PITTSFIELD — A longtime Democrat saw the underbelly of the blue party on the national level and took a few hops to the left.
That’s Becket Select Board member Michael Lavery. He’s now in the Green-Rainbow party, and on the ballot to challenge longtime Lenox Democratic state Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli to represent the 3rd Berkshire District.
Lavery, also a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, says he knows beating a seasoned lawmaker like Pignatelli is a long shot. It’s not about winning, he said — he’s in it to experience it. He’s also drawing attention to areas where they differ — particularly transparency in Legislative voting records.
The Eagle invited both Pignatelli and Lavery to separate editorial board meetings, where they talked about the issues they’re passionate about.
Here’s what they had to say.
Michael Lavery, 51, Becket
Lavery, a systems engineer at General Dynamics Mission Systems, is stirred by climate change. If elected, he’d like to see a “Fee-bate” — fee and rebate combo — tax on carbon emitters to incentivize renewable energy production.
“I want to go after fossil fuel companies and energy companies that don’t use renewable sources like solar and wind,” said Lavery, who got four electric vehicle charging stations installed at Town Hall in Becket.
When asked if he would also tax citizens for driving gas-powered cars, he said he hasn’t completely thought it through, but that individuals would have to pay a smaller tax.
When asked about “not-in-my-backyard” hurdles facing construction of wind turbines and solar panels, Lavery said he believes citizen opposition can be overcome. He spearheaded a plastic bag ban in Becket.
He also is hopeful about electric vehicles and batteries, and acknowledges shortcomings that still need sorting out.
“The electric cars do source lithium, and other products from China, and in third-world countries where perhaps children are at labor and we can’t control that,” he said.
He said a warming climate is making emission reduction urgent.
“People are dying,” Lavery said of violent weather events.
Some other policy interests: decriminalizing psilocybin, ending for-profit prisons and shifting taxes from people to corporations. He also would vote to publish all Legislative committee “yes” votes online and make testimony available to the public — something Pignatelli has voted against. Lavery signed the “Transparency Pledge” with Act on Mass.
State Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox, 63
Pignatelli continues to talk about what he believes will help overcome problems that continue to make life difficult for Berkshire residents.
Things like uninterrupted cellular service and weak broadband in some towns. Remote work is a new reality that can’t be ignored, Pignatelli says.
His refrain continues: Towns should be sharing more services in management, schools, public works and public safety to save money.
“The demographics of the Berkshires are, we’re smaller, we’re older and we’re poorer — that’s just a fact of life,” he said, noting that 85 percent of medical visits are reimbursed by Medicaid/MassHealth.
This is also part of the reason for a countywide dentist shortage, he said. Dentists are retiring and going out of business, and young dentists coming of of dental school with high student debt aren’t going to move to a place where they can’t make enough to pay it back.
“Medicare, medical care, health care and dental care — they’re underfunded and what incentive do I have as a dentist to help out your child under MassHealth when I get 40 cents on the dollar,” he said, noting he supports Massachusetts Question 2 that would force most dental premium money to go to patient care.
Towns should pool money for “localized debt forgiveness” to attract workers, he said. The “boatload” of pot money and hotel taxes could be used to do this. This will draw in young workers who will likely stay to raise families.
Town officials countywide need to step up their leadership on a vision for the future, he said. They need to spend money smarter by sharing snowplowing, for example.
“You’re out plowing snow — don’t stop at the Stockbridge line because you’re in Lenox and do a U-turn and go back,” he said.
Other policy thoughts: Narcan — he co-sponsored a bill requiring all first responders carry the drug that reverses overdoses. And while he supports the Fair-Share Amendment ballot question, he worries that the revenue from a tax hike for millionaires won’t go where it’s supposed to — education and infrastructure. Other recent bills include establishing a cultural diversity curriculum in the schools and the creation of a homeless persons bill of rights.