HARWICH – You have to look really hard to find much difference in policy positions among the three candidates running for the Democratic nomination for governor.
In a debate at Monomoy Regional High School Monday, the candidates outlined similar positions on issues such as affordable housing, education, immigration and transportation. Each attacked Gov. Charles Baker as ineffective and said as governor they would help the state reach its “true potential.”
The debate was organized by the Monomoy Regional High School Democrats. It was moderated by student Grace Boyle, and the questions that were asked by students were lauded by the candidates for their insight and brevity.
“This is the most professionally run forum we've been to,” commented candidate Jay Gonzalez.
Gonzalez touted himself as the only one of the three with experience in state government. A lawyer who lives in Needham, he served as secretary of administration and finance under Gov. Deval Patrick and was also chairman of the board of the Massachusetts Health Connector. He most recently was president and CEO of CeltiCare Health and New Hampshire Healthy Families.
“I've been there, I've done it, I know the process works,” Gonzalez said. “I believe that matters.”
Bob Massie of Somerville has been a lifelong activist and college professor and ran for lieutenant governor in 1994. Calling himself the “boldest progressive in the race,” he said his experience building organizations at the national and international level would serve him well as governor. He organized a climate change event in 1992 and said the governor should lead the state in developing renewable energy.
The two-term mayor of Newton, Setti Warren served in the U.S. Navy Reserves in Iraq as a naval intelligence specialist before entering politics. Under his leadership, he said, he pulled Newton out of a financial crisis, developed an innovation-based economy and cut the city's carbon footprint. He said he wanted to fight against economic inequality and push for a $15 minimum wage, a single-payer health insurance system and fully-funded public schools, including free public college tuition. He called on voters to “reject the politics of the status quo on Beacon Hill so this state lives up to its full potential.”
On most of the questions asked by the students – gun control, climate change, education, affordable housing, economic development – the candidates responded with similar positions and proposals and attacked the current administration as failing to address growing problems in the state. Gonzalez said the best thing people say about Baker, a Republican, is that he seems nice and is not crazy.
“When did the measure of whether our governor is doing a good job is that he's nice and isn't crazy?” Gonzalez said. “We face a lot of big challenges and we need to make progress on them.”
Warren said he supported “lifelong free college” at in-state universities as well as internship and apprenticeship programs that connect local businesses with the workforce. Fifty years ago, students could work their way through college. “This is virtually impossible today” with the cost of higher education, he said.
More resources also need to be made available to fully fund the state's public schools as well as after school and summer programs, he said. He said he supports the Massachusetts Millionaire Tax, which would add a 4 percent surcharge to income above $1 million. The measure will appear on the ballot in the fall.
Massie said that instead of going straight to free college, the first step should be “debt-free college” with low-income students getting free tuition while those with more resources contribute to the cost of higher education.
Gonzalez said a top priority is ensuring that children and families have access to quality childcare and preschool, which can be a “game-changer” for kids. “We are the most expensive state in the country for childcare and preschool,” he said. Parents shouldn't have to leave the workforce because childcare is too costly, he added.
Asked about school safety, Massie said officials have to have “the political will to push back against the NRA,” but added that he was not in favor of more officers and metal detectors that make schools more like prisons. While Massachusetts has among the strictest gun laws in the country, “we can do better,” Gonzalez said. While the state has banned assault weapons ownership, he said he was shocked to learn that the gun used in the Parkland, Fla. shooting was made in Massachusetts. The manufacture of assault weapons in the state should also be banned, he said.
“If you can't buy one here, you shouldn't be able to make one here,” he said.
Baker, who says he supports strict gun laws, appointed the head of the Massachusetts NRA to run the state game and wildlife commission, said Warren, who spoke at the March for Our Lives rally in Hyannis last month. “Charlie Baker says one thing and does another,” he said.
The candidates called for closing down the Pilgrim power plant as soon as possible, and said the state should be playing a leading role in fighting climate change. They each called for looking at innovative approaches to affordable housing, and said it should be linked to improved public transportation. Warren tied the problem to education; making college debt free would allow people to be more productive and contribute to the economy. “This is in our collective interest,” he said.
The candidates also called for more resources to fight the opioid crisis an agreed it should be treated as a public health issue, not a law enforcement matter. Warren criticized Baker for supporting minimum sentencing for non-violent offenders.
Massie called for more investment in local business rather than giving money to big companies like GE and Amazon to locate here. “I'd rather put that money into local businesses that are creating the next Amazon,” he said. Gonzalez called for paid family leave and a special emphasis on gender equality.
Warren called on young people, who have taken the lead in gun control, to not accept what politicians are saying on other issues as well. “This is a moment when we need to stand up and say no to Charlie Baker's low expectations,” he said.
“We all have very ambitious agendas, lots of areas to make progress,” said Gonzalez.
The candidates pledged to support the party's nominee in the November election. Massie said Massachusetts needs to join the “blue wave” that is sweeping the nation.
“If a Democrat can win in Alabama, a Democrat can win in Massachusetts,” he said.