AuthorBeth

Rural issues and the 2017 Massachusetts Democratic Party platform

The Massachusetts Democratic Party is holding hearings about the 2017 party platform, which will be approved at a convention in June.  The Platform Hearing Committee was in western Massachusetts yesterday, holding one hearing in Springfield and another in Pittsfield. The following is the statement I made at the Pittsfield hearing.


Good afternoon,

My name is Beth Bandy. I am Chair of the Select Board in the Franklin County town of Charlemont, and I also will be an alternate delegate from Charlemont to the Party’s Convention in June. I am here today to make suggestions for the new State Party platform that would show support for our rural communities and help the Party engage rural voters.

As Representative Mark knows, for the last year the Charlemont Select Board has been hosting a series of meetings with Select Board and Finance Committee members from more than 20 small towns around western Massachusetts. These Small Town Summits are opportunities for us to discuss common concerns with our colleagues. We also have started reaching out to our peers in rural communities in other parts of the state. Over and over, we keep hearing that rural towns in Massachusetts are facing the same challenges.

Let me be clear. When I say “rural towns are facing the same challenges,” I mean half of all the towns in the state are in the same boat. We tend to think about Massachusetts as an urban or suburban state, but 170 municipalities in Massachusetts – that’s 48% or almost half of the total – are rural.

These communities are running on very lean budgets with limited revenue options. Town office functions and services are provided by volunteers, with a minimal number of paid staff. These towns are home to more than 830,000 people who desperately need economic development opportunities. With this background in mind, I would like to make the following proposals for the new platform.

The Preamble to the Party’s 2013 platform included 18 brief statements summarizing core principles of fairness, equality, safety, and access to basic infrastructure. As we craft a new platform in 2017, I would like to see one more bullet point added to the preamble that reads:

“We want broadband access for all residents of Massachusetts.”

I also would like to see a new section added to the platform that focuses specifically on rural issues. This section ideally would support:

  • sustainable economic development, job creation, and entrepreneurship in the state’s rural communities broadband access as an essential component of rural economic development
  • a sparsity formula for calculating rural school district aid – similar to what is already in place in more than half of the states around the country
  • fair and predicable PILOT payments for State-owned lands – an essential component of financial sustainability for many rural towns in Massachusetts, some of which are more than 40% owned by the State
  • taking the needs and unique challenges of running rural towns into account when passing new legislation

Thank you for the opportunity to speak this afternoon. I look forward to seeing you at the Convention in June and working with you to make the Democratic Party a positive force in rural communities across the Commonwealth.

“A compass that will guide your steps through the landscape of innovation”

whiplash

While I was away on vacation last week, I snapped this fuzzy photo and hastily forwarded it to a friend with a brief note:

“Greetings from a tropical island! Have you read this book? It’s amazing!”

As you can (almost) make out from my photo, the book is Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future, a fascinating new work by MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito and journalist/ professor Jeff Howe. The authors provide nine succinct “principles” that summarize recent, fundamental changes in our world. Using examples from the Media Lab and elsewhere, they suggest how to successfully navigate these changes and thrive in light of them.

Ito and Howe clarify the use of the principles this way:

“The principles are not meant to chart your path to a specific destination. They are meant as a compass that will guide your steps through the landscape of innovation, whatever your chosen field.”

I am in the midst of launching a new organization (more about that soon). This book helped me think in new ways about the complex challenges the organization will tackle — why they exist and why they have not been addressed by other groups before now.

My Evernote is full of clippings from this book. Here are a couple of passages I saved:

“The [Media] Lab works on things no one else is working on, and if someone else is working on it, we move on. As George Church [Harvard genetics professor, among other things] says, if you’re competing, it’s not interesting.”

 

“One of the problems is that our traditional educational system – and most of our business training – reward focus and execution, limiting the opportunity to become a ‘visionary.’ Too much of our training is focused on solving known problems rather than imagining and exploring.

In ‘pull over push’ [one of the principles] you need to be fully aware, fully present, and able to develop a very broad network through exploration and curiosity. You need a portfolio of interests and the ability to quickly respond to both opportunities and threats as they emerge. Focusing too much on the past – or the future – narrows your vision and makes you less able to respond to changes, opportunities, and threats.”

 

 

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