Chang-Diaz aims for big, progressive change

State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz’s mother was a social worker, who helped women and children living on the margins overcome systemic barriers. Her father was a Costa Rican-born NASA astronaut who tied the record for the most space flights launched from Earth.

Chang-Diaz, a Boston Democrat running for governor, said her mother’s work shaped her desire to make societal changes that help those in need. Her father taught her to dream big. She describes her father as a man who “came to this country as a skinny brown kid with 50 bucks in his pocket” and a “monumental dream…of becoming an astronaut.”

“It puts the challenges that I face in perspective,” Chang-Diaz said. “And it gives me no excuse, no quarter, for thinking small.”

Chang-Diaz spoke on this week’s Codcast about the big ideas she is espousing on the campaign trail – and the challenges she will face to make them happen.

Chang-Diaz, a state senator since 2008, is facing Attorney General Maura Healey in the Democratic primary. She has carved out a niche for herself as a progressive Democrat in a state that leans heavily Democratic but also has a history of electing moderate Republicans like Gov. Charlie Baker, who is not running for reelection, to the governor’s office.

Much of Chang-Diaz’s career has focused on combating inequities, particularly in education. She says she was inspired to enter politics after teaching in Lynn Public Schools, where she was struck by the disparities between the lack of resources there and the resources she had attending Newton Public Schools.

“I saw the difference between those two worlds and the way that that gap narrowed the life choices for my kids in Lynn,” Chang-Diaz said. “And that really made me mad, as you could imagine, and it pushed me back into organizing in order to try to accomplish the changes that I thought would bring about systemic change for my students.”

A tagline of Chang-Diaz’s campaign has been the need for “increased urgency” combatting issues like climate change, traffic congestion, health care costs, and childcare accessibility. She has criticized Baker for lacking urgency. Yet polling finds Baker remains popular.

Asked whether voters will support a progressive Democrat, Chang-Diaz said she believes her independent-mindedness and willingness to challenge leaders in both parties will endear her to the electorate. “I think actually what voters want is not necessarily somebody who’s middle of the road, but somebody who is going to keep them as their north star,” Chang-Diaz said. “That is going to be anchored in the needs and the fears and the aspirations and hopes of working families in the state, and someone who’s willing to be independent minded, and not just go along to get along.”

Chang-Diaz said she thinks voters like Baker because he has maintained distance from the national Republican Party. But, she said, “Not voting for Donald Trump has not fixed our traffic congestion problems here in Massachusetts, right? And it hasn’t made the crushing student debt load that young people are carrying go away.”

Healey has remained far ahead of Chang-Diaz in fundraising and polling. But Chang-Diaz argued that her on-the-ground focus on building organizational infrastructure will triumph. “We have seen so many examples, time and time again, where people power movements have taken on and won against establishment powers in Massachusetts,” she said. “In the end, we have to remember…that it’s not money that wins elections. It’s people that win elections.”

Asked about one of her biggest failures to negotiate an agreement – the inability to reach a compromise on an education funding formula overhaul in 2018 – Chang-Diaz said she refused to agree to legislation that would not work. “I could have agreed to things in that conference committee that would have gotten the bill out, but they wouldn’t have been things that actually solve the problem,” she said.

Chang-Diaz said that failure led to the passage of the Student Opportunity Act the following legislative session. “Instead of agreeing to something that was about $300 million worth of funding for schools, in the end we got a package that was $1.5 billion with a B, that was actually the right size to solve the problem of closing those opportunity and achievement gaps,” she said.

Chang-Diaz’s penchant for releasing ambitious plans – like establishing a carbon-free electric grid by 2030 and making universal affordable preschool and debt-free college available to all families – begs the question of how she intends to pay for them. Chang-Diaz acknowledged the cost, but said it is worth it because of the broader impact her plans would have on society. “You can’t get big transformational change in most cases without spending some money,” she said. She said Massachusetts is “one of the wealthiest states in one of the wealthiest nations in the world.”

We have to have frank conversations about progressive revenue reform,” Chang-Diaz said, mentioning raising taxes on income over $1 million and closing “corporate tax loopholes” that let multinational companies store profits overseas.

SHIRA SCHOENBERG

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Father of American manufacturing: The new Samuel Slater Experience in Webster highlights how the mill magnate became the father of American manufacturing. The new Disney-like museum is the brainchild of 81-year-old Chris Robert. Read more.

