TOWNSEND — All five candidates in the First Middlesex House of Representatives race appeared at Townsend’s Memorial Hall on Sept. 2 for Nashoba Publishing’s all-inclusive candidates’ forum.
The five are looking to succeed Robert Hargraves, a Groton Republican who will retire in January, wrapping eight consecutive two-year terms in the House.
Former business owner and town official, Geoff Woollacott, served as moderator for the newspaper-sponsored event.
Pepperell’s Anthony Saboliauskas, Ayer’s Jesse Reich and Groton’s Jane Morriss face-off in the three-way Democratic primary.
Ayer’s Cornelius Sullivan and Groton’s Sheila Harrington are embroiled in a two-way Republican contest.
Kill all the lawyers?
In Henry VI (Part 2), Shakespeare’s character “Dick the Butcher” utters the famous line, “Kill all the lawyers.” In a similar tone, an audience question delivered a pointed jibe.
The attorney-candidates were asked to justify the need for more lawyers in politics. For the non-lawyers, they were asked if they felt their lack of legal training would hinder them in office.
The two Republican candidates not only attended the same undergraduate school (Providence College) but also the same law school (New England School of Law).
Sullivan, licensed for 28 years, said he’s proud of his card-carrying attorney status. “Being a problem solver? Not a bad thing.”
Harrington agreed. “Some people say ‘argue,’ but I say ‘advocate,'” in describing her 24-year legal practice.
“I’m not an attorney. What I bring to the table is knowledge of what a bag of groceries costs and it’s alarming,” said Saboliauskas, a former Marine who served in Vietnam. Retired, he now serves as treasurer of the Pepperell Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3291.
“It’s not an abstract issue for me,” he said. “It’s not something I have to think about. It’s something I live with every day. We’re the majority of voters. Working people. We’re not a minority. And the government is supposed to represent the people.”
Reich argued that other expert points of view are lacking in the legislature as well, for example, push forward job creation and economy stimulating technology, research and development projects. “What we need are experts who are actually in those fields.”
Case in point, Reich said the law is not clearly written to be easily interpreted. A doctor of chemistry and biofuel entrepreneur, Reich said he met a man who put solar panels on his roof and misinterpreted the complicated laws, believing the sale of excess power to his neighbor was prohibited. “It’s not clear,” Reich explained of complicated legislation.
Morriss has extensive newspaper writing and editing experience. But, she laughed, her father was a lawyer. “Lawyers argue. They can argue any issue from any side, any time. And lawyers like to argue. We need a few people who have a few creative abilities to look for creative solutions. I have a perfect background. I’m a writer. I’m used to thinking and critical thought.”
In a similar challenging vein, and in the face of a Democratically-controlled House and Senate, the candidates were all asked, why should we send down another Democrat? Conversely, the GOP twosome was asked the point in electing a Republican “when Republicans are largely ineffective at stopping Democrat initiatives.”
Though a Democrat, Morriss served nearly two years as Republican Hargraves’ legislative aide. “What I saw was that Republicans spent most of their time spinning their wheels. I think people of this district would be better served by someone who sat at the big table where decisions are being made.”
“Democrats or Republicans, regardless of party, need to find a way to work together on what they agree on,” said Saboliauskas. “If we agree on 30-percent of the issues, we’re going to (need to) work on those 30-percent we agree on and leave the other 70-percent for another day.”
“Why send another when there’s an 88 percent majority already?” asked Reich rhetorically. “I have a plan that’s going to get us back to work by investing in clean energies here in the district. I don’t think that’s necessarily a Democratic or Republican policy. I think that’s a smart energy policy.”
The Republicans knocked the ruling party. “We’ve had a one party rule and all initiatives by the Republican caucus to cut our spending has been summarily dismissed,” said Harrington. But she said she’d work to represent all, “to be somebody that’s willing to put their hands across the aisle, put their hands across the table. Be creative. Be collaborative.”
Republican Sullivan said he sees a potential House power shift coming. “I’ve been knocking on doors all summer. I’m not so sure they’ll have a veto proof house come November.”
It’s the economy, stupid
It was the catch phrase coined by the Bill Clinton camp when he successfully unseated George H. W. Bush in the 1992 Presidential election. “It’s the economy, stupid.”
The Obama administration buzz now is stimulus spending. Is it working? No consensus was formed among the candidates.
It’s failed, according Saboliauskas. “We can print money all day long and pretend things are rosy. Stimulus has to be market forces. If consumers don’t have more money, you’re not going to spend more money.”
Morriss defended stimulus spending and equated it to Depression-era job and work projects that kept the economy moving. “This is where the government needs to play a very active role. Money is only valuable when it changes hands. We have money locked up in our financial institutions and we really need to get the ball rolling financially and get the economy moving.”
Reich said the policy is suffering in part due to misbranding. “Stimulus is the wrong name. A strategic investment is better. We should be making money available for municipalities to make strategic investments in infrastructure versus long-term bandages. I don’t think we should just give money away recklessly.”
“Folks think people correlate stimulus with bailouts. It’s beefed up the public sector but really hasn’t trickled down to help the private sector as much as people would have hoped,” said Harrington. “Massachusetts seems to have a bailout mindset instead of helping startups. We need to look to all sorts of creative ways to bring jobs back to Massachusetts.”
“The best stimulus package in Massachusetts is to cut our taxes,” said Sullivan. “Allow business to create jobs.”