GCC professor Thomas Simmons running for 1st District Congressional seat

  • THOMAS SIMMONS

For the Gazette
Published: 10/31/2016 11:16:53 PM

SHELBURNE FALLS — Greenfield Community College economics and business professor Thomas Simmons, a Shelburne Falls Libertarian running for the First District congressional post, says that although he’s always been interested in politics, this is his first bid for public office.

Simmons, one of two unenrolled candidates hoping to unseat longtime Democratic incumbent Richard Neal, has spent 19 years teaching at GCC, from which he plans to retire this year, and before that was administrator of Martha’s Vineyard’s regional planning agency for 10 years.

A graduate of Hofstra University with a law degree from Hofstra as well, Simmons has also worked as a commercial fisherman, a tractor-trailer driver and a lawyer representing Vietnam veterans on the Agent Orange case.

“In an election year with a lot of unhappiness and unrest, from all sides and an incumbent who’s been there 27 years without much opposition at all, it just seemed like now is the time to offer another voice, another alternative,” says the 56-year-old candidate.

The issue that drew him into running is the Common Core federal educational initiative, which he says has “tied the hands of teachers and dumbed-down the education of our students,” and has been supported by Neal.

“I see schools devoting resources away from teaching and learning, toward creating reports and data for politicians and government to show they’re meeting certain criteria,” Simmons said, with implications for colleges, where “60 percent of students coming into GCC, for example, are in need of developmental math and English, so they’re not college-ready. But state funding levels are all based on how quickly you get them in and out of the system and how few credits they have to take in order to get their degree.”

In addition to multiple-choice standardized tests that don’t measure critical thinking skills, he said, “There are all these unintended consequences. Even in my political race, I shy away from easy answers. We’re in a tweet world where people ask, are you for or against this? Issues are complicated, and the devil’s always in the details.”

When he decided in April to run, Simmons made a commitment to collect the necessary signatures in as many of the 85 First District towns as possible, and beginning in June traveled to 80 of those communities in Franklin, Hampshire, Berkshire, Hampden and Worcester counties.

“In talking with people in the Hilltowns and the Berkshires, many people didn’t know who their congressman was, and when I mentioned his name, they were not even familiar with him, or if they were, the response was not positive.”

As a Libertarian — which the former Long Island Republican-turned Democrat became about 10 years ago — Simmons said he comes at Neal from the left and right.

“I have a real hard time with his penchant for embracing large, out-of-state corporations, both in his fundraising and his votes,” Simmons said. “I’m very much against corporate welfare, and he’s been one of prime supporters in Congress for the Import-Export Bank, which lends money at below-market rates to foreign companies who are not creditworthy to buy American goods. That may sound good in theory, but last year, 82 percent of that money went to buy products from Boeing in Washington state, which has nothing to do with western Mass.”

Simmons also criticizes Neal from the left, for opposing legalization of marijuana.

“I favor (Massachusetts ballot) Question 4. Prohibitions have never worked,” Simmons said.

Stressing his environmental position, he said he would outlaw neonicotinoids that are hurting the bee population, and “was thoroughly against the Tennessee Gas Pipeline,” a project Neal, “was fairly silent on.”

Simmons calls for simplifying the tax structure, and proposes addressing the growing income gap with a corporate income tax plan based on a German and French model that offers a $1.15 direct tax credit to companies for every dollar they give across the board to all employees in profit sharing.




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