Senate pay structure criticized: A report issued in November called for more transparency in setting legislative staff salaries in the Senate, and the chamber is attempting to have such a system in place by the start of the new fiscal year in July. Read more.

State House eases entry: The State House is dropping mask and vaccine requirements 13 days after opening to the public for the first time in nearly two years with those requirements in place. Read more.

Death penalty reinstated: The US Supreme Court, in a 6-3 ruling, reinstates the death penalty of Boston Marathon bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev. The court reversed an Appeals Court decision regarding the admission of evidence about the possible involvement of Tsarnaev’s brother in an earlier killing. Read more. 

OPINION

Breakdown lessons: Tarang Shah of TransitMatters uses a breakdown on the Worcester commuter rail line to provide some valuable lessons on what’s still missing as the MBTA tries to provide reliable service. Read more.

Appeal to Harvard: Lane Glenn and Allison Dolan-Wilson of Northern Essex Community College urge Harvard University to set aside a small portion of its endowment to support endowments at the state’s community colleges. Read more.

Save electric trolleys: Transportation strategist Kenneth Kruckemyer makes the case for saving the MBTA’s electric trolley buses. “I couldn’t imagine getting rid of something so good,” he writes. Read more.

Key COVID therapies: Helen Boucher of Tufts School of Medicine and Larry Madoff of the Department of Public Health say new COVID therapies are an important pathway out of the pandemic. Read more.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

The state’s autopsy rate is now among the lowest in the country, and in the wake of recent increases in funding for the state medical examiner’s office, the co-chair of the Legislature’s public health committee, wants to know why. (Boston Globe

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

The members of Springfield’s new police oversight commission pledge to operate in a fair, open, and independent manner. (MassLive)

In Springfield, some residents are losing their homes to a program intended to fix blighted properties. (GBH)

Chicopee tried merging the city and school’s maintenance departments to create efficiencies – but after three years it gave up on the experiment because employees were overwhelmed and work was not getting done. (MassLive)

White supremacist hate incidents nationally were at historic levels last year, and Massachusetts communities recorded the fourth highest number of incidents of any state. 

A new Bourne 55-plus apartment complex is running way behind schedule and many of the tenants are in need of a place to stay while the work is completed. (Cape Cod Times)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

UMass Memorial Medical is experimenting with a program that provides hospital-level care in a patient’s home. (Telegram & Gazette)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Ukraine is denouncing Moscow’s proposal for evacuation routes from the country, since four of the six proposed routes lead to Russia or its ally Belarus. (Washington Post) Mastercard and Visa are suspending operations in Russia. (New York Times

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Rising inflation is making life harder for low-income families in Massachusetts. (Salem News) Most US workers effectively took a pay cut last year because inflation outpaced wage growth. (CNHI News Service)

The Massachusetts Seafood Collaborative calls for sanctions to ban the importation of Russian fish. (Gloucester Daily Times) A number of South Coast area bar owners say they will not sell any Russian-made alcohol – though many of those bars did not carry any Russian brands to start with. (Standard-Times)

EDUCATION

Preliminary estimates indicate the cost of a new elementary school in Amherst could hit $100 million. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

The Boston Herald reports that more than 2,900 Boston teachers earn more than $100,000, but the paper compares that to the per capita income of $45,000, a figure that averages total income in the city among all residents, whether working or not, and includes children. 

A University of Virginia senior decries the self-censorship that she says has become pervasive on college campuses, where students feel pressure to conform their beliefs to prevailing views. (New York Times) The issue was explored in this recent CommonWealth piece on campus speech and the new University of Austin, whose founders say they aim to counter the stifling of campus debate. 

Five months after UMass Amherst students protested the school’s handling of sexual assaults, a number of policies have been changed. (MassLive)

TRANSPORTATION

More people died in traffic crashes in 2020 than 2019, despite fewer drivers on the road, according to a new report. But Massachusetts still had the lowest fatality rate in the country based on miles driven. (Eagle-Tribune)

Massachusetts residents are paying more for gasoline than they ever have before. (WBUR)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu says she’d like to have a new police commissioner on board by the spring, but others say that timeline may be too optimistic. (Boston Globe)  

Replacing the decrepit Roderick Ireland Courthouse in Springfield could cost $200 million. (MassLive)

MEDIA

Do reporters need to develop themselves as brands – inside the latest kerfuffle in journalism. (Medium)