County commissioner candidate stresses his Portuguese roots

Portuguese flag (fdecomite / Flickr)

By Alice Ferre
Boston University Statehouse Program

This article was originally published in South Coast Today.

BOSTON — “My grandfathers were from the Azores and immigrated to New Bedford and Fall River in search of the American dream. They worked hard and raised families here in Southeastern Massachusetts, just like many of your families,” reads David Rosa’s campaign ad.

Rosa is running as a Republican against one-term Democratic incumbent and former long-time City Councilor John T. Saunders for the Bristol County Commission, tells voters about his Portuguese-American heritage in a flier he provided to the Standard-Times.

But the Dighton resident declined, in a telephone interview, to discuss questions provided to him.

“My father, William ‘Big Bill’ Rosa, married Pauline Nacaula from Freetown, and I believe, was the first Portuguese-American Jet Fighter pilot to serve with the U.S. Air Force,” he wrote in the flier.

“He also became Alaska’s first Portuguese-American middle heavy weight boxing champion.”

The Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers reports the state is home to 308,000 people of Portuguese ancestry. Of that total, 154,811 live in Bristol County, including 32,666 in New Bedford, 38,904 in Fall River and 15,691 in Taunton, according to the U.S. Census Bureau 2011-2015 American Community Survey.

“I hope you will join with me and my wife, Zita (Andrade-Pestana) from Madeira, in this historic journey of Portuguese-Americans establishing their place on America’s political landscape,” Rosa wrote.

On the ballot, and also on his campaign advertisement, Rosa identifies himself only as “D. Rosa.”

On his Facebook campaign page, he describes himself as an “advocate of good, financially responsible and sustainable government,” and a “husband, father, veteran, (who) believes good affordable government requires a educated populace that is willing to engage in fact based, rational and reasoned discussion.”

“If good citizens abandon their responsibility to participate in their own governance that the dark forces of communism and socialism will be happy to take full advantage,” Rosa wrote.

The role of the county commission has changed significantly since the 19 th century when, according to the Secretary of State website, commissioners’ responsibilities were “to erect and repair jails, courthouses, and other county public buildings; to lay out, alter, or discontinue county highways; to grant and other liquor licenses; to estimate, apportion, and assess taxes for county charges and debts; and to examine and settle county accounts.”

Today, commissioners are in charge of setting budgets, “contracting for construction and maintenance at county expense of jails” and writing an “annual report listing petitions and actions regarding highways; repairs to public buildings; salaries paid to county officers; taxes due and unpaid; and assets of the county, including land, buildings, and furniture therein.”

In recent years a number of Massachusetts county governments have been abolished, including those in Berkshire, Essex, Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire, Middlesex, Suffolk and Worcester counties.

According to Shannon Jenkins, chair of the political science department at UMass Dartmouth, the state’s peculiar relationship with its counties is due to geography.

“Massachusetts is a little distinct from other state in the nation (where) there are what are called ‘unincorporated areas,’” Jenkins said. “Unincorporated areas do not belong to any municipality, they do not have any town or local government, and so in those states, counties play an important role providing services to residents to those unincorporated areas.”

“In Massachusetts, county governments are redundant because there are no unincorporated areas in the state,” Jenkins said. “And so, a lot of communities started to recognize that there wasn’t much need for county government in Massachusetts. There was sort of like a little reform movement that went on, where a number of county governments either outvoted themselves out of existence, or in the case of Suffolk County, they consolidated with Boston.”

Rosa previously ran unsuccessfully against Rep. Joseph Kennedy III, D-Newton, in the Massachusetts Fourth Congressional District. He received 2.9 percent of the votes in 2012 and 29.8 percent in 2016.

In 2014, Rosa ran for and lost the Massachusetts Senate seat held by Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, by a 58-37.1 percent margin.

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