Hoping to Cross Finn-ish Line Again, Nothing Taken for Granted…
This is the Fourth in a Series on Massachusetts State House Races in the Pioneer Valley
CORRECTION 12:22am: We incorrectly identified Rep. Finn as losing West Springfield and winning on the strength of his Chicopee & Springfield numbers. He in fact won West Springfield, albeit more narrowly than elsewhere in the district.
WEST SPRINGFIELD—Taking a quick look at Michael Finn, it is not hard to imagine him in a courthouse officers uniform keeping things running smoothly. Tall, but filled out, he fits an archetype for somebody in a public safety position. That tough, but welcoming exterior belies another hat he started to wear in the legislature: health care financing wonk.
Finn, a freshman representative in the Sixth Hampden District, which includes this city as well as pockets of Chicopee and Springfield, is facing his first for reelection after a harder than expected fight in 2010. Finn prevailed, but only after narrowly winning his hometown and picking up lots of votes across the river.
This year, Finn is facing a 23 year-old upstart, Lincoln Blackie a political independent, with strong ties to the Republican party. However, despite the natural disadvantages independents face in elections, Finn says he is taking nothing to chance. He admits Blackie “has put a lot into it,” referring to the race.
During an interview in his district office off West Springfield’s Town Green, Finn outlined his efforts for reelection as well as his first term in office.
“I got real lucky,” he said of his committee assignments, all of which engaged in significant legislative action this session. Finn serves on the Health Care Financing, Transportation and Veterans Affairs Committees.
Finn noted that the VALOR Act was passed during the past term, which originated out of his committee. Massachusetts is known for having some of the best services for the commonwealth’s veterans and this legislation added to it considerably.
During a debate, Blackie attacked Finn for voting to bailout the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority. The MBTA or “T” has suffered years of financial roller coasters that has required the legislature to often plug its finances despite dedicated funding from the state sales tax. Those bailouts have led to justifiable concern in the rest of the state, concern which Finn shared.
“It was a tough one,” he said noting both the actual disparity in the way the state treats non-Boston transit agencies and the optics of non-Boston area legislators voting for it. At the same time, Finn pointed out that many of the MBTA’s problems stem from actions taken by the legislature years ago that transferred Big Dig era debt to the agency. Still, he said, “They are the larges population center in the state,” he said. “We had to do something to save them, and it just stinks,” noting the dislike for such bill back home.
However, Finn pointed out that this bailout did include money for regional transportation agencies as well. He said he and other legislators from Western Mass and other non-Boston locales in the state fought for additional money for non-MBTA agencies like the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority. Stating his position on the MBTA‘s troubles, he added, “We understand, but how about a little something for us.
Although the Valor Act and the MBTA bill were important, on some level they did not match the historic potential of what some have called the second act of Health Care reform. From Finn’s seat, he says he saw not only the coming together of a major piece of legislation, but also had the chance to build in safeguards on behalf of the region’s major health care establishments.
Legislation to curtail health care costs was a huge policy goal of Governor Deval Patrick and the legislature. Despite the success of 2006’s health care reform, little was done to curb rising health care costs. The new law, passed this summer, seeks to curtail costs, in part, by moving to a global payment system that rewards better health outcomes in lieu of today’s largely fee-for-service health care system.
In between occasional recitations of the acronyms and programs that form the bill and affect it outcomes, Finn pointed out that he had requested a seat on Ways & Means when he first came to Beacon Hill. Being a popular request and being a freshman he did not get it. However, the seat on Health Care Financing quickly got him attention, including phone calls from Bay State Health Services and Mercy Medical Center.
“You have to make sure the major stakeholders have access” to the process, Finn said. While it goes without saying that health care is a critical part of the commonwealth’s economy generally, it is also a huge employer in Greater Springfield. “You have to be cognizant of it and know that you’re tackling a sector that drives a lot of state,” he said.
Finn says that he and other legislators in the region worked to protect not only major players like Mercy and Bay State, but community hospitals like Holyoke and Noble Hospital in Westfield. Doing so was essential, in order to keep the hospitals out of the line of fire against Cadillac pricing many renowned hospitals like Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham & Women’s charge. These are a huge part of driving up costs.
Pointing to greater integration of medical services through, among other things electronic records, Finn said “How can you get a world tour and use one card,” but not encounter the same simplicity when moving through the health care system.
Finn also credit some of his positive experiences in the legislature to the relationships he has developed over the term. He frequently commutes with Representative Paul Mark of Peru, also elected in 2010. Finn also said his office was in a suite of other freshman reps offering other opportunities to network with colleagues.
Of course, the district always comes first. Finn’s maiden speech at the House of Representatives was a plea for tornado relief funds after the June 2011 tornadoes ravaged West Springfield and Springfield. As a rep he also continued work on the new high school, which began while he served on the Town Council.
Finn says he had been active in town politics going back to his early twenties. He began his political career in earnest when he was elected to the Town Council’s District 3 seat in 2003. During that time he also served as the Council President. He recalled how he initially rejected overtures to run for office, but has not regretted the change of mind.
Still when he made the decision to run for representative in 2010, Finn admits he may have been a little “naïve about the realities” of the political climate and the strength of his opponent Gregory Neffinger.
“I made a lot of mistakes,” he says of his first run, such as underestimating Neffinger’s pull in West Springfield (he is now the mayor) and assuming that his experience on the Council would be a sufficient credential for voters. This time, Finn said, he was out knocking doors as soon as he knew he had an opponent.
For this race, its greatest novelty may be his opponent. Blackie, an intern with Springfield Water & Sewer Commission and one-time Scott Brown intern, has tried to capitalize on his youth and energy. Blackie has come out swinging against Finn, but he has raised questions about his actual party affiliation.
Unanswered throughout the campaign is which party Blackie would caucus with if elected. He touts himself as an independent voice to match his independent line on the ballot, but he has gained substantial support from Republican organizations. In addition, he was a host for a fundraiser for Scott Brown as Samuels at the Basketball Hall of Fame. Virtually all of the hosts were Republican luminaries in the Valley.
Finn said one voter told him about an encounter with Blackie who claimed the independent candidate admitted, after much cajoling about his party affiliation, that he leaned toward “conservative Republican.”
The issues on the campaign have been fairly boilerplate, with Blackie railing against government spending and burdens on business. Finn acknowledged that there are problems in the government, but that nobody seems to notice when the government gets it right. Specifically he cited a roundtable with business owners and Housing and Economic Development Secretary Greg Bialecki. Toward the end Heriberto Flores of the New England Farm Workers Council thanked Bialecki for passing on Studio 38.
Studio 38 was Curt Schilling’s video game studio that went under, costing Rhode Island million in economic development money. Massachusetts officials had been criticized for not offering Schilling the money to build his company here.
As the campaign closes, Finn admits he is “ready for it to be over,” mentioning his canvassing and phone calls as well as volunteers coming through the office. He feels fairly confident in the results given the work he had put in to win. And if victorious he seems eager to get back to work for the Sixth Hampden District and “Make sure we have the things that we need to be successful.”