STATE REP RACE Q&A: Erika Johnson Discusses Economic Development, Opioid Epidemic

WILMINGTON, MA — Wilmington Apple is asking weekly questions to the seven candidates running in contested primaries for the Wilmington/Tewksbury State Representative seat (19th Middlesex).

Below, in her own words, are the responses to this week’s questions from candidate Erika Johnson (D-Wilmington).

#7) What will you do as State Representative to help individuals and families in Tewksbury, Wilmington and beyond who are struggling as a result of the opioid epidemic? 

The opioid epidemic has hit this district hard. I keep logging on to Facebook or opening the newspaper and seeing obituaries of people I went to high school with and other local residents dying of overdoses. Increased resources and funding for this issue are long overdue. We must start with preventative education in our schools for our students but also parents and teachers especially focusing on warning signs and how to best help, while also increasing resources for those struggling with addiction and their families.

For so many of those addicted, it all started in a doctors office. We must work with our healthcare professionals on educating patients of alternative pain management options and if opioids are necessary, educating patients and caregivers on specifics of the medication, risks and warning signs as well as resources for them to contact so if something were to go awry, addiction can be treated early.

Lastly, we need more awareness and an end to the stigma around this disease. Those addicted are not “junkies” but rather human beings suffering from a terrible disease. They are also not criminals, we need to connect those addicted with paths for recovery not jail time.

I am particularly interested in following Gloucester’s policing policy where if someone addicted to drugs goes into the Police Department and asks for help, they will connect them to a local hospital where they will be guided through the process of recovery. They will also take any drugs or drug paraphernalia brought to the Police Department and dispose of it properly, rather than charge the person with a crime.

#8a) What will you do as State Representative to help attract and maintain small and large businesses in Wilmington and Tewksbury? Do you consider yourself a business-friendly candidate? Why?

The first thing I’d do as State Representative to help attract and maintain businesses in Wilmington and Tewksbury would be to secure state aid to fix Route 38. This state road is the heart of our district, running through both towns and connecting 495 and 128, lined with homes and businesses. The state of that road has commuters actively avoiding potholes and other structural impairments, not even noticing the businesses along the road.

Over the past few years, 128/95 has become a hotbed for new and growing companies, Wilmington and Tewksbury are just a few exits up from 128, right off of 93 and less than 20 miles from Boston. This prime location and the many empty lots and large buildings, such as the old Teradyne building in Wilmington, should make both towns attractive to new and/or growing businesses to move to. This would bring more jobs to the district, attract talent and increase tax revenue.

I’d also love to work with both town’s Board of Selectmen and Chamber of Commerce to host an annual (or bi-annual) day to promote local businesses, for them to showcase what they offer and show residents what is available within Wilmington and Tewksbury, similar to annual days that are hosted in Andover, Stoneham and Reading.

I would consider myself a pro-business and pro-worker candidate. I believe it is important to support local businesses while also being sure their employees are treated fairly. As a candidate and if elected, I want to hear from local businesses to see what their ideas are for increasing business here and also attracting other businesses to come to the district. We have so many empty lots and storefronts in both districts, I would love to see these inhabited and our district becoming a popular destination for shopping, dining, offices and services etc.

BONUS FUN QUESTION: Wilmington Town Meeting voters recently banned plastic bags at grocery and retail stores, due – in large part – to their negative effects to the environment. The ban goes into effect in May 2019.  Do you agree with Wilmington voters and would you like Tewksbury voters to do the same this fall at their Special Town Meeting?

I am in full support of the plastic bag ban that Wilmington voters passed at our last Town Meeting and would support a similar ban in Tewksbury. In college, I participated in a semester-long policy study on a proposed plastic bag ban in Barrington, Rhode Island. We surveyed Barrington residents and businesses, interviewed environmentalists, researched other cities and towns that have already implemented a ban and presented all of our findings and recommendation to the Barrington Town Council. We concluded that the ban is a minuscule inconvenience with a positive impact on the environment.

Let’s talk about plastic bags; they are toxic from time of production and won’t fully degrade for 1,000 years (that means that not only plastic bags but all the plastic that has ever been produced has not degraded yet.) These plastic bags are littered all over our district, clog our waterways and disrupt wildlife.Over 160,000 plastic bags are used globally every second. Locally, just think of how many plastic bags an average family has after a trip to Market Basket.

With the ban taking effect in May 2019, businesses have time to prepare and residents have 10 months to purchase reusable bags or be ready dole out a few extra cents at the grocery store for paper bags. Supermarkets in other towns with the ban in place have put signs on the carriage corals saying “Don’t forget your reusable bag” and other marketing strategies to remind shoppers of the ban.

As a note, much like Massachusetts’ ballot initiative regarding Marijuana Legalization which passed in 2016, whether or not you as an elected official agree with the issue or not, the voters have spoken. As an elected official, it is your job to help implement such initiatives passed by the voters. Almost 2 years since passing, we still see our state legislators dragging their feet and pushing back deadlines. I personally support the ban but also respect the will of the voters should Tewksbury vote on the issue and I look forward to a smooth implementation in Wilmington this coming May.

(NOTE: Do you have a question for the candidates? Email wilmingtonapple@gmail.com and it may be asked in a future Q&A or in a debate.)

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