Voters will choose between Springfield City Councilor Orlando Ramos who won the Democratic Primary and Robert Underwood, a Libertarian candidate.
Reminder Publishing asked both candidates the same series of questions. Ramos had not return ed his answers by press time.
Please tell voters briefly about your background and what qualifies you for this position.
Robert Underwood: My background is that of the normal working class kid who was the first in his family to go to college. I do not theorize about hard work. I learned it under a tobacco tent is the summer heat. But I also saw it as an opportunity to practice speaking Spanish, which I was studying in high school Today Spanish has replaced French, which some of my family speaks, as the second language of the district.
Later I worked in a few factories. I also worked for a while at Monson State Hospital. So I belonged to the United Auto Workers and the Federation of State Country and Municipal Employees. I became disillusioned with their politics. The supported politicians who continued the war in Indochina, which got many working people killed or injured. And then they supported politicians who allowed industry to move from the USA and undercut working people’s standard of living. In many ways I am more for labor than the so-called leaders of organized labor.
My educational background is science, chemistry, and math. In the 1960’s the future looked bright for science majors. Then President Kennedy was killed and the main focus of the country, besides civil rights, was the Indochina war. The Nixon administration slashed spending on scientific research. Many of us were graduating without a job. I later learned computer programming, and switched occupations. I see many people graduating without a job now. The Indochina war would not end until several years after I graduated from college, it started with I was in fifth grade.
I am not a theorist, I want real world solutions. I have never held public office. I am what is needed, a fresh look. At 70 years old I am not concerned with political advancement so I can well afford to follow my conscience.
What would be your most immediate priority if elected to the General Court?
Underwood: My first priority is to open up the Massachusetts economy and get everyone back to work. I know what it is like to live in an economic depression, and I am more interested in ending it than I am in being popular or universally liked. I would seek to abolish the laws that enabled the governor to unilaterally decide which businesses would be shut down. I propose that the governor, along with the leadership of the legislature could declare an emergency for 24 hours, beyond that legislative action would be necessary, and it would have a time limitation.
Meaningful police reform is an important item. Fortunately the cities of Massachusetts do not yet look like Seattle or Minneapolis. But we should not be complacent. In most of these incidents there were no saints. While the federal probe of the Springfield Police is interesting, it is nothing that a person who follows the news has not known for years. State laws need to change. Collective bargaining agreements with their arbitration clauses were made for drill press operators who cannot kill or arrest people, or decide to not arrest criminals. They are out of place for police. Legislative action is necessary because mayors and city councils keep approving these “sweat heart” contracts with police unions, even city councilors who clamor publically for “police reform.”
This district includes Springfield and parts of Chicopee. Do you see different or similar facing both communities?
Underwood: While Chicopee and Springfield may have differences the important concerns are the same such as the economy, and the pandemic.
Massachusetts was suffering economically since the days of President Clinton. Those vacant lots and empty factories around here are not because people stopped using their products. The production was moved to cheap labor countries. Then came the pandemic. But the pandemic did not close everything, the state government did.
The state response to the pandemic is going to affect everything. The public is being kept in a state of panic as the governor harangues them with one panic message after another. And then local politicians add to the panic message. They want to shut something down too. The stores have not yet recovered from the panic buying that Massachusetts politicians triggered. My above mentioned proposal is to clip the wings of the governor so that he cannot just close things.
Massachusetts as a whole is suffering both health and economic concerns from the pandemic. What would you propose the Commonwealth do that it has not done so far?
Underwood: The governor was very quick to close everything, and the Democrats allowed him to do it. There is a one size fits all mentality. He reopened things begrudgingly after grass roots political pressure was applied. He mandated no more than 10 people in a church. He did not distinguish between a small store front church and a cathedral. He is in a rush to close things. Incumbent politicians are followers of the mass panic. I am not. I would be cautious and close only those things which would seem to contribute to the spread of the corona virus.
Since more people have lost their jobs and businesses have been ordered closed, tax revenues are bound to diminish. While the people with signs ‘defund to police” are being demonized, unless things get open soon and revenue is restored something is going to be de-funded. One does not have to be much of an economist to see that everyone cannot be on some kind of assistance and have the system work.
Now the math in me shows up. We need simple statistics as to how many people die each day in Massachusetts. Some statisticians are saying that the numbers have been stable. I would pressure the Health Department to publish this data. While we all have our personal stories of loss, but we need to take a look at the big picture.
Not everyone who gets infected gets sick. We need to address those who do get sick, and focus our resources on them. We need to get everyone else back to work. They make the goods and services that the sick people use and need. We do know that nursing homes are high risk places.
I find the medical people getting sick troubling. We need to do a lot more research into the pandemic and how it is transmitted. I do not see how we are going to get that by closing schools and libraries. We need to get them running again. We may need to have fewer people per square foot in the classrooms. Even hospitals seem to be crowded.
We are not opening the schools fast enough. Students going to on-line schools and other substitutes for real schools will in the coming years be told that they do not qualify for jobs. Those jobs will go to graduates of private schools, or people from other countries as employers say ,”we cannot find qualified Americans.” If needed I would file legislation the remedy the school closings. We hired people to staff the schools, not to decide to close them.
If a place of business is doing things to make their business safe, I would get the state off their back and leave them alone. For instance, a theater in South Hadley, on his own, reduced his capacity. He never had the chance to implement it because the governor decided that theaters were “non essential” and closed him down. His customers thought his business was essential.