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Senate Conversations Start in the Massachusetts Occident…

A full house at the listening session at HCC for the commonwealth conversation (WMassP&I)

HOLYOKE—Capping off a whirlwind day in Western Massachusetts with a listening session, all five of the 413’s senators joined by three of their Eastern colleagues closed out the first Massachusetts Senate “commonwealth conversation.” It was hardly their last, however.

The brainchild of newly installed Senate President Stanley Rosenberg of Amherst, the bipartisan visits are intended to bring Beacon Hill to the people and afford residents an opportunity to meet their own senator’s colleagues.

Wednesday’s tour included at town forum in Great Barrington, hosted by Senator Benjamin Downing of Pittsfield and stops in Springfield and Chicopee, organized by Senator Eric Lesser of Longmeadow. As the senator representing Holyoke, Don Humason of Westfield chaired the listening session at Holyoke Community College.

Humason, Downing Lesser, Rosenberg, and Senator James Welch of West Springfield were joined by Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr of Gloucester, Senator Michael Rodrigues of Westport of Senator William Brownsberger of Belmont. Rosenberg noted and press releases from the senators had stated that each member of the Senate had committed to attended some tours outside their home area.

After the Great Barrington forum, senators stopped at the Western Massachusetts Correctional Alcohol Center and Hoppe Technologies in Chicopee before the forum at HCC. Hampden Sheriff Michael Ashe, whose office runs the facility had been concerned the facility, sitting in the middle of MGM Springfield’s footprint, might shut down after it gets evicted. However, Rosenberg, appeared to assuage those concerns while there.

The listening session filled a conference room at HCC. Names of residents wishing to speak filled six pages. Only half could do so within the scheduled time limit despite Humason’s rigorous timekeeping.

Subjects ran the gamut from animal rights to education to poverty. Most speakers appeared to come from the cluster of towns closest to HCC, including Holyoke itself, Easthampton and Holyoke, although some came from the Amherst and Springfield areas, too.

Below is a timeline of some of the subjects as live-tweeted from the event.

But for closing statements by Rosenberg and Tarr, the electeds rarely spoke, a point Tarr underscored in his own remarks. He and Rosenberg stressed the bipartisan nature of the tour, which reflected the respect each side had for each other despite their differences.

“In our Massachusetts senate, we work collaboratively” even when in disagreement,” said Tarr, who, along with Humason is among the 40 member senate’s six Republicans.

There was a bit of humor as well. During his closing statement, Rosenberg was interrupted by Humason noting his “time was up.” Rosenberg, who as president manages Senate procedure, returned with a lighthearted volley of his own. Elsewhere, a speaker discussing cable television rules playfully admominished his senator, to “pay attention!”

In his concluding, remarks, however, Rosenberg suggested this event marked a new era of outreach, noting “You have 20 percent of the state senate sitting in front of you.” He also took a moment to thank the audience for attending. Civic engagement, he continued, is not just on Election Day, but all year round.

Humason reminded the audience to submit comments through the commonwealth conversations website and encouraged those unable to speak to hand in that evening any written comments they had.

The tour thus far has gotten positive remarks, including an approving editorial in The Boston Globe, which contrasted it against the way the House of Representatives jettisoned the speaker’s term limits.

According to the commonwealth conversations webpage, seven more tours are planned through mid-March. The Senate has also activated a Youtube page with an introductory message from Rosenberg.

Although ostensibly intended for all Senate business, the new @ma_senate twitter feeds has been keeping track of the conversations as has the #maconvos hashtag.

The next tour is in Central Massachusetts next Wednesday.