Area works get Swift OK

Access road, commuter rail, connector on agenda

WORCESTER—Sounding for all intents and purposes like a candidate, Gov. Jane M. Swift says she is nearing her decision on a run for governor next year, a position she calls the prize.”

I love my job. I’m having a lot of fun,” the governor said during a meeting with Telegram & Gazette editorial writers yesterday. It’s also extremely rewarding to have an impact on people’s lives that’s incomparable.”

Ms. Swift touched on a variety of other topics in the hourlong editorial board session, ranging from high-stakes tests for public school students and bilingual education to the Clean Elections Law and casino gambling.

She also gave assurances that important Central Massachusetts projects such as the Route 146-Massachusetts Turnpike connector are progressing, and that state officials are weighing more Boston-to-Worcester commuter rail service.

The governor vowed to move forward on a controversial access road to Worcester Regional Airport that is opposed by some residents but which state officials say will serve the growing airport and reduce traffic congestion.

We need an access road and I’m committed to it,” she said. There will be environmental challenges. Progress is tough.”

Ms. Swift, who became the first governor to give birth in office when she had twins in May, said family concerns are the only reason she would not be a gubernatorial candidate in 2002.

She said she will make her decision by next month.

I am very aware of the commitment it takes to win an election,” said Ms. Swift, who added that she has no plans to move her residence from Williamstown to Boston, said. But the first priority I have is my family.”

Ms. Swift said she is unfazed by the media uproar earlier this month over the revelation she knowingly completed a false marriage certificate and that her husband had been married three times before.

The job brings with it an extraordinary amount of scrutiny, but it’s in direct proportion to the extraordinary amount of fulfillment it brings,” she said. I don’t worry about a campaign, because when the field fills out, every one will have to deal with the same level of scrutiny.”

Ms. Swift is scheduled to give the annual State of Education” address in Quincy tomorrow.

Two major themes will be the need to stand firm on the requirement high school students pass the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests to graduate, and recruiting teachers to fill a massive teacher shortage.

Ms. Swift said the state should focus on providing extra help to students who are failing or nearly failing the MCAS tests, and ensuring that students who fail get all the support they need to re-take the tests.

There is no more important challenge we will face the next school year than having every child achieve a level of competence in English and math,” she said. There is no doubt the political pressure will be enormous to reduce the standards. I won’t do it. I will not cave.

We need to bring all of our energy to bear on getting the assistance to those kids who need it,” she said.

The governor spoke highly of a new teacher recruitment program in which professionals from other fields get $20,000 bonuses to teach in the public schools.

We’re trying to fill every classroom,” she said.

On bilingual education, Ms. Swift said she does not favor a proposed ballot initiative backed by California multimillionaire Ron Unz and state Sen. Guy W. Glodis, D-Worcester, that would replace the current system with an English-only immersion” approach.

Instead, the governor, who said she is sympathetic to efforts to reform bilingual education, urged communities to try alternative approaches such as two-way” programs that teach Spanish to English speakers and English to Spanish speakers.

I don’t think we need to open another battleground in education right now,” Ms. Swift said.

In the meantime, she said, high educational standards based on the MCAS tests and tougher teacher certification rules should improve the performance of bilingual students.

My fear is that we unsettle that balance by targeting one element of the population with a blunt political instrument of a ballot question,” she said.

Weighing in on casino gambling, the governor said she would support Indian gaming under some circumstances but that it is too early to comment on a possibility of an Indian-run casino in southern Worcester County.

Ms. Swift and other governors are backing proposed federal legislation that would give governors more authority in deciding whether casinos can operate in their states.

The governor blasted legislative leaders for delaying and possibly neutralizing the Clean Elections Law. The measure, approved overwhelmingly by voters in 1998, would give public campaign funds to candidates who limit campaign fund raising and spending.

The question of how to fund the law has divided the House and Senate and has been the main reason why the state budget is now two months late.

Ms. Swift maintains the measure should be funded because it was passed by the voters. But she says she would not run with public funds herself because she doesn’t believe in the idea of giving taxpayer money to candidates.

Last week, the governor tried to release $23 million that already had been set aside for the law by including it in an interim budget, but the Legislature stripped out the money.

The piece I sent to the Legislature wasn’t even in contention. There’s $23 million sitting there,” she said. I may be a candidate for governor, and the fact that some of the leading Democratic candidates who would run against me would have their candidacies wiped out by delay or revocation of this law could help me, but it’s unfair.”

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