If Bernie Were Governor of Massachusetts — Dems Debate

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2018/05/18/if-bernie-were-governor-of-massachusetts-dems-debate/

By Matt Murphy
State House News Service

Gubernatorial candidates Jay Gonzalez and Bob Massie went hard at Governor Charlie Baker in an early primary debate between the two remaining Democrats in the race, contrasting their leadership experience while agreeing almost uniformly on the issues.

Two weeks before the Democratic Party convention in Worcester, both Gonzalez and Massie face a test of trying to convince party insiders that on of them would be the better candidate to take on Baker in the fall. Democrats are hoping a wave of anti-Trumpism and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s presence on the ticket will help them topple the popular incumbent governor.

“With Trump taking us backwards every single day, it is more important than ever that we’re leading right here in Massachusetts, but we’re not leading under Charlie Baker. He’s a status quo, wait-and-see governor and it’s not good enough,” Gonzalez said.

While Gonzalez argued that his experience as a former state budget chief and health insurance executive make him the most well suited to deliver a progressive agenda on Beacon Hill, Massie said that voters don’t want someone with a resume identical to Baker’s.

Massie is a world-traveled author and climate change activist who founded a global organization focused on developing standards for corporate accountability for labor practices, human rights, and energy use. Calling himself a “movement leader,” Massie said he will help Massachusetts “imagine what we really want.”

“I believe we need to take on the problems today that are going to pay benefits tomorrow. We stand at a critical moment with a president who is getting ready to destroy our democracy and a governor who is not willing to object,” Massie said.

The mid-afternoon radio debate on the UMass Boston campus Thursday attracted an older set in person, with an audience of about 100, including supporters brought by both campaigns. Hosted by WBUR, the Boston Globe, and UMass Boston, it was moderated by Radio Boston co-host Meghna Chakrabarti and Boston Globe political editor Shira Center and broadcast live.

Former budget chief Jay Gonzalez speaks at the 2014 Massachusetts Democratic Party convention in Worcester. (File Photo: SHNS)

Baker, in the judgment of both Massie and Gonzalez, has failed to adequately confront the major challenges facing the state such as transportation, education, and opioid addiction. They both accused him of tinkering around the edges of problems and failing to recognize that additional revenues are needed to invest in things like the MBTA and drug addiction treatment.

While both candidates support a ballot question that would impose a 4 percent surtax on income over $1 million to generate an additional $2 billion, Gonzalez said if that fails he would propose “another progressive tax to raise the income we need.”

“We need additional revenue and if it’s not going to happen from the millionaire’s tax, which is the fairest, most meaningful new revenue proposal we’ve had for a long time, then I would propose something that would ask those doing well to pay a little bit more to make some of these investments we need to make,” he said.

Gonzalez said he would not reprise a tax reform plan he helped former Governor Deval Patrick develop midway through Patrick’s second term, but didn’t have any specifics on what he might propose. Patrick’s plan would have increased revenue by raising the income tax, lowering the sales tax and offering increased deductions to offset some of the cost on lower-income earners.

“No, I would come up with something else,” Gonzalez said after the debate, suggesting he would want to huddle first with the Department of Revenue and others to craft a plan. “I don’t have the details of that right now.”

Gonzalez also suggested that he had learned from some of the mistakes made by Patrick, who came into office in 2007 as a Beacon Hill outsider much like Massie without the government experience that Gonzalez now says is essential.

Asked if that lack of experience in the State House held the Patrick administration back, Gonzalez said, “I think in some ways it did, yeah. I think everyone would say that there were areas where the Patrick administration were not successful because we didn’t work as effectively as we could have with the Legislature.”

He continued, “The tax reform that you mentioned before landed with a thud and it landed with a thud because we sat in a room by ourselves developing that complicated piece of legislation without input from the Legislature, without input from other key stakeholders, and it was dead on arrival. That’s a lesson I learned from the Patrick administration that I’m going take to the governor’s office.”

