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Following the Money—Across State Lines; Here’s the Beef—and the Pork, Lamb and Poultry, All Sustainable; Rental Permitting Gets Underway in Amherst; and more

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Following the Money—Across State Lines

With Election Day not quite 10 months away, gubernatorial candidates’ fundraising is kicking into high gear. So who’s raising the most money—and, just as important, where is that money coming from?

A new report from the MassINC Polling Group breaks it down. First, the non-surprises: Steve Grossman, a long-time Democratic fundraiser and activist, leads the pack, pulling in just over $1 million by the end of 2013. Close on his heels is Republican Charlie Baker with $960,000.

Then the surprises: Democrat Don Berwick, former administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, whose anti-casino position and openness to the idea of a single-payer healthcare policy seems to be making him the darling of progressive voters, has raised the third-highest amount: $662,000. That puts him ahead of Attorney General (and, along with Grossman, presumed Democratic frontrunner) Martha Coakley, who raised $430,000. (It’s important to note, however, that Berwick’s total includes a $100,000 personal loan he made to his campaign.)

Also worth noting: both Berwick and fellow Democrat Juliette Kayyem, a former Boston Globe columnist who’s held positions in the federal and Massachusetts Homeland Security departments, have raised the majority of their money, so far, from out-of-state donors: 53 percent in Berwick’s case and 60 percent in Kayyem’s. The other candidates have raised the bulk of their money from within Massachusetts, with Baker (92 percent) collecting the most from in state.

“[T]he fundraising mirrors the story of the race so far: Grossman and Coakley are vying for the hearts and minds of core Democratic activists in Massachusetts, while Berwick and Kayyem hope to convert their national reputations on health care policy and national security, respectively, into followings in the Commonwealth,” MassINC says. “Charlie Baker, in the meantime, benefits from being the only Republican in the race, and is raking in large sums from Massachusetts voters. Given that he only entered the race and started collecting donations in September, his annual total is particularly noteworthy.”

The full report can be found at http://www.massincpolling.com/?p=1102.•

 

Here’s the Beef—and the Pork, Lamb and Poultry, All Sustainable

A new butcher shop selling locally sourced, sustainably raised meat opens in Northampton this week—a symbol of the how ethically-minded consumers continue to influence the food market here in the Pioneer Valley.

Sutter Meats, located at 65 King Street, is “dedicated to providing residents of our community with an opportunity to savor the bounty of humanely-raised meat from neighboring farms,” according to its website. Why the Western Mass. community? Owner Susan Ragasa told the Advocate, “[The Valley] really appealed to us personally. It’s a nice place to live—we were looking to get out of the city, but not so far that we were in the middle of nowhere.”

Ragasa owns the shop with Terry, her husband, who formerly worked as a butcher in Brooklyn and Chelsea. “We were looking for an educated consumer, which everyone around here is,” she explained, “and there was the farm structure, without a [major] outlet for them to get their meat out.”

Establishing a regional meat industry is more difficult than promoting local growing and sales of fruit and vegetables because, among other things, a meat industry requires slaughtering facilities that meet federal standards (the Valley has a slaughterhouse, Adams Farm in Athol). Margaret Christie, Special Programs Director at Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture—better known as CISA—considers the new shop another example of progress in the local meat industry.

“I think it says great things about people’s enthusiasm for great local food,” she said. “It’s an idea that’s really arrived, I would say... It is really wonderful for us to have more and more methods for people to connect to local meat, and for farmers to get their meat to market.”

Besides appealing to customers on the cutting edge of the locavore movement, as a stand-alone butcher shop, Sutter Meats will be a throwback to an earlier age of American food shopping. Between 1997 and 2007, according to the U.S. Economic Census, the number of traditional butcher shops in the United States fell about 18 percent.

In the future, in addition to fresh cuts of meat, sausages, charcuterie, deli meats, smoked meats, stocks and rendered fats, the store will be selling its own brand of healthy raw dog food. Ragasa said that idea stems from her experience over the summer with an acquaintance’s diabetic dog, who seemed to be thriving on similar products.•

 

Valley Legislators Offer Drug Discount Bill

A bill that would give Massachusetts residents discounts on prescription drugs is working its way through the state Legislature. The bill, H2082, was filed by two Western Mass. legislators, Rep. John Scibak of South Hadley and Sen. Stan Rosenberg of Amherst. If it passes, Scibak and Rosenberg hope for dramatic reductions in the costs consumers pay for medicines. It’s now before the Joint Committee on Public Health.

In other states—notably in Maine, where the controversy led to a Supreme Court case—the pharmaceutical industry has mounted court challenges against state programs aimed at reducing the costs of medications. But Scibak told the Advocate that he and Rosenberg are hopeful that there will not be significant opposition here because the Massachusetts bill, if passed, would create a program like the Northwest Prescription Drug Consortium, which now operates in Washington and Oregon.

“There’s no reason why [the drug industry] should oppose this,” Scibak said. “There are similar programs that already exist. There are about 202,000 people in the state of Washington who use this program. The savings are about 60 percent on generics, 20 percent on brand-name drugs. Anybody can be part of that program. There are no income or age restrictions. We used that as a model.”

