US Sen. Scott Brown has mixed record on Valley issues
Senator Scott Brown, second from right, makes a campaign appearance at St. Anthony's Cedars Social & Banquet Hall in Springfield on Sunday where he was introduced by former Democratic Springfield mayor Charlie Ryan.
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Senator Scott Brown makes a campaign appearance at St. Anthony's Cedars Social & Banquet Hall in Springfield on Sunday where he was introduced by former Democratic Springfield mayor Charlie Ryan, right.
KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »
As U.S. Sen. Scott Brown battles Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren in one of the nation’s most closely watched congressional campaigns, he has sought to paint himself as a champion of western Massachusetts.
Brown cites his support for the region’s veterans and two military installations, Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee and Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield, amid talk of potential defense cuts.
He takes credit for saving jobs at MassMutual by winning the Springfield-based company an exemption under the 2010 financial reform legislation, and says he was a tireless advocate for aid to victims of the tornado in 2011 after “the cameras and reporters left.”
His record on agriculture is mixed. Brown voted for a farm bill widely praised by the region’s agricultural advocates, but he also backed an amendment that would have cut off a critical source of funding for farmers seeking to make capital investments.
And Brown, a Republican, backed a bipartisan bill to keep interest rates on student loans frozen for one year. That came after he voted against a Democratic proposal to freeze interest rates by raising taxes on the wealthy and oil companies, and after his own proposal to pay for a rate freeze by limiting government waste went nowhere.
“Ultimately, the main issues impacting western Massachusetts, like everyone else in the state, are jobs and the economy,” Brown spokeswoman Alleigh Marre wrote in an email to the Gazette. “Scott Brown has a proven record of working across the aisle to get the economy moving again.”
State Sen. Michael Knapik, R-Westfield, said Brown has “met and exceeded” his expectations.
“He went to Washington and did what he said he was going to do, which was not to vote to raise taxes,” Knapik said.
He also praised Brown’s efforts in opposing cuts at Westover and Barnes. “He has been right at the forefront of trying to preserve those, based on what are probably going to be some enormous defense cutbacks,” Knapik said. “They are enormous employers in the Valley, in a critical national public safety mission as well.”
But Democrats take a different view of Brown’s record.
“What record?” asked state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst. “In two years, I have seen Scott Brown in western Massachusetts once.”
Rosenberg noted that Brown opposed three Democratic jobs bills. Brown said they would raise taxes at a time when the country could not afford that. Rosenberg disagreed.
“Given the high level of unemployment in the state, the high level of economic pain, I cannot imagine why there would be any details that would override the need for bills that create jobs,” Rosenberg said.
Brown has been an infrequent visitor to Franklin and Hampshire counties. According to his campaign, he made one stop in Franklin County this year, paying a visit to Yankee Candle in South Deerfield. He has not been in Hampshire County.
The senator has been a more frequent visitor to Hampden County, and he has an office for constituent services in Springfield. He also campaigned in Springfield last weekend.
“Senator Brown also has a staff member that is dedicated to western Massachusetts and constituent concerns in the area,” Marre said in response to questions about Brown’s trips to the region.
A review of Brown’s voting record and interviews with regional policy-makers suggests that his support for issues affecting western Massachusetts lies somewhere in between the claims made by his campaign and the more critical picture painted by Democrats.
The farm bill is perhaps the best example of how Brown has been inconsistent in his advocacy for western Massachusetts priorities.
The Senate passed the farm bill with Brown’s support in June, but the measure died in the House — its authorization to fund government programs ranging from food stamps to crop subsidies to conservation programs expired in October. Brown’s support of the bill won praise from farm advocates at the time, especially his support of an amendment which would have reversed $4.5 billion in cuts to food stamps over 10 years. The amendment ultimately failed.
Annette Higby, policy director for the 1,500-member New England Farmers Union, said Brown deserves credit for supporting the bill and, in particular, provisions that would provide mandatory funding for rural development programs.
But Brown also supported a proposal to halt funding for Value Added Producer Grants, perhaps one of the most crucial programs to farmers in the region, Higby said. That program provides farmers with money to study and then invest in capital projects. The amendment, sponsored by New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, also a Republican, would have halted funding for the program for 12 to 18 months until an audit by the Inspector General’s office was completed.
“We all want the program to do its best, to serve small and mid-size farmers best, but this really seemed aimed at killing the program,” Higby said. The amendment ultimately failed.
The story is similar on higher education. Brown backed a compromise bill maintaining interest rates on federally issued Stafford Loans at 3.4 percent for one year.
He also helped secure $2.5 million for the University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences to develop the Western Massachusetts Public Health Training Center and supported $1 million for programs serving Upward Bound students at UMass Amherst and Fitchburg State University.
Michael Malone, UMass vice chancellor of research and engagement, said Brown’s staff come to “events we’ve had in the area for manufacturing and precision manufacturing.”
But Brown’s attacks on Warren’s salary at Harvard University, where she is a law professor, and his position that salaries like hers are contributing to the higher costs of college have not been well received by some in the higher education community.
Max Page, professor of architecture and history at UMass Amherst and vice president of the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM), said faculty salaries have not kept pace with inflation in recent years, he said.
“When he sends people searching for the roots of the problem in higher faculty salaries, it shows he has a reflexive ideology and no grasp of the facts,” Page said.
Brown’s opposition to any sort of tax increase also means budget cuts are more likely for higher education, Page said.
“There is no sense where I sit as a faculty member, as a PHENOM member, that he is a supporter of public higher education,” Page said.
Like many senators, Brown has had little direct involvement with regional infrastructure projects, said Timothy W. Brennan, executive director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission. Such projects are usually the focus of congressmen, he said.
Brown did vote for a two-year, $54 billion transportation bill approved during the summer, Brennan said. While the bill provided level funding for transportation and infrastructure projects, Brennan said it represented progress.
Marre, in her email to the Gazette, said Brown supported the $73 million Knowledge Corridor project, which will bring high-speed passenger rail to the region. But the senator opposes paying for such projects with federal stimulus funds, she said. Instead he believes the money should come from savings achieved by cutting “government waste,” she said.
Support for veterans, military
Brown perhaps has received most praise in western Massachusetts for his support of veterans affairs and the continued operation of Westover and Barnes.
Brown repeatedly has questioned a proposal by the Air Force to cut by half the size of Westover’s fleet of C-5 transport planes.
In February, Brown and U.S. Sen. John Kerry wrote to Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley, saying that if the proposal stands “we are concerned it will hurt our nation’s critical, global strategic airlift capabilities.”
And Jack Downing, executive director of Soldier On, a Northampton nonprofit that helps homeless veterans, praised Brown for his approach to veterans’ affairs.
“What I like about him, honestly, is that he is very low-key, he does what we ask him to do without any fanfare,” Downing said.
Brown has supported two grants totaling $400,000 to help Soldier On in Massachusetts and grants of $3 million to aid the organization in New York and New Jersey, Downing said.
At the same time, Downing said he believes Warren also would be helpful, noting that she has three brothers who served in the military. “I have no reason to believe she wouldn’t be supportive,” Downing said.