Humason’s Senate exit opens door to Democrat in 2nd Hampden and Hampshire District

  • DON HUMASON

  • Massachusetts state Rep. John Velis, D-Westfield, is running for the state Senate seat being vacated by Don Humason. THE REPUBLICAN via AP

Staff Writer
Published: 11/15/2019 5:01:28 PM

NORTHAMPTON — When state Sen. Don Humason takes over as Westfield mayor in January, a Democrat will have a shot at winning a seat that has been held by a Republican for the last quarter-century.

“It’s been Republican for 25 years,” said Matt Szafranski, editor of the Springfield blog Western Massachusetts Politics & Insight.

Humason, R-Westfield, is set to leave the Senate when he assumes the mayorship of his home city. The senator of the 2nd Hampden and Hampshire District, which includes Holyoke, Easthampton and Southampton, narrowly won the mayoral election in Westfield on Nov. 5. There will be a special election on a yet-to-be-determined date to fill his Senate seat, and as of now, state Rep. John Velis, D-Westfield, is the only candidate to announce his plan to run for the post.

Humason said he has “enjoyed everything about being a senator,” except for the commute and being away from home. The Westfield native has been commuting to Boston since he started working for Michael Knapik in 1991 as an aide, when Knapik was in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Humason went on to work for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services before his election to the House in 2002.

In 2013, Humason won a special election to succeed Knapik as the senator representing the 2nd Hampden and Hampshire District. Knapik, another Westfield Republican, was elected to the Senate in 1994 to a seat that was previously held by Democrat Shannon O’Brien of Easthampton. At the time, Humason defeated Holyoke City Councilor David K. Bartley, garnering about 53 percent of the vote.

Humason defeated Holyoke City Councilor Patrick Leahy in 2014 and Southampton lawyer J.D. Parker-O’Grady in 2016. He ran unopposed in the November 2018 election.

Velis, an attorney and a major in the Army Reserves, said he has been going around the district’s 11 communities over the last eight months asking people about issues important to them. Other towns in the district include Westfield, Agawam, Granville, Montgomery, Russell, Southwick, Tolland and part of Chicopee.

“People are sick of the partisan politics,” Velis said.

He described himself as a post-partisan politician who is running a post-partisan campaign, and said potentially reducing the Republican minority in the Senate is not important to him.

Velis highlighted education as one of his major focuses. A graduate of Westfield public schools, he self-identifies as a product of special education, saying that without special education teachers, “I wouldn’t be a high school graduate.”

Workforce development is another issue that Velis is running on. He spoke about the importance of employers talking to educators about the skills they need from graduates; he also sees the value in dispelling the belief that everyone should go to college, pointing to the work available in the trades.

Should he be elected, he said, he would be the “most accessible state senator this district’s ever had.”

Szafranski said Velis’ being from Westfield presents difficulties for potential Republican opponents, noting the district includes areas that lean heavily Democratic including Easthampton and Holyoke.

“I think he has a really good shot,” Szafranski said of Velis’ chances.

Humason’s tenure

For his part, Humason said he’s most proud of representing and spending time in all 11 communities in his district.

“I didn’t just spend all of my time in the big cities,” he said, pointing to the example of how when Tolland’s Department of Public Works garage burned down in 2016, he worked to help secure equipment before winter.

Additionally, Humason said he never missed a roll call vote as a senator.

He described himself as one of the Senate’s more conservative members, noting his vote against legislation allowing people to mark the nonbinary gender option of “X” on IDs. As a rule, Humason said, he tried to steer away from social issues.

Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle noted that Humason has been an advocate in seeking funding for her city in her time as mayor.

“Sen. Humason has helped Easthampton,” she said.

State Rep. Aaron Vega, D-Holyoke, who is supporting Velis, called Humason “an institution unto himself” and described him as a very moderate Republican.

It’s healthy for the commonwealth to have a balance of power between political parties, Humason said, regardless of whether a Republican replaces him in the Senate, but he doesn’t plan to get involved in the race to succeed him.

Next steps

According to the secretary of the commonwealth’s office, the state Senate will choose the date for the special election. However, it cannot do so until it receives a letter of resignation, and Humason has not yet submitted one.

Any primary must be held four weeks before a special election. Coordinating one of the elections with the March 3 presidential primary would be convenient for city and town clerks, according to the secretary of the commonwealth’s office.

Another Senate Republican, Vinny deMacedo, R-Plymouth, is set to step down to take a position at Bridgewater State University. This potentially could reduce the Republican Senate caucus from six to four members, although Humason noted the caucus was four members after he was first sworn in.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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