Looking at the governor’s seat, State Senator Chang-Díaz talks about the achievements at Beacon Hill
Many Massachusetts Democrats are considering the governor’s seat, some of whom have declared their candidacies and others not. State Senator Sonia Chang-DÃaz announced her gubernatorial candidacy last summer, before Gov. Charlie Baker announced in early December that he would not run for a third term. Chang-DÃaz has since released a series of progressive policy proposals, including a comprehensive plan to protect Massachusetts from the consequences of climate change.
We sit down with all the major declared candidates for governor, starting with Chang-DÃaz. She joined host Arun Rath on GBH All things Considered Friday to discuss her vision for the Commonwealth, including what she sees as the role of government in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. This transcript has been edited slightly for clarity and length.
Arun Rath: So we want to talk about the new Green Deal proposition and everything in between – but first, let’s talk a bit about your CV, your time at Beacon Hill. What do you think are the accomplishments you are most proud of during your tenure as state legislator?
Senator Sonia Chang-DÃaz: In some ways, it’s like asking a legislator to choose between his children. But I will say that the Student Opportunity Act is a bill that I sort of see as my third child – I have two children actually. But it was passed in 2019, and some people will already be feeling the effects of the Student Opportunity Act in their lives and in the lives of their children right now.
The first millions of dollars are in the works this year for schools, and as I’ve been campaigning around the state for the past few months, I’ve been able to chat with a few superintendents and principals. and asked them, you know, “What are the first things you do with these dollars?” ”
Because the bill, when fully introduced, will inject $ 1.5 billion – with a B – into our K-12 public school system, heavily targeted to our lower income districts where the need is greatest. . And in those districts, what I’ve heard from principals and superintendents and some teachers is that their first investments of those dollars were pretty systematic in socio-emotional support staff for our youth, which – even before the pandemic – was what I constantly heard from educators, that there was such a shortage and we needed more in schools. But now, of course, you know, in the midst of the pandemic, the need is even greater. There is so much trauma that young people bring to schools.
But it was a five-year battle to get this legislation passed, and it shouldn’t be that difficult in a state like Massachusetts to get equitable funding in our schools. And honestly, that’s a big part of why I’m showing up is that in my 12 years in office I’ve seen that we are able to do great things in Massachusetts when we decide to do well. .
Rath: And that, of course, brings us to the present day. And coming back to that, what we were talking about initially, education in general is something that I know you are passionate about. And you mentioned that you have two children. I mean, all of our kids are going through something horrible right now. I imagine you have to see it firsthand with what they have been through with a pandemic. From there, as governor, what would say to the working families you speak of and represent?
Chang-DÃaz: Yeah. Well I mean I think there are some things we need to recognize when we think about that. One is the enormous burden borne by working families and their children. It existed before the pandemic, long before the pandemic. You know, the crisis we’re seeing right now: the housing crisis in Massachusetts, the wealth divide in our state, the crushing commutes that people sit in. These are issues that we simmered for years before the pandemic.
Now the pandemic, of course, has escalated most of these issues to new levels and opened the eyes, I think, to many people who may not have been so aware of it. So you know where, for example, we had health disparities in Massachusetts before the pandemic, they’re being supercharged by this pandemic. Where we saw educational disparities in Massachusetts before the pandemic, they are made even larger by this pandemic.
Right now, with the omicron wave we are living in, we are facing the potential for power outages in our schools in terms of closures due to staff shortages or high transmission rates in schools. We know that families of means, they will be able to overcome this and they will be able to wrap additional supports around their children. But low-income families, immigrant families, families of color who were already sitting in the gap of opportunity and success have no margin for error. And when they lose those school days, and when parents lose the salary they risk losing because they are going to have to stay home to look after their children when the schools close, these are it. disparities that many families may not be able to recover from.
Rath: As for the details of this emergency facing parents and children, the debate about opening schools at this point, the staff shortages that are occurring. As governor, how would you approach all of this?
Chang-DÃaz: We have to recognize that conditions are changing very quickly in this pandemic, and I don’t have all the answers. I do not claim to have all the answers. But I have a few guiding principles.
First of all, the government must be an active partner of individuals in the fight against the pandemic, right? The government is a key player in the fight against this pandemic. People are also key players. But when the government just tells people in platitudes to “stay safe” and “keep schools open” but then sort of pulls away from the podium, that’s far from enough. If the government does not share the burden with individuals, families, workers, businesses in doing the job of what it means to stay safe and keep our basic institutions open.
it means things [like] practical systems that government is best placed to put in place that can help people shoulder the burden. Things like setting up and running a vaccine identification system, so that for businesses and individuals who want to participate in vaccine requirements – in order, for example, to walk into a restaurant – we should have a vax credentials system in place so that every institution, every business doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel on how they’re going to verify those credentials.
We need to put in place a clear, science-based policy, such as a statewide mask mandate that complies with CDC guidelines for indoor public spaces. We need better test availability.
And that brings me to the second principle, which is really about thinking around the corner, thinking ahead. You know, we can’t anticipate everything that’s going to happen in this pandemic, but there is a lot that we can anticipate. We could predict from the start that this pandemic would hit communities of color and low-income communities the hardest. We could have planned this better with safety nets, with the deployment of vaccines. We could have predicted that there would be a huge increase in the demand for testing during the holidays.
Rath: And we could so easily talk for an hour or more just about schools and COVID, but I have to ask about the climate change plan. And people can check that out, your editorial on that is on the GBH News website. But tell us a little bit, in general, about what you call a New Green Deal for Massachusetts.
Chang-DÃaz: You know, you mentioned in the introduction to the Green New Deal plan – that it is a plan to avoid disasters of climate change. And it is absolutely true. But it’s also true that this is a plan not only to avert disaster, but also a plan to seize an opportunity, a wonderful opportunity that lies right in front of us as a Commonwealth. Create tens of thousands of new, well-paying jobs and create economic activity and opportunity in our state. And we must recognize it as such: that it is both a negative to be avoided and a positive to be grasped. And the plan really sets out a roadmap for doing those two things.
He calls for more aggressive deadlines, which I am convinced we can meet as a state for the transition of our electricity grid to 100% renewable electricity by 2030. He calls for expanding, electrifying and making our systems free. of transit throughout the state. This includes the establishment of East-West Rail, as well as strong regional rail transportation networks. And it calls for state government, local communities and the renewable energy sector to work together to invest in the 21st century green economy we need to fuel this transition.
And we have to put in place the investments, not only in physical infrastructure, but also in human infrastructure, right? Because we need people who know how to build, plan, maintain and maintain all this green energy infrastructure. And this is where the huge economic opportunity comes in for us.
Rath: Senator Sonia Chang-DÃaz, it was a pleasure to talk to you. There are so many other things we could talk about, we may have to get you back before too long. But until then, thank you very much.
Chang-DÃaz: Arun, thank you for having me.
Rath: It was Senator Sonia Chang-DÃaz. We’ll have Democratic gubernatorial candidate Danielle Allen on the show on Monday. It is All things Considered.