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Hopewell Springs Eternal for a Contrast…

Christopher Hopewell (via Facebook/Hopewell campaign)

WESTFIELD—Following years of political malpractice and perhaps poor judgment of electoral strength, Democrats are in a prime position to take back the 2nd Hampden and Hampshire district from Senator Don Humason, who won the seat in a special election last year. However, Democrats first must settle out whether their nominee will be Christopher Hopewell or Patrick Leahy.

The selection will be crucial, lest the campaign descend, as it somewhat did during last year’s short general election, into a question of how big candidates’ “I Love [insert city name]” button is. Democrats failed to strike the necessary contrast with Humason last year. Hopewell argues that he is the better candidate to make that distinction this time.

Voters are looking, Hopewell said, “for the candidate who will stand there for their issues.” The 56 year-old Holyoke Fire Commission Chair and Cooley Dickinson EMS coordinator lamented that last year’s Democratic nominee, Holyoke City Councilor David Bartley, “didn’t challenge the senator on his record.”

The current Second Hampden & Hampshire. Click for larger view. (via

The current Second Hampden & Hampshire. Click for larger view. (via

The 2nd Hampden Hampshire District includes Agawam, Easthampton, Holyoke, Granville, Montgomery, Russell, Southampton, Southwick, Tolland, Westfield and four precincts in Chicopee. Democrats controlled it for years until Michael Knapik took it for the GOP in 1994. Knapik resigned last year to take a position at Westfield State prompting 2013’s special election.

The election itself has not attracted a huge amount of attention, but Democrats, particularly in the district’s bluer north, have been adamant about removing Humason before he becomes entrenched. Humason’s views, particularly on social issues, have inflamed voters, and Hopewell hopes to tap into that and convince Dems he’s the man  to take on the affable former Westfield rep.

He highlighted Humason’s record opposing same-sex marriage and abortion. “Two people who love each other should be allowed to marry each other,” Hopewell said of marriage equality, which of anywhere is settled in Massachusetts. Likewise, Hopewell said issues like the buffer zone are not just affect women’s access to other reproductive services and counseling, “And it threatens their life.”

Hopewell’s campaign manager, Mary Simeoli, suggested “There has been a negative stigma to running on the Democratic ticket,” in the district. “Chris is a progressive candidate. We are not seeing proud progressive Democrats,” she continued. Hopewell noted that the district is about 30% Democrat and 51% independent leaving lots of room for Dems to grow in a fight against Humason.

Patrick Leahy (via Facebook/Leahy campaign)

As Hopewell’s campaign has tried to establish a sharper contrasts with Humason, it could not gain against Leahy, the brother of a city councilor who has consolidated labor and Holyoke support in the primary. A few weeks ago, Simeoli of Westfield signed onto Hopewell’s campaign and seemingly imposed some discipline on the earnest, but unfocused effort. An endorsement from Hampshire County Sheriff Robert Garvey was rolled out again, this time with more fanfare.

On other issues, Hopewell struck a Don Berwick-esque tone with a focus on the impact of high health care costs. The savings from which could be put toward needed investments like education, infrastructure and combatting drug addiction.

Sitting in Clemenza’s, a trendy pizza bar in the revitalized center here, Hopewell laid out some of his strategy to overcome Leahy’s perceived edge. That day, Hopewell, his wife Laurie and campaign manager were going knock on doors here on the north side of the city. He said the campaign has been tapping into the smaller, oft-ignored smaller towns in the district is search of votes and claimed his platform had attracted support in Easthampton, where he once lived.

Hopewell got an interest in running for politics mostly by happenstance. It was “a matter of chance with Senator Knapik dropping out so suddenly,” Hopewell said. Always a political junkie, he continued, “this seems like a place in my life where I can do a lot of good” after his experiences so far.

Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse appointed Hopewell to the Fire Commission in 2012. (WMassP&I)

Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse appointed Hopewell to the Fire Commission in 2012. (WMassP&I)

Hopewell’s family long had ties to Holyoke, but he grew up in South Hadley, but raised his kids with his first wife mostly in Easthampton. Although Hopewell had first experienced the EMS field in the army as a medic, Hopewell might not have gone down that path.

Inspired by his parents’ World War II service (his father served on Liberty ships as merchant marine), he joined the army. After his stint, Hopewell, who knew Garvey from his campaigns for county commissioner, signed up to work in the Hampshire County House of Corrections. There he began training as a paramedic. Garvey, while confident in Hopewell being in corrections, suggested EMS would be a better fit.

He worked at Holyoke Hospital as a paramedic moving up to positions in safety and security. Hopewell secured an MBA from Cambridge College before landing his current job at Cooley-Dickinson Hospital in Northampton as its EMS coordinator.

Part of Hopewell’s pitch on policy, particularly healthcare is what he describes as a firsthand understanding of the state’s laws geared toward reducing health care costs.

“Of all the line items since 2008, one thing that has gone consistently up it is health care spending,” Hopewell said. “The next state senate should have knowledge of that law,” he argued, talking up the details of the health care cost containment law from 2012. The multipronged effort behind the law aims to reduce hospital admissions, errors and waste and move away from fee-based medical care.

Hopewell went into the details of the law in terms of the time physicians spend dealing with insurers to the incentives the law provides. Hopewell believes at least $150 million dollars could be saved for other uses. He is not opposed to additional revenue, but admitted the case was hard to make amid other pork barrel projects, “I don’t think they mind paying for something if they can see that their money is being spent efficiently.”

Hopewell with Sheriff Garvey at his formal endorsement event. (via Facebook/Hopewell campaign)

While drug addiction is now in vogue politically, Hopewell said his line of work had exposed the scale of the issue to him long ago. “The drug dealers are giving it away,” Hopewell said as he described the relatively small dosage needed to get someone hooked. He supports equipping all emergency workers with Naloxone, an anti-overdose drug, but says ultimately that is “just putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound.” Prevention and treatment need to be focus.

Some of that saved money can be put into treatment programs, but there is a role for doctor training, too. Not all addictions start in the street, but instead originate in legally prescribed painkillers. “You’d be surprised how little education physicians get on pain management,” he said. Were doctors able to identify and prescribe pain medication more accurately, fewer may end up addicted.

Of course drug abuse also plays into issues with criminal justice. Hopewell wants to keep addicts out of the system, which can aggravate their conditions. He would vote to eliminate mandatory minimums for possession. Garvey, the Hampshire Sheriff, highlighted that position in his endorsement.

“I am mostly enthused about Chris’ position in regards to addressing the issue of opiate addiction and his approach to treating people rather than incarcerating them,” Garvey said in a Hopewell statement.

However, it is not only health care on Hopewell’s radar. Voters tell him education is high on their priorities. The drop-out rate is also high in urban districts like Holyoke and Hopewell says he would pursue legislation that would raise the age to 17 from 16 at which students can withdraw from school.

“I think that’s too low. I don’t think kids understand the consequences of dropping out of school,” he said. Perhaps, Hopewell continued, kids kept in school a bit longer might get that inspiration from a teacher or other mentor keep working through to graduation and beyond.

Like many politicians running these days, Hopewell said voters express a lot of “skepticism and negativity,” but “Once you break that ice and talk about what is important to them,” you can break through. “They just want somebody who will listen to them,” he said.

Serendipity would have it that Hopewell and his primary opponent Leahy would share similarities like a background in public safety (Leahy is a Holyoke cop). “Neither of us has run for office before,” Hopewell said pivoting to his own experiences, including, as a Fire Commission holding people accountable.

“I am not a politician or a lawyer,” Hopewell said.  “It is hard to play that game, but I am learning.”