- Arlo Hatcher
Sonia Chang-Diaz Brings a Message of Change to Boston University
On April 25 Sonia Chang-Diaz spoke to Boston University students as well as students from the greater Boston area. The forum was a collaboration between Student Government and Boston Intercollegiate Government, a coalition of several student governments in the Boston area. While all the candidates currently filed to run were invited, Senator Chang-Diaz was the only candidate to reply to the request. In her opening remarks, the candidate focused on promoting a message of fighting back against the established players in Massachusetts politics. Arguing that Massachusetts has large financial and natural resources, Chang-Diaz made the point that existing state officials have had the means, but not the will to implement broad-reaching reforms.
Chang-Diaz, however, asserted that she would implement the policies which would be central to helping Massachusetts families, including stabilizing rent, addressing the climate crisis, and improving schools. Drawing on her background as a school teacher as well as the first Latina woman and first Asian woman to be elected state senator, Chang-Diaz asserted that she had a unique perspective that other candidates in the race were lacking, which would allow her to lead a Massachusetts which provided more for its most vulnerable residents. However, the state senator was sure to emphasize that she could not do this alone and that her ascendancy to the governor’s office would require the help of a strong, grassroots movement.
Once the floor was opened up to questions, Chang-Diaz began addressing some of the specifics of her policy
Addressing the Climate Crisis
In response to a question about the future of green energy in Massachusetts, the Senator emphasized she was committed to hastening the climate goals the state had already committed to tackling. While the current state policy, which Chang-Diaz supported in office, is to transition to carbon-neutral energy production by 2050, the senator was confident that this goal could be achieved much earlier. She proposed that the state transition to fully rely on green, renewable energy by 2030, and that Massachusetts public transit be fully carbon-free by 2045. This would be possible through a greater reliance on wind energy, which the senator argued has the potential to provide 19 times the current electricity consumption- of the Commonwealth.
Additionally, Chang-Diaz included a transition to fare-free public transportation as a solution to the climate crisis. Because the primary producer of carbon emissions in the state is from privately owned vehicles, encouraging the use of public transportation, which is much less damaging to the environment, would benefit everybody. Therefore, to make it free would incentivize much greater reliance on it for everyday purposes. According to the senator, achieving this goal would also allow for greater justice for people who cannot afford private methods of transportation. Furthermore, the senator promised that, if elected, her first budget would include funding to make all buses fare-free in the commonwealth, and future budgets would work towards making all public transportation fare-free.
Addressing the Homelessness Epidemic
Chang-Diaz proposed a multilayered approach to addressing the current epidemic of homelessness in Boston and in Massachusetts at large. First, she argued that there needed to be greater affordable and accessible housing and shelter for those who are currently homeless. Because not having a stable housing situation makes recovery much more difficult, she argued that a lack of affordable housing means that it is hard to address the root causes of homelessness. After this is addressed, then attacking those aforementioned “root causes” would be possible, which she would do by increasing access to affordable drug rehabilitation programs and employment opportunities, many of which would be generated through her climate program
Addressing the Lack of Affordable Housing
To combat this issue, Chang-Diaz proposed first increasing the overall housing stock. This would require several reforms, chiefly reforming outdated zoning policy which makes the construction of new housing developments extremely difficult. When asked about the negative effects of large, luxury developments, the senator clarified that she was concerned with building workforce housing, not housing for the wealthy and that she did not believe in a “trickle-down theory of housing”.
Another aspect of her housing policy that was questioned was the lifting of the ban on rent control. Chang-Diaz proposed that the statewide ban be lifted and that local communities be responsible for deciding if rent control should be implemented or not. Her rationale for this was that newer methods of implementing rent control are much more precise and effective than they were in the past, meaning that they would not cause economic problems for the local community or cause landlords to be unable to profit off their property.
Addressing the Achievement Gap in Schools
Schools were a recurring theme throughout the night, as Chang-Diaz previously served as a teacher in Lynn, one of the worst-funded school districts in Massachusetts. When asked about her policy on schools and desegregation, the senator emphasized that there needed to be a large investment in public education and that this investment must be significantly larger in the poorer school districts than in the richer ones. Furthermore, Chang-Diaz emphasized that to desegregate schools there needed to be desegregation of housing, which would come from state-level anti-housing discrimination policies.
Finally, Chang-Diaz took a moderate stance on the issue of charter schools and the privatization of public schools. She proposed that there is nothing inherently wrong with these schools, but they needed to be held to the same levels of accountability that public schools are held to. However, she proposed making debt-free public college and child care available to all Massachusetts residents, so as to minimize the reliance on private institutions, and asserted that she was the only candidate to do so.
Chang-Diaz provided a strong message of hope and change at BU on Monday. She made the case for understanding her campaign as an attempt to unseat the status quo and bring in a new era of progressive reforms to Massachusetts. Towards the end of the night, the state senator provided the populist thesis to her campaign: “We are a scrappy grassroots campaign running against the establishment, and the only way to do that is with people power!”