Democratic gubernatorial candidate Joe Avellone said that his health care and business leadership experience make him the right prescription for the Bay State’s economic and educational needs. He spoke today during a roundtable discussion hosted by the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service at Suffolk University Law School.

Avellone, the second speaker in the nine-part Rappaport Roundtable series, said his success in containing health care costs and creating thousands of middle-class jobs throughout the commonwealth while serving executive roles at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and PAREXEL International makes him the most qualified among the 2014 gubernatorial candidates.

“We’re at a crossroads with our commonwealth,” said Avellone, a former Wellesley selectman. “We’re at a time when we have to come together and renew a compact for a new commonwealth for the 21st century, to set off in a bold new direction, and we’re going to need a governor that has the background and the proven leadership to take us in this new direction, not to leave things the way they are. I can be that governor. I can do it for our time now and I can do it for our commonwealth.”

New industries, new jobs

Avellone, who has visited 129 cities and towns in Massachusetts since his campaign started, said much-needed jobs would stem from new industries blossoming in the state, including smart manufacturing, life sciences, alternative energy and health care. However, he said that the state’s community and state colleges and vocational schools need to partner with these new industries to ensure that Massachusetts residents have the modern skills necessary to properly enter the middle-class work force. PAREXEL has met this challenge by collaborating on a post-graduate clinical trial management certificate program with Salem State University, according to Avellone.

Avellone also threw his support behind Gov. Deval Patrick’s overseas trade missions as an effective way for Massachusetts to remain competitive on a global level.

“Massachusetts is not an island unto itself. We need to be more connected. We need to reach out and find where we can expand in the world,” he said. Otherwise, potential international trading partners will go elsewhere.

“More than anything I’ve been competing in a global economy and understand what we need to do in order to bring new businesses here and new industries here to create thousands of middle-class jobs here in Massachusetts,” said Avellone. “We have to make sure that it’s fertile ground in Massachusetts for these businesses big and small to come here, to grow here and to thrive. But in order to do that we're going to have to think differently and think big, and if we do think big, we can succeed.”

Early education and longer school day

Avellone said that he would close the educational achievement gap by expanding access to state-funded Pre-K programs for low-income children and lengthening the school day for at-risk schools. Avellone said he would pay for the expansion through a fund where the state provides money up front for expansions and school districts pay the state back as they see savings over time, particularly in reduced need for remedial assistance.

He also said that he would broaden STEM curriculum and provide opportunities for students to better access vocational-technical programs statewide.

“Creating good jobs and improving our education system, they go hand in hand,” he said. “They're not an either/or proposition.”

Avellone said that the state’s next governor must work with all major institutions and the Legislature to change the way health care is delivered in Massachusetts, as present costs cause budgetary deferment or denial of more pressing needs, including work force development, education and transportation.

Avellone, who will publish his health care policy in the coming weeks, said he would make health care costs more affordable by moving Massachusetts to a coordinated care model – as opposed to a fee-for-service payment system – where groups of physicians manage populations of patients.

Casinos

Despite not being “a big fan of casinos,” Avellone said he does not favor repealing the state’s casino gaming law by referendum.

“It’s a bad way to govern,” he said. “Overturning recently passed laws by referendum creates paralysis, indecision and an inability to plan across our commonwealth. I'd rather have our current process within the law carry itself out.”

Avellone addressed a number of additional issues during the discussion:

  • He would make the South Coast Rail Project among his highest priorities as a means to promote economic development throughout the state.
  • State funding for gang diversion programs and community policing are “crucial” as a way to keep young people out of jail, and they should be given a second chance upon re-entering society.
  • The state should be more aggressive in supporting a minimum wage increase to $11 an hour.
  • He supports Gov. Patrick’s green energy initiatives.
  • He would urge the federal government to target the world’s “big polluters,” including China.
  • Massachusetts should learn from Colorado and Washington’s example before becoming a “leader” on marijuana legalization.

The Rappaport Roundtable series, made possible by the support of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, gives candidates opportunities to introduce themselves and their ideas, outline their priorities and discuss pressing policy issues affecting the Commonwealth today, in 2015, and beyond.