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A 'radical Democrat' or 'independent voice'? Unenrolled state rep faces GOP challenger

While there are three names on the ballot in the race for the 2nd Franklin Massachusetts House District, just two of those candidates actually want your votes: incumbent Susannah Whipps and Republican challenger Jeffrey Raymond.

This is Raymond's first bid for statewide office.

“I've always been somebody that tends to step up and try to be part of the solution,” he said.

Raymond is an Air Force veteran and a retired Athol firefighter with nearly 35 years of experience. He’s on the school committee for Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School.

Raymond said he wants to reduce crime by giving police more funding. He also wants to improve the economy and reform public education.

“I feel that children are being indoctrinated and not educated like they should be,” he said.

Raymond said he’s concerned that Critical Race Theory — CRT — is being taught in Massachusetts public schools but by a different name — diversity, equity and inclusion.

CRT has been a hot-button issue for Republicans the past few years. Numerous states have debated if they should ban or restrict classroom lessons on racism, sexism and inequality.

“We just want our kids to learn math, reading [and] history," Raymond said. “We don't need to be pushing any kind of ideologies that are just unacceptable on any level.”

Also among Raymond's talking points, his campaign website has false claims about voter fraud stemming from automatic voter registration. Asked about that, Raymond said he had no “direct proof” that undocumented immigrants are voting.

A spokesperson for the Massachusetts secretary of state said they’re unaware of “investigations or prosecution of non-citizens registering or voting."

Raymond is backing the Republican Geoff Diehl for governor. He calls Whipps, who’s supporting Democrat Maura Healey, a "Radical Democrat."

In an interview, Whipps rejected that label.

“He can say whatever he wants, but I feel I am an independent voice and I always try to do the right thing,” Whipps said.

Whipps actually was first elected in 2014 as a Republican. She switched her party affiliation in 2017 to unenrolled.

Whipps said high on her list of priorities is addressing the lack of mental health providers and treatment beds in the region.

“There's a lot of untreated mental illness that leads to substance misuse and other issues. And untreated mental illness not only affects individuals, but it affects their communities and their families,” she said.

With a background in small business, Whipps said she also wants to improve rural transportation and make housing more affordable.

Her website is largely dedicated to biographical information and the endorsements that she’s received.

Campaign spending for Whipps and Raymond has been modest, according to the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

In September, Raymond went through $2,000, the most he spent during the campaign.

Whipps’ October spending saw a dramatic increase compared to the rest of the year. She spent about $10,000 last month compared to about $4,000 total between January and September.

Beyond Whipps and Raymond, there’s a third candidate listed in the race, Kevin McKeown. McKeown has since bowed out, but the secretary of state’s office said his name must remain on the ballot.

The 2nd Franklin House District changed shape somewhat with this latest round of redistricting. It now includes part of Greenfield and stretches northeast across nine other communities.

A somewhat unusual pattern has emerged in this district. Many lawmakers in Massachusetts are frequently unopposed for reelection. But in the 2nd Franklin, there’s been a contested race in nearly every general election for the past decade, with 2016 as the only exception.

Carrie Saldo is a host and producer for New England Public Media.
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