
Lavery distanced himself from the party following efforts by some Democratic National Committee members to weaken U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 and 2020 campaigns for president and the state Democratic Party’s actions in the 2020 Democratic primary between U.S. Rep. Richard Neal and then-Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse. After the state party voted in 2020 to reelect Chairman Gus Bickford despite a party-ordered investigator’s finding that he broke a party bylaw in the latter race, Lavery came to see the Green-Rainbow Party as his political home.
“Like many people, I thought if I wasn’t a Democrat or a Republican that I couldn’t get much done, but I just want to vote my values,” Lavery said. “Even if it means a third-party nomination, I do want to be a part of the Green-Rainbow Party going forward, especially with climate change being the existential threat that it is.”
Lavery also diverges from Democrats in his support for transparency-related rules changes, such as making all committee votes public and requiring a minimum of 48 hours between a bill’s release and a vote. When the House voted to reject proposals backed by advocacy groups last year, all Berkshire representatives opposed the changes.
Lavery plans to lean on the experience and knowledge he has gained as a Select Board member. He worked to ban plastic shopping bags in town, to bring four electric vehicle charging stations to town hall and to establish Esau’s Heel Trail for public use, he said. Lavery said that residents should expect him to vote somewhat similarly in the House to state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru.
Pignatelli, too, plans to campaign on his experience, both with legislation and constituent services, such as helping residents find information or access things such as unemployment insurance. He also sees the strong relationships that he has with his colleagues as an advantage.
“What we’ve been focusing on is constituent service work, which has really been my staple throughout my career,” he said. “I tell my staff all the time that if we do our jobs every day, the next election will take care of itself.”
Both candidates see infrastructure, including Chapter 90 road funding, as a key issue for the district.
Lavery said that as he further rolls out his campaign, he plans to reach out first to Green-Rainbow voters and later to Democratic committees and other organizations.
“Being a Green-Rainbow candidate, I got a list of party members in the towns of the district, and I’ll first reach out to them and set up a meet and greet and signature party,” Lavery said. “Then, I do want to call Democratic town committees and see if they wouldn’t mind having a session with Smitty and I even though I’m not running as a Democrat, hosting an open discussion and debate between us.”