Saunders in race for state rep from 7th Hampden district

  • SAUNDERS

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 7/27/2022 4:45:46 PM
Modified: 7/27/2022 4:45:45 PM

LUDLOW — Aaron Saunders is in the race to succeed fellow Democrat Jake Oliveira as state representative from the reconfigured 7th Hampden district. The district, reconfigured in redistricting following the release of the 2020 U.S. Census, straddles the Quabbin Reservoir as it stretches from Ludlow in the south to Wendell and Petersham in the north.

Saunders was born and raised in Ludlow. After graduating from Ludlow High School, he moved on to UMass/Amherst, where he majored in political science.

His first job in government was working in U.S. Sen. John Kerry’s western Mass. constituent services office. It was after helping a woman secure benefits from the Veterans Administration following the death of her husband that he first caught the “bug” for public service.

He later served as chief of staff for state Sen. Gail Candaris, and while working on Beacon Hill he was elected to the Selectboard in Ludlow.

“I was able to get a tremendous amount of experience in the State House,” he said, “while being on the front lines of addressing municipal issues. This was during the Great Recession, so it was really trial by fire — understanding how the folks you represent are taken care of within the means available.”

Currently, Saunders is senior vice president for public affairs for Benchmark Strategies, a Boston-based economic development and government relations firm. Saunders said he most recently has been concentrating on renewable energy and food insecurity issues.

A small businessman, he is also one of the founders of Ludlow’s Loophole Brewing.

Saunders said that, while campaigning, he has found “that the issues I’m passionate about seem to line up with what I’m hearing from folks on the ground, and at the top of that list is regional equity.”

He said it’s not only important to ensure that cities and towns west of Worcester get their fair share of state resources, “It’s making sure you have an effective voice to get the really well-intentioned policies that come out of Boston to work for our smaller, more rural communities.

“For example, it’s good to be supportive of good education funding but you need to make sure the formula works for all of our school districts and is designed in a way that doesn’t punish communities for having declining enrollment. Just because you have 20 fewer kids in the high school this year than last doesn’t mean that roof replacement is going to cost any less.”

The same is true, said Saunders, of special education.

“If you live a city with 100,000 or 500,000 people, a couple of out-of-district special education placements to ensure those kids are getting the best education, it’s a rounding error for a multi, multi, tens-of-millions of dollars budget. But when you look at the school budgets we work with out here, you get a couple of placements, and it turns the whole thing sideways.

“It’s a top priority to make sure kids are getting the education that fits their needs, but we should stop pitting school administrators against parents and overly relying on property taxes, often from seniors and folks who are living on fixed incomes who can afford it the least. It’s an issue of regional equity when it comes to distribution of state resources. We have to stop pitting one region of the state against another region of the state, unnecessarily.”

Another issue being raised by voters in the district, according to Saunders, is climate change.

“People recognize there needs to be an urgent and responsible transition to renewable energy — which does not include clearcutting forests for industrial solar,” he said. “I think we’re learning a lot about the importance of our forested areas in terms of carbon sequestration. We’ve known a long time about keeping endangered species and species of concern safe.”

Saunders wants to ensure, he said, that solar incentives benefit homeowners and municipalities. “It’s up to the commonwealth to design these programs in a way that is going to be in line with the values of what we want to see for our renewable energy future.”

He added that last year’s police reform act was another example of regional equity not being taken into consideration due to the increased cost it imposed on small communities with mostly part-time officers,

Saunders is 42 and lives in Belchertown with his wife, Melissa, and three daughters.

In addition to Ludlow, Petersham, and Wendell, the 7th Hampden district includes the towns of Belchertown, New Salem, Pelham, and Shutesbury.

His opponent in the race is Republican Chip Harrington of Ludlow.

The primary is Sept. 6.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com


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