Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Amaad Rivera seizes 'progressive' label as sole challenger to state Sen. Jim Welch


Amaad Rivera seizes 'progressive' label as sole challenger to state Sen. Jim Welch

State Sen. Jim Welch and former Springfield City Councilor Amaad Rivera.

State Sen. Jim Welch and former Springfield City Councilor Amaad Rivera.(Republican file)
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It's Welch vs. Rivera in Hampden County.
In the race for state Senate in the Hampden District, Sen. Jim Welch, D-West Springfield, at one point faced four challengers. Now he is down to one: Amaad Rivera, a former Springfield city councilor. Both candidates are Democrats. Rivera is making the case that he is the more progressive one.
"Any Democrat is vulnerable when they have a record that doesn't match their district," Rivera said.
Welch said he is running on his record. "Some people call me progressive, some call me liberal, some call me moderate," Welch said. "I never bought into labeling myself."
Originally the race was more crowded. In addition to Rivera, Springfield City Councilor Adam Gomez and Giselle Vizcarrondo were running as Democrats while Lorenzo Gaines took out papers to run as unenrolled.
In March, Vizcarrondo dropped out, citing the need to care for her son. She endorsed Rivera. She said in an interview that Rivera is accessible, born and raised in Springfield and "able to listen to the community and articulate for us."
Giselle Vizcarrondo drops out of Hampden District Senate race

Vizcarrondo and Gaines are the parents of a 5-year-old boy who nearly drowned in a camp pool last summer. 
Gaines never turned in his signatures. "I felt with the quality of candidates, with Amaad and other folks, my goal was accomplished ... that my vision and some of the things important to me will take place," Gaines said. He has not officially endorsed another candidate.
Gomez dropped out of the race May 1. He has not decided whether to endorse.
Despite the difficulties of challenging an incumbent, Rivera has gotten support. Former Massachusetts Democratic Party Chairman John Walsh recently endorsed him. 
Walsh described Rivera as more aggressive than Welch. "Western Massachusetts is not treated fairly (on Beacon Hill)," Walsh said. "You need a person like Amaad Rivera in the Senate who's going to stand up and fight hard every day and maybe sometimes be a pain in the neck."
Walsh said he has no problem with Welch, but feels Rivera would be "a more aggressive advocate."
"It's not choosing between a good option and a bad option but maybe between a good option and a better option," Walsh said.
Rivera has support from New Politics, an organization founded to help new political candidates.
Welch has support from former Massachusetts Democratic Party Chairman Thomas McGee, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, 1199SEIU and the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts. The health care workers union, 1199SEIU, has been a strong organizing force in Massachusetts. 
Tim Foley, executive director of 1199SEIU, said Welch "is a longtime healthcare champion, advocating for policies that increase access to quality care and improve the lives of workers in this crucial industry." 
Welch entered 2018 with $42,900 in his campaign account. Rivera formed a fundraising committee in March. Neither candidate has to report fundraising numbers until August.
Welch said he is not worried about Walsh endorsing Rivera. "I didn't put much stake into it because he's not from around here. I tend to focus on people in the district and who know the district and know me," Welch said.
Rivera has worked as director of housing policy for the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, directed a small business program at Babson College and was a policy adviser to U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat. 
Rivera said he will be a stronger advocate than Welch on Beacon Hill. He is running on a platform of universal health care, support for climate change legislation and more gun control. He believes Western Massachusetts should get more money from Beacon Hill in areas like transportation.
"We're hearing from voters it's time to have someone who will actually step up for us and have a voice that won't be ignored," Rivera said. "We haven't had that in the past."
Rivera points out that Welch has a "D" rating from Progressive Massachusetts, when the average Senate Democrat scored a "C." Welch's rating was based mainly on several criminal justice votes he took, voting in favor of establishing new mandatory minimum sentences for assault and battery on a police officer and for trafficking carfentanil, reimposing mandatory minimums for cocaine offenses and selling drugs in school zones, and raising fines on habitual drunk drivers.
Rivera also points to Welch's "A" rating from the Gun Owners Action League, although the state gun lobby has not endorsed Welch.
Welch was first elected to the state House in 2004 and the state Senate in 2010.
Welch said he was part of the Legislature that voted for gay marriage and for some of the strongest gun laws in the country. Recently, he voted to ban bump stocks, devices designed to make it easier to fire a gun repeatedly. He voted for an environmental bill that included carbon pricing.
Welch's expertise is in health care policy as chairman of the Senate Committee on Health Care Financing. The Senate recently passed a major bill aimed at cutting health care costs.
The Massachusetts Senate passed a major health care cost containment bill at midnight on Thursday, after two days of debate.

"I think there's a big difference between someone saying that they are supportive of something ... as opposed to someone who actually has as track record like myself of voting on these issues," Welch said.
Welch said he is able to use his legislative experience to help the district. "I built up quite a bit of experience and expertise at the Statehouse to put us in a position in the district to be able to advocate to bring resources back," Welch said.