I attended the Unity Radio / Worcester Mag District 17 State Rep debate tonight.
Bill Shaner was there; I see some notes already on Twitter and will update this with more of his coverage as I see it.
Update: WoMag article here. Coverage of all primaries here.
As always, my notes are a bit loose but I tried to capture the spirit as much as possible.
While the house was packed at OLA, if you’re reading this you probably didn’t attend, so you can catch it on Unity Radio tomorrow night (8/29) at 6pm, Friday (8/31) at 6pm, and Saturday (9/1) at noon.
And — if you can — please vote in the primary next Tuesday, September 4!
Gary Rosen introduces the candidates: Loosemore, LeBoeuf, and Gemme are all running in the Democratic Party primary, Fullen as a Republican.
Hank Stolz discusses the format: every candidate will say something absolutely brilliant tonight. Hold applause. Two minute opening statement, one candidate will get a question with two minutes to respond, then each other candidate will get a one minute response, first candidate will get one minute rebuttal. Last half hour Lincoln-Douglas style debate with candidates asking each other questions.
Paul Fullen (Republican candidate): has always lived a life of service, time in US Navy, has served in WFD for 21 years. Thinks opponents take the label “state representative” literally – representing the state over the people (I think, sorry, kind of missed that). Families are foundation of society, and that they come first, he will fight for families. Mentions his wife and seven children.
Pam Gemme: lived challenges and obstacles that many have faced. Dropped out of high school as a single parent, experienced poverty and homelessness. She put herself through college, went to school and worked, both full time. Had supportive parents. Has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, has been social worker for 28 years, has always served. Knows that access to good jobs, transpo, affordable housing, are important. Will focus on issues important to us, will focus on name-calling and blame game for others.
David LeBoeuf: shout-out to his mother, whose birthday is today. He attended WPS, attended Clark and then Harvard. Discusses his involvement in the community (ACE) – he began running last year because he saw a need. Identified issues important to the district, universal pre-K, fighting for small business, econ dev = community dev. Knows community, knows you, the people who live here. (This was quite good and unfortunately I couldn’t type it all.)
Stu Loosemore: to fight and work hard for constituents in this district. Worked at statehouse for 10 years, has worked for 6 years with small businesses. This is our home, wants to work for the people in this district. Focus on conservation, public safety officials need tools to keep us safe and to keep them safe.
[Sorry, sometimes the ladies next to me speak so loudly I can’t concentrate on the candidates at all times. Hey, that’s my job!!]
First question to Loosemore, from Walter Bird:
Q: Opioid crisis. 1 – safe injection sites: Y/N
Loosemore: the opioid crisis has touched everyone in some way in this room. Would want to focus on getting people into programs to get recovery assistance, to help overcome addiction. Does not need to focus on prolonging the problem. [Bird pushes for an answer] The city has done a good job with needle exchange, but probably wouldn’t support needle injection sites. We should be working to get help/counseling they need.
LeBoeuf: We don’t have enough information to see if this is an effective model. Gloucester model: no arrest, treatment on demand, Narcan can be in the same box as AED device. Supports city opioid lawsuit. Talks about the ability for treatment centers to pull back funding up to 2 years out. (Again, excellent answers – I couldn’t get to this all)
Gemme: has seen parents pass away from heroin overdoses. Chief Hurley from Leicester talking about the town’s issues – kits for parents to test their children. Injection sites would have to be tied to treatment.
Fullen: There is no such thing as a safe injection site unless it’s in an emergency room. 6/7 hits of Narcan to deal with some stuff that is loaded with fentanyl. We have methadone clinics, we take people off opioids by putting them on opioids. Talks about lawsuit and says it’s just for votes and to maintain bureaucracy.
[Well, I guess there’s no one-minute rebuttal…]
Q2 from Economou: education funding, lawsuits to try to recover $$ from the state. How do you go about changing or funding the new foundation budget for education?
LeBoeuf: funding as it exists now is child abuse. Formula was created in 1993, didn’t take into account special ed or health insurance costs. Disservice for communities that are working-class like Worcester and Leicester. Three things: nuts and bolts to determine the roots of inequality (low income, ELL, etc.); morals in regards to budget (moral conscience; why give breaks to tech companies and not fund Pre-K); fair share amendment or millionaires’ tax should be revisited – revenue should include more than property tax and tax overrides.
Gemme: in agreement about fair share amendment. Has seen education be the most wonderful thing for kids we serve, but also where kids are not having educational needs met. Fund education from PreK to college.
Fullen: we’re talking about raising taxes “with the fair share thing here”. Sooner or later we run out of other people’s money. The state brings in $100 million every day. South High should have been a trade school and serve the kids of Leicester who don’t have a trade school. Stops sending kids to colleges that are overpriced. Universal PreK is not effective. Best thing is to keep your kids at home – they get most of their care from their mother and father.
