ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL:
Kathleen Walker, candidate for state representative
By Barbara Van Reed
Kathleen Walker is a member of the Charlton Board of Selectmen, and she’s running to represent the citizens of Dudley, Southbridge, three precincts in Charlton, and one in Spencer in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. A Democrat, she is challenging the Republican incumbent, Peter J. Durant, for the seat representing the 6th Worcester District.
Why? “Because I don’t believe we’re being fairly represented in the legislature. Our district deserves better,“ she said. “Very few pieces of legislation that would help the district have successfully moved forward; too much attention is paid to downtown Boston needs, and not enough to ours.”
“My opponent does not appear to be willing to work across the aisle and seems to be following a strict party line, getting caught up in the ideology, rather than trying to collaborate.”
Ms. Walker calls her greatest strength the ability to bring people together, and to work together, for common cause. She cites numerous examples of the programs in which she’s been involved during the ten years she’s been a member of the Board of Selectmen in Charlton.
She initiated the first household hazardous waste day, organized twice yearly meetings of all boards and committees in Charlton, started a Habitat housing effort that’s currently underway, started up the recycling committee, and helped set up the Earth Day Festival. She was instrumental in changing and improving the senior tax work-off program and is now in the midst of promoting a similar program for veterans.
Then there was the Fay Mountain Farm Committee. Ten years ago Charlton acquired the farm through grants from the state with the provision that it be used for farming purposes. And ten years later, nothing had happened. “The state was putting pressure on us,” she said. “So I got a group of people together whom I thought would be interested in the cause, and we worked with the Conservation Department to comply. We were able to hire a farmer, who started growing apple trees. And we’re now planning a Fall Festival for the first time.”
She has also spent considerable time in the last eight years resolving the after effects of an Exxon-Mobil oil spill on the Mass Pike, getting clean water to impacted properties. Earlier this year, a new water line was installed. It goes through the town center and that will certainly help the local businesses there, she said.
Her most recent organizational activity was the resurrection of the Worcester County Selectmen’s Association, which had been inactive for ten years. With the assistance of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, the first meeting of the group took place last month in Shrewsbury and another has been scheduled for later this month. “By meeting with selectmen from other towns, sharing mutual problems and issues, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. And, we can go to the state house with one voice.”
Ms. Walker always has a plan when she’s getting something started. “I want every project to be a collaborative effort, pulling together people who are interested in the same cause. And we always have fun,” she says, with a smile.
No conversation with a candidate would be complete without a discussion about jobs. “Jobs are enormously important in this area, and we can’t stop until every single person has a job,” Ms. Walker said.
While making the state business-friendly is the legislature’s job, there are some local initiatives that can help. One that she mentioned is the Quaboag Valley Community Development Corporation. “They are offering new loans for rural Microenterprise Businesses, small businesses with up to ten employees – loans are from $500 to $50,000 – the average is $35,000, and now Southbridge, Charlton and Dudley can apply for these loans as well.”
“We can all do little things to help our local businesses,” she continued. “For example, I’m having my campaign materials printed right here in Southbridge.” She looks out the window of her campaign office on Main Street. “Southbridge is a town waiting to be developed. But we need more training, the right kind of training.” She refers back to a Westfield State College plan to establish a criminal justice program in an old Southbridge mill two years ago. That project seems to be stalled for lack of federal funding.
Ms. Walker would also like to see some of the money spent in Boston for transportation sent to communities here. Increasing transportation will improve job opportunities. “Expansion of buses and trains would help people who don’t have cars to commute to jobs.” She noted that train service from Worcester to Boston is scheduled to increase next year, and that will help Central Mass in general.
To learns more about the jobs picture, she’ll be attending the Summit on Local Job Trends, which will discuss labor market challenges and opportunities for Central Mass. The event is put on by the Commonwealth Corporation and the New England Public Policy Center of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
We asked how she plans to vote on ballot questions 2 and 3, the right to prescribe medications to end life, and the legalization of marijuana for medical use. She’s tending to favor both, she said, but cautioned for the need for great care in their implementation. “There’s no room for mistakes,” she said, “or the consequences could be disastrous.” She bases her responses on seeing the long agony of an aunt who was dying from cancer with no hope of recovery, and might have had the “dignity of determining her own death.” Her opinion on medical marijuana is similar - a stepson had broken his neck in an accident and had a difficult, painful recovery. He had a prescription for medical marijuana. He never used it, but would have had the option had the pain become unbearable.
Before her life as a selectman, Ms. Walker had a 20-year career with the US Post Office as a site acquisition specialist and lease negotiator. Locally, she leased the sites for the Dudley, North Oxford, Charlton and Southbridge post offices. An advocate for historic preservation, she was able to save some old historic buildings from demolition, she said.
Ms. Walker is a graduate of Northeastern University, and is married to Mike Lally.
As we finished our conversation she said, “I have a beautiful home, a comfortable life, and eight wonderful grandchildren. I don’t need to do this. But I feel compelled to help make the changes we need, to get our communities better represented at the state level.”
- Tuesday, 09 October 2012
- Posted in Categories: : Letter From the Editor