AMHERST — With the exit of independent Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose from the campaign for the 3rd Hampshire District, the Sept. 4 Democratic primary looks set to determine who will represent the district on Beacon Hill.
Yet while Eric Nakajima and Mindy Domb, both of Amherst, didn’t bare major policy disagreements in a social services-focused forum at the Jones Library Thursday evening, it was more than clear that the two candidates for the nomination are taking their own approaches.
In his opening remarks, Nakajima, the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee chairman, detailed his service on the committee, noting its efforts in crafting an anti-food shaming policy and opposing the expansion of a local charter school to preserve the school’s budget.
“I do believe I have good experience ... writing good legislation,” he said.
Furthermore, he put forward his philosophy of having government help those who have been left behind, noting his work in Holyoke and Roxbury, and said he wants to push forward an agenda at the Statehouse that includes a progressive income tax, reworking school and charter school funding, and reinvesting in green infrastructure and energy.
There’s heavy lifting to do,” he said, saying that such an agenda will require community partnership.
Domb, executive director of the Amherst Survival Center, said she spent most of her post-college work life working in the HIV epidemic. She said that she oversaw two statewide programs in this work, which she said brought her into a variety of places, from churches to factories to bars.
“Even beauty shops,” she said. “Some right here in Amherst.”
She said that being involved in the epidemic demonstrated to her how people care for one another as a community, and how resources or the lack thereof can have a profound impact on people.
“It also demonstrated to me that policy starts where people’s needs are,” she said, citing the importance of involving people in policies that affect them.
Domb said the damaging effects of stigma also became apparent to her.
“I’d like to think that a lot of my life has also been dedicated to identifying and naming stigma,” she said.
If the few dozen people in the audience were expecting major policy debates between the two candidates, none materialized.
Support for progressive taxation, single-payer health care, affordable housing and for the Safe Communities Act were shared by both. However, they still came at shared goals from their own perspectives.
Progressive taxation was a particular passion for Nakajima, which he brought up more than once. In that vein, he lamented the demise of the Fair Share Amendment, which would have imposed a tax on income over $1 million in Massachusetts but was stricken from this year’s election ballot by the state’s Supreme Court.
“One of my top priorities is to get that back on the agenda,” said Nakajima, who also backed raising additional revenue in the interim to invest in public education and transit.
Domb said a silver lining of the defeat of the Fair Share Amendment is that the effort to get it on the ballot has engaged so many people on the issue.
On housing, Nakajima said he was in favor of comprehensive land-use reform to allow for more affordable and workforce housing. He also cited the importance of developing single-room occupancy housing.
Domb, meanwhile, said she believed that housing, health care and food are fundamental rights.
“That’s where I start from,” she said.
She also said that a living wage is an important part of that conversation, and that $15 an hour is not enough to provide for people’s needs.
On single-payer health care, Nakajima said he wanted to make the case to legislators from districts with a high number of people in the insurance industry, as well as people in the business community.
“We really have to push the dialogue with people who are … the most vocal opponents,” he said.
He also spoke about highlighting economic benefits of single-payer health care.
Domb said she started calling single-payer health care Medicare for all as a health educator because she found that it put people at ease and demonstrated that the concept is not a new one.
Both candidates also floated the idea of a ballot initiative on single payer, which Domb drilled into.
“Referendums have a role,” said Domb, who noted their ability to engage communities. “It’s an organizing tool.”
Domb pointed to the importance of increasing female representation in the Statehouse, and she said it was exciting to see the large number of progressive women running for office in area districts.
In a dramatic turn, Nakajima agreed.
“I mean, I want to win the race,” he said. “But I completely agree.”
He said that there are extraordinary women running in western Massachusetts, and in particular cited Natalie Blais, who is campaigning for the 1st Franklin District seat in the House.
Asked about her proudest professional accomplishment, Domb cited getting a bus stop and bus shelter at the Survival Center, noting how it had involved building a coalition.
“Every day when I see people come off that bus … it feels very, very good,” Domb said.
She also brought up securing the bus line in her closing, along with providing diapers to needy parents and creating a meal delivery program for families affected by HIV.
“That’s the same passion and persistence I will bring to Boston, on behalf of Amherst, Pelham and Granby” she said.
In his closing, Nakajima noted the importance of working collaboratively with people in the district.
“The term of art for that is constituent service,” he said.
He also likened advocating for progressive policies in the Reagan years and 1990s to tilting at windmills, saying the conventional wisdom at the time was to be more centrist.
“I’ve never done that,” he said. “I’m going to bring a passion to serving you.”
The forum was sponsored by the Center for Human Development. The 3rd Hampshire District consists of Amherst, Pelham and part of Granby.
Bera Dunau can be reached at email@example.com.