Information from articles in the Advocate and the Berkshire Eagle was used in this report.
For most Williams students, today will not be different from any other Tuesday. Some of these students have already voted by absentee ballot in their own states, and some will not vote at all, but a small number of Williams College students and many Williamstown residents will go to the polls to cast their votes ina gubernatorial election as well as to vote on six public questions, and for a few local offices.
The most prominently advertised race has been the fairly tight contest for governor between Republican incumbent Acting Governor Paul Cellucci and Democratic challenger Attorney General Scott Harshbarger. Cellucci has emphasized his plans to strengthen the economy and not to raise taxes. Harshbarger has refused to sign a similar statement, partially because it is at odds with one of his campaign promises to invest in children specifically through improvements to education.
Education is an important issue for both candidates, though they are each focusing on different aspects. Cellucci’s initiatives to improve education in Massachusetts focus on teachers. Since many prospective teachers performed poorly on some of the first state teacher tests administered, Cellucci has promised to make sure that only teachers who pass the test will have the opportunity to teach. One of his campaign promises is that schools that fail to meet a 90 percent pass rate by August 1, 2001 will not be certified.
Both Cellucci and Harshbarger agree that all prospective teachers must pass the state tests. But also among Harshbarger’s campaign promises is the Bright Beginnings Initiative, through which he promises to invest $30 million over the next two years to triple the number of child care spots proposed by Cellucci. This will also put money into child care facilities and help to fund a pilot program that will improve the quality of child care workers through such things as wage/benefit incentives.
In his campaign, Cellucci has focused on the falling unemployment rates since 1991 (when Massachusetts had the highest unemployment rate in the country). Cellucci emphasizes that return-to-work initiatives have contributed to these improvements.
Cellucci’s tenure in office has also been plagued with ethical questions concerning illegal fundraising and special intrest deals. Among these are questions about the fundraising of Adjutant General Raymond Vezing, commander of the Massachusetts National Guard, did for Cellucci’s campaign. Earlier this year an investigation by the state’s office of Campaign and Political Finance concluded that Vezing did not break any laws. But the National Guard is currently conducting it’s own probe.
There are also six public questions on the ballot, two of which will have a large effect on local consituents. Recently the state legislature has decided to abolish county government, because several counties in Massachusetts were mismanaged. question five asks the legislators to reconsider this decision, and question six assumes that the legistators will not reconsider this decision and asks for the formation of a new entity that will take over some of the regional operations that benefit areas with many small towns.
According to Selectwoman Anne Skinner, a senior lecturer in the chemistry department, “The problem [with the issue in question six] is that there is no obvious funding for the new entity. While abolishing county government will remove the ‘county assesment’ from the towns, presumably we will pay the state at least as much to administer the courts and jail that the county ran.”
Some of the major issues concerning Williamstown voters are education, specifically school funding, as a result of steady increases in the school population over the last decade.
Skinner said presently school costs account for approximately two-thirds of town spending, and many residents are concerned that action needs to be taken to bring down school costs. The state legislature requires local governments to go through elaborate procedures to ensure that all town contracts are legitmate. This law has the effect of depressing the amount of money the state puts into education.
“It is easier, if intellectually dishonest, for the state to try to get credit first for good government and then for reducing state taxes at the state level, ignoring the fact that local governments have been required to raise their taxes,” Skinner said.
Williamstown tends to vote Republican, though the majority of the selectmen are Democrats, and according to Skinner the residents who come to town meeting tend to support an activist government. Races for this governing body are non-partisan.
Williams College students comprise only a small percentage of all voters in Williamstown. “In general student voters are small relative to the total number of voters,” Skinner said. “I would not expect more than perhaps 50 students to vote [this week].”
Of 200 students requesting information from the Williams College Voter Information Service, 40 were locally registered voters.
Porter McConnell ’00 heads the service which attempts to provide interested students with unbiased information on the issues and canidates being voted on in their hometown elections. McConnell said she thinks a significant percentage of students vote in local elections.
“I think the number is fairly high, especially among U.S. citizens living abroad,” she said. “There also tend to be upperclass people, who have lost contact with the doings of their hometowns.”
McConnell said she hopes to expand the service, as she was only able to assist about 200 college voters with only six volunteers assisting in the information packet preperation. McConnell is emphatic about the fact that she runs a service rather than an organization, and hopes that the service can remain flexible. “Nobody is pushing a particular agenda, and the info packets are certainly not allowed to reflect personal convictions,” she said.
McConnell’s service represents one way in which Williams students have become involved in elections, and in the past some have even tried to get involved in local government more directly. Skinner said approximately six years ago a student ran for selectman and placed fourth out of four canidates.
Skinner said she would like to see more students involved in public affairs.