NORTH ADAMS — A senior at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts is challenging state Rep. John Barrett III in a Democratic primary.
Paula Kingsbury-Evans, 22, of North Adams, told The Eagle on Thursday that she is running because she believes “the Berkshires need a fresh, new voice in the Statehouse.”
Barrett, a North Adams Democrat who was the city’s mayor from 1984 to 2009, has served in the Massachusetts House since 2017, when he won an election after the death of former state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi.
Kingsbury-Evans describes herself as “passionate, progressive and persevering.”
“One of the biggest things that I want to accomplish as I’m running for state rep is being there for the community and being there for everything they have to say,” Kingsbury-Evans said. “That’s how I want them to view me, as a listener and a servant to them who’s going back to the Statehouse and making sure that their voices and concerns about their home and their community are being acted upon.”
Kingsbury-Evans grew up in California and moved to New Hampshire at 12, where she lived until attending MCLA. She is an arts management major and expects to graduate in May.
Working through MCLA’s volunteer center to facilitate an after-school theater program and the “winter blitz” home weatherization program, she said, has allowed her to engage with the Northern Berkshire community, which she now considers home.
She spoke positively of Barrett, although she said that she feels her age makes her better suited for the job than Barrett, 74.
“He’s accomplished great things, and he’s been a force of change in the Berkshires, and he’s helped get the really important institutions created and implemented that were the beginning of our tourism industry,” she said. “But, he’s also getting older, and he probably does not have as much energy as a 22-year-old. That’s kind of where the biggest distinction is for me. I’m a hard worker. I am dedicated. When I find a project, I am there until the end of it. I’m willing to pull all-nighters if that’s what the community needs me to do.”
Asked about Kingsbury-Evans’ challenge, Barrett confirmed that he plans to run for reelection and said that he has enough “fire in the belly” to serve another term. He has not spoken with Kingsbury-Evans, he said.
“Everybody has a right to run for office, and I’m going to run on the record of my ... basically nearly five years in office,” Barrett said. “The way that I pursue public life is that no one is entitled to anything, and I will work hard, as I always have, on behalf of the people that I represent.”
Barrett also sees his experience and vice chairmanship of the federal stimulus and census oversight committee as valuable in the context of redistricting changes that are expanding his district and shrinking Berkshire County’s four state representatives to three.
Kingsbury-Evans said that her policy priorities include climate action, government transparency and health care reform. She said she supports legislation to establish single-payer health care in Massachusetts, a bill that Barrett has supported as well. Other goals are strengthening the tourism industry, improving public transportation and repairing roads and infrastructure, Kingsbury-Evans said.
She said that voters can expect her to vote differently from Barrett at times.
“I would definitely be voting more toward accepting the bills that change the level of transparency in the government and allowing same-day voter registration and opening up more ways for community members to be knowledgeable and involved in their politics,” she said.
Barrett said that he is willing to engage in policy conversations when he learns more about Kingsbury-Evans’ stances. He said that he supports same-day voter registration and that concerns over added costs for municipalities led him to vote for Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin to analyze and report on the policy before it can be implemented.
“When she comes out with her platform, I’ll be glad to answer any of the questions that she has,” he said.
Kingsbury-Evans worked on the 2021 mayoral campaign of fellow MCLA student Joshua Vallieres, who dropped out to run for School Committee, where he now serves. During her sophomore year, Kingsbury-Evans served as a senator-at-large for MCLA’s student government association, she said.
Her campaign team includes three other committed members, Kingsbury-Evans said, although she hopes to grow the group.
As Kingsbury-Evans ramps up her campaign in the coming weeks, she plans to speak with town administrators, members of select boards and city councils, local business leaders and leaders of community groups such as the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition.
“I’m also really interested in talking with the two colleges’ political science departments and community outreach and trying to get more students and young people involved in politics,” Kingsbury-Evans said.