It’s probably been a little while now since the turnout for a candidates’ forum in the Third Middlesex District was a part of the story, but that changed this year.
After the announcement in February that State Sen. Susan Fargo (D-Lincoln) would not seek a ninth term, a handful of new Democratic candidates emerged to join those who had already announced their intentions to run.
Concord Democrats Joe Kearns Goodwin and Mara Dolan, along with Alex Buck of Chelmsford and Joe Mullin from Weston, threw their hats in the race, joining Republicans Greg Howes of Concord and Sandi Martinez of Chelmsford, and Mike Barrett, a Lexington Democrat, all of whom had declared candidicay before Fargo revealed her retirement plans.
The excitement and interest around this state senate seat – which represnts a district that includes a national park, an airport, an Air Force base and a stretch of Route 128 – apparently, has been contagious. And all that energy was on display in a big way Aug. 15 in Concord, where a League of Women Voters Candidates Forum attracted a crowd so robust that public safety officials and organizers had to turn away more than 100 campaign supporters and undecided voters in order to comply with fire safety codes.
The forum produced some notable quotables, sure. Like when Martinez, the recurring Republican candidate from Chelmsford, said the last call she’d ever want to receive “is that my child has been killed by an illegal immigrant,” in response to a question about an issue she feels strongly enough about to break from the party line. But the buzz among the audience before, during and after the formal question-and-answer portion of the evening was the atmosphere.
The streets surrounding the Harvey Wheeler Community Center were lined with red, white and blue campaign signs held by volunteers of all ages. Inside the venue, every seat was filled, the hallway congested as a sardine can and several senior citizens without seats sat cross-legged on the carpet.
When a representative of the League of Women Voters of Concord and Carlisle paused the start of the program to thin the crowd, a number of the departed lingered along the sidewalk in hopes of observing through an open window.
Candidates On the Issues
The Republicans were first to the fore, and Howes and Martinez fielded questions from posed by LWV organizations in the district, as well as questions emailed in to the League.
On some issues, such as medical marijuana, where they’d break from the party and increased commercial aviation at Hanscom Field, their answers differed sharply in terms of substance and basis. In several responses, Martinez answered “as a mother” or referred to her no tax pledge, while Howes talked about process, and that the role of a state senator is to represent the district.
Regarding an expanded Bottle Bill, for instance, Martinez rejected a deposit on plastic water bottles as “another tax,” and one which could drive consumers away from healthier beverages. Meanwhile Howes, who spent six years as a selectman in a town that’s twice voted to ban the sale of bottled water, said he believes residents in the district “are willing to pay a nickel” and he would work to address the funding problem if the program is thought to be economically unviable.
One area where Howes and Martinez agreed completely was that neither wanted to touch the “Ryan Budget” with a 10-foot pole.
“Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan have enough to deal with,” said Howes, referring to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and running mate Paul Ryan. “They don’t need my input.”
The five Democrats were second to the stage. Barrett, Buck, Dolan, Kearns Goodwin and Mullin all support the Bottle Bill and public financing of political campaigns, and opposed voter identification law. Regarding the latter, consensus was they would like to see more done to promote voter participation.
Barrett suggested moving elections from weekdays to Saturdays as a means to increase turnout, while Kearns Goodwin took it a step forward and recommended making Election Day a holiday.
All five candidates generally agreed that civilian traffic and freight air traffic should not increase at Hanscom Field and that the Legislature went too far with restrictions on EBT cards. In many cases, the nuanced differences in their answers reflected their backgrounds and identities as candidates.
On the issue of welfare reform and the EBT controversy, Dolan pointed to her background as a social worker and public defender, while Kearns Goodwin worked his veteran-status into his answer to the same question. Discussing civil aviation at Hanscom, Mullin said he dealt extensively with Massport during his turn as eastern regional director of the U.S. Civil Aeronautics Board under President Jimmy Carter’s administration.
And, finally, asked about a position that distinguishes them from the other four Democratic candidates, both Barret and Buck highlighted their background instead of a position.
Barrett, who served for eight years in the state senate before launching an unsuccessful bid for governor in 1994, touted his past experience and Legislator of the Year accolades, while Buck said there’s a case to be made for representatives who aren’t steeped in state politics.
“I’m an engineer, and I’m going to go back to being an engineer,” said Buck, noting his work in lifesciences and technology has coincided with Town Meeting membership. “What we really need is folks who didn’t follow the typical path to elected office.”
The Third Middlesex District is comprised of Bedford, Carlisle, Chelmsford, Concord, Lincoln, Waltham, Weston and parts of Sudbury and Lexington.