By Chris Maza
WILBRAHAM – Wilbraham Selectman Robert Russell formally announced his decision to run for state representative for the 12th Hampden District on Feb. 19.
Russell will oppose incumbent state Rep. Angelo Puppolo Jr., who initially said he would be a candidate for the state Senate’s First Hampden and Hampshire District position that will be vacated by state Sen. Gale Candaras, but altered course and opted to run for re-election to the House of Representatives instead.
Prior to his announcement at the Village Store in the center of Wilbraham, Russell told Reminder Publications he was not intimidated facing an entrenched Democratic incumbent, feeling his opponent represents a disconnect between the legislature and the public.
“The fact that [Puppolo] decided to change his mind doesn’t bother me a bit,” he said. “I have spoken with literally hundreds of people as I have approached the decision to run and uniformly there is a sense that what happens on Beacon Hill is a function of what the leadership on Beacon Hill wants, not what the voters want.”
Russell said the voters deserved an independent voice in the House that would represent their interests.
“I want people to know that I’m not the kind of person who’s going to give a lot of empty promises,” he said. “I’m only going to give you one promise and that’s when I’m elected, I will treat being your representative as a privilege, period.”
When asked if he was running as an Independent candidate, Russell responded, “No, but a Republican is an independent in this state.”
Russell has been a Wilbraham resident for most of his life, only living elsewhere during his military service in the Air Force.
He is in the midst of his first term on the Board of Selectman after being a longtime member of the Wilbraham Finance and Capital Planning committees and said his experience in seeing how decisions on Beacon Hill affect local communities and school districts makes him a candidate who would understand what decisions would be in the best interest of his constituents.
Recent decisions by lawmakers, he continued, have had a direct negative impact on voters for which politicians will not take accountability. He pointed to the new Massachusetts gas tax increase as an example.
“I understand the need for increased taxes, but what infuriates me is that this gas tax is scheduled to increase every year forever,” he said. “No one will have to stand and take responsibility for increased taxes. That is taxation without representation.”
He added that the number of unfunded mandates passed down, specifically those affecting school districts, and the decrease in local aid are concerning.
“The state continues unfunded mandates or the reduction of funds from programs; at the same time the state is enjoying record revenues,” he said.
He said the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District (HWRSD) spent approximately $1 million to implement unfunded requirements handed down by the state.
“That, by the way, is very close to the shortfall we are trying to find a way to fix,” he said, referring to the HWRSD’s development of the fiscal year 2015 budget.
Outside of Wilbraham, Russell said he has roots in the other communities within the district. Growing up with relatives in Forest Park including his grandmother and his “twin cousin,” and his daughter recently purchasing a home in East Forest Park, he said he “knows Forest Park as well as my own backyard.”
He added he owned businesses at the “X” and on Boston Road as well as in East Longmeadow, through which he has developed community connections and a strong support base.