When the Massachusetts Legislature begins its 2023 session, Berkshire County will send a different-looking delegation to the Statehouse.
It also will have a new senator. State Sen. Adam Hinds, a Pittsfield Democrat first elected in 2016, is leaving to run for lieutenant governor, and voters will elect someone else to represent the Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden district, which is set to grow from 52 to 57 cities and towns in redistricting.
State Rep. Paul Mark, a Peru Democrat first elected in 2010, is expected to run for Hinds’ seat, avoiding a race against one of his fellow representatives.
Lawmakers typically try to avoid clashes between incumbents when redrawing legislative maps, and state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, has said that the redistricting committee, of which she is a member, asked her to draw two proposals: one in which Mark was a House member (in that case, Mark likely would have become a Franklin County representative), and one in which he was not.
What it means for Berkshire County
Most immediately, the loss of a Berkshire County seat means the county will lose one of its voices on Beacon Hill and, as a result, may lose influence in state government.
Berkshire County lawmakers saw the change coming. During redistricting a decade ago, they barely hung onto the seat, they said. While Mark’s district kept its Berkshire County name, it shifted to the point that more than two-thirds of its residents lived in Franklin County.
The proposal that the Legislature released Tuesday matches the proposal Farley-Bouvier submitted for the now-three Berkshire districts. State Reps. John Barrett III, D-North Adams, and William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox, each have said that, if reelected, they look forward to representing their new districts as redrawn in the proposal.
Even though Berkshire County kept its Senate seat, the continued expansion of the district has implications for residents’ access to government. Many of the district’s communities share common priorities, but whenever a district expands, its senator has to respond to more communities with unique needs. The Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden district will almost certainly remain the largest geographically and one of only two districts that stretch across four counties.
Western Massachusetts lawmakers say they already work as a bloc to advance priorities such as upgrading transportation, infrastructure and creating jobs in the region, but the coming years will be particularly important as lawmakers seek to avoid similar population decline and more redistricting challenges a decade down the line.
As Berkshire County’s former industrial economy has given way to an economy built around nonprofits and the service sector, lawmakers have embraced a “nature and culture” approach, seeking to bring money into the region through tourism. In the longer term, they have prioritized broadband, education and transportation improvements in an attempt to attract companies and remote workers.
With a present opportunity to make big infrastructure investments, and projects such as the Greylock Glen outdoor recreation center moving forward, the decade ahead will test that approach.
What’s next for the Senate seat
Hinds’ intention to depart the Senate means the region will lose seniority in the Senate. While seniority allows lawmakers to nab more powerful leadership roles, even first-term Democratic senators — and Berkshire County has elected only Democrats since 1996 — typically get to chair a committee, given the party’s supermajority in the 40-member Senate.
Hinds chaired the tourism, arts and cultural development committee in his first term, and he now chairs the revenue committee and the “reimagining” committee, which is tasked with helping the state adapt to challenges created or augmented by the pandemic (that’s also a key theme of Hinds’ statewide campaign).No candidate has launched a bid to succeed Hinds in the Senate since Hinds’ announcement. Colleagues, however, expect Mark to run, and Brendan Phair, an independent from Pittsfield, said in April that he planned to run for Senate.
Former state Sen. Andrea Nuciforo Jr. had said last month he would run if Hinds vacated the seat, but said on Tuesday that he no longer plans to run. He cited personal and professional obligations, as well as the expansion of the district.
Like Hinds, Mark has aligned himself with progressives, although they come from different backgrounds. Hinds worked for the United Nations in the Middle East and returned to Western Massachusetts to lead two Berkshire County nonprofits before running for Senate.
Mark got his start working at Bell Atlantic, now Verizon, and used union benefits to pay for his five educational degrees. In a campaign for Senate, he would receive support from local and statewide labor groups, as well as from his House colleagues. In the House, Mark has focused on public higher education, worker ownership and clean energy, among other priorities.
What’s next for Adam Hinds
Launching his campaign, Hinds centered themes similar to the ones that have dominated his work with the “reimagining” committee. Racial, economic and regional inequalities, he said, require “reimagining” the lieutenant governor role to “be a center of gravity for rethinking and redesigning our systems and our institutions.”
Hinds’ priorities — housing, child care, climate change, transportation and job creation — closely match those of the other sitting lawmaker to have launched a campaign for lieutenant governor. State Rep. Tami Gouveia, a second-term Democrat from Acton, entered the race in June and has a background in public health and social work.
Gouveia already has some big-name progressives backing her in state Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, and state Rep. Nika Elugardo, D-Boston.
Hinds, on the other hand, has a significant edge in fundraising with over $170,000 in his account at the end of September. He has eyed a statewide run for months, but even earlier, Hinds made payments to Boston-area political consultant Kevin Ready as early as September 2019. Hinds brought Ready on not necessarily to help build up for a statewide run, but because Hinds wanted to grow his statewide profile to have greater sway over legislation, a Hinds staffer has said.
The race is likely yet to develop fully, and Hinds will have time to leverage his Senate relationships for endorsements. State Sen. Adam Gomez, a first-term Springfield Democrat, was the first to back Hinds.
Gov. Charlie Baker has not announced his intentions for 2022, but if the popular Republican runs, Democrats would face an uphill battle. Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat, is still waiting to decide — some believe Baker is waiting to freeze Healey out — but if Healey runs for governor, more Democrats may jump into the race for lieutenant governor.
Party insiders also have linked another Western Massachusetts state senator, Eric Lesser, with a possible run for either lieutenant governor or attorney general if Healey leaves to run for governor. Lesser — a Longmeadow Democrat, former Obama White House staffer and Harvard Law School graduate first elected in 2014 — would bring nearly $600,000 in campaign funds.
In a statewide race, the reality is that the communities most familiar with Western Massachusetts lawmakers have far fewer voters than those in the eastern part of the state. Hinds, as a result, likely would have to spend much of his time campaigning away from his district.
Take, for instance, former state Sen. Ben Downing, who is running for governor. A Pittsfield native, Downing has drawn upon his Berkshire County roots while focusing on building support near Boston, where he now lives.
Jane Swift, who won a term as lieutenant governor in 1998 and became acting governor in 2001, once served in the Senate seat that Downing once held and that Hinds now holds. Swift, a Republican and a North Adams native, said she believes candidates can use the experience of representing a region where residents feel overlooked to their advantage on the campaign trail.
“The issues may be different, but the sentiment remains the same, so if you can translate to New Bedford and Haverhill or Leominster, Fitchburg, the ways in which you effectively garnered resources, attention and advocacy for non-Boston areas of the commonwealth,” Swift said, “I think that can be a very effective way to utilize your Western Mass., Berkshire County roots to build an electoral base that’s much broader.”
With the Democratic primaries set for September 2022, Hinds will have just under a year to make that case.