Loosemore: One size fits all formula does not work well. We should not turn back to property taxes, funding model should be improved.
LeBoeuf: Studies show that Universal PreK works well for most children. Families in this district spend more on child care than they do on their mortgage or rent.
Q3 from Bird: are you in favor of comprehensive sex ed programs in public schools? What should be included or not included? How to get through the state house?
Gemme: if we’re going to have comprehensive sex ed, it should have wellness and health component. It might be that it’s getting bogged down because there’s not enough details included. Most people in American ed have had [sex ed] at one point. Our kids are experimenting and asking friends. They learn from their peer groups. They might not get the right answers that way. More input from parents, teachers, law enforcement, social workers, other stakeholders.
Fullen: not sure what you mean by “comprehensive sex education, would have to see the curriculum for it.” Schools should teach “reading writing and rithmetic, that would be helpful.” [Fullen is quotable if nothing else] We had health and safety class when he went to South High School. [Bird notes that rates for STDs are through the roof] Fullen doesn’t see it.
Loosemore: sex ed needs to have an opt out who don’t wish for the school to teach their children. That’s their right. But there should be the curriculum offered, should be statewide.
LeBoeuf: graduated from South High in 2008 and didn’t have comprehensive sex ed, questions in a box and luckily had a nurse that was clarifying that. Studies are there, it makes sense. Increase in STDs and teen pregnancy in states that do not have comprehensive sex ed.
Gemme: has seen young girls and boys, 10 and 11, trafficked in the streets of Worcester. Given drugs and alcohol, started with addictions, to work on behalf of their pimps. We need kids to understand what grooming is.
Q4, from Economou: WRTA has argued that state has level-funded for the last four years. How would you increase funding from state to WRTA? Other ways for WRTA to survive?
Fullen: the answer is to keep pouring money into it. Low ridership, low fares, can’t sustain itself. Uber/Lyft are being used. Doesn’t think it’s a sustainable option. [Economou presses for an answer] He would let it “run its course”
Loosemore: funding for public transportation same as public education: it’s broken. People use public transpo – not everyone has the luxury of owning an automobile or multiple autos. No public transportation can turn people into shut-ins. Would support moving it into trust funds.
LeBoeuf: three of the proposed cuts were through this district. No one at the state house was fighting for us. Met someone who lives on Green Street in Leicester, she has MS, can’t afford Uber and Lyft, and now there is no paratransit for her. If we can fund the MBTA, we can fund the WRTA. Companies coming here can contribute to public transportation funding. We deserve equal access to public transpo.
Gemme: When you visit other countries and states, they have more modern public transportation systems. Would never have made it through college without the WRTA. Need to modernize WRTA.
Fullen: we have some of the richest poor people in the world. So they should be able to take an Uber. They can afford phones, air conditioning. [Note: you could CUT THE AIR with the disgust in this room whenever Fullen talks]
Q5, from Bird: do you believe that schools are prepared with violence we have seen [such as in Florida]?
LeBoeuf: hasn’t seen the building plan for South High. (speaks a bit about design of North High contributing to some issues) Environment in the school system – guidance counselors, social workers, resource officers can be in schools so that students can share any threats they hear. School safety something we are scared about. Fortunately we haven’t had that in Worcester because we have a strong school system and community.
Gemme: not for any firearms for teachers. Kids should not have to be afraid about going to school. Schools are wiser about violence prep, but we should have ongoing discussion with administrators. Mental illness should be treated better.
Fullen: schools are unsafe from massacres because schools are gun-free zones so only criminals are there with guns. Israel has no school shootings because they have armed guards.
Loosemore: kids need to know where they can talk to adult about problems/issues they’re having. Stop talking AT kids, begin listening to the kids. How do we help kids overcome the issue.
Q6, from Economou: what is first issue you’d like to tackle and why?
Fullen: opioid crisis is biggest one facing our families. Program that is 22% of budget doesn’t work, [sorry, not sure what program he prefers to] which replaced program that did work.
Loosemore: education funding.
LeBoeuf: education as well, endorsed by Mass Teachers Association. Would rather invest in PreK than in AK47s in schools.
Gemme: pro-universal PreK through college funding. All kids deserve appropriate education funding.
Now we’re moving into a different round. Hank asked about the number 1 thing they’ve heard with doorknocking.
LeBoeuf: number 1 district people have talked about…healthcare, esp for seniors and working families. Proposal in state senate would raise eligibility gap, endorsed by Mass Nurses Association.
Loosemore: number 1 thing he’s heard when doorknocking is thank you. Folks are happy to talk about what’s important to them and to have someone listen. When one of us goes to Boston, we’re there to fight for the issues for people in this district.
Fullen: millions of dollars in Mass Health fraud
Loosemore says he does not feel guns in schools are the answer.
