Green, Trahan Clash on College Costs, Immigration in Debate

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The high cost of college can be addressed by stopping the federal government from guaranteeing banks no-risk student loans, congressional candidate Rick Green said.

Green, a Republican, debated with Lori Trahan, a Democrat, and independent Mike Mullen at Fitchburg State University on Thursday night. All three are seeking the open Third Congressional District seat representing the Merrimack Valley being vacated by U.S. Representative Nikki Tsongas (D-Lowell).

The tone was civil and even restrained throughout.

A video of the debate is available on the web site of Fitchburg Access Television.

Green called for opening student loans to market rates, in hopes of bringing down interest costs for students.

“But we also need to understand how we got in this mess. The government did a deal with the banks, and said ‘We need to have everyone going to college. In order to do that, we’re going to underwrite the risk. We’re going to make that a risk-free loan for you, so you can give loans to everyone.’ That is the impetus of this entire problem, O.K.? – is this idea that everyone has to go to college,” said Green, of Pepperell, co-founder of 1A Auto, an automotive parts business. “The fact is, we actually now have a shortage in the vocational trades, because not enough people are choosing not to go to college. You can get a great job, come out of high school with no debt, and within a few years be making almost six figures. That needs to be passed on to our children. They need to understand that those paths exist, first and foremost. That will lower the demand for college. This is all supply and demand.”

Trahan, of Westford, a business owner and former chief of staff for Marty Meehan when he represented the district in Congress, said she has seen vast overreach on the campuses of private universities while visiting campuses with her three stepsons.

“I’ve been on the tours, and I see an escalating arms race, frankly, in amenities. And that needs to end. Because that cost structure, that increasing cost structure, is being passed on to our children. That escalating cost structure is causing our public institutions that are supposed to be the most affordable to also compete, with the best dining halls, and the best gyms, and the best weight rooms. We have to hold colleges accountable for the tuitions that they charge,” Trahan said.

Trahan, who said she wants to serve on the Education and Workforce Committee if she is elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, said more high school kids ought to be steered toward programs that don’t require an expensive bachelor’s degree.

“We need to make more accessible, and more noble, frankly, in this country, community college, trade and technical programs, vocational programs that get our kids into the workforce with the skills they need, with the salary they need, to have more opportunity to provide a better life for their families,” Trahan said.


Roads and Bridges

Green said he wants to serve on the Infrastructure and Transportation Committee if he’s elected to the U.S. House, which he said would allow him to focus on one of his central themes. He highlighted the chokepoints of Route 2, including the Abbot Avenue exit in Fitchburg.

“When I get down to Congress we are going to turn Route 2 into a six-lane, divided modern highway. We are going to bring economic development to Fitchburg, Gardner, all points west in this district. We’re going to bring the economic development to Fitchburg that it deserves, and that I know people here are capable of producing if they just have the opportunity,” Green said.

When he got a question about commuter rail, he noted that people still have to drive on roadways to get to a commuter rail station parking lot.

“It all comes back to Route 2,” Green said. “… Public and private transportation run primarily on the same networks. So it’s really all the same. When we fix Route 2, when we fix the Concord Rotary, when I make it so that it doesn’t take two and a half hours to get from Gardner to Logan, we cut that to an hour and a half, that’s going to help everybody, both private and public.”

Trahan said federal funding is key to fixing economic problems in north central Massachusetts.

“We have to unlock public funding so that we can attract private investment,” Trahan said.

Roads and bridges are part of that investment, she said.

“We need smarter infrastructure. It creates jobs — hardhat jobs that we badly need here, while also revitalizing our cities and towns,” Trahan said.

She highlighted her service as an aide to Meehan (now the president of the University of Massachusetts) when he was in Congress.

“Look, the congressional office, when it’s tightly tethered to the community it serves, can achieve bold things. I have experience doing that,” Trahan said, mentioning Tsongas Arena, the Riverwalk, and the baseball park in Lowell. “We have a long history of sending a Democrat to Congress who’s focused on economic development, and I hope to be that next representative.”



Trahan, who has not joined left-wing Democrats in calling for the abolishing of the federal Immigration and Naturalization Enforcement agency, said even illegal-immigrant-friendly Lawrence is cooperating with the federal government to try to stop the spread of illegal drugs like fentanyl.

She said immigration policy ought to make allowances for people who are here illegally but not otherwise breaking the law.

“Look, we need to give a pathway to citizenship for the people who are living here, paying our taxes, abiding by our laws. That includes our DREAMers. Right? We made a promise to them years ago that we need to fulfill,” Trahan said, referring to people who were born in other countries and brought to the United States as children illegally by their parents and have lived here ever since.

“On the flip side of that, we talk a lot about sanctuary cities, but the bad guys go to jail. Right? There are laws in place, even in Lawrence, which I know you like to bring up, Rick, where there is cooperation by the Lawrence police department to get fentanyl off the streets and to put the bad guys in jail. And that needs to continue,” Trahan said. “But we need to have a discussion about this. This is long overdue. We need to have an open debate about our acceptance criteria, how we’re going to manage family migration, like my grandparents who came here from Portugal. We have to talk about how we’re going to update our visa policy, so that it takes into account American workers and our skills gap. We have to figure out and evaluate asylum seekers. These are tough issues. This is the job of Congress. This is why you send people down there to roll up their sleeves, and find common ground on what our future is going to look like.”

