By G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – The audience at a performance space at American International College (AIC) was small – about 20 people – but they were clearly interested in the gubernatorial candidacy of Attorney General Martha Coakley and peppered her with questions.
Issues regarding education and economic development dominated the conversation.
It was the final stop for the Western Massachusetts campaign swing for Coakley on May 5. The trip here included touring the Innovation District in Holyoke with Mayor Alex Morse as well as an appearance in Berkshire County.
Coakley said her visit to AIC was not so much an opportunity to talk, but to listen to voters and answer their questions.
Before doing that, she gave a short speech stating that when she took office eight years ago she and Gov. Deval Patrick had no idea they would be facing an a serious national recession.
“Wall Street gout bailed out, but we didn’t,” she said. She added the Patrick Administration is still rebuilding the economy.
Growing up in North Adams, Coakley emphasized her Western Massachusetts roots and said she wants to “make the economy work for everyone” across the state.
She explained she gave up working as a lawyer in the private sector because she “wanted to be a voice for people who didn’t have a voice.”
She linked improvements in education and healthcare as ways to prevent people from entering the criminal justice system and said it’s “a very expensive way of allowing problems to go on.”
She advocated for longer school days and discussed the burden teachers now face with both additional paperwork and teaching to tests with one retired schoolteacher in the audience.
While she acknowledge the need for standardized testing in order to chart the progress of students she believes the state has “lost its way.”
Coakley said, “[Test] have become an end to themselves.”
She added, “We have to take it back. I will be a governor who will say ‘No.’”
There is technology available for teachers to use to see at what points students becomes “stuck” on a subject and believes that would be better than waiting until a test is administered.
When asked about foreclosure practices, Coakley again noted that national banks and mortgage companies received help but “they caused the problem.”
While foreclosure rates have declined in the Commonwealth, she advised that anyone facing foreclosure to call the state’s HomeCorps program at 617-573-5333 to seek assistance.
She also expressed concern about private for-profit schools – the type that advertise on television putting students in a job in six or 16 weeks she said – that practice predatory lending to students who are not able to find a job with the training they received.
“We need to be careful as we rebuild the economy,” she said.
Another member of audience questioned unemployment rates in the Commonwealth and Coakley noted the rates of joblessness are higher among women and minorities. She believes that a greater use of community colleges and vocational and technical high schools working to fulfill employers’ needs would help lower those rates.
Answering another question she said if elected she would encourage more green energy. She sees the development of more solar energy in the state as a “big economic driver.”
When asked about her support of increasing the state’s minimum wage, Coakley said she favors the proposal in the Senate to raise the minimum to $11 without any ties to the reformation of unemployment insurance.
“They are apples and oranges,” she said of the two issues.
She believes the changes to the minimum age should be made as soon as possible and said that if it not increased by the time she takes office as governor she would make it her “first priority.”