1st Hampshire House candidates take similar positions on energy policy

  • Diana Szynal, who is a candidate for the 1st Hampshire District state representative seat, answers a question during a forum focused on climate and energy issues, Tuesday, June 5, 2018 at JFK Middle School. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Lindsay Sabadosa, who is a candidate for the 1st Hampshire District state representative seat, answers a question during a forum focused on climate and energy issues, Tuesday, June 5, 2018 at JFK Middle School. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Lindsay Sabadosa, left, and Diana Szynal, who are candidates for the 1st Hampshire District state representative seat, listen to a question during a forum focused on climate and energy issues, Tuesday, June 5, 2018 at JFK Middle School. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jean Cherdack, from left, Nancy Polan, Stan Moulton and Adele Franks prepare for a candidates forum between Lindsay Sabadosa and Diana Szynal for the 1st Hampshire District seat formerly held by the late Peter Kocot, Tuesday at JFK Middle School. The forum was sponsored by the League of Women Voters and Climate Action Now. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

Published: 6/5/2018 11:25:47 PM



NORTHAMPTON — The two Democratic candidates vying to represent the 1st Hampshire District found little to disagree on as they took questions on climate change and energy policy at a forum Tuesday.

The forum was the third sponsored by Climate Action Now and the League of Women Voters, and was for Democrats seeking the seat previously held by Rep. Peter Kocot of Northampton, who served as the district’s representative from 2002 until his death in February. The 1st Hampshire District consists of Northampton, Westhampton, Southampton and Hatfield in Hampshire County, and Montgomery in Hampden County.

Diana Szynal of Hatfield, Kocot’s longtime district director, and Lindsay Sabadosa of Northampton, director of the Pioneer Valley Women’s March, are the two candidates running in the Democratic primary.

In opening remarks, Szynal, 51, presented herself as well-connected with key players at state agencies, policymakers and activists, and knowledgeable about state procedures from her time working with Kocot. She said she was proud to support his progressive agenda, mentioning his opposition to local biomass plants and pipeline expansion.

Sabadosa, 37, led off by mentioning the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy 50 years ago, and said she hopes to emulate his bottom-up approach to leadership. She said climate change is an issue that affects everything from the economy to public health, adding that Springfield has the highest asthma rates in the country and presenting herself as the right candidate to address those intersectional challenges.

Diving into policy, there were many initiatives they both agreed on: eliminating a cap on solar net metering, which compensates solar producers for the unused electricity they send back to the grid; accelerating the state’s move away from fossil fuels, including strict opposition to pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure; divesting the state’s pension fund from coal and reinvesting in clean energy; and expanding public transportation, to name a few.

The most substantial difference came during a question about whether the candidates would support overriding local zoning regulations in favor of solar and wind projects.

Szynal said she was “very reluctant” to meddle with communities’ ability to set their own standards for zoning. Sabadosa said location is very important for solar and wind projects, and that she didn’t want to make any blanket statement on the issue. She said she doesn’t want to see solar fields on important farm land, for example, but that Nimbyism in places like Cape Cod has prevented wind energy from gaining a foothold.

Panelist Adele Franks of Climate Action Now asked the candidates what they would do to ensure communities most affected by climate change, like Springfield, have access to green jobs and a voice in decision making.

“Giving them a seat at the table is step one,” Szynal said, adding that cities bear the brunt of pollution and other environmental hazards. “We shouldn’t expect people to have to live, work and play close to sources of pollution.”

Sabadosa said that bringing people to the table is not enough, and that local officials need to go into affected communities rather than just speaking with an official from the area who, for example, likely doesn’t have children in a school sited underneath a highway.

“That’s why we’re still seeing these issues, why we’re seeing such economic injustice happening,” she said.

Both candidates agreed that a significant challenge to pushing their green agendas would be a tightly controlled leadership in the Statehouse stalling progressive legislation, and both mentioned joining caucuses — a clean-energy caucus created by Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose, for example — as a way to break through the logjam.

“That’s where you build the strength and number of legislators to move these things, through collaboration,” Szynal said.

“When we see so few bills passed in a legislative session, that does not feel like democracy,” Sabadosa said of the current House leadership.

In closing remarks, Sabadosa thanked her daughter for attending the forum, particularly because younger generations are growing up with a greater urgency to address climate change, which she said will be their biggest challenge. She said she is ready to use her connections as a longtime activist to strengthen statewide and local coalitions.

“I will do the hard but important work of building bridges,” she said. “Most importantly, I will never expect people to just come to me to do this work. I will go to them.”

Szynal referred to her experience fighting “big box” development and protecting land. She mentioned a fight she had led against a cell tower being sited in a residential neighborhood during one of her two terms on the Hatfield Select Board.

“I’ve amassed extensive experience that you can rely on from day one,” she said.

A fourth forum, sponsored by the Democratic Committees in South Hadley and Easthampton, will take place on June 21 at 7 p.m. at the South Hadley Public Library for candidates running the 2nd Hampshire District seat currently held by Rep. John Scibak.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.

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