|Q&A: Templeton Makes Run for Senate to 'Step Up and Make a Change'|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff |
04:21PM / Friday, August 19, 2022
|Huff Templeton poses for a photo on Main Street in North Adams. Templeton is running for the Democratic nomination for state Senate in the Sept. 6 primary. |
Updated on Aug. 21 to correct part of Templeton's to an answer on healthcare.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — As the former owner of a business on Williamstown's Spring Street, the co-author of landmark resolutions passed at its town meeting and a frequent participant from the floor of committee meetings, Huff Templeton is well known in his hometown.
He is spending his summer raising his profile throughout the rest of Western Massachusetts.
In the spring, Templeton launched a campaign to represent the first Senate district in the state Legislature, a sprawling expanse of municipalities that includes all of Berkshire County plus parts of Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden Counties.
It runs from Williamstown in the northwest corner down to Southwick, on the Connecticut state line, in the southeast corner and includes 57 cities and towns. The seat is open as the current senator, Adam Hinds, decided to make an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor rather than for re-election.
Templeton's opponent in the Sept. 6 Democratic primary is Paul Mark, currently representative of the 2nd Berkshire House district, which includes several Franklin County towns that will be part of the new Senate district both candidates seek to represent.
His opponent is a known commodity in much of the new Senate District 1, including part of Pittsfield, with 43,000 of the district's 167,000 residents. But Templeton is not concerned that name recognition is an obstacle he faces when voters head to the polls.
"I guess I disagree with that premise," Templeton said. "I've talked to over 1,000 people in my signature gathering, and I think he doesn't have that much name recognition. I think if you look at it from a population perspective, he is representing 10.5 percent of this district currently. It's essentially Dalton, 3,000 people in Pittsfield and a lot of the surrounding towns and his hometown of Peru.
"I just disagree that he has name recognition. I think he's known to the establishment Democrats, and that's a very different thing than having name recognition among the voters."
As might be expected from a co-author of Williamstown's Articles 36 and 37
in 2020, much of Templeton's platform centers on issues of equity and racial justice. It also focuses on LGBTQ-plus rights, education and other progressive ideals.
Recently, he sat down with iBerkshires.com to talk about how the campaign is going and what he is hearing from the voters he hopes to represent in the next Legislature.
Question: You go into this point a little bit on your campaign's website, but why is this the right time for you to run for office?
Templeton: The fact that the seat is open is crucial. Running against an incumbent would have been a pretty hefty lift.
As a Democrat, I really saw this race shaping up in a way that looked like my opponent would go unopposed. That just didn't settle well with me.
On a personal side, I'm a soon-to-be empty-nester, so your family life has to match up. And my community involvement has been ticking up higher over the last few years. It's kind of reached a point where I feel that I have an obligation to step up and make a change if I want to see change.
I don't want to be one of these people who just complains. I want to actually work to make a difference.
Q: Is an unopposed race in the primary problematic because you feel there are issues that need to be brought out during the campaign that just wouldn't because there wouldn't be a real discussion?
Templeton: That's part of it. I think the bigger part is: For democracy to work, you have to have choices. We've seen governments around the world take a move toward autocracy. Certainly, in this county, in this district ... leaning so heavily Democratic in their choices, even though there is another person running in the general, I think the bulk of the decision is made in the primary.
So if we don't have choices in the primary, then we really don't have choices. Then we're in an autocracy-type situation.
Q: What are people asking for? What are you hearing when you have those conversations?
Templeton: I was at the National Night Out [in Williamstown on Aug. 2], and I had a family come up to me and plead for more mental health services.
I'm hearing tales of not being able to find affordable rent, even for professionals with two jobs.
I'm hearing people with older cars that are getting damage from potholes that they can't afford to fix.
It's everyday people with real problems, real struggles.
Q: Mental health, for example, is an issue that you went into this campaign talking about. Are you also hearing things from the voters that have surprised you or priorities you weren't thinking about?
Templeton: Absolutely. I was in Conway earlier in the spring, and someone approached me about the noise of a solar array. Never heard that one in Berkshire County, where we have solar arrays.
But there are places where clear cutting is happening and solar arrays are being installed. Maybe that's a latent issue that we need to look at because we do need to protect our forests and our trees. We do have to fight climate change.
Q: Getting back to the platform specifically, it has a big emphasis – and I wasn't surprised knowing your work in Williamstown – on equity and social justice issues. What is the next paragraph? The platform does a good job of identifying the problem. What are some specific things that the state can do to address that injustice. Economic injustice implies an economic solution or rectification. Where does the state come in?
