Opinion: Leadership is a Full-Time Job

A little more than three months have passed since I formally launched my campaign to represent Longmeadow, East Longmeadow, Hampden and Monson in the Second Hampden District of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. During this time, I’ve had the chance to meet hundreds of people and gain a lot of new perspective on the issues confronting families across the region.

Some of those challenges don’t surprise me: lack of economic opportunity, the burdens of health problems and paying for healthcare, growing strains on municipal budgets and school resources, and the impact of the opioid crisis on individuals, families and communities.

It didn’t take a political campaign to show me that these are serious challenges confronting us here in Western Mass; in fact, helping to solve them was the major motivation for me in deciding to run. And I look forward to a lot more discussion with people across our four towns in the coming months to help us work toward solutions.

But there have been some surprises during my time out in the community as a candidate. One in particular has troubled me significantly: too many people here don’t even know who their state representative is—let alone what he is doing to serve their interests. (I can safely write ‘he’ because all 12 of the current House members from Hampden County are men.)

I certainly don’t blame voters for this. People have very busy lives, and keeping tabs on your state rep’s activities doesn’t exactly rise to the top of the daily to-do list for most of us. On the other hand, it makes me wonder: how connected to a community’s interests can an elected rep be if so many constituents can’t name him or name anything he’s doing for us?

One of the biggest problems in Massachusetts politics is that Boston takes care of itself first and everyone else fights over the scraps. This isn’t new, the problem is roughly 390 years old. Here in Western Mass, we’ve been getting the short end of the stick for so long that we’ve started to become resigned to getting less. I think that’s a big reason why many people don’t take interest in our elected state representation: when your team loses the big game so many years in a row, you stop checking the score.

The challenges facing our towns in 2018, however, are too important to be met with inaction by our leaders. A generally healthy statewide economy still hasn’t delivered a fair share of benefit to Western Mass, where growth lags. The Legislature continues to crave new taxes while overspending on inefficient programs and unnecessary earmarks. We are underfunding critical needs in western Mass such as infrastructure, education and mental health and overburdening our local businesses.

Local budgets are strained with ever-growing demand, with little projected growth or new revenues to make ends meet. Meanwhile, our deep-blue Legislature is distracted by serious ethics and transparency concerns coupled with 49-day holiday breaks and 70 percent fewer legislative votes than years past. I don’t believe that we in Western Mass can afford to keep waiting for scraps—to keep losing out.

State elected office has its perks: getting your picture in the paper, a fancy office on Beacon Hill, a pretty good salary for a lighter work schedule than most of us keep. But for too long, we have provided the tax dollars and the perks without expecting much in return.

As I learned from my mom, who served 16 years as a State Senator, public service is a noble calling—and a full-time job. It is my intent to restore energy and purpose to the Second Hampden District seat in the Mass. House of Representatives.

Once elected, I will be in regular contact with voters in all my communities, and I expect to be held to account for the good and the bad. I look forward to meeting many more of you in the months ahead, to hearing your stories, and to making sure that you remember my name—not just on Nov. 6, but long afterwards.

– Allison Werder is a Longmeadow resident and the former president of MassLive Media. She is currently a candidate for State Representative in the 2nd Hampden District which includes Longmeadow, East Longmeadow, Hampden, and Monson.