photo (3)

^ seeking an open State Senate seat : Mike Valanzola and friends

—- —- —-

Town greens, farms, senior citizens, and woods : that’s what i saw a lot of yesterday as I traversed much of the Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire, and Middlesex State Senate District, where a race is afoot to succeed long time incumbent Stephen Brewer, who is retiring.

I also saw posters for fish & game club cookouts, old-style main streets in many towns, homee ancient and brand new, and lots of uninhabited stretches through which slender, 1950s roads bumped and twisted, almost without markings. This is GPS country.

It’s also some of Massachusetts’s most forgotten territory, filled with towns that got cut off from cross-state traffic when Quabbin reservoir — forming the District’s eastern edge — was filled in the 1930s. Long useless factories loom like sad ghosts along the main streets of Ware, Spencer, Winchendon, Barre, Warren and Charlton. Even in Athol, where the Starrett Company soldiers on, there is little evidence of a manufacturing future, much less expansion.

Mill towns closer to Boston — Clinton, Hudson, Stoughton, Peabody — have already passed through their eras of decline, forgottenness, and re-invention. Technology now occupies their industrial paces. In the “WHHM: there is some technology — I saw a biotech firm called “rEVO” on Route 31 in Spencer — but for most WHHM workers, you either commute the 50 to 70 moles to Boston or you work at low paying jobs in the District.

There aren’t a whole lot of Starbucks coffee shops in the WHHM. Exception : Sturbridge, where big-deal tourism keeps things busy much of the year, wages aren’t uniformly minimum, and small, tourist-serving businesses can prosper.

Upon this nature-beautiful but mostly hardscrabble District, there are three (3) candidates running to become the next State Senator :

1 Anne Gobi w Stepehn Brewer

1. ^ State Representative Anne Gobi, of Spencer (D) (with Stephen Brewer)

photo (1)

2. ^ Town of Wales selectman Mike Valanzola (R) (with Susannah Whipps Lee, R candidate for state representative, 2nd Franklin District) and

1 James Ehrhard 2

3. ^ James Ehrhard (R), a former selectman candidate in Sturbridge.

Yesterday I made my first journo-ing trip into the District, driving through Charlton, Sturbridge, Holland, Wales, Brimfield, and Spencer and stopping at two events.I also surfed the candidates’ FB and twitter accounts and read Mike Valanzola’s literature.

So what are my first impressions ?

1. Both Mike Valanzola and James Ehrhard make a point — Valanzola soft spoken, Ehrhard in full barn burn cry –of saying something like “refuse to reward illegals with in- state tuition or divers’ licenses.” To which i respond, “In what way does denying them drivers licenses do anything whatsoever to help the people of the WHHM improve their job prospects ?” Indeed, why is the issue relevant at all ?

One can’t help but note that, as Steve Grossman told a Boston audience two nights ago, “there would no farm industry in Mass but for undocumented workers.” The WHHM is a farm district par excellence.It is filled with undocumented workers whose difficulty getting from farm to farm, for work, without drivers licenses, in this NH border to CT border District I can only imagine.

Lest you incline to lump Valanzola and Ehrhard together, don’t. the two men, albeit voicing somewhat similar agendas, represent bitterly opposed portions of Massachusetts’s GOP. Ehrhard has the endorsement of the so-called Massachusetts Republican Assembly, an organization as right wing as any talk show host you can think of — and which endorsed Mark Fisher for governor. Valanzola has the backing of the Governor GOP — Charlie Baker’s team — and of those grass roots activists who care more about winning elections than flinging inflammatory demonizations. There’s no love lost between two factions so completely at odds, and the Valanzola – Ehrhard primary on September 9th is likely to be a contact sport event.

2. Ehrhard and Valanzola are thus campaigning hard. Both have lawn signs aplenty, and Valanzola drew a large crowd to his BBQ yesterday. Of Anne Gobi’s campaign I saw nothing. Still, from Gobi’s twitter account I learned plenty. Her issue seems to be conservation and nature — not a bad issue in a farm and woods district — and she spends a lot of time with (1) seniors — significant in a District with many older people and (2) town activists — also significant in a District with very little option for urban entertainments.

Gobi also has an inflammatory issue — should Kinder Morgan’s Northern Pass gas pipeline be built or not ? — and it’s an issue which, unlike drivers’ licenses for undocumented people, actually matters to her District (the pipeline will pass through all the towns on the WHHM’s northern border). Gobi is opposed to building the pipeline, presumably on conservationist grounds. . From her two rivals I have seen nothing on this issue: it’s probably a wise decision on their part.

Gobi’s conservation position and general practicality would seem to be by far the best approach — and she seems much more widely visible in the WHHM than her rivals; except that she is a Democrat; and in the WHHM the word “Democrat” means “Beacon Hill,” and “Beacon Hill,”to the farmers and seniors of the WHHM,usually means turnpike tolls, high taxes for city stuff, Boston especially, and not much for the WHHM, and — as we now know — corruption. The WHHM includes many of MA’s most GOP-voting towns and not many — if any — that vote Democrat. So the question is : will Valanzola’s soft spoken accusations prevail, or Ehrhard’s all out, talk show condemnations? Because one of these men seems more likely than Gobi to be the next WHHM State Senator.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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