Region’s new legislators eager to get started: Mark, Oliveira, Saunders join big class of new lawmakers

  • Contributed Photo/Jamie Malcolm-Brown Contributed Photo/Jamie Malcolm-Brown

  • Paul Franz Paul Franz

  • file photo file photo

Staff Writer
Published: 12/6/2022 8:22:44 PM
Modified: 12/6/2022 8:22:22 PM

Although more than half of the races in November’s general election for the state Legislature were uncontested, there are over 20 new lawmakers who will take the oath of office in January.

Among those newcomers are three western Massachusetts legislators — Paul Mark, Jake Oliveira and Aaron Saunders — who are no strangers to Beacon Hill. One comes to the House having spent several years supporting a state senator and two are sitting representatives who are moving across the hall next session to join the Senate. The three legislators shared their vision just weeks before they officially assume their new positions.

Paul Mark

For the past 11 years, Mark has served as the state representative for the 2nd Berkshire District. However, that district will no longer exist in January as redistricting eliminated it.

In November, Mark won election for the state Senate seat in the Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden District, succeeding the seat vacated by former state Sen. Adam Hinds, who did not seek reelection after failing to make the primary ballot for lieutenant governor.

In his new role, Mark will represent 57 western Massachusetts cities and towns, including the Hampshire County communities of Chesterfield, Cummington, Goshen, Middlefield, Huntington, Westhampton, Williamsburg and Worthington; the Franklin County towns of Ashfield, Buckland, Charlemont, Colrain, Conway, Hawley, Heath, Monroe, Shelburne and Whately; and all of Berkshire County.

The Democratic senator-elect from Becket has lofty goals to reach out to as many constituents as possible. He has plans to hold office hours in Pittsfield, roving hours throughout his district and multiple “coffee and conversations” gatherings throughout the next year.

“I want my communities to get to know that me and my team are accessible. I want to be a resource,” said Mark. “I want all of my towns — big and small — to know that we care. We want people to feel like they matter, because they do. We want them to have access to their state government.”

Jake Oliveira

As a lifelong and fourth generation resident of western Massachusetts, Oliveira said he feels comfortable understanding the needs of municipalities because he has built relationships with so many town officials over the years.

The Democratic senator-elect is assuming the seat previously occupied by former state Sen. Eric Lesser, who lost in the state primary to Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, the now lieutenant governor-elect.

Oliveira will transition to the Senate after one term in the House. Prior to that, he spent 12 years on the Ludlow School Committee and worked as a legislative director for then-Rep. and now-Sen. Michael Rodrigues, D-Westport.

In his new role, the Ludlow resident said he’s looking to be visible and present in each of the 12 communities he represents that are part of Hampshire, Hampden and Worcester District, including South Hadley, Granby and Belchertown in Hampshire County.

“I’m looking forward to getting to work,” Oliveira said. “I’m in the process of reviewing resumes and interviewing candidates to build my team as I transition from the House to the Senate.”

He noted how much he looked forward to building relationships with his senate colleagues and imagines he’ll be a part of a tight-knit class with fellow newcomer Mark in creating a unified voice for western Massachusetts.

As he prepares for the new session in January, Oliveira said some of the areas he’ll be focusing on will be regional equity for western Massachusetts and making East-West rail a reality.

Aaron Saunders

With a district that touches four different counties, Democratic Rep.-elect Aaron Saunders says he sees his sprawling 7th Hampden District as an opportunity to be a part of different conversations all over the state.

“The district is unique in a lot of ways, but the issues facing these communities in western Mass. tie them together — substance use disorders challenges are the same in North Quabbin as it is in Ludlow. Affordable housing challenges in Belchertown are the same as it is in New Salem,” said Saunders. “I’m joining a really strong western Mass. delegation and I’ll see to it that the region gets its fair share of projects and funding for truly its unique needs.”

The Belchertown resident is a former Select Board member in Ludlow, and he also co-founded Loophole Brewing Services. He also previously spent six years as the chief of staff to former state Sen. Gale Candaras, D-Wilbraham.

The 7th District includes Belchertown, Pelham and Shutesbury and several other Franklin County and North Quabbin towns.

While his to-do list of issues he’d like to focus on has roughly 75 items on it, Saunders said he hopes to refocus the public health spotlight on the opioid crisis and the uptick in overdose deaths.

The State House News Service contributed to this story.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.
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