2020 Dems make case to college organizers

  • U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, speaks to college Democrats at Holyoke Community College on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/MICHAEL CONNORS

  • U.S. Sen. Ed Markey speaks to college Democrats at Holyoke Community College on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/MICHAEL CONNORS

  • Shannon Liss-Riordan speaks to college Democrats at Holyoke Community College on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/MICHAEL CONNORS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/5/2019 8:59:23 PM

HOLYOKE — College Democrats from across the Pioneer Valley participated in a daylong conference on Saturday, where a series of speeches and panels featuring some 2020 election hopefuls illustrated policy differences on issues that are central to the upcoming race.

The 2019 kickoff event for College Democrats Western Mass was hosted by the newly formed College Democrats club at Holyoke Community College. Along with panels from state legislators and local mayors, the day was marked with stump speeches by U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and one of Markey’s primary challengers, Shannon Liss-Riordan. 

“It’s quite a success for us to be able to say we’re hosting a regional event that’s going to have two Congress people coming to our campus,” said Mark Cote, president of HCC College Democrats, a club founded this past spring. “It means that it really could happen anywhere.”

Students from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College and Clark University packed a third-floor conference room as they networked with one another while they waited for featured speakers. 

The first candidate to take the microphone was Liss-Riordan, a prominent labor lawyer who is challenging Markey along with current U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Newton, and Steve Pemberton.

Liss-Riordan walked the students through her career as an attorney and some of the cases she has litigated. The Brookline lawyer has filed numerous lawsuits against tech companies such as Uber and Lyft — legal cases in which she has raised the question of whether those companies misclassified their workers as independent contractors.

“There are no labor lawyers today in the United States Senate,” she said. “I’m in this race because I don’t think the Democratic Party is working hard enough for working people.”

In a question and answer session, Liss-Riordan called for a federal version of California’s ABC test, which is a three-part test that determines whether a worker should be classified as an employee or an independent contractor.

She also said she supported raising the federal minimum wage to at least $15 an hour, adding she believed “it needs to be tied to inflation.” Liss-Riordan also expressed her support for Medicare for All, saying she could only see the proposal working if private insurance was eliminated.

After hearing from a panel of state legislators that included state Rep. Aaron Vega, D-Holyoke, state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, and state Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst; students listened to Neal, who discussed his leadership on the extension of New Markets Tax Credits in 2015, a program which incentivizes business and real estate investment in low-income neighborhoods.

“I did real things in my career,” he said. 

Asked by a student how Democrats can make sure Medicare for All passes through Congress, Neal pointed to the Affordable Care Act where he explained the legislation’s expansion of Medicaid and the introduction of the individual mandate. 

“There’s nothing wrong with the aspiration of it,” he said of Medicare for All. “And it gets a little bit tricky in telling 160 million people that they have to give up what they have, including labor union people, who have negotiated, arguably, the best health insurance plans on Earth.”

He was also asked twice by students in the audience about his stance on the Green New Deal, a 14-page resolution in Congress that is focused on addressing climate change and economic inequality.

Though Neal said he has “no difficulty whatsoever” regarding the “aspiration” of the Green New Deal, he has not joined many of his Congressional colleagues in formally signing on to the proposal. As chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Neal said he would be one of the ones to write legislation surrounding economic development and the environment — adding he wanted a bill that could pass both the House and Senate.

“I don’t think there’s much chance of getting a Green New Deal past Mitch McConnell,” he said. 

Markey followed Neal and explained that the Green New Deal, which he co-sponsored alongside Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, was crafted with “intersectionality at the heart of it.”

He called for renewable energy and technology companies to receive the same tax credits oil and gas companies receive. 

“Our technologies will bury the fossil fuel era, and we will move on,” he said. 

In an interview following his speech with the Gazette, Markey was asked about whether he agreed with Liss-Riordan’s view that the minimum wage should be tied to inflation. 

“I think that it makes a lot of sense to ensure that the minimum wage never falls behind inflation and that we also lift what the minimum wage is so that ultimately it moves ahead of inflation,” Markey said. 

The day closed with a panel of local mayors, including Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse — who is running against Neal in the 1st Congressional District Democratic primary but did not make an individual speech — Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz and Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle.

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com. 


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