Templeton: I really like where Adam Hinds was going with this before he started for lieutenant governor. I thought he was on the right track. He talked about more money for the Massachusetts Housing Partnership to help in red-lined areas. There are a lots of things that can be done. Equity is about money, and the state has money. We're talking about surpluses, now, so all we need to do is direct some of that money to some of these places, like the West Side of Pittsfield, that have been victims of red-lining and, really, economic warfare for decades.
Q: Would you go so far as to support – and I realize this is a hot-button issue – reparations? Is that something the state should be thinking about?
Templeton: I, personally, support reparations. But the question is reparations for what? I would like to see reparations for red-lining, not necessarily reparations for slavery. But I do think, if you listened to when [creator of the 1619 Project] Nikole Hannah-Jones spoke at Williams College a few years back, her last sentence was, 'Something is owed.' That's the way I feel. I feel something is owed. Let's have that discussion.
Q: Another plank in your platform is health care and, specifically, you draw a distinction between yourself and your opponent on the idea of Medicare for all, which, I don't have to tell you, is a fairly popular idea among Democratic voters. Can you expand a little on why you feel Medicare for All isn't necessarily the right step?
Templeton: Let me clarify this by saying in 2016 I was for Medicare for All. But after the Trump presidency and seeing how the reins of power can be manipulated and now, in a post-Roe world, nationalized health care scares me because it could be used for bad.
So I don't think it's a worthy goal.
And I think because we have so many border towns in Western Mass — I mean, we're sitting here in North Adams, and our closest full hospital is in Bennington, Vt. If we walked in with our Massachusetts 'Medicare for All' card to Bennington, Vt., are we going to have second-tier status?
I've been to towns where new doctors don't take [federal] Medicare patients. So there's a big risk of, especially a Massachusetts-only Medicare for all, Massachusetts first. That's a huge risk. If it
happens hasn't happened since 2020, when we have a presidency, we have both houses of Congress, I don't see Medicare for all happening [on a national level].
I think it amounts to an empty promise. I think we're losing, as a party, we're losing people in the middle. We're losing union workers who have taken pay cuts for their medical insurance and their future medical insurance. And we're losing people with empty promises like: 'Free health care.'
It's not free. Employers would have to pay 7.5 percent of their payroll tax under the current [Massachusetts] proposed plan that is so popular. And employees would pay 10 percent of their gross earnings for this. They'll take the money out first, and then we'll see what system we have.
There are two bills that have over 40 percent support right now. One in the [Massachusetts] House and one in the Senate.
I don't think it sends the right message to our biotech and health-care industry that we have in the eastern part of our state, either.
Q: Of course, the 7.5 percent on the employer's side and the 10 percent on the employee's side would be offset by savings from the insurance premiums they're paying now, right?
You have a restaurant. If you're paying your workers over $20,000 a year — it doesn't start until they reach the $20,000 threshold. If all your employees are paid at least $20,000 a year, you could end up having to pay, I don't know, $10,000 per year for this new system, depending on what your payroll costs are and all that.
But what are they paying now? That's the question. Are they paying something close to that now? Are they targeting workers who have health insurance through their partners?
When you average it all out, sure, on average it's going to be, probably less expensive on paper. But that also assumes people won't demand more services when there are no co-pays and no fees. And we know the inverse of that, from the great recession, is not true. When people were hurting financially, they canceled wellness appointments left and right. So people are incentivized at the margins with either free or small amounts.
Q: So where does the state come in? Is there a state fix?
Templeton: [U.S.] Sen. Markey is a co-sponsor of a bill called, 'Medicare Age 50.' I think that solves one of many problems with the health-care system, and that's portability. That one would not cost the government anything because the individuals would have to buy into that. But at least if you want to move you're not completely tied to your employer's health insurance.
I like some of the progress we're seeing on regulation of some prescription drugs, especially prescription drugs where there's a monopoly. I don't think the problems that we have couldn't be solved with better regulation. I think the problem is both parties have gone to accept light regulation on a lot of things. I think that's not the best approach. I think we need regulation to make things work.
Yes, when things get completely broken, it's easy to throw them out. But it's better to keep track and regulate and not let things get too far out of whack.
Q: Since we're on health care, it allows me to circle back to something you started out with, which is what you're hearing about the mental health crisis. Particularly where we are in Berkshire County. It's fairly critical, but it's a national problem. Do you have specific ideas that you'd like to see the legislature work on to increase access to mental health care?
Templeton: I think the telehealth revolution is going to be an interesting development for states like ours. I think we're starting to see in the [district attorney] debate last night, we started to see talk about support systems that were more comprehensive.
I've done some work in Vermont, where they often take a very holistic approach, an individualized approach to some of these problems. They've been successful at figuring out the combination of medical versus social issues that might be impacting individuals and trying to put those supports in there.
A lot of times, people will get into fragile support systems, so when one support mechanism goes, then everything sort of goes.
