ANDOVER — 3rd Congressional District candidates Lori Trahan and Rick Green leaned on their central talking points when they shared the stage last week at a Massachusetts School of Law forum, the first debate between the duo ahead of the general election.
The one-hour event, broadcast live on WBZ Nightside and moderated by host Dan Rea in what he called a “discussion,” saw the two candidates attempting to speak to a broad audience.
Neither targeted the other or made any direct criticisms, instead expressing frustration only at larger national forces.
Trahan, who topped a 10-way Democratic primary by a narrow 145-vote margin, presented a somewhat moderate stance, calling for a bipartisan approach to “common-sense” gun reforms such as universal background checks and voicing support for affordable health care without going as far as naming a progressive Medicare for All-type system.
Green, the Republican nominee, worked to portray himself as a political outsider, someone who has a strong background in business — he is the co-founder and CEO of 1A Auto — and said he would rely on those skills to bring a fresh perspective to Congress.
The tensest exchanges of the night came when Green was asked for his views on national politics.
At first, Green was asked if he voted for Trump and what his opinion of the president is.
The Republican congressional candidate answered that he did vote for Trump, but then quickly pivoted away from the question without sharing further thoughts on the president.
Rea returned to the subject and pressed Green several times on whether he would condemn Trump’s “more outlandish statements.” Green again did not answer directly.
“The problem in D.C. is it’s become a circus, as I’ve already said,” Green replied to Rea. “Quite honestly, I’m going to turn it back on you. You and the members of the media deserve a lot of responsibility for this. There’s a reason that Congress and members of the media are at an all-time low,” he said. “No one asks me these questions on the trail. No one. But when I step up here, it’s the only question members of the media want to talk about.”
Trahan was not given the exact same question. Instead, Rea asked her about comments by U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters — who suggested this summer that activists confront Trump’s cabinet members in public spaces and tell them “they’re not welcome any more, anywhere” — and whether Trahan felt that went too far.
“I don’t think it’s helpful when there’s a lack of civility in our politics,” Trahan said. “That’s exactly what’s wrong in Washington.”
Rea followed up again, and Trahan declined to condemn Waters, although she said she disagrees with the protesting tactic.
“I don’t agree with the statement,” she said. “There’s plenty of things (Waters) does for her district and our country. I’m not going to condemn someone I want to work with.”
In another follow-up, Rea asked both candidates who they would support for House leadership. Trahan said she was open to Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi returning to a speakership role. Green said the inquiry was a “circus question” that was sowing political discord.
Only about half a dozen questions were asked over the course of the one-hour program, most from Rea and several from the 100 or so audience members.
Green listed the opioid epidemic as the most pressing issue in the 3rd Congressional District, and he said his solution if elected would be to designate a senior staffer to focus on the crisis full time.
He also said that, because of his experience with distribution networks at 1A Auto, he has a “unique knowledge” of how to disrupt fentanyl trafficking.
“You have to make someone responsible and hold them accountable if you want to solve issues,” he said.
Trahan, asked for her thoughts on the biggest local issue, discussed economic anxieties created by stagnant wages and rising costs.
She suggested affordable health care and a revamped education system, one that emphasizes vocational and alternative schools, as ways to mitigate the problem.
“College might not be the path for everyone, and that’s OK,” she said. “We have to expose more alternatives. We have to tether our American dream to many more practical, pragmatic lanes of education, because those do lead to good jobs.”
Another question focused on the southern border. Trahan said she supports stronger border security, although she did not specify how, and then discussed her opposition to aggressive operations by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant parents from their children. Green criticized so-called “sanctuary cities” and specifically called out Lawrence as a place that, in declining to support federal deportation efforts, did not follow the “rule of law.”
Mike Mullen, who made the Nov. 6 ballot as an independent candidate, did not participate in Wednesday’s discussion. He said he did not find out about the event until earlier in the day, and that he plans to participate in future debates.