STATE REP RACE Q&A: Dave Robertson 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 his own words, are the responses to this week’s questions from candidate Dave Robertson (D-Tewksbury).

#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? 

As Representative Miceli’s aide, the opioid epidemic was revealed to me long as a major issue long before it hit the news, though those who work in the medical fields as well as law enforcement probably saw it long before I did. The issue is complex, so forgive me for the longer issue.

On an individual level, I vow to always help those in need just like I did before. Over the years I have worked to find dozens of individuals, many not even from the district, detox beds, residential program beds, and even halfway houses once they are further down the road of recovery. I daresay I am the only candidate who has worked with families who have successfully sectioned (Section 35 for those curious) an individual, and worked with the family, courts, and patient to successfully find beds. And let me tell you, there were many months were sometimes the closest bed I could find was Worcester or even further away! I, however, am very familiar with the process and the pitfalls that accompany trying to find an individual struggling with addiction the help they need. I can’t tell you how many times I called an insurance company, or MassHealth, to argue to extend the patients stay or change their insurance network so someone could be properly admitted. On occasion, I even helped a family work with a free attorney to successfully petition the courts to have a loved one sectioned and committed.

Overall the state has taken steps to systemically revamp this system, and vastly improve resources to fight this epidemic, because it robs us of family and friends. From a medical standpoint, Governor Baker expanded the timeframe that a court detox-commitment order was valid for and invested in more treatment beds. This is great, however it needs to be kept up and maintained as the crisis has not peaked. In addition, Massachusetts needs to focus on medical facilities that are not looking at their financial bottom line with regards to this crisis. Working with families I have seen first-hand that many of these centers are actually held by a holding company, and treat the patient with minimal care which ultimately leads to relapse. It is a rinse and repeat cycle that tragically leads to high rates of overdose down the line, and while may work for some is in my eyes not as effective as centers focused on the patient’s overall health. I also believe the state needs to invest in poly-substance and dual diagnosis treatment. Poly-substance abuse treats addictions across a multitude of drugs, and dual diagnosis treats those with mental health issues that led to addiction. Both are extremely critical to understand in the world of dependency, and in my view have been ignored long enough.

I also want to point out that, as many have seen in the news, the US and Massachusetts struggles to adapt to new drugs being introduced into our communities. A simple change of a molecule could introduce a new drug that is technically legal. China, Mexico, even Afghanistan all have labs which focus on creating new drugs, and can easily change the chemical makeup of opioids and other drugs. Massachusetts needs to overhaul its drug laws to target the end result of chemical compounds rather than criminalizing one drug at a time. The bureaucracy here is literally killing citizens, and needs to create a flexible and responsive set of laws to allow our men and women in the police to stop drug distributors.

#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?

It is no secret that Tewksbury and Wilmington are having some issues filling the vacant storefronts. In Wilmington, there has been great fanfare that the vacant Chili’s is being filled. That’s wonderful, but I am still worried about the Textron site, Sonic, and the retail space next to Simards Roast Beef, and more. In Tewksbury there are many vacant fronts too, such as on Route 38 across from the storage center, and some of the empty buildings around Avid Technology.

The state can, and does, play a vital role in this matter. In the past I helped write and prepare presentations to provide Secretary Jay Ash, the head of the Housing and Economic Development for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, when his department was in discussion with General Electric and Amazon during their move to the state. The plan called for the use of either the Textron plant or the old Avid site for use by GE or Amazon. It was envisioned that these properties were already ready for either corporation, and would serve well as customer service centers or payroll processing. This of course would bring many employees to our community, which would bring great economic benefit to either town. The close access to Route 93 and 495 would mean easy commutes in and out of town, with minimal traffic impact on local residents, while creating demand in our local hotels, restaurants, and more. Attracting blue-chip, Fortune 500 level companies require that relationship that I as a candidate have established before through previous work, as well as careful diplomacy to ensure the company finds what it is looking for without giving away the farm. As State Representative, there are three parties looking to benefit, and the people of Tewksbury and Wilmington need someone who at the end of the day are going to hold their local interests above all.

That being said, while corporate members bring reliable jobs and long term investment the highest quality communities in the world have a strong small business environment. I believe, above all, the small business suffers from a “thousand cuts” as the old adage goes. Traffic, lack of resources to locate and hire qualified employees, and competition from big Boston businesses all make it tough to operate a small business in the area and have all been aired as issues facing entrepreneurs. Luckily for us in Tewksbury and Wilmington, there is already a great organization we can mirror. (In fact, Tewksbury is already a member). The Middlesex 3 Coalition is a 9 member town that worked to help revitalize businesses from Burlington to Lowell, and I believe that a joint Tewksbury-Wilmington Route 38 development committee could work with local businesses to find out what owners believe are the most pressing issues. Together, we can connect resources to businesses, businesses to vocational and college students looking to learn, and establish an environment where local men and women can achieve their dream of marking their mark in the world and create a successful business. There is so much more than tax-rates that foster a pro-business environment, and the fact that Massachusetts outperformed the nation in growth last year shows that we’re on the right path overall; we just need to bring a little bit of that magic to our towns with a local focus.

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?

Of course I agree with Wilmington voters, the majority of politically active folks stated their opinions and that is democracy in action; any good Representative would support the community once a decision is made. As I do live in Tewksbury, and we in this half of the district have not voted yet, I would say that I would indeed vote to ban plastic bags. I have used plastic bags for many years, but have bought a two-dollar reusable bag that I leave in the trunk. For those worried about the impact I assure you, it was an easy switch with no financial impact, and from walking the streets of Wilmington I can tell you I have seen the drastic decrease in trash resulting from people switching the resuable bags, and the ban is still almost a year away from going into effect!

(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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