Monday, April 09, 2007

Interview with Rep. Barry Finegold

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to talk to state Representative Barry Finegold (D-Andover), one of seven Democratic candidates vying for Congressman Marty Meehan's (D-Lowell) seat in the Fifth District. Finegold counted his work in the Legislature on getting resources for Lawrence, particularly for community policing, and his authorship of the Baby Safe Haven law among his most important achievements there. He supports stem cell research and wants No Child Left Behind to be fully funded. He also stated his belief that health care is a right, but stopped short of advocating a single-payer style system. On Iraq, Finegold wants to end our involvement as quickly as possible. He would have voted for the supplemental appropriation, but noted that he prefers Senator Joe Biden's plan that would partition Iraq along sectarian lines.

On the environment, Finegold noted that the USA had to do something about global climate change. In particular, he supports fuel cell and hydrogen technology not only as a way to reduce dependence on foreign oil, but also as a way to grow jobs in Massachusetts. In addition, Finegold opposes the privatization of Social Security and while he is frustrated with how much fundraising is necessary to run for office, he did not offer any specific remedy. He did note, though, that since he has experience in local and state government as well as with running a small business, he'd be able to hit the ground running when he got to Congress.

Rep. Finegold is the third candidate for MA-05 that I have spoken with. Last month, I posted my interviews with David O'Brien and Representative Jamie Eldridge. Look for more of these interviews in the next few weeks.

To get involved with Rep. Finegold's campaign, you can check out his website,

Read excerpts from the full interview inside
Q: You're beginning your 6th term in the legislature. What were your most important achievements there?

It's a couple of things, representing Andover, Lawrence, and Tewksbury. One of the things recently that I was most proud about, I was doing a radio interview and the big issue was about crime in Boston which is really a bad thing, and I was talking about the success that we've had in Lawrence with the way we've reduced crime. We used to be the arson capital of New England, we used to be the stolen car capital of New England, and each year we have reduced crime. This quarter we're down 14% over what our crime rates were a year ago. I [attribute] that directly to the fact that we've made Lawrence a priority for community policing dollars, that we've given police officers the tools they need to succeed, and unlike the federal government where President Bush has cut the cops program, something that President Clinton did, we've kept our commitment to cities like Lawrence. As a result we've had a significant reduction in crime. So if you ask me right now, off the tip of my tongue, that is what I'm very proud about.

I'm also very proud about the Safe Haven law that I helped write and pass. On Monday we're going to announce that we've had the 6th baby safely given to a safe haven. We've saved six lives. When I wrote that bill, all I wanted to do was just save one. I believe that is a great success. I'm also very proud that I was one of many in the legislature who helped out on passing stem cell research. There are people in my district that have Parkinson's disease and other tough illnesses that are dependent on this research, and I'm proud to have helped play a part with many others in passing stem cell research in the state.

I could go on and on -- there are economic development issues in the city of Lawrence that have been very helpful, we got them some funding to help them attract companies and grow the economy. When Malden Mills had a major fire, we helped get them some funding to try to keep jobs locally. I believe there are a lot of good things that I have played a role in and that's why you do it.
Q: Which of those would you say is the most important to continue on a federal level?
It's a two-part answer. On a federal level -- I'm going to switch gears for a second -- one of my frustrations, what I feel we need to do better is funding for education. I feel that with all 29 communities that are in the Fifth, they are not getting funded properly for education. If the federal government would fund special education where they told people they would, instead of at 18%, they'd fund it at 40%, then it would be incredibly helpful to so many communities. So I think that's the biggest issue that, if we're going to reauthorize No Child Left Behind, if we're going to talk the talk, we have to walk the walk. For lack of better words, if we're going to talk about it, we have to fund it. I think that's a major failure of President Bush, that he helped get this thing with Senator Kennedy, but there are supposed to be dollars, and it's never happened. That's had a direct impact. Another thing I can get into later when I talk about the fuel cell issue I've been working on.
Q: What do you think, from talking to people the past few weeks, is the biggest concern on the minds of people in the Fifth District?
I've been talking about three areas. Obviously, Iraq is very critical. I want to get out of there as quickly as we can. I support what Senator Biden has talked about, with a three-state solution.
Q: Why do you favor that?
I'm very upset that 3000 Americans have died and there's close to 50,000 people who are hurt, but I'm also upset that 60,000 Iraqis have died. I believe that right now we're refereeing a civil war. I think the course we're on right now, I don't feel has any direction.