The Northwest Consortium offers everyone prescription drug prices comparable to the discounted prices offered through large insurers. Like that program, Scibak said, the Massachusetts program would give each consumer, free of charge, a card to use at his or her pharmacy, and the state would reimburse the pharmacy.

Scibak pointed out that prescription discount programs already exist in the state—through insurance programs, Medicaid rebate programs and the state Office of Pharmacy Services. The Office of Pharmacy Services, he pointed out, has “basically consolidated a program for nearly all the state agencies. This state office purchases the pharmaceuticals. They deliver them. It’s been extremely successful in terms of savings.” The bill, if passed, would only replace an underpublicized patchwork of discount programs with “greater transparency,” says Scibak, who was vice president for strategic planning and development for the Sisters of Providence Health System before he became a legislator. He’s now a member of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure.

 

Rental Permitting Gets Underway in Amherst

January 1 marked a new era in Amherst as landlords began applying for permits to operate rental units. The presence of thousands of students creates a crowded and lucrative rental housing market here, and the town has never before required such registration. That means that it’s never even been certain of the existence and locations of all the rental units in town—a situation that has left the market wide open for investor and absentee landlords to rake in profits with a minimum of accountability.

So far, permits have been requested for more than 520 properties, and “all staff is working aggressively to get those applications reviewed and the permits issued,” Amherst building commissioner Rob Morra told the Advocate. That’s about 30 percent of the properties the town ultimately expects to issue permits for, Morra said, and the program will pay its own way if applications plus the $100 permitting fee are received for the 1,570 rental properties the town has identified from assessors’ records. Eventually, Morra says, the town anticipates that the number will be at least slightly larger because “we’ll discover properties we don’t know about.”

The permit applications, Morra explained, “provide us with a variety of information that we didn’t have in the past: contact information for persons overseeing the properties, access to parking plans where the owner is telling us how they are managing the parking on the property—all that is available to my staff, and to the public.”

Also accessible to the public will be notices of complaints about the properties. Complaints, complete with photo evidence, can be filed anonymously on the town’s website, and then the filer, the landlord, neighbors and other interested parties can track the complaint and the actions the town takes in response to it. “Now every day our activities are updated, so when you search for a complaint that’s been filed, you’ll be able to pull up whether there’s been any enforcement,” Morra explained.

The fact that complaints will be public information may serve as an incentive to landlords to keep properties up to standards. To apply for a permit or file a complaint, go to http://www.amherstma.gov/rp.• —SK

 

The Waiting Game

Massachusetts politicians have a shabby track record when it comes to challenging incumbents; few, it seems, have the stomach for brawling it out at the ballot box with a foe who’s already enjoyed some time in the office. In the 2012 election cycle, only about one-third of seats in the state Legislature were contested, and that was actually an improvement from previous years. In many of those cases, the opposition amounted to little more than a token gesture, with the challengers, Republicans or third-party candidates, taking on entrenched Democrats in typically Blue districts.

Instead, ambitious (but apparently not overly ambitious) candidates circle incumbents like vultures, waiting for the office holder to move on: to higher office, the private sector or that big voting booth in the sky. This year, Massachusetts voters will be blessed with a number of contested races, starting with the governor’s office, which Deval Patrick will vacate after eight years on the job. A slew of Democrats, plus a handful of Republicans and Independents of varying viability, are running for the seat. Candidates include Attorney General Martha Coakley, whose soon-to-be-open seat has, in turn, attracted a cluster of Democratic candidates: AG staffer Maura Healey, state Rep. Harold Naughton and former state Sen. Warren Tolman. (At deadline, no Republicans had entered the AG’s race.)

In the Valley, voters in the 4th Hampden District will select a successor to state rep Don Humason in an April 1 special election. Humason left that seat in November, when he was elected to the 2nd Hampden-Hampshire Senate seat that was—you guessed it—left vacant when Michael Knapik resigned. To date, Democrat John Velis and Westfield City Councilor Daniel Allie have filed campaign committee papers to run for Humason’s old seat.

In Springfield, Democratic state rep Sean Curran of the 9th Hampden District announced recently that he won’t run for another term, opening up a scramble for his seat. So far, Democratic activist and union leader Ed Collins has organized a committee to run for the seat, and Springfield School Committee member Peter Murphy has announced his own candidacy.

Then there are the waiting games: Hampden District Attorney Mark Mastroianni has been nominated for—but not yet confirmed to—a federal judgeship; if he gets it, expect a spirited fight for the DA’s position based on the crowded field in 2010, the year longtime DA Bill Bennett retired. To date, one candidate has formed a campaign committee: Democrat Shawn Allyn of Feeding Hills.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Gale Candaras, a Democrat from the 1st Hampden and Hampshire District, recently told the Springfield Republican she’s considering running for register of Hampden Probate and Family Court, a position—can you guess?—left vacant by the retirement of Thomas Moriarty. If Candaras leaves the Senate, expect a rush of candidates to try to succeed her. East Longmeadow Selectman Debra Boronski has already formed a campaign committee, and the list of rumored potential candidates includes state reps Angelo Puppolo Jr. (D-Springfield) and Brian Ashe (D-Longmeadow). And if Puppolo or Ashe decides to leave the House … well, I think you see where this is going.• -MT

 

 

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