The candidates took to Springfield's City Stage on Monday in the first debate before the election.
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — The five candidates for governor sparred in the first debate leading into the November general election.
In the only debate scheduled in Western Massachusetts, the five candidates fielded questions from Jim Madigan, the public affairs director from WGBY-TV.
The candidates are Republican Charlie Baker, Democrat Martha Coakley, and independents Evan Falchuk, Scott Lively and Jeff McCormick.
With a casino proposed for the city, Madigan kicked off the debate by questioning the candidates' opinions on the ballot question to repeal the law that allows them.
Baker said he's been a "one casino person," with that one being in Springfield. He plans to vote against the repeal but, if it passed, he said he would still continue to discuss the Springfield site through the legislative process. MGM Resort's Springfield casino proposal will tie into streetscape and generate more entertainment at the civic center, he said.
"I happen to think that this proposal is more innovative and more creative than some of the other ones. From my point of view, I've always been a one-casino person so if the question is passed, my goal would be to simply engage the site here in Springfield and not the other two," Baker said.
Coakley says the MGM proposal for Springfield will be a kickstarter to the economy and she, too, will vote against the repeal. But, the ills of a casino need to be mitigated, she said.
"We know there are ills and problems associated with casinos. But, I do think that since Springfield voted for it we can use it to maximize the development of the economy for everybody," Coakley said.
Falchuk is also voting against the repeal because "we already voted on this." But he said Baker and Coakley saying they would still support the Springfield project if the voters opt to repeal it is an an example of what is wrong with the current government.
Lively said he'll be voting to repeal the casino law. Lively opposes the gambling industry as a whole, calling it "immoral." He says the state shouldn't be turning toward an industry that "exploits" people.
"It is the last thing we want to see happen in Western Massachusetts," Lively said. "I am a pastor and I'm approaching this from a biblical perspective. I think the problem with economy in the state is a problem of sin. It is a problem of abandoning the standards of God and embracing humanistic alternatives."
McCormick, too, said he doesn't believe casinos are the key to the economic future. There are better ways to increase revenues, he said, ways that do not come with increases in crime while hurting the local entertainment and restaurant economies.
"There is so much potential that we have not tapped into," McCormick said. "We need to do that and I have a bold economic plan to do that. It can be done."
In a broader economic view, Coakley emphasized the investment in regional economies. She referenced growing up in North Adams in saying that she understands the impacts of regional economies and what happens when "the economy goes south." She said the state needs to invest in projects on the local level — such as building a theater in Holyoke. Additionally, she said "finishing that last mile of broadband is essential."
Falchuk agreed, saying, "there is no one size fits all." He called for doubling historic preservation tax credits, and improving the rail line from Springfield to Hartford, Conn.
Lively said the state's economy isn't as good as it was when he was a child growing up in Shelbourne Falls. He says that is because the state has embraces a "Marxist" perspective. He said he would decrease the size of government, which has become too controlling.
"I would go back to localism. I would streamline the government and attempt to give money back to citizens that is now being taken in excessive taxation," he said.
McCormick said he would try to create business clusters. He said he would create an innovation and investment fund to attract small businesses to set up shop and give them resources to grow. The technology fields will be creating hundreds of future jobs, he said.
"The growth is going to come from small businesses," he said.
Baker said he would sit down with every mayor and figure out economic plans for each cities and town, making a list of three or four things to do to do it. In Springfield, the economy is based on north/south transportation and there is a lot of aerospace manufacturing.
"One of the things the folks in Springfield and other places need is to know what the plan is," he said.
Next the candidates tackled higher education. Falchuk called for a much higher level of funding to make it affordable for people to go to college. He said there needs to be much more of a priority on it.
"We have a state that gives really big tax breaks to companies rather than funding higher education," Falchuk said. "I think the priorities we have in Massachusetts are completely backwards."
Lively said he wouldn't increase funding for it because "there is enough of a tax burden." The state is wealthy but has billions of dollars in debt.
"Every one around this table is coming from a liberal, big government perspective ... It is all about more and more and more money being taken from the taxpayers," he said. "I would go the opposite direction. I would work to give more money back to the taxpayers."
McCormick said education in the state starts in technical and vocational schools and then state universities and community colleges. The graduates of those program will stay in the state and create the economy of the future, he said. The funding needs to keep up but he also said "education can be cheaper."
Baker agreed with McCormick that there should be more online education. He says education is what separates Massachusetts from other states and the state should continue to invest in education. He wants more co-op programs and to expand the University of Massachusetts' footprint in Western Massachusetts.
Democratic candidate Martha Coakley is tied with Republican Charlie Baker as front runners in the election for governor.
"We should be serious about creating three-year degree programs. If somebody wants to get their degree done in three years, why should they pay for four?" he said.
Coakley said education needs to be approached from early education all the way to a career. That starts with improving literacy in the early ages to science, math and engineering in older grades and then the colleges need to be aligned with businesses.
"We should be providing pathways for kids starting in the seventh grade," she said. "We should be making our community colleges affordable ... Our colleges should be aligned with our businesses."
When asked about universal preschooling, Lively doesn't support it. He said would put a voucher system to increase other types of education including religious, home and charter schools in hopes to have more parental involvement.
"We shouldn't be taking our children away from their parents and giving them to the government at earlier ages. We should be helping parents have more time," he said.
McCormick cited a lack of proficiency in reading at the third-grade level and that can be improved with more early education.