If you look at the history, any time there's an authoritative rule and that authoritative rule has been displaced, meaning that a dictator has been overthrown, ethnic factions don't get along. Look at the former British empire with India and Pakistan, the former Soviet Union, and recently under President Clinton with Yugoslavia. I think in the end, no matter what we do, that's going to happen to that region. I think we should immediately pivot and start work on that now. I believe that's the quickest way we can get out of there and try to have peace in the region. I want to get out of there as quickly as we can, I want to get our people home, and I want to stop spending nine billion dollars a month in costs.
Q: Would you have voted in favor of the Iraq appropriation bill with the timeline added?
Yeah, as far as the resolution goes, I would support that, but if I were a member of the caucus, I would have been pushing for a resolution that would include some type of the Biden plan.

I think the other issue that people are talking about is the environment, and I happen to be in the Al Gore camp. I do think there's global warming. I do think there's climate change. It's okay if we're wrong, but it's not okay if Exxon's wrong.

I'm very concerned about the environment. We can't, as a country, be 5% of the world's population and use 25% of the world's oil. We can't continue to be 5% of the world's population and emit 21% of the world's carbon. On a yearly basis, this country goes through 140 billion gallons of gasoline. When you drive down to a local Mobil or Shell station in Watertown and it's gone up by 50 cents a gallon, that means that 70 billion dollars is going out of our economy to countries that, for the most part, don't like us. What we have to do – and short term I'm a big proponent of tax credits for hybrid cars – but if every person in America buys a hybrid car, by 2025 we're still using the same amount of oil that we're using now.

What I've been pushing is the use of fuel cell and hydrogen technology. We have many companies in the area. We have one company in Cambridge that's moving up to Billerica, Nuvera Fuel Cell -- eventually, I think within a year or so, they're going to have a bus at Massport that is going to be running on hydrogen. Not only will this be good for our environment, but it will also be good for our wallets. More importantly, I think it's also going to be good for our jobs. In this state, we only created 21,000 jobs two years ago, and a year ago we only created 13,000 jobs. We have to do better. I think the modern-day Digitals and the modern-day Wangs are companies like Nuvera Fuel Cell, Balance Systems in Lowell, Linde in Billerica – those are the companies that are going to be the job growth in this state.

One other area that people are talking to about is what I consider to be the lunchpail Democratic issues. It's getting harder and harder for people to pay for the mortgage, save for college, and have [money for] retirement. As Democrats, I think we have to get back to having priorities. It's a shame that President Bush has cut student loans, has cut Pell Grants, has changed higher rates for student loans. I don't think the FHA is doing what it should to help people get into their first homes. As a business owner myself, we offer our employees a 401(k) – I think we should push to have all companies offer some type of retirement plan.
Q: Speaking of retirement, do you support any changes to the Social Security system, private accounts or reforms to keep it solvent?
One thing I would probably go along with is if they wanted to do an outside commission and make recommendations to the House and Senate, but as far as privatizing it, I'm not supportive of that. I don't think that's the way to go. I think Social Security has been a very good thing for many people, and it's been a safety net for many people.

