The 2022 Massachusetts gubernatorial election may be a year and a half away, but already the first candidate has thrown his hat into the ring – and it’s a name that may be familiar to western Mass residents. 

Former state Senator Ben Downing, who grew up in Pittsfield and represented the Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin, and Hampden District from 2007 to 2017, announced his candidacy for governor in February. After retiring from politics, Downing moved to East Boston and began working for a renewable energy company.  

Connecting Point’s Ray Hershel recently spoke with Downing, to find out why he wants to get back in the political arena and what inspired his run for the state’s highest elective office. 

Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: The 2022 Massachusetts Gubernatorial Election may be a year and a half away, but already the first candidate has thrown his hat into the ring. And it’s a name that may be familiar to the residents of the region.

Former State Senator Ben Downing, who grew up in Pittsfield and represented the Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin, and Hampden District from 2007 to 2017, announced his candidacy for governor in February.

Connecting Point’s Ray Hershel recently spoke with Downing, who now lives in East Boston and works for a renewable energy company, to find out why he wants to get back in the political arena and run for the state’s highest elective office.

Ben Downing, MA Gubernatorial Candidate: I’m running for governor to build a fairer, stronger Massachusetts. I’ve seen the difference that state leadership makes. I’ve lived it.

Growing up in Pittsfield, going through a time of economic transition, seeing what happens when the state doesn’t step in to help our gateway cities. Or now raising a family here in East Boston, where on the one hand, my neighbors are told they’re essential workers and then they come home and have to fight evictions here in their community, in their neighborhood.

I’m running because I believe the potential of Massachusetts is limitless and that we can solve the big problems and the big challenges that are facing us on climate change, on economic fairness and racial justice and equity. But we need urgency from our leadership, starting with the governor. That’s why I’m running

Ray Hershel, Connecting Point: You, as part of your campaign, have unveiled an ambitious clean energy program. As I recall. You want Massachusetts to go 100 percent clean electricity by the end of 2030 and clean energy by the end of 2040.

How how would this look in terms of the Bay State? Are we talking about, for example, all electric buses and public transportation, all state buildings being powered by solar energy, that kind of thing?

Ben Downing: So, yes, first and foremost, it will be transitioning existing electricity use to one hundred percent clean electricity by leveraging the incredible resource off our coasts in offshore wind. And then continuing to deploy solar and battery storage here locally, wherever and whenever we can. And then transitioning all other sectors, buildings and transportation, away from gas and gasoline and oil, transitioning all of those others away by 2040. I think we have the ability to do that.

What we’re seeing is that there are 12 to 15 other states, depending on how it is accounted for, that have a one hundred percent clean energy or clean electricity goal in place today, either in legislation or in executive orders. Massachusetts doesn’t have that. We get to 2050 and still have fossil fuels operating in Massachusetts. That’s not in line with the science the climate is requiring us to respond to.

So I am one hundred percent confident that we can do this. It will require urgency. It requires ambitious leadership. But what I’ve seen over the last four years in the private sector is, that the states that are taking these steps are also the states that are getting investment from private companies and that there is the ability to do this.

Ray Hershel: Senator Downing, what would the transition to clean energy then cost in terms of Massachusetts taxpayers? Have you put a price tag on this initiative?

Governor Baker has said he doesn’t want a broad-based tax increase. Are you are you saying that you would be in favor of some kind of tax increase to help fund this clean energy initiative?

Ben Downing: So, the majority that we can fund through existing programs, right. But I think it’s important to remember that first, our status quo has a significant cost. We pay those costs in increased asthma rates and higher chronic disease rates because of our use of fossil fuels.

And we see that in MassHealth, Medicaid, business and family health care budgets. So we pay a cost right now. The status quo is not sustainable and it is not static.

And if we make these investments in clean energy, in energy efficiency, that we have the ability to reap significant benefits, both in terms of jobs and economic opportunity, but also in terms of reduced costs in health care, reduce costs in our electricity bills.

Ray Hershel: What other priorities are on the Downing priority list at this point, that you’re going to be unveiling as this campaign moves forward?

Ben Downing: So, we will be rolling out somewhere on the order of another dozen of these policy action plans. Contained in them will be a plan to tackle poverty in Massachusetts, one to ensure economic security for working families, comprehensive tax reform, a plan around jobs, housing, housing, infrastructure and transportation. So there will be a comprehensive strategy for how we build a fairer, stronger Massachusetts.

Ray Hershel: Senator, when you were running for a state senator in the Berkshires, you were very successful. That was a state Senate seat that you ran for. Different ballgame now, you’re running for the state’s top elective office, the governorship, where you’ve got to get your name recognition out across the Commonwealth.

How do you intend to do that? And how much do you think this campaign for governor is going to cost you? You’re going to be able to raise the money to be successful?

Ben Downing: First, that’s why I’m in this race early, to get in there and be able to meet with voters to have conversations so that come next year, when folks are going to their polling places are casting their early ballots, that they will have seen me not one time, but two, three, four or five times in their community.

When it comes to the resources, we’re going to hold ourselves to a higher standard. I’m not taking donations from lobbyists, not taking donations from PACs. I’m excited that in the first quarter we were able to raise $227,000 dollars, more importantly, from 1,100 individual contributors. And we’re going to continue to build that small-dollar fundraising base to build the foundation for an independent progressive campaign to build a fairer, stronger Massachusetts.

Ray Hershel: Now, as we speak, you are the only announced candidate for governor in Massachusetts in the 2022 race.

Do you expect Governor Baker to be a candidate again? And if so, how do you feel about running against one of the more popular governors ever elected in Massachusetts?

Ben Downing: I think Governor Baker is is a good man and a dedicated public servant. He’s someone who I disagree with on the issues. And we have strong disagreements. And I’m excited about going out there and having that debate both about our values and earning voters trust over the course of the campaign.

And I think the important thing is to have a debate about the record the governor has compiled over the last six years. He has had all the political capital in the world, and yet he hasn’t spent it on our behalf. He has been fine to manage the status quo, but that status quo is not sustainable. It’s not sustainable for folks in Pittsfield or in Springfield or East Boston or many other communities, right?

That status quo is one of growing inequality, growing wage and wealth gaps, growing racial inequities. And we haven’t had the urgent type of leadership. We need to start to close those gaps and build a fairer, stronger Massachusetts.