Green said local authorities in many places aren’t cooperating with federal immigration authorities the way they should.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have cooperation between federal, state, and local,” Green said. “Just recently in Lawrence, one of the largest busts in our state history, they seized enough fentanyl to kill half the state of Massachusetts. Many of those people had open detainers from ICE, and had been previously released. That is the fact.”

He noted that as a congressman he would swear an oath to uphold the federal constitution and federal laws, but that some politicians are promoting policies, such as sanctuary cities, that don’t.

“I cannot abide by policies that directly contradict that law, in good conscience,” Green said.

“We need to return to the rule of law, first and foremost.”

Green said that as a business owner he has trouble filling jobs in his company’s call center and distribution facility.

“We need more people. We need more qualified people. But they have to come here legally,” Green said.

But he said immigrants have to come here legally, and that people who are not violating American policy should get priority.

“That being said, we’re a humane society. Those who have come here outside of our laws need to be treated humanely. But they have to go to the back of the line. That’s the price you pay for breaking our law,” Green said.


Federal Deficit

Trahan said she opposes President Donald Trump’s tax cuts because of their effect on the deficit, which she says threatens certain federal social programs.

“This administration tried to make those tax cuts permanent, which would have doubled the size of our deficit. That puts Social Security and Medicare in jeopardy. Right? And we cannot lose those programs. So I am concerned about the deficit,” Trahan said. “We talk a lot about the tax cut. I know that the middle class got a tax cut. It’s not permanent. It will expire, as opposed to some of the others that benefited the wealthiest Americans. But our corporate profits are up. Thirteen percent. Twenty percent. I mean, there is a lot of growth right now in our economy. Our wages are stagnant. We’re not feeling it. That is the problem. American workers are suffering because their wages haven’t grown, and the cost of living keeps on rising. Health care, education. So I think we need to rebalance this.”

“Look, the tax cut was negotiated with just Republicans in the room. I think it’s. To your point,” she said, referring to a questioner from the audience, “it’s what’s wrong with Washington. We need to have Democrats and Republicans working together to figure out what a balanced budget is, so our economy is strong again and so that we can pay down our deficit.”

Green said the government should have to balance its checkbook the way small business owners must.

“Neither party will get my vote for any budget that does not bring the deficit down. I’d like to say I would only vote for a balanced budget, but we’re so far away from that I can’t say that in good faith. However, you have my absolute word:  Each and every year the deficit must come down, or they will not get my vote for that budget,” Green said.



Green said not one current member of Congress from Massachusetts has a staff member dedicated to fighting opioid abuse, but that he has already appointed a former U.S. Navy SEAL who lost his sister to opioids to work on the issue, and that he will work on it as a member of his congressional staff if Green is elected.

The staff member is already putting together what Green called his “Empowering Recovery Task Force” to coordinate among local groups.

He also sketched a plan to try to interfere with the illegal drug trade.

“You won’t here anyone else talk about this. Opiates is a business. It’s an illegal business, but it is a business. A distribution business. I run a distribution business. I compete with All right? I get it intuitively. It’s based in Lawrence. You’ve got 495, 95, 93, you’ve got easy access to the highway. O.K., once we start to understand the business fundamentals, we make it more difficult. I’m uniquely qualified to disrupt the trade in fentanyl, because of my experience, and when I get to Congress, that’s exactly what I’m going to do,” Green said.

While Green emphasized law-and-order, Trahan outlined an approach that emphasizes social spending and government regulation.

“I do think that the federal government has a role to play with increasing medically assisted treatment, as well as the role of Narcan,” Trahan said, referring to a drug that local authorities use to prevent an active overdose from killing an opioid user. “Look, we have to keep people alive, right? We have to give them a second chance, and then we have to get them on the path to recovery. That is not three to six months, that is not even six to 12 months. That is a long road that we have to invest in. We have to make sure that people are back on their feet, in a good-paying job, in housing, and reunited with their family.”

“And finally, we have to hold the pharmaceutical companies accountable,” Trahan continued. “Pharmaceutical companies are a powerful lobby in Washington. I got to see it up close. And they have a big role to play, in overmarketing opioids to physicians who have been prescribing them for decades. We need to adjust our regulations to account for that and make sure it never happens again. I think we also have to hold the pharmaceutical companies accountable for that.”



Trahan said Congress needs to be brought back into trade policy instead of just ceding it to the president, as Congress has largely done.

Some of President Trump’s trade policies concern her, she said. She argued that tariffs will hurt manufacturing and workers across the country.

“So I’m really concerned with the plight of working-class families. We’re going to feel that when we go and buy our next appliance, or our next tool, or our next car,” Trahan said. “So I think what’s needed right now is Congress as a check and balance on this administration.”

