Primary night guv debate showcases sharp differences

Without competitors on primary night, the three leading candidates for governor sparred during an hour-long radio debate Tuesday night, highlighting many areas of agreement as well as differences over policies governing undocumented immigrants, expanded gambling, negative advertising, taxes and Cape Wind.

The candidates - Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick, Republican Charles Baker and independent state Treasurer Tim Cahill - debated in front of an audience of about 300 at F1 Boston in Braintree as the polls closed statewide.  Over her protests, debate hosts at WBZ-AM elected not to include Green-Rainbow Party candidate Jill Stein, who has registered in the low single digits in the polls while framing herself as the only true outsider in the race.

All three candidates in the debate agreed workers are taxed too much, said they opposed legalizing marijuana, approved of making English the nation’s official national language, committed to serving a full four-year term if elected, and refused to say which of the other candidates was the next best for the job of governor - Patrick offered a long non-answer to what he called a “trick question” and Baker and Cahill said it’s up to the voters to decide.

All three also opposed an initiative petition set for a vote in November that would cut the sales tax rate to 3 percent from 6.25 percent.  Baker and Cahill said they support repealing the application of the sales tax to retail alcohol sales, the subject of another initiative petition, while Patrick opposes that question, which he said would pull funds from substance and alcohol abuse treatment programs.

Patrick and Cahill said they would be willing to take a no-negative-ad campaign pledge while Baker said no to that pledge.  “What’s a negative ad?” Baker asked in response to the question, prompting Cahill to offer as an example the Republican Governors Association ads run against him earlier in the election cycle.

Patrick said he supported in-state tuition rates at Massachusetts public higher education institutions for the children of individuals in the country illegally, while Cahill and Baker said they oppose that.  The governor also opposed the death penalty “under any circumstances” while Cahill and Baker said they would support that.

And Patrick said he would support driver’s licenses for illegal aliens and would not sign an Arizona-like bill allowing police officers to inquire about immigration status after lawful stops - Baker and Cahill opposed such licenses and said they would sign a law modeled after the one signed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.

The candidates also covered law enforcement, tax and spending priorities, Cape Wind and energy issues, and expanded gambling.  A question about rolling back the sales tax on alcohol spurred an extended exchange.

Patrick said he’s heard from voters who want to preserve treatment programs.  

“Our job is to listen to all of what they are saying to try to make the balance, try to strike the balance,” he said.  Patrick cited his “values” and ways to “help each other out.”   

He took issue with Baker when he said state government wasn’t holding the line on spending like residents statewide have been forced to in the recession, citing reforms he helped pass and saying spending had grown at a faster clip when Baker served in Republican administrations in the 1990s.
Patrick claimed he had “stood up” to unions, police officers, health insurance companies and the Legislature.

Baker said residents see the state pension system as more generous than their own pensions, municipal employees with better insurance options, and a $2 billion state budget deficit next year.  “They don’t believe that you’re living with the same recession that they’re living with,” Baker said to Patrick.

Cahill said “we all do have the same values” and suggested that funds for substance abuse treatment programs should be found within the $28 billion budget and without raising taxes.  “We don’t have to disagree on values.  We just have to figure out how to pay for things and do it in a right way without taxing people to the moon,” he said.

Cahill also cut Baker off when he accused Cahill of cutting local aid.  “I have not cut local aid.  I have provided local aid through my Lottery for the past seven years so just tell the truth and I won’t interrupt you,” the treasurer said.  Cahill, who Baker has lumped in with Patrick on tax-and-spend issues, added, “I don’t vote on the budget Charlie.  Charlie, I don’t vote on taxes and I don’t vote on the budget.  I just want to make that clear.”

Asked about the juxtaposition of $92 million spent on district attorneys and $168 million spend on criminal defense work, Cahill said those figures should be “turned upside down,” Patrick called for payment reforms to preserve quality services at a lower cost, and Baker said big-ticket reforms he supports would free up funds for prosecutors.

Asked if anyone was responsible for the failed expanded gambling bill, Patrick emphasized that he agrees with the Legislature on authorizing three casinos but would not support no-bid slot contracts for track owners.  Cahill said he would have signed the three-casino, two-racino bill that Patrick returned with an amendment, claiming the state can’t pass on up to 15,000 new jobs.  Baker said the issued showed how Beacon Hill was focused on the wrong priorities, mentioning the state budget gap and tax and regulatory burdens as more pressing issues.  “This is just a great example of how Beacon Hill can’t get stuff done,” Baker said.

Patrick reiterated his support for Cape Wind, while Baker and Cahill opposed it.  Cahill likened the offshore wind project to a “hidden green tax” and recommended as less expensive options land-based wind facilities, importing wind energy from Maine, nuclear energy and natural gas.    Baker compared Cape Wind to a no-bid contract and called it a “big bet” riding on $600 million in taxpayer subsidies and $800 million from ratepayers.  Patrick picked up Baker’s label, saying Cape Wind was only part of the state’s energy puzzle and warning that the “big bet” is counting on oil and gas prices to stay at recession-era lows.

Asked for solutions to violent crime, Cahill said he’d hire more police officers, noting Patrick had promised to hire 1,000 more when he ran four years ago.  “He let us down on that promise,” Cahill said.  Patrick said he still believes in community policing and said the police hires had been undercut by the recession, noting he’s still been able to invest in education and health care.  “I want to come back to that,” Patrick said, referring to police hires.  Baker said overhauling municipal health insurance would give cities and towns more flexibility to hire police.

Pressed by debate moderator Dan Rea, the candidates disclosed the last time they rode the MBTA.  Baker said it was two weeks ago, Cahill said two years ago and Patrick said he rode the T last week from Ruggles Station.

The candidates also disclosed their greatest personal crisis and how it had prepared them for public service.  Baker described the death of his grandfather when Baker was 15 years old.  Cahill recalled his father being laid off from his blue-collar job and being unemployed when Cahill was a teenager.  And Patrick revisited being stranded for three days after a car accident while traveling with a group to remote villages in Sudan.