Both Gonzalez and Massie criticized Baker for not doing enough to position the state to curb opioid abuse, despite last year’s down-tick in overdose deaths, and called for the addition of more treatment beds. Massie also faulted Baker for not holding pharmaceutical companies accountable for the rise in prescription drug abuse.

“The governor, in general talks about things, and doesn’t do them,” Massie charged.

The two Democrats, unlike Baker, also support the idea of experimenting with supervised injection sites and oppose the governor’s proposal to allow doctors to have patients presenting with signs of addiction involuntarily transfer to a treatment facility for three days.

Baker has said there is not enough evidence to convince him that safe injection sites for those addicted to heroin or other drugs would be effective, but Massie said it has worked in other countries.

“This makes sense. The data proves it. I don’t know what Charlie’s readying, apparently not very much,” he said. Both also questioned whether the drug treatment system had the capacity to accommodate those would be involuntarily committed under Baker’s plan, which has cleared a key legislative committee.

On housing, Baker has a bill pending before the Legislature that would set a goal of 135,000 new housing units by 2025 and make it easier for cities and towns to amend their zoning bylaws.

“It took three years for the governor to even focus on this and when he did he came up with something that in my view isn’t even a plan,” Gonzalez said, suggesting his approach would be one focused on growing housing options for both low-income families and the middle class with different strategies for different regions of the state.

Massie said the state needs to be more pro-active rather than letting the housing market dictate development, and called for better transportation options to connect homes with jobs. He criticized the rush to convert many triple-deckers in cities like Somerville into condos, which he said has made it harder for families to buy buildings, rent to family or tenants, and build equity and wealth.

In one of two light-hearted lightning rounds, Gonzalez said the last book he read was The New Jim Crow, about criminal justice; his favorite Dunkin’ Donuts coffee flavor is black; he mostly recently binge-watched West Wing on Netflix; he predicted the Celtics would win their playoff game Saturday by 12 points; and his favorite New England sports star is the Red Sox injured second baseman.

“Of course, Dustin Pedroia, another man of stature,” Gonzalez joked, referring to their shared challenge with height.

Massie said he read a science fiction novel The Sparrow, binged on the new Lost in Space, is a fan of Red Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski, thinks the Celtics will beat Cleveland by 756 points, and prefers his coffee “regular” with cream and sugar.

Gonzalez, who worked as Governor Patrick’s longest-serving budget chief, did not accept that the previous Democratic administration should bear some responsibility for the underfunding of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which both candidates agreed is wanting for investment.

Instead, Gonzalez criticized Baker for devising the Big Dig financing plan during his prior stint in state government that left the T in debt. “We actually increased funding for the MBTA and under my watch we invested in a number of projects that prior administrations had ignored, like the Fairmont extension,” he said.

Gonzalez said he would fire commuter rail operator Keolis and bring management of the commuter rail under the MBTA. While he said “privatization” is not working, the commuter rail was also under private management during the Patrick years.

Massie said he would devise a 10-year strategy to improve MBTA service and reliability, setting the goal first and studying the economic benefits that would accrue before then solving the question of how he would pay for it.

Gonzalez also said the state’s transportation planning must account for advancement in ride hailing and driverless car technologies, but Massie said he’s the “only person who has been talking about the long-term impact of artificial intelligence.”

Massie said he would appoint a commission on the future of work to look at how technology will disrupt current industries, like taxi, car, and truck driving, and said, “We don’t have to accept every technology that comes along.”

Both Gonzalez and Massie said they did not think Massachusetts should use tax dollars to try to lure Amazon to build its second headquarters in the state, and Massie questioned where all the new employees would live given the housing crunch in greater Boston.

In the final lightning round, Gonzalez said the best place for dinner is at home with his family and he likes to unwind on Martha’s Vineyard; Portland, Maine; or Portsmouth, New Hampshire. But he ducked the question about who he would like to see as the 2020 Democratic nominee for president.

Massie said he enjoys eating at Vinny’s in East Somerville (“But don’t go there!”) and likes to vacation in the Pioneer Valley or Maine. And on the question of 2020?

“I hope Bernie Sanders runs,” Massie said.