Rep. Oliveira moves up to state Senate with win over businessman Johnson

  • Jake Oliveira, 34, of Ludlow will be sworn in on Jan. 6, 2021, to represent the Massachusetts House of Representatives 7th Hampden District, which includes three of Belchertown's four precincts as well as parts of Ludlow, Chicopee and Springfield. His predecessor, Thomas Petrolati, held the seat for 34 years. Photographed outside Belchertown Town Hall on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020.

Staff Writer
Published: 11/9/2022 9:08:01 PM

BELCHERTOWN — State Rep. Jake Oliveira, D-Ludlow, will be the new state senator for the 12 communities that are part of the Hampshire, Hampden and Worcester District, including South Hadley, Granby and Belchertown, after defeating Republican businessman Bill Johnson of Granby in Tuesday’s state election.

“I’m excited to begin work on behalf of the residents of this newly created district,” Oliveira said in a phone interview Wednesday, adding that he intends to prioritize regional equity for western Massachusetts.

Oliveira said he will soon be meeting with the three senators who currently represent the district’s communities to ensure there are no gaps in constituent service as he moves from one office to another in January.

With just under 80% of votes tabulated, Oliveira had earned 32,635 votes to Johnson’s 26,245 votes, for a 55% to 45% margin.

Though not all the votes from the dozen towns were in, Johnson conceded that there was no path for him to win and to succeed state Sen. Eric Lesser in the newly drawn district. That prompted Johnson to make a phone call to offer congratulations to Oliveira.

Before serving in the Legislature, to which he was elected two years ago, Oliveira served on the Ludlow School Committee and as a Ludlow Town Meeting member.

With the apparent passage of the Fair Share Amendment, and existing federal sources of money, he sees “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in infrastructure and education,” Oliveira said.

His priorities include support for education from early childhood to public higher education, being part of a unified voice to promote east-west passenger rail and other rail projects in the state, and addressing hidden infrastructure, whether it be aging water and sewer lines and broadband that isn’t always affordable. Oliveira also intends to fulfill a commitment to the state’s climate roadmap.

On the trail, he heard about the mental health crisis coming out of the pandemic that is impacting children, families and businesses, and wants to address that through adding social workers and clinicians.

As a senator he will represent a district four times the size of his House districts, and because the state Senate is a smaller body he will automatically chair committees and have influence over setting policy setting, he noted. Over a 10-month campaign, he knocked on 20,000 doors, he said.

“It’s been an amazing opportunity to engage with voters and the working families in this region,” Oliveira said.

Johnson, longtime owner of Bill’s Auto Body on Route 202, has served on the Granby Conservation Committee and the Granby Select Board, and he’s currently a member of the Pathfinder Regional School Committee.

“I ran because I truly felt Beacon Hill needed a perspective as it relates to business, a different perspective,” Johnson said, noting that he wanted to confront inflation and the rising price of gas and groceries, as well as support public safety and the rights of parents in education.

Johnson said he enjoyed the campaign, meeting residents at their homes and taking in the many restaurants in the district. As he turns over his shop to his sons, he will continue with a consulting practice. He saw himself as a citizen legislator, rather than a career politician, and put into practice his belief that “you need to be willing to fail to be able to succeed.”

“I feel voters in this district lost a valuable voice, but I respect the voters and the outcome,” Johnson said.

In addition to the three Hampshire County towns, the Senate district includes Ludlow, Palmer, Warren, Hampden, Longmeadow, East Longmeadow, parts of Springfield, parts of Chicopee and Wilbraham.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at
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