Greenfield Recorder 10/18/2012, Page A01
GREENFIELD — On the final day to register to vote in Massachusetts, state Rep. Paul Mark spoke with Greenfield Community College students, staff and faculty about the upcoming election and the role of government.
Mark — invited to speak by GCC Student Life — is running unopposed Nov. 6 to represent the state’s 2nd Berkshire district in the state Legislature, which after Jan. 1 will include 10 Franklin County towns, including Greenfield.
In Mark’s eyes, voting is not just about choosing a favorite candidate — it is about the individual doing his or her role in a process that governs the nation.
“Government isn’t this thirdparty thing,” said Mark, after a one-hour conservation Wednesday with members of the GCC community. “It’s our elected officials getting together and deciding collectively based on the individual input of citizens, ‘What should we do?’” Those who don’t vote are giving up their part in that process, said Mark. They therefore have no right to complain post-election when things don’t go the way they may want.
Mark, a Democrat, believes that many do not vote because they believe their vote won’t matter, something he said isn’t true.
Although Massachusetts generally votes Democratic, there have been some exceptions, he said. He pointed to current U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, a Republican running for re-election, and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a former governor in Massachusetts.
“Whether you’re liberal, conservative or moderate, your vote does matter,” said Mark. “If you don’t like a certain party in control, the way you change that is you get involved.”
Representing the district
Although Mark’s hour on campus was billed as a discussion on the importance of voting, the topic quickly shifted elsewhere.
A crowd of about 15 at any given time — with people trickling in and out from lunch or classes — asked Mark questions about his background and what he does on a daily basis.
Mark, 33, began his political career in 2010 when he won a three-way primary and three-way general election to become state representative.
But the journey began 25 years ago at a Fourth of July parade attended by thengovernor and presidential candidate Michael Dukakis.
“For some reason out of all the people on the sidelines, Dukakis came over and he shook my hand,” said Mark. “I was hooked on politics ever since then.”
For 10 years, Mark worked for Bell Atlantic, which eventually became Verizon. When not at work climbing telephone poles and fixing wires, he campaigned for Democrats during elections. And he attended school at night — earning a bachelor’s, master’s and law degrees from Southern New Hampshire University, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Suffolk University Law School and Northeastern University.
After friends and coworkers convinced him to run for an open seat in 2010, Mark described feeling like he could instantly make a difference once elected.
“You start to think like maybe you’re running for governor,” he said. “You’re going to go down there and the seas are going to part and everyone’s going to listen to what you say.”
Of course, he said, no state representative has that kind of power and this became obvious fairly quickly in Boston.
He also encountered in some a disconnect to the western Massachusetts way of life.
“When I tell people in Boston I don’t have cable TV in my house, they say, ‘What are you, a cheapskate?’” said Mark. “I say, ‘No, no, no, it doesn’t exist in my town. I can’t get it. There are no wires.”
But Mark said he does have the opportunity to represent his district’s interests. He serves on three joint committees: higher education; environment, natural resources and agriculture; and mental healthand substance abuse.
In addition to hearing and debating bills, Mark spends time in his district. He drove 57,000 miles last year around his coverage area and back and forth to Boston, he said.
Mark said he is available for office hours in Greenfield on Monday afternoons at the GCC downtown office.
And he said that he responds personally to email and phone calls. Any form of correspondence, as well as actual letters and in-person conversations, shows him that the issue is important to that individual — and therefore worth learning about.
Ultimately, what the district wants will always come first, he said.
“If there are two events going on, if there’s a chance to see Barack Obama up in Manchester, N.H., or come speak here (at GCC) to talk with students, 90 percent of the time I’d come here,” said Mark. “That’s what gets me reelected, that’s what keeps me in focus with the people, that’s what makes me be the best representative I can be.”
Chris Shores can be reached at:firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261 ext. 264