It’s a robust race for the state House of Representatives seat left vacant this year when Democrat William Brownsberger stepped down after being elected to the Senate.
Three candidates are vying for the 24th Middlesex District seat, which represents all of Belmont and parts of Arlington and Cambridge.
Dave Rogers, a business lawyer from Cambridge, is running as a Democrat. Tomi Olson, a businesswoman and Town Meeting member from Belmont, is running as a Republican. And Jim Gammill, an economist from Belmont, is running as an independent.
All three say that in a race of newcomers, they offer the fresh perspective that Massachusetts needs.
With no independents listed as serving in the House of Representatives, upsetting the status quo is a cornerstone of Gammill’s campaign. For more than 30 years, Gammill, 59, was a registered Democrat, but he unenrolled in 2009.
“There’s this hunger in the district for the independent voice and vote. The voters in the state have moved past partisan politics,” he said. “It’s the parties that have not caught up.”
He points to his experience balancing an $8 million budget, as chief of staff and treasurer of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, as an example of his ability to work with a broad spectrum of people and run an open and inclusive financial process.
Olson, 65, chairwoman of the Belmont Republican Town Committee, said that if elected, she will take tough stands.
“I’m concerned with this government-first, go-along-to-get-along mentality,” she said. “If you have integrity, you’re going to say no, hold it, what did we originally come here to do?”
Olson pointed to her experience on Belmont’s Council on Aging, where she said she pushed to maintain transportation funding, even as the town wanted to reduce the council’s budget, because she felt the program was critical for safety and socialization for seniors.
Rogers, 47, who has been endorsed by Brownsberger, said that as a first-time office-holder affiliated with the Democratic Party, he would be a free thinker, and would work easily with other representatives to get things done.
“I’m from outside the system,” said Rogers, who says his combination of public and private sector experience gives him a solid foundation from which to work. “With new ideas, and independent thinking, I’d be a first-time representative, and not beholden to any specific special interest.”
Rogers has volunteered in state and local elections, worked for the Task Force on National Health Care Reform, and works as a business lawyer and does pro bono work as a mediator in Middlesex District Court.
Rogers said education and infrastructure funding, and stabilizing the cash-strapped Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority are the biggest challenges facing the state right now.
One possible fix for the MBTA, he said: a public-private partnership, like the one rolled out in Chicago this year, that would bring an infusion of cash into the limping system while allowing the state to maintain ownership. Another possibility, he said, would be to take the state’s portion of casino revenue and pump it into transportation and infrastructure.
Bolstering the state’s commitment to education would be a top priority for him.
“The state spends more on its prison system than it does on higher education,” he said. “That’s not a healthy balance.”
For Olson, too, financial issues are a pressing concern. Olson has been a Town Meeting member since 1991, and serves on several town boards in Belmont, including the Economic Development Advisory Committee, the Council on Aging, and the Traffic Advisory Committee. She is the founder of the Payson Park Music Festival, and serves as the vice president for legislative affairs for the Massachusetts Bay Council of the Navy League.
She is committed, she said, to standing up against overzealous regulation that is intended to hold businesses to a high standard but instead buries them in paperwork.
“I think we have no jobs because we are chasing businesses out of Massachusetts,” she said.
She pointed to the long-stalled Cushing Village project in Belmont, a proposed luxury apartment and retail space for the Cushing Square area, as an example of regulations strangling development. The project was first proposed in 2008, but has never gotten off the ground due to disagreements over size and scale regulations.
Gammill has a doctorate in finance from MIT, and has taught finance at both MIT and Harvard. He worked for the Jimmy Carter presidential campaign and served in the Carter White House as the director of the presidential personnel office. He has lived in Belmont for 26 years.
“I’m experienced and local and connected,” he said.
Gammill said that if elected, he would focus on the long-term financial viability of the state — starting with unfunded pension liabilities, which will affect taxpayers in the future. He supports moving from a defined benefits program to a blend of defined benefits and defined contribution, a model, he said, that is similar to the federal government’s.
“No one’s going to benefit if our state goes broke,” he said. “We have the time now to address the problem and fix it . . . we have to find a way to have that conversation in an open and honest way.”
Gammill said he has not sought endorsements from anyone because he wants the mandate for his election to come from the voters themselves. He does not want to be beholden to special interests or advocacy groups if elected, he said.
Rogers has been endorsed by the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts, the Boston Teachers Union, and the SEIU Local 1199.
Olson has been endorsed by Citizens for Limited Taxation.