By G. Michael Dobbs
James Arena-DeRosa hopes to bring his broad social service experience to state government as he seeks to be the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor.
Arena-DeRosa was in Western Massachusetts on April 16 for a campaign swing and said he was no stranger to the region through his roles as the New England director of the Peace Corps and as the Northeast Regional Administrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
He’s quick to point out the importance that agriculture has in the economy in Western Massachusetts and how state and federal laws need to be revised to allow growth in farming and the expansion of jobs not just on farms in the preparation of food products.
He said that when it comes to government regulation and how they affect job growth, “I’m a big common sense guy. I ask, ‘Why are you doing this?’”
A resident of Holliston, Arena-DeRosa is a Harvard University graduate with a degree in anthropology. He was active at a young age in Democratic politics and served for a few years as the special assistant to the Secretary of the Commonwealth. Later he worked as the director for public policies at Oxfam America and served as a leader in the Service Employees International Union.
During the Clinton Administration he was the New England director of the Peace Corps and in 2010 he was appointed to his position at the USDA. He resigned from that job in order to run for office and currently teaches part-time at Brandeis University.
“The focus of my life is the campaign. I want to listen and learn,” he explained.
He noted there is a certain cynicism today about public office, but he was raised in an era where such service was celebrated.
“People forget what government does for us,” he said.
Although the Republican ticket for governor and lieutenant governor is a united one, the Democratic ticket will be a marriage made by decisions at the convention and then the primary. Arena-DeRosa said he has met and spoken with all of the gubernatorial candidates and said he could work with any of them.
Realizing that each governor sets the course for his or her administration and the role of the lieutenant governor, Arena-DeRosa envisions his role in the number two position as one of developing “long-term strategies.”
One of those long-term goals would be increasing participation in the free school lunch program. He noted that Massachusetts is 48th in participation on the school lunch program.
“Studies have shown a hungry child can’t learn,” he explained.
He said the Commonwealth is “leaving $20 million [in federal funding for school breakfasts] on the table.”
He is also an advocate of a single payer system for health insurance.
Arena-DeRosa added that one of the roles of government is to help create jobs. He said that he is not in favor of trying to “bribe” companies from around the world to resettle here through tax incentives. He would rather work on retaining and helping existing businesses.
“We need to build what we have here,” he said.
He said there are definite challenges for small business and “the rules favor big corporations.” He believes in creating an “equal playing field” for both.
Arena-DeRosa said that broadband access for rural areas has not yet been achieved and it is essential for job development.
Part of his campaign activity is lining up support from delegates for the state Democratic Party convention in June. He is hopeful he will get the 15 percent necessary to land a spot on the primary ballot.
He said that so far, “I get a great response everywhere I speak.”