"They have to learn to read before they can read to learn. I am strongly in favor of early education," he said. "We need to put children on the right track. They will get further and further behind if we don't."
Baker said he supported "targeted investments in early childhood education." The concern, he said, is that whether children will benefit from the programs. He said oftentimes the students lose all of their benefits from preschool if the kindergarten through Grade 8 level isn't up to par.
Coakley countered Baker's claim that preschool doesn't always give children a leg up. She said the state needs to invest in all levels of education.
"We should be good partners in all of our communities to level the playing field," she said.
Falchuk reiterated his point on priorities. While there are 40,000 students on waitlists for preschool across the state, the legislature approved $1.2 billion to expand a convention center in Boston.
"Our legislators are saying nice things but aren't showing up with money when it counts. Maybe that's the problem."
McCormick led of the next question about the state of the roads and bridges by saying government needs to "get creative" in generating revenue. He says the state needs to partner with private businesses. The roads and bridges need to be "up to snuff" for businesses to transport good and residents to get to work.
"Beacon Hill has to change. It has to become friendly for business. It is Beacon Hill's job to help businesses, especially small businesses, grow," he said.
Baker agreed with increasing public and private partnerships. But he said part of his local economic plans developed with the mayors of the cities, the roads and bridges will be included.
"We have to find a way to do things better and cheaper and in some cases faster," he said.
Coakley said the roads and bridges fits into her regional economic plan and said some $400 million could be allocated for infrastructure improvements.
"For the last year, I've been meeting with mayors in Massachusetts — with Mayor Sarno, with Mayor Alcombright, with Mayor Mitchell, you name it," she said. "We've all been talking about what those regional projects in infrastructure need to be. We can hit the ground running."
Falchuk said "we have systematically" underfunded the infrastructure. And to fix up the roads and repairs, it is going to cost money.
"I think we should put tolls on the border crossings for the people who are coming in from New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Vermont. There are estimates of more than $1 billion can come in to make sure our infrastructure is up to snuff," he said. "Historically, all of our governors have been looking at running for president and look at New Hampshire and say 'I don't want to tax those guys.' I do."
Lively said his history as a contractor has shown him that "you have to invest in your infrastructure." And he will support funding for those projects. However, he says he doesn't like the system of contracting. He says "we always get stuck with extra costs." He said he'd make contractors pay the cost of overruns in project budgets.
More importantly, Lively said the state's "moral infrastructure" is what is lost. He said "killing unborn babies and promoting sexual perversion in school" is "corroding us" even worse. That triggered a back and forth between Baker.
"That was a veiled reference to gay people. As the brother of a gay man who lives and is married in Massachusetts, I want you to know that I found that offensive," Baker told him, in which Lively reiterated his "belief in the Bible."
Lively later said Baker was "taking a cheap shot" on him.
Moving on, the candidates were asked if they would support medical marijuana being distributed in pharmacies.
"You ought to be talking about a separate process for the time being," Baker said, adding that the state should monitor the facilities that will be opened and if all goes well, revisit the idea in a few years.
Coakley said since pharmacies are regulated federally and marijuana is against federal law, distributing medical marijuana there creates legal turmoil. Now the focus should be making sure the people who need it are getting it, she said.
Republican Candidate Charlie Baker hopes to take the corner office on Beacon Hill.
Falchuk expanded on the question and said now is the time to look over all of the state's drug laws. It isn't about "being tough on crime," he said, and called for a complete overhaul of drug policies.
"Our jails are filed with people on low-level drug offenses," he said. "It is the 21st century and it is time to have sensible policies."
Revealing more about his history, Lively said "I inhaled. I inhaled a lot." And marijuana was a gateway drug for him to become an alcoholic.
He said he opposes all forms of marijuana now.
McCormick balanced both viewpoints saying he sees how it is a gateway drug but he also sees the benefits. Politics have been getting in the way, he said, and the government needs to play a "huge role moving forward."
As for energy, Coakley said she wants to move toward renewable but recognizes there needs to be a bridge. She opposes the Kinder Morgan natural gas projects and calls for the governors of the other Northeastern states to come together and determine the best course of action.
"I do not believe the Kinder Morgan program, the way it has been addressed, is the right solution," she said.
Falchuk called Kinder Morgan's proposal a "wake up call" for everyone in Massachusetts to answer the question of energy needs.
Meanwhile, Lively rejected the notion of climate change, calling it "nonsense" and "a scam." He said natural gas is a good resource.
McCormick agreed that there needs to be a bridge source but said the state has to be smart about it. There are massive volumes of energy needed and the state needs to find projects that will last a long time.
"I am a huge fan of solar and wind. But it can't take the place of everything overnight. The volumes are huge," he said.
Baker said a 37 percent increase in energy costs is something the state should have been trying to correct years ago. He said everybody knew three coal plants were being shut down and nobody had put in a place a plan to address the shortfall.
"We're still debating whether or not you can pursue something in the already existing right of ways," he said.
Addressing global warming, Baker said he believes it is real and it should be a concern — maybe with the use of Canadian hydro-electricity. Democrats have been taking shots at Baker's 2010 statement in which he said he wasn't sure about climate change.
The debate at Springfield's City Stage was put on by The Springfield Public Forum, The Republican newspaper, Western New England University, WGBY-TV, MassLive.com, CBS 3 Springfield, New England Public Radio, WWLP 22 News, WGGB ABC 40/FOX 6, The Berkshire Eagle and the Valley Press Club.
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