Tonight’s WCAP-sponsored and broadcast debate between Democratic State Senate candidates Chris Doherty and Eileen Donoghue was a spirited affair that touched on some of the major issues identified thus far. The format and the setting (Lowell High School’s “Little Theater”) both worked well and allowed the focus to remain on the candidates. Here are some of the highlights:
On the city of Lowell’s Home Rule Petition seeking the authority to restructure the health insurance benefits in municipal employee contracts: Donoghue said she thinks labor should have a seat at the table when it comes to health care benefits. She cited her experience as mayor of Lowell in successfully negotiating issues like that. “We shouldn’t break contracts or cut labor out when there are other ways to accomplish our goal.” As for Doherty, his time ran out before he could finish his answer which is why I’m not really sure of his answer. My notes have him saying that he favored negotiations but that labor should have to negotiate in good faith and that a “dispute resolution mechanism” that would kick-in very quickly should be in place to prevent stalling tactics. He said he would “support collective bargaining” but then the timer bell rang and he didn’t finish his answer.
Immigration: Both said it was the Federal government’s responsibility. Doherty said he opposed illegal immigration but that we need to “bring people into compliance.” Donoghue said she does not support people who are here illegally getting government benefits and that we should step up enforcement of existing prohibitions on the disbursement of such benefits.
City of Lawrence Bailout: Doherty said (eventually) that he would have supported it. Donoghue indicated she would have supported it only if stricter measures such as a state overseen control board came with it.
Whether to abolish the sales tax: Doherty wants to roll it back incrementally as revenue rises. Donoghue said that because our proximity to New Hampshire “kills” local businesses, she supports a roll back of the tax to 5% for border communities.
1st bill they would file: Donoghue would file a bill to give small businesses relief, something like Lowell’s “Downtown Venture Fund” that was so successful when she was on the city council. Doherty said he’d file two bills: one to give senior citizens additional property tax relief; the other to retrofit all state buildings to make them more energy efficient.
CORI Reform: Doherty said he would have voted against it, not because it did not need reforming, but because it wasn’t specific enough. “You can’t have a one size fits all rule for this” he said. Donoghue said she supported the intent of the bill – limiting access to minor (and job-depriving) offenses, but she said she couldn’t give a yes or no answer on whether she would have voted for the governor’s bill.
Casinos: Doherty said we need increased revenue and more jobs and that $1 billion in gambling money goes from Mass to states that have it. He said “we need casinos” but he stressed that we would also need to address the problems that would arise with increased gambling and that the remaining revenue from casinos should be devoted to education or public safety and not just put in the state’s general fund. Donoghue said that because of the financial crisis, we have to look at new revenue ideas. She supports the governor’s resort casino proposal but does not support slot machines at race tracks.
Death Penalty: Neither supports it.
Charter Schools: Donoghue said she doesn’t oppose charter schools but before she would support lifting a cap, there would have to be a change in the funding formula which currently penalizes public schools in the district where charter schools arise. Doherty said he was a product of the public schools and that his priority would be to “fund public schools the right way.”
The debate got a little feisty during the several candidate to candidate question sessions with Doherty and Donoghue jabbing at each other over their connections with lobbyists, whether they’re overstating their past accomplishments, and a few other areas. I’d call this a draw since it didn’t seem to work well for either candidate. The high points of this debate occurred the many times the two candidates were able to highlight their differing views on a wide range of policy issues. Hopefully future debates will continue to tease out those differences so that voters may make a reasoned decision on election day.