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Two years after barely losing, Republican Harrington now faces Democrat Saunders in 7th Hampden

Democrat Aaron Saunders and Republican James "Chip" Harrington at a debate on Ludlow Community Television.
Courtesy of Ludlow Community Television
Democrat Aaron Saunders and Republican James "Chip" Harrington at a debate on Ludlow Community Television.

Two non-incumbents are running for the 7th Hampden seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, which covers seven communities including Ludlow and Belchertown in the recently redrawn district.

The job became open when state Rep. Jake Oliveira decided to run for the state Senate.

Republican James "Chip" Harrington, a Ludlow School Committee member and former selectman, faces Democrat Aaron Saunders, who's also a former Ludlow selectman and currently works for a Boston lobbying firm.

At a recent debate on Ludlow Community Television, both men said they had the qualifications to advocate effectively for their constituents, including farmers.

Harrington said he's talked to several of them who are struggling with the costs of fertilizer and fuel.

"They need support from the state Legislature and as the state representative, I am certainly going to be certainly screaming from the top of Beacon Hill on their behalf to make sure that they get everything that they need," Harrington said.

Saunders said he'd visited a farm in Wendell, which had gotten a grant from the state to revamp a chicken coop.

"It struck me that that is the type of real-life impact — some good that the Legislature can do," he said. "And that was due, you know, largely to the delegation out here."

During the debate, both candidates had the opportunity to pose questions to each other.

Saunders asked Harrington if he supported his party's candidate for governor, Geoff Diehl, but didn't get a direct answer.

"I'm going to work with whoever is in the executive branch and who's in the Senate and also who's in the House," Harrington said.

Harrington asked Saunders why he doesn't say on his website that he is a lobbyist. Saunders has lobbied for NRG Energy, Carvana and Axon, a maker of Tasers and police body cams. He made no apologies.

"I'm proud of the work that I've done on bringing jobs and companies to western Mass. while working as a lobbyist," Saunder said. "When you look at the relationships I've built, that's going to allow me to hit the ground running on day one as state representative."

Harrington has been trying to get to Beacon Hill for awhile. He's run three previous times, including once as a Democrat, and fell about 200 votes short a couple years ago. In the debate, Harrington acknowledged his repeated attempts, but he wore that as a badge of honor.

"I've never gone away," he said. "Yes, I've run for office and haven't been successful. I've never lost my passion. I've never lost my drive to be a public servant."

According to campaign finance data filed with the state, Harrington had almost $22,000 on hand at the end of September while Saunders had a little over $12,000.

Before joining New England Public Media, Alden was a producer for the CBS NEWS program 60 Minutes. In that role, he covered topics ranging from art, music and medicine to business, education and politics.
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