Lowell Sun: In Senate bid, Dahlberg’s all in

Today’s Lowell Sun includes a story on Eric’s campaigning:

In Senate bid, Dahlberg’s all in

By Rita Savard, rsavard@lowellsun.com

CHELMSFORD — Unseating an incumbent can be a laborious task.

That’s why Eric Dahlberg quit his day job to campaign full time for the 3rd Middlesex Senate District seat, which has been held by Lincoln Democrat Susan Fargo since 1996.

“I don’t think you should do things halfway,” said Dahlberg, a Republican who lives in Chelmsford. “The district desperately needs a new voice on Beacon Hill, somebody who’s trying to advance the priorities of the district, who’s responsive and checked in. I want to be that person so I plan on giving 100 percent to campaigning.”

Dahlberg is staring down two major obstacles in the race to Beacon Hill. First, he must beat fellow Republican and Chelmsford resident Sandra Martinez in a primary election this fall.

He also has to make sure voters know his name in the district’s eight other communities beside Chelmsford, including Bedford, Carlisle, Concord, Lexington, Lincoln, Sudbury, Waltham and Weston.

“Being an incumbent is a powerful advantage anywhere, but especially in Massachusetts where the decks have been stacked against (newcomers),” Dahlberg said.

In March, he left his job as an associate at the Health Connector, established in 2006 to implement the state’s health-care reform law, to start knocking on doors.

“I’ve lost 15 pounds since I’ve been hitting neighborhoods in the district,” said Dahlberg, who began his day at 6:30 a.m. yesterday in Bedford Center, where he held his campaign sign before greeting constituents at Ken’s New York Deli on Great Road.

Dahlberg describes himself as a moderate Republican, who’s pro-choice and supports gay marriage. He has a bachelor’s in history from Dartmouth College and a master’s degree in public policy from Georgetown University.

If elected, Dahlberg said he wants to help revitalize the state’s economy and work with other members of the Legislature to hammer out a plan that would give cities and towns more control over health-insurance costs that are largely depleting municipal budgets.

“We want total 100 percent plan design authority,” said Dahlberg, who is in the second year of his first term on the Chelmsford Board of Selectmen. “Cities and towns should have the same privilege that the state itself enjoys when it comes to deciding health-insurance plans. Chelmsford alone would save hundreds of thousands of dollars with this plan, as would other communities, which is money that could be put back into the budget or given back to taxpayers in the form of property tax relief.”

Through plan design, unions would still be able to negotiate the share of health premiums their members must pay but it would also allow municipal officials to determine the kind of plans, including the amount of co-pays and deductibles, that would be offered.

Dahlberg has also pledged to decline a state pension, limit his service to three terms, hold office hours in each district, never accept campaign contributions from special interest PAC’s or lobbyists and respond to all constituent inquiries within one business day.

“I don’t care what party you’re in, what level of government you’re at, or what issues get you out of bed in the morning,” Dahlberg said. “The most important part of the job is staying in touch with the boss. When you’re in the Legislature, your boss is the voters and when they contact you, you have got to get back to them.”

New to local politics, Dahlberg beat incumbent Selectman Sam Chase in 2008 after launching a grass-roots campaign where he spent weeks going door-to-door, asking for votes.

His door knocking in the 3rd District has helped in Waltham — the largest community in the district with 35,354 registered voters — where a Waltham city councilor switched her party affiliation to support him.

Diane LeBlanc changed her voting status from Democrat to unenrolled and pledged her support for Dahlberg during a discussion with him on a Waltham local cable access TV show.

“I vote for the person, not the party,” she said on camera, commending Dahlberg’s efforts in meeting with residents and elected officials in Waltham. “Eric is the right person for the job… I am particularly impressed with his commitment to meet with the mayor and the members of the City Council at least twice a month.”

Fargo has taken some criticism for being “inaccessible,” and having the worst roll call attendance in the Senate, according to Bob Katzen of Beacon Hill Roll Call, a news service that records voting and attendance for both the House and the Senate.

Fargo missed 67 out of 185 roll calls in 2009 and 22 roll calls out of 108 so far this year, BHRC reports.

Fargo, who said her absences were due to two major hip surgeries, said her health has improved greatly and shouldn’t impede her future work in the Senate. She also said her firsthand experience as a patient over the past year has given her new insight on the health-care process that will have an impact on her future decisions about health-care policy.

“There’s a lot of unfinished work that needs to be done and it’s good work that benefits people,” Fargo said. “The major item is revitalizing the economy, economic vitality and job growth. I’ve already been taking actions toward those priorities.”

Dahlberg, if he can get past Martinez in the primary election this fall and if he’s able to beat Fargo, said he wouldn’t dream of holding onto the seat for another 14 years. (Martinez did not return a call for this story.)

“You get in, give 100 percent and get out,” he said. “It shouldn’t be a lifelong career. When it becomes one, politicians can get too comfortable and stop trying hard. I think the voters are tired of that mentality and next year, I’ll bet the Legislature looks a lot different because of it.”

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