NORTHBOROUGH, Mass. — The Daily Voice recently sat down with Danielle Gregoire, the Democrat who is challenging state Rep. Steven Levy (R-Marlborough) in the 4th Middlesex District.
The Daily Voice: What in your past experience qualifies you for this seat?
Danielle Gregoire: I think the most important thing that qualifies me is my record of community involvement and constituent service. I’ve demonstrated always that I’m putting that as my top priority and as my first responsibility as a state representative. That certainly distinguishes me from my opponent.
I pride myself on being a member of this community. I have been my whole life and I continue to be. I go to event after event after event, and that’s how you get a sense of where people in your community stand on the issues, when you get right down to it.
The other thing is that I have never in my whole life put my party ahead of the people that I’ve represented, even though it was a brief time [from 2009-2010]. Whether it was as a staff person or as a legislator, I looked at things and how they affected the district and that’s how I voted, not based on party.
DV: How will you work with other legislators to accomplish your goals, including across party lines?
DG: One of the major pieces of legislation I voted against was my first budget as a legislator, because it contained several new tax increases and I didn’t think that during an economic decline we should be increasing taxes to the level that the budget was seeking.
Yes, the legislature is Democratically-controlled, but another point that I’ve been campaigning on quite frequently here is that we are very fortunate in Massachusetts to have a legislature that can work together. Almost all of the major initiatives that were passed this year were passed with nearly unanimous support. There’s a lot of bipartisanship going on here; we do not have the divisiveness that we see in Washington, where nothing is getting done.
I have a very close [Republican] friend in the legislature from our area who I turned to on nearly any bill that had local impact, and asked his opinion. On a lot of the children’s and families’ issues I worked on I did so with a tremendous Republican from the North Shore who had a lot of those issues in common with me.
DV: How will you prioritize to ensure that our schools are funded?
DG: This year, the legislature had record investment in Chap. 70 funding, as well as local aid as a whole. Again, my opponent voted against those things. The second thing I would say is in addition to continued investment in Chap. 70 we need to find unique and creative ways to get around these financial constraints. Something that concerns me deeply is the way that charter public schools and the way that their funding formula and acceptance process impacts traditional public schools. I believe that we need to find a more efficient way to fund those schools, rather than taking the money out of the traditional public school budgets.
I think we need to level the playing field as far as school building assistance goes. I travel around quite a bit and I see a beautiful renovated high school in Westborough and a beautifully renovated Algonquin [Regional High School] and then you go up to Marlborough High School and you say, “What the heck happened up here?” Marlborough is behind the eight ball as far as our school buildings go. That’s something we also need to work on.
DV: Since there doesn’t seem to be an appetite for tax increases at this time, are there any other areas you would look to cut back?
DG: I served on the committee of children and families and persons with disabilities and I’ve worked a lot with the secretariats of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services and there are 18 secretariats there and I certainly think there is room to make that more efficient. There are so many points of entry. If you are a person suffering from a mental illness or a developmental disability there is not a one-stop shop for you, and you’re wrapped in red tape. I think cutting back on that would not only save inefficiencies, but it would also provide better service for the customers, who are the constituents. That’s something that I’ve personally looked at.
And now that we’re coming into better times I think we need an overhaul of our entire tax structure. There’s been a lot of talk of the films tax credit and I’ve always been a supporter of that, but the new numbers suggest that we’re not getting the bang for our buck that we thought we were. So I’m interested in reviewing that and other credits.
DV: We’ve heard a lot lately about the impact of unfunded mandates on our communities. Do you think unfunded mandates are a problem? What about the special education circuit breaker, which the state funds at about 70 percent?
DG: I certainly think unfunded mandates are a problem and I think we need to find a way to either cut back on mandates or make them more flexible so school districts have an easier time implementing them.
Seventy percent is an increase from where it had been in the past. I know during previous budget cycles we were fighting to get it up to that level. Obviously, full funding would be ideal. I think if there’s any way for us to incorporate these mandates into the Chap. 70 formula so that we’re talking actual bottom line dollars and cents and getting the math to work better.
I didn’t have a good understanding of it before, but over the last three years I’ve come to more of an understanding.
DV: You're running to represent three communities in a newly-redrawn district. How will you make sure that you are adequately representing all residents?
DG: For me, you’re a representative of those communities and it’s your jobs to be available there.
The bottom line is, out here in Central Massachusetts we all have to work together, because we’re fighting against the machine that is Boston. They have more representatives than we do, they have the tourism center. I had a great track record of working with my colleagues. [Rep. Harold] Naughton and I get a long famously—he’s actually endorsed me—and I look forward to working with him again and having him show me the ins and outs of Northborough.