I do think we need to properly staff the 988 number and make sure that not only do we have a number to call but we have quality care behind that number. We don't want people calling that number and not getting the services they need.
Q: On the ground, it's not hard to find people who will tell you it takes months to get an appointment with a clinician or some sort of provider. A lot of it is a staffing shortage issue, no?
Templeton: But we do control the supply of who is licensed. I think with the telehealth revolution, we should really take another look at that. Can we loosen some of those state requirements where maybe someone from another location would be able to provide telehealth mental health services to people in our state?
Q: Have you given much thought to where you see yourself or how you'd like to see yourself in terms of what committees you'd like to get involved with?
Templeton: I really think economic development is one of the key areas for people in our district. I'm interested in getting involved in how the Chapter 90 [road funding] formula is calculated. I think we've been getting a bad deal for 50 years on that because of the way that formula is calculated. It doesn't give enough emphasis on the actual number of miles of highway. ... It's a lot of things, but it's employment based, it's population based and then it's miles of road. I think there's a bill in the House, No. 3572, that recalculates that and would help Western Massachusetts more.
Q: Any others on your wish list?
Templeton: Climate change. In the western part of the state, we have a lot of the forests. We need to figure out ways to maintain the forests but also get credit for the [carbon] sequestration that we're providing there and the effect that that can have.
Q: To get back to the economic development piece, I imagine that's an area where, having been a small-business owner, that's an area where you bring some expertise.
Templeton: Look, if we're losing population, on average, 1 percent per year, and you have a small business. That means in order to do the same amount of sales you did last year, you need to work harder to attract new customers. Because 1 percent of your customer base is leaving.
That's not a fun way to go.
So I think we need to, again, take this moment in time where more workers are able to live anywhere and try to attract them to our area and try to actively recruit people to live here, especially young people and people my age, what I call the 'Not Done Yet' crowd. We're not necessarily having to put young kids into the school system, but we're able to give back and, quite honestly, more mature people are able to really appreciate the natural beauty that we have here. I don't think I appreciated it as much when I was younger.
Q: Those people are less likely to be worried about some of the 'benefits' of living in a metropolitan area and more able to appreciate the rural character of the region.
Templeton: I have a sister living in a major city who commuted an hour and a half each way to work. We have a quality of life here where, if I get the one stop light in my town red, I get a little annoyed. It's almost comical.
We do have these identities in the places where we live. I come from a one-stoplight town [Williamstown]. And we hold them dear and they become part of us. I think that's kind of the cool thing about Western Mass. Each of these towns has that local pride.
Q: Have you had a chance to talk with voters in each of the towns you'd be representing?
Templeton: Not in each of the towns yet, no. But I'm going to get out to as many as I can. You'll be seeing a lot more of me. I just had an article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette. I was in Southwick a couple of weeks ago.
I'm getting out there, but I haven't gotten out there to where I can say I've had one-on-ones with people in each of the towns.
Q: But I imagine that's the goal.
Templeton: That is definitely the goal. Nowadays one-on-ones might be on Zoom because it takes an hour and a half to drive from here to Southwick.
Q: And it's tough, too, when you have a day job, which is another impediment to bringing in new voices.
Templeton: Absolutely. I think that there's a bit of a malaise this summer. I don't know if you've noticed, but I think there's a little bit of: We're in the summer doldrums.
Q: Is that malaise or is it burnout from the last cycle of the 2020 election?
Templeton: I think it's the Supreme Court. I think it's the Supreme Court and Democrats having to say, 'Here we go again.' So we are not able to rest even for a little bit on our laurels of having the presidency and both houses of Congress.
Q: Mentioning the Supreme Court jogs my memory about another thing in your platform: access to abortion and, specifically, the idea that states like Massachusetts where there is access will be taking the burden of care for people from places where it's not available. First of all, that might make single-payer trickier, too. But where do you see a state solution to keeping those opportunities available for non-residents?
Templeton: I think we have a duty. I don't think there's even a question. We need to provide abortions for people who want them.
Q: But access. Knowing it's available in Massachusetts doesn't do you much good if you're in Alabama. So many people who need an abortion the most don't have the financial wherewithal to get it.
Templeton: We can make things easier for people. We can try to arrange overnight stays. We can lessen that burden for people.
But I also see an opportunity here where maybe they're second-guessing their decision to live in those states and, again, we need more people out here in Western Massachusetts. So I think it's an opportunity to recruit people who demand personal freedom when it comes to their health care.
As you know, when you talk to people and ask them why they come here, it's always one of the top three things — they'll phrase it as, 'I wanted a blue state.' Blue state comes up in the top three, and I think that our politics, as we've seen in Kansas this week, align better with the people in this country.
Q: And that's a selling point.
Templeton: Absolutely. And these people bring businesses, they bring ideas. They bring expertise. They bring a lot.