As state Sen. Steven Tolman resigned last month to head up the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, four democratic candidates will vie for his seat representing the Second Suffolk and Middlesex Senate District, which includes Watertown, Belmont and parts of Cambridge, Allston-Brighton, the Fenway and the Back Bay. The primary election will take place Dec. 13, while the general election is slated for Jan. 10.
Meet one candidate, Will Brownsberger:
Resides in: Belmont
Grew up in: Watertown
Current occupation: Legislator
Q. What two major issues are facing state legislators? What would you do as a state Senator to help resolve them?
A. Health care costs and federal budget cuts. As Senator, I would support an evolution towards accountable care organizations to address health care costs, and respond to federal budget cuts by seeking new revenues if necessary to ensure the continuity of state services.
Q. Did you support the proposed casino bill?
Q. Would you support a casino in or near your district?
Q. What would you do to increase state revenue?
A. In the absence of deep federal cuts, we need to raise the gas tax to address the transportation maintenance gap. In the case of deep federal cuts, everything is on the table.
Q. If necessary, what programs would you cut first and foremost?
A. State house staffing. The Legislature needs to lead by example.
Q. Did you support legislation that raises the age required before full pensions kick in?
A. Yes. A simpler, fairer pension system that offers public employees benefits comparable to the private sector is a high priority of mine.
Q. How would you seek to make improvements to public schools, both elementary/secondary and higher education?
A. I believe we need to do a better job of developing the differentiated potential that each child has. We have focused on achieving standards. Largely because we have a population with a lot of advantages, our students score well on average. But, for some children, those standards have effectively become a ceiling on progress -- we are not developing the scientists and engineers of the future. At the same time, we are failing to keep kids in school if they can't reach the standards -- drop out rates in many urban areas are unacceptably high.
Given the rising costs of pensions, health care, etc., we are not going to reach the goal of helping every child realize their potential through smaller class sizes alone. We need to open the door wider to new learning technologies that will allow us to do a better job of differentiating the learning experience. Other states are moving much faster to do this.
These comments apply especially to the K-12 level -- UMass is doing some interesting work with online line learning. But I think we can continue this kind of progress at the post-secondary level across all institutions. At both the secondary and the post-secondary level, I would also focus more heavily on vocational training. To the extent that online learning means less time in class room settings, I'd like to see students spending more time in the work place -- that's where social skills are really developed.
Q. What professional experience do you have that you feel would be helpful if elected?
A. At the start of my career, I spent eight years in financial services companies competing in a dynamic industry. What I learned there is that the business world is a tough place. Business organizations must constantly change and improve to survive. In the public sector, we are often resistant to the idea that organizations have to change. The idea that we should always aspire to preserve particular public sector jobs is wrong. Our goal should be to provide excellent services. This willingness to embrace change especially influences my thinking about education.
I am also the only candidate who has any extended experience balancing the budget of a public entity. I spent nine years on the Belmont Board of Selectman, where we had to either ask for more taxes or make things work without tax increases. That’s why I am so serious about controlling our long term costs like health care and pensions.
Finally, my experience representing indigent criminal defendants with substance abuse problems and big criminal liabilities has really given me an understanding of the problems that people on the fringe of society face. I believe that we can't afford to allow the social fabric to unravel much further. That's part of why I am so concerned about education issues.
To read more on Will Brownsberger, click here.
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