Senator Stan Rosenberg, a Democrat from Amherst, became president of the Massachusetts State Senate in January. While he was educated at UMass in Amherst and has lived there most of his adult life, he also has strong ties to the city and to the North Shore, having been raised in a foster home first in Malden, then moving to Revere, where he graduated from high school. At age 17 he started college and has been on his own ever since, working at the State House since the early 1980s. Todd Feinburg interviewed the Senate President and reports on the details in this exclusive article for the Jewish Journal.
Jewish Journal (JJ): The Speaker of the House is known as Mister Speaker. Is there a similarly friendly way to address you?
Senate President Stan Rosenberg (SR): Stan?
JJ: So how’s life in the job…you’re such a Western Mass. guy, and being the leader of the Senate means you are planted firmly in Boston now… Is that hard?
SR: I spend way, way more time now in Boston than I used to and it’s just necessary — it comes with the job. The big change is that it’s just much harder to get home.
JJ: Given your strong ties to both Western Mass. and the Greater Boston area, do you find yourself wrestling with which region’s concerns to focus on when you’re making policy decisions?
SR: You try to think about the whole state, all of the time… We just completed the Commonwealth Conversation about two months ago now, and through that experience where we traveled across the state — the whole Senate did this — we saw how much commonality there was, with some little regional differences, but the same core ideas and the same core issues, the same core challenges that people are facing all across the state.
JJ: But Western Mass. is rural and has agriculture and people trying to live off the grid.
SR: Every region of the state has their own versions of the same thing. I bet if you looked hard enough you’d find agriculture in every single county in Massachusetts including Suffolk County, because now there’s urban agriculture going on. People are actually growing food on the roofs of their buildings, there are community gardens spread around the city…so even though it would not be the scale and approach to agriculture you find in western Massachusetts, you definitely would find agriculture sprinkled all across the state.
And then if you broaden the definition of agriculture and you think about aqua-culture and you think about what’s going on in places like Gloucester and Fall River and New Bedford… when we were down in Barnstable County, we visited an oyster farm, believe it or not… they farm oysters down there, so there’s various forms of agriculture sprinkled across the state.
JJ: A generation from now, will food production be decentralized? Will everyone have chickens in the yard?
SR: I don’t think that everyone will have a chicken in the yard, but I think a lot more people will be growing some of their own food and a lot of people are now processing some of their own food. You’d be surprised how many people now are making their own jam and sauces at home rather than going to the store and buying a jar.
JJ: How about energy, will that be decentralized?
SR: I think you will see it. I think we will always have to have some centralized energy for peak demand and for seasonal needs, but you’re going to see more and more people with solar on their roof, and there is research going on now with small scale wind so you can attach a windmill to your property and actually maybe even to the roof of your house so yeah we’re going to see more decentralized energy.
JJ: Does that present challenges from the perspective of state government?
SR: So that is going to be a real challenge for both the government and for the utility industry… how do you finance and manage and operate a system where people are producing some, most, or even for some people, all of their power and yet you have to have this backup system for real situations where power is otherwise unavailable?
JJ: How do you view yourself regarding being Jewish? Are you religious?
SR: I am a member of the Jewish community of Amherst. I don’t attend services all the time but I do try to get to services at least from time to time. I think we carry our faith with us into these jobs, and so you can’t help but to, if you come from the Jewish community, reflect upon the values that we learn of education and charity and community and traditions, and those play a role in how you look at things and how you live and work in this job.
JJ: Can you share some of your thoughts on Israel?
SR: I’ve been to Israel twice and I’m going again in December and I think it’s an amazing country, a very tiny country located in the middle of a very large Arab world where they’re constantly being challenged, their security and their future is constantly on the line. But also they’ve developed a very strong self-governing capacity as well as an extraordinarily strong economy, and that economy is strengthened by the relationship with Massachusetts.
We have a significant number of businesses from Massachusetts that are located in Israel or that have facilities in Israel — and vice versa — so I think there is a very strong and continuing interest and relationship between the two.
By the way, you may not know, but there are 10 senators who are Jewish by birth or marriage… 10 out of 40 — that means a quarter of the senate (is Jewish). That has got to be record-setting.
JJ: How does that impact the Senate?
SR: There’s a sense of pride among the Jewish senators that we could be such a small part of the population and yet have such a large representation in the senate.
We’re pretty proud of that, and again, and I think because of the faith in which we grew up, we have some perspectives that might be shared in common, a commitment to things like commonwealth — which is another way of thinking about community and charity, and understanding that we have a commitment to the least among us. I think all of those things are very strong, and I think a lot of that comes, for some of us, from our upbringing.