Gemme says folks are tired of the politics, want real truth in gov’t, want someone to stand up for them. Healthcare – seniors should not have to leave their homes because they can’t afford taxes. She wants to die in her home. Wants to work on that. Education – people are tired of being told that they’re losing teacher or assistant principal.
LeBoeuf: our district is a working class district, offended by “richest poor people” comment. Prescription health care costs go up radically when someone retires. People should not be squeezed. Why are you in this race if you don’t care about seniors losing their homes?
Gemme: it takes $22/hour to afford rent in Worcester. Will fight like hell in state house because she’s been doing it all her life. Will make relationships, knows how to get the job done.
Fullen: likes what Pam said about working across the aisle. That’s how things get done. So much animosity, people look for something to complain about instead of moving on. Rein in abuse of MassHealth.
Gemme: has managed a $20 million budget. The reason she is good at it is because she is creative.
LeBoeuf: budgets are moral documents. Where do we want to put our investments in? If you cut public health funding, people die. If you cut a health insurance exec’s salary, no one dies. If company gets a tax break, they need to meet promises. Incremental TIFs. [whoo-hoo, now he’s speaking my language!]
Loosemore: grab state agencies that don’t need to be in Boston, stop paying rent in Boston and move them to Central Mass.
Bird, to Fullen: probably you have had the most offensive comments tonight, references LeBoeuf.
Fullen: I’m sure David is easily offended. Seen people living in the streets, nowhere to live. This country has so many programs to help people. People in CVS want copay waived because they’re on Mass Health but they’re driving Escalades. These people will eventually want universal everything.
[At this point, I am convinced that Bruce Willis is here “in the role of Paul Fullen” because this is so over the top I can’t even.]
Gemme: people should be treated humanely, esp if they can’t afford their copay
Fullen: they can afford their copay and they choose not to
LeBoeuf: Mass Health also protects disabled people. I want to live in a society where we don’t let people die in streets, colleagues on the Democratic side share the idea. Economic inequality is a major issue in this district. We have a crisis in Cherry Valley because of people facing foreclosure because of water bills. We can address this by respecting dignity of our neighbors and working together.
Loosemore: government’s role is to support. [Good answer, just still in the afterglow of Fullen’s response]
Gemme: Fullen, you have been at Planned Parenthood holding signs. What are your plans for women’s healthcare when you get to the state house?
Fullen (with 2 mins): I am pro-life, do not believe in abortion. Public funding for Planned Parenthood, doesn’t agree with. Country that kills its own citizens is without hope. Baby is not a disease, it’s a human being.
Gemme: the law is that women have the right to that kind of healthcare. Decision made between a woman and her doctor. She is pro-life but still believes in a woman’s right to choose. To have a man like you with a sign like that, you have right to free speech, but it’s bullying.
Fullen: not bullying, I’ve never held a sign, but I’ve prayed. This destroys families.
LeBoeuf, to Fullen: would you commit to people’s pledge – pay donation to charity of opponent’s choosing if dark money org advertises on your behalf?
Fullen: each of you has way more money than me. If org I don’t know about, probably wouldn’t, esp if your charity is Planned Parenthood [back and forth about in-kind contributions from Marlboro Republicans]
[Fullen is a touch amazing. I do not mean that as a compliment]
Loosemore, to LeBoeuf: what’s your solution to the water problem in Leicester?
LeBoeuf: the water districts are independent, quasi-public agencies. Recognize that this is not the fault of the ratepayers. Bring people together and leverage state $$ and look for fed $$ – no business development without access to clean water. Marijuana $$ coming into Leicester – maybe they can leverage some of that into helping with water district.
Loosemore: how can you turn it from unsustainable to sustainable?
LeBoeuf: wants to hear more voices of the people, needs to have community buy-in before taking any action. If consolidation is what they want, would help with legislation. Has heard a lot of different opinions.
Fullen, question for LeBoeuf: you like to tout support of H. Chandler. She voted to give herself a 147% pay raise. Explain to taxpayers how this is fair and justified.
LeBoeuf: this was regarding raising legislative pay. He would not have voted for it. What’s done is done. Even some who have voted against it took that raise. Harriette has brought dignity and respect to the Senate. Proud to have been her campaign manager when she defeated Paul Franco, proud that Matt Wally defeated Paul Franco. Proud that she passed NASTY WOMAN bill, dental bill.
Fullen: so you would have taken it?
LeBoeuf: glad you have a crystal ball to know what I would have done. More praise for Chandler [zinger was better than that, you’ll just have to listen to the recording to get it.]
Closing statements – I will only type anything of note as my fingers are out of practice
Fullen wrote everyone (or maybe Gemme?) a poem “because you like poetry” –
Poems are fine and poems are fun,
But vote for Paul to get stuff done.
(I would put that in the “doggerel” category, but there you go!)
PS — As with so many of these events, I saw a lot of people I’ve known through all walks of life – at least one of whom I haven’t seen since high school. I’m pretty much staying retired from public life, but it was lovely to see everyone!