AMESBURY — A 26-year-old law student says he's looking to further the cause of economic justice in the 1st Essex District in his campaign for state representative.
Amesbury resident Matthew Burton, a Democrat, announced his candidacy in the fall to unseat state Rep. Jim Kelcourse, an Amesbury Republican.
Kelcourse is running for re-election to serve a fourth term in the House; Amber Hewett, a Democrat from Newburyport, kicked off her race in December to unseat Kelcourse. Hewett and Burton will face off in the state Democratic primary Sept. 1, with the winner going up against Kelcourse in the November general election.
Burton said his main concerns are affordable housing, the need for more public school funding and economic justice.
"Working people and families in the state of Massachusetts are simply not represented at the state level at all," Burton said. "We have one of the least accountable and least transparent statehouses in the United States."
Burton grew up in Salisbury and is a member of the Triton Regional High School Class of 2011. Burton said his life was forever changed when his mother, Suzette, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis while he was in the third grade.
"That really took its toll," Burton said. "She was confined to a bed and my father worked as a butcher at the Newburyport Shaw's. He would come home and take care of her, and he ended up passing away when I was 14.”
Burton put himself through North Shore Community College and eventually Salem State University, where he obtained a degree in English while working a full-time job at Shaw's.
Burton taught a year of English at Triton Regional High School followed by a year at Greater Lawrence Technical School.
"I was teaching at Triton at a time when enrollment was down but class sizes were up,” Burton said. “In a system where that is happening, something has gone tremendously wrong."
The single Congress Street resident is studying law at Boston College Law School and decided to run for state representative in September because he believes the state is giving too many breaks to the wealthy.
“If we’re talking about affordable housing, or health care or education, it's not like the money isn't there," Burton said. 'It's just that we decided to give tax cuts to the wealthy.“
Hewett works as an offshore wind energy campaign manager for the National Wildlife Federation and has said concern about the environment is among her top reasons for running.
Burton said the state needs to get ahold of its financial situation before it can adequately address the environment.
“Until we get folks ready and secure, it will be very difficult for them to tackle that other gloom and doom," Burton said. "That is not to say that the environment is not incredibly important, but it is also an issue of economic justice. If we are going to take on climate change, we need to do so in a way that benefits actual people and not private companies which are trying to profit off of new energy."
Any change to renewable energy needs to be done within the public realm, not the private sector, according to Burton.
"The mechanism for creating alternative new forms of energy should be owned by the people," Burton said. "There shouldn't be a profit motive involved in new energy. Greed got us into our current climate catastrophe. Greener greed is certainly not the way forward."
Affordable housing is another issue important to the candidate, who said he intends to tax large real estate developers and land speculators to directly fund affordable housing units.
"I want to be clear that we're not just talking about renters when we talk about affordable housing in the district," Burton said. "Many folks in the district are house rich but cash poor. Just because you own a house, that doesn't mean you have a ton of money. We want to create tax relief for those folks."
Burton said Kelcourse is “very present in the district” but could be doing much more for constituents.
"I don't see a significant attempt at curtailing the massive benefits bestowed upon the wealthy," Burton said. "I don't see a lot of increased funding going toward our schools. He was on the (Joint Committee on Education) but our schools saw very little benefit and he doesn't put a lot forward in terms of what he hopes to accomplish."
Although his candidacy has remained somewhat under the radar, Burton said residents can expect to see him knocking on their doors within the next month.
"Our plan is to hit every door," he said. "We're not just going to hit Democratic doors. We want to talk to independents, we want to talk to Republicans. We have a lot of similar class interests at stake and that is what people really care about.
On the web: votemattburton.com.
Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.
"Greed got us into our current climate catastrophe. Greener greed is certainly not the way forward."
State representative candidate Matt Burton