By Alice Ferre
Boston University Statehouse Program
This article was originally published in South Coast Today.
NEW BEDFORD — Michael Janson, the 69-year-old New Bedford resident who has run nine times for mayor and once for City Council in 2013, this year is opposing Rep. Antonio Cabral. He says the 28-year incumbent has become “complacent” as a Bristol County legislator.
“I’m running because Tony Cabral was charged to do a job that for 28 years he’s failed to do,” said Janson, who is running as an independent. “No one has run against him for all of these years, and he’s become complacent. He hasn’t paid attention to a lot of issues that I feel are important to the city of New Bedford, the 13th District and the state of Mass.”
Janson said he believes the two main issues of the race are underfunded education and illegal immigration.
“Education is the foundation for the success of any community, and Tony Cabral has undermined our educational system,” he said, citing what he said is the lack of required funds for public schools to support their students’ careers and aspirations.
“We still don’t spend the money that other communities do because we don’t have it,” Janson said. “The state fails to give some money that we want and we need. We spend $8,000 per student when other communities spend $10 to $15,000.”
According to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website, New Bedford’s total expenditures per pupil in 2017 was $14,026.34, a number that is higher than Acushnet’s $12,554.36 and Attleboro’s $13,419.51, but lower than Fall River’s $14,597.15 and Westport’s $14,911.40.
Janson, a former seafood broker, said he wishes that New Bedford public schools could adapt their curriculums to different needs, especially for students who will not pursue a college degree.
“Here in New Bedford, 80-plus percent of our kids don’t go to college,” he said. “We have the state telling us that we have to teach college classes, and I say ‘that’s no good.’ You’re not fitting the interests of a kid that’s never going go to college.”
In New Bedford, out of the 409 high school graduates in 2017, 28.9 percent went to four-year private or public colleges while 54.3 percent went to two-year private or public colleges.
“We need to bring back in our educational system, in our high schools, what we used to have — culinary topics, plumbing — so we can pick the interests of our students,” Janson added. “They have to have some idea of what a work ethic is and they’re not getting that with the curriculum that we are teaching now at New Bedford high schools.”
When it comes to immigration, Janson criticized a Cabral legislative proposal to prohibit the use of state resources for so-called 287(g) agreements — which delegate Immigration and Customs Enforcement authority to officers at the state or local level. The proposal was targeted specifically at the Bristol and Plymouth county sheriffs and the state Department of Correction. It remains in the House Ways and Means Committee.
Under the agreements, officers are deputized to question people about their immigration status, arrest them for immigration violations, and start deportation proceedings, according to the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Coalition.
“Any law enforcement that uses the state funds can’t have any conversation with ICE about the bad guys in our community, and that’s shameful,” Janson said.
Although law enforcement does not have authority to detain illegal immigrants for civil violations, such as illegally staying in the country, they still can arrest immigrants, illegal or legal, if they are deemed as threats to public safety.
Janson chose to run as an independent candidate as he said he has not been identifying with either political party for almost a decade.
“I switched from the Democratic Party eight years ago when one of our presidents made a comment that we better learn how to speak Spanish,” Janson said. “And when I heard that, you know, I always thought that if you came here into the United States that you would assimilate and speak the language that’s spoken here, the English language — but that no longer seems to be the trend.”
“I’m just a utilitarian; I think you should do the most good or the most concerned,” Janson said.
Tom Hunt, a former New Bedford School Committee member, attorney and Democratic political analyst, said although he thinks Cabral “will be re-elected easily,” he salutes Janson for his involvement in politics.
“I know Mr. Janson I’ve known him for many years, I know he’s run for office on several occasions, and I give him credit for putting his hat in the ring,” Hunt said.
However, New Bedford Republican activist Peter Barney, who describes Janson as a “perennial candidate” who “keeps coming back better and better sometimes,” thinks Janson is more Republican than he pretends to be.
“This is a very interesting race because you have one of the most liberal liberals running against an extremely conservative individual,” Barney said.
“Mr. Janson is opposed to raising taxes, he wants to cut government spending, and I’m pretty sure he would have never voted for the pay increase,” Barney said. “Voters really have a choice this time.”
Although Bristol County has its Republican political figures and enclaves, New Bedford remains a Democratic stronghold where most Democrats meet no opposition during elections. According to the New Bedford’s Election Commission website, only nine out of 11 congressional and county races in 2016 were competitive.
″(Voters) might not vote for a Republican but they certainly may for an independent,” Barney said.
″(Janson) will get the Republican voters anyway, so he doesn’t have to worry about that,” he said. “But the independents will likely maybe come to him, more than you would expect. It’s going be a very interesting race because the difference between the two candidates is so stark.”