I think sometimes when we have tough issues and are trying to find ways of solving them, sometimes it's good to take it out of Congress and out of the Senate. How were we able to shut down as many military bases as we did? I mean, that's the ultimate sacred cow. How did we shut down Devens, how did we shut down Pease? Because we have this thing called the Base Realignment and Closure Act and an outside group basically recommended changes and it came to be an up or down vote. I think there might be some ideas to make it better, but as far as privatizing it, that's not the direction I want to go.
Q: Another thing that's been squeezing working families in particular has been rising health care costs. What can the federal government do to help lower those costs?
Everyone watches what we do here in Massachusetts. I'm proud, and many other people here are proud, to have helped pass the first in the nation universal health care system for the Commonwealth, obviously there are things we're doing. I think what the federal government needs to do is just let us move forward with this and not try to micromanage it from Washington. I'm one person that believes that health care is a right and health care should not be an option. I do believe that people should have health care and I'm hopeful that what we're doing in Massachusetts could be a model for the rest of the country.
Q: So you would favor the Massachusetts model over a single-payer model for the country?
Let me just preface that by saying there are some people that are not going to be able to work, and I do believe there has to be some mechanism for some people to be covered. That's why I supported insuring all children, that's why I've supported certain groups in our society getting health care. Those who can get it from their employers, I support that. Those who are self-employed, I believe that there should be groups, that you should be able to get as good of a rate as someone who does work. But there are going to be some people who do fall through the cracks. I believe our role in government is to try to help these people.
Q: You'll be replacing Marty Meehan if elected. What solutions for campaign finance reform do you favor and would you continue the work he's done?
It's incredibly difficult fundraising. My parents are both teachers, and there's no money being passed down here. So when I have to raise money, I have to go out and do it the old fashioned way, by phone calls and stuff. I was very supportive of clean elections. I'd love to see some stuff go forth federally. But it's hard, and the way money is so critical to politics is a shame. The fact that on a daily basis I have to spend 4 hours a day just calling people up asking for money, I'd rather spend that time talking about issues. But that's just the system that is out there.

One thing I would like to continue that Marty has started is the interest in the environment, he's gotten very active with that. Also, working with him, U. Mass. Lowell has a big fuel cell and hydrogen technology, so I think there are going to be a lot of opportunities for him and I to work together and I think it's a unique situation that you have a former Congressman still in the district and very active, and I think he'll be very helpful in many ways.
Q: No matter what happens, you'll still be in the legislature until the end of October. What's your opinion on Governor Patrick's proposals to close the business loopholes, particularly the one that would end the exemption for property tax for telecoms on their equipment?
I'm on Ways and Means, and right now we have a study looking at them and we're open, we're not ruling anything out right now. There are some local initiatives as well and we're totally open. I've been saying this since he proposed that, but it's a very good relationship with the Governor and we're open to his ideas and we'll see, probably by June, we'll come out with the study and we'll probably do some work by then. I wouldn't be surprised if in the next 3-6 months we do something, whether it's one of his proposals or all of his proposal.

Q: Realistically, if you're elected you'll be the least senior member of the House and the session will be half over. If you can do one thing for your district, what do you think that number one priority would be?
If there's a way to get education dollars to the district, I think this year there's a good chance, it may not be this term but maybe it's next term, but if there was a chance to deal with No Child Left Behind and get some of the dollars back to the district, that would be very helpful.

Maybe I'll get lucky like Jim Shannon and get on Appropriations, but I'm not holding my breath. I think that's a different point. Of the candidates in this race, I'm the one who's served on the local level, state level, that has owned a business and from day one I'm ready to go. I've worked with many of the local officials throughout the district, obviously I've worked with state officials, and I've worked with many of the Congressman and Senators. Because of that, there really isn't going to be a steep learning curve. From day one I'll be ready to go.
Q: You mentioned earlier working with local officials, and in Lawrence in particular I understand you're friends with the mayor, Mike Sullivan. If he ends up being the Republican nominee and you don't end up winning the Democratic primary, who would you support?
I'd support the Democratic nominee.
Q: How can people get involved in your campaign?
The website is We're going to be very active. Part of my campaign is what we call our “Wake Up Washington” campaign. I'm going to be out very early at local coffee shops, I'm going to be out holding coffees in the district … I'd love people to have the opportunity to come hear me speak, and hear their issues and their ideas. That information will become available on my website.