Wicked Local Boxford interviews Brad Hill in their coverage of the Fourth Essex District race.
State Rep. Brad Hill, who is facing a challenge from Democrat Allison Gustavson this November, emphasizes his skill and experience in bringing money back to his district and in getting people, businesses and organizations together to bridge divides and make things happen.
State Rep. Brad Hill learned the value of community service watching his parents, who ran Hill’s clothing store in Ipswich for 50 years. Time and again, he said, his parents opened the store to provide free clothing to a family in crisis or a raincoat to a homeless man they saw walking down the street.
“That’s what I saw growing up...” Hill said during a recent interview at Wicked Local’s Danvers office, “and that’s what I wanted to do moving forward in my lifetime.”
Hill, who is up for re-election and facing a challenge from Democratic candidate Allison Gustavson, emphasizes his record of providing constituent services, helping everyone from young people to seniors.
“Constituent service means that when you contact my office, you’re going to get a phone call back,” he said.
For example, if a senior needs help with housing or prescriptions or is struggling to pay real estate taxes, Hill said, staff in his office will find out what programs are available.
When he received calls from parents concerned about safety at the crosswalk in front of the Ipswich High School/Middle School building, Hill said, he worked with the police chief and the town manager to get a program put in place.
And, when Ipswich and surrounding communities lost power during one of last winter’s storms, Hill said he worked with local and state agencies and the Red Cross to get a shelter open within hours.
“Trying to help the constituents we serve is the most important part of this job,” Hill said. “It’s 90 percent of the job.”
Throughout the interview, Hill stressed his experience and skills in bringing people, businesses and organizations together to bridge divides and get things done.
When asked what role he plays in bringing affordable housing into the district, Hill said, “We try and make 40Bs friendly 40Bs, and the way we do that is we try and bring the neighborhoods and the developers together before anything is put forth.”
In addition, he said, he is trying to get small changes made to the law, which enables developers to get a comprehensive permit and skirt local regulations if their projects include affordable units.
“When it was first implemented,” Hill said of the legislation, “it was a great tool for cities and urban communities to bring affordable housing. What’s happened in my district, I’m starting to fear, is that a lot of developers are using it as a tool when they can’t get what they want under current zoning regulations.”
Hill would like to see the definition of affordable units expanded to include, for instance, in-law apartments and mobile homes. That would make it easier for communities to reach the 10 percent needed to be able fend off 40B developments.
The Chapter 70 formula for education funding that was put into place in 1993 has not worked well for the communities in the Fourth Essex District, Hill said.
“Under that law, every couple of years, DOE [Department of Education] at that time, DESE [Department of Elementary and Secondary Education] now, was supposed to look at it, at the formula, and make tweaks to it as they saw fit, to make sure that this was an equitable formula,” he said.
That wasn’t happening, he said. Not only was the law unfair to the communities in the Fourth Essex, Hill said, but it also drove a wedge between urban and suburban communities.
“It was not an equitable formula and it was killing my district,” he said.
When the state-mandated study done by DESE produced no recommendations for fixing the formula, Hill said he and Sen. Bruce Tarr worked with other members of the legislative delegation to push for an outside commission to take a soup-to-nuts look at the issue.
“They gave us a road map of how to fix Chapter 70,” he said. “This was two recommendations that would help all of our school districts across the Commonwealth.”
At that time, he said, the state wasn’t in a position to institute the changes, but the financial landscape has improved.
“This year, as you probably know, our revenues increased considerably,” Hill said. “The economy has been excellent. Our income tax take has been on the uptick. Our business taxes have been increasing.”
The state now has a surplus, he said, and is moving forward with changes to Chapter 70. He said he hopes to have full implementation of those changes within five to seven years. And, there are other issues, such as transportation funding, that will be taken up in the near future.
“I’m a minority member here, you know that, and in order for me to get victories, I have to work with both sides of the aisle, and I’ve done that for 20 years and been very successful in bringing back money for my school districts,” Hill said.
Hill pointed out he supported the ban on bump stocks and voted for the so-called Red Flag Bill, which enables a family member to petition the court to have a person’s weapons taken away temporarily if that person is a risk to himself or others.
He didn’t support the Red Flag legislation as it was originally written, however.
“I supported it after bringing in pro-gun advocates and anti-gun advocates so that we could talk about the original bill,” he said.
He and some Republican colleagues were concerned about due process for the people whose guns had been seized, so they worked to have language inserted that guaranteed a quick hearing.
“I think that’s the key piece here,” Hill said. “Throughout my career, I have brought advocates of one thing and advocates of another together to a table so that we can come to consensus.”
Hill had hoped the bill would include provisions for getting people with mental health issues the help they need. Although it didn’t happen, he said, “We’re going to continue to work on that.”
“In terms of gun control,” Hill said, “if you bring both parties together... good things can happen.”