Whistle Stops: The 7th Hampden View on COVID & George Floyd…
Whistle Stops is an occasional series of shorter hits from the legislative campaign trail.
by Michael Lachenmeyer
For the past four months, a pandemic has ravaged the country leaving more than 100,000 Americans dead and plunging the economy into depths unseen since the Great Depression. Meanwhile, George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25 has sparked a nationwide wave of protests against racial injustice and police brutality.
In 2020, our region needs good leadership. Vying to provide some in the 7th Hampden House race, one of the few local contests with a competitive general election, are Democrat Jake Oliveira and Republican Chip Harrington. In on-the-record interviews, I asked them both about coronavirus and George Floyd’s death.
The 7th Hampden District consists of Ludlow, chunks of Chicopee and the Indian Orchard neighborhood of Springfield and, despite its name, much of Belchertown in Hampshire County.
On the coronavirus, Harrington and Oliveira agree that it is the biggest challenge facing their district. Yet their focuses differ, specifically with regard to how the recovery should go.
Harrington emphasized the importance of supporting small businesses and putting people back to work.
He said, “My focus is going to be helping those small businesses and helping those people who were furloughed and laid off get themselves back into a position where they can support their families.”
Harrington lauded Governor Charlie Baker for his efforts in coordinating the state-wide pandemic response. However, he noted the divide between Eastern and Western Massachusetts, expressing his hope that businesses in the west could reopen soon.
Meanwhile, Jake Oliveira spoke about the economic opportunities he sees amidst this crisis. Oliveira supports the shift towards telecommuting, which the lockdown has necessitated. He sees it as a way to better integrate western Mass’s economy with Boston’s. Oliveira also highlighted the role public-private partnerships must play in the recovery. The Ludlow Mills project is one such example.
However, Oliveira criticized state authorities for charging local school districts with acquiring personal protective equipment (PPE), and other necessary cleaning supplies on their own, as they look towards reopening in the fall.
Oliveira said, “This should be something that’s provided by the state. We’re going to get into a situation where school districts are going to find themselves in the situation states were in about two months ago, where they’re competing to get the things that are necessary.”
Regarding George Floyd’s death, Harrington and Oliveira were both quick to condemn his killer and police brutality more broadly. Yet, they approach the subsequent movement with quite different backgrounds.
As a state corrections officer and a part-time police officer working for the town of Ludlow, Chip Harrington expressed his sympathy with “good” police officers across the country, saying “Nobody dislikes bad cops more than good cops.”
Harrington also defended the right to protest. He said, “I support their ability to protest as a police officer and we will go out there to protect their right to protest peacefully.”
However, Harrington also stated that he does not support de-funding the police. Rather, he insists that cops do a lot of good things for society that are under-reported. If elected Harrington vowed to work in a bipartisan manner to find solutions to these problems.
On the other hand, Oliveira explicitly condemned systemic racism. He mentioned several rallies that he had participated in during the past few weeks. Oliveira also talked about what school districts should do to actively combat racism.
Along with Harrington, Oliveira is an active member of the Ludlow School Committee. He brought up how he is working with Denise Hurst—a Springfield School Committee member running for state rep in an adjacent district—to draft a resolution condemning racism for the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.
Oliveira called on schools across the commonwealth to “Teach the appropriate history of oppression and racial injustice in this country.”
Additionally, he thinks school leaders must play a role and state their support for anti-racist rhetoric and actions.