But she left some wiggle room for tariffs.

“I agree, that the tariffs can definitely be used when there’s a goal in mind, right?” Trahan said. “So, with China specifically, whether it’s devaluing their currency or stealing IP, whatever it is, issuing tariffs so what we know we’re bringing them to the table, back to the table, is something that is O.K.. I don’t think putting our allies on notice through the use of tariffs is the right way to go. And I think we’ve antagonized our allies over the course of the last two years at a time when we need our allies now more than ever, as we go into very sensitive parts of the world and regions and stabilizing those areas.”

Green, without mentioning Trump by name, seemed to support Trump’s trade policies.

He said the United States has been suffering for years from an “undeclared trade war” waged by countries that make trade agreements with the United States but then don’t abide by them.

“Now make no mistake:  Theoretically, I’m a free trader. I believe in it. I believe it lowers costs for consumers. I believe ultimately it leads to more and better jobs. But I think it’s absolutely correct that we put the entire world on notice that we will no longer be taken for granted,” Green said.


Campaign Finance

Trahan said corporations shouldn’t be able to donate to political campaigns.

“Money in politics is a huge problem,” Trahan said. “I set up my campaign from day one raising the majority of my money from people who live in this district. From individuals who live here, so that I can show them every day that I’m going to be an independent voice from them. Not listening to party bosses, not listening to corporate special interests. And not everyone subscribes to that, right? There’s a lot of corporate money in the system. In fact, my opponent here actually wants to see more corporate money in our elections. That is the corruptive influence that needs to get out of our democracy, out of our system.”

In one of the few direct attacks of the night, Trahan pointed out that Green founded the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, an organization that exposes the votes of state legislators on pocketbook issues.

“And we need more transparency around donors,” Trahan said. “You know, Rick started the Mass. Fiscal Alliance group. That is a group, that we have no transparency into who funds those groups, and they want to have more corporate contributions influencing our democracy. That is the wrong direction for our country, if we’re going to work together, if we’re going to have people going down with an independent voice, getting things done for the people that they’re there to serve.”

Green didn’t say anything about Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance or campaign finance. But he noted that Trahan’s answer responded to a question about how each candidate would end partisan bickering in Washington.

“So I won’t answer the attack,” Green said. “What I will say is, building my small company into a big company, I had to negotiate with people who had no reason to do business with me. I had to find win-win in order to get them to enter into agreements with me. I was the little tiny guy, going up against the big guys. But I figured out how to make it so everybody won, both sides of the table. I have a record. I can work with the governor, the administration, the leaders of Congress from either party. I will get it done, because that’s what you the people want me to do.”


Massachusetts Gender Identity Ballot Question

Question 3, which asks Massachusetts voters to continue or repeal the state’s 2016 that that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity in public accommodations including restaurants, bars, beauty parlors, bathrooms, and locker rooms, came up in the final question of the debate. The moderator said it was written by a student at Mount Wachusett Community College who did not attend the debate, but it was read aloud by another questioner.

It’s the only hot-button social issue that came up during the debate.

Below is a transcript of the question and the candidates’ answers:

Questioner:  “Question 3 on this November’s ballot is an effort to repeal the state’s landmark 2016 transgender right law. What is your position if a similar effort were to be attempted at the federal level?”

Mike Mullen:  “I’m a Yes vote on Question 3. I believe in civil rights. Some of these questions I have a hard time with ‘cause I just think it’s the right thing to do. We need to treat people with dignity and respect. I think the negatives on any of these are far outweighed by the positives. I think it’s been shown that a lot of these people struggle through different mental health issues. There’s stigma attached with it. We need to provide the support that we can as a society and provide those protections that we need for that. So I would definitely be a supporter of those rights at the federal level.

Lori Trahan:  “I don’t think I need two minutes to answer this question. I am 100 percent Yes on 3. Our country moves forward when we give equality to more people. This is not a time when we should be rolling back the rights and the dignity of our LGBT community. This is a time when we should be moving forward, and increasing our rich tradition of extending equality to everyone who lives here.”

Rick Green:  “Yes. Very simply, discrimination is unacceptable in any form. I’ve lived my life that way, and that’s the way I’ll look at all federal legislation when I’m in Congress. Thank you.”

Lori Trahan:  “So you’re a yes on 3?”

Rick Green:  “I believe I answered the woman’s question.”



Trahan lives in Westfield but grew up in Lowell, which is where successful candidates for the Third Congressional District tend to come from. She highlighted her connection to it.

“You know, when you grow up in a city like Lowell, just like here in Fitchburg, you learn about grit and perseverance. You learn about hard work and fight. But you also learn about community and hope. And those are the values we need in Washington. Those are the values I’ll bring with me,” Trahan said.

Green called himself “just a boy from Pepperell,” a small town on the New Hampshire border which he noted suffered when the paper mill in town foundered. But he said his company 1A Auto, is now the largest employer in town. The company, which he says does more than $200 million a year in sales, has more than 500 employees, with headquarters in Westfield, a research-and-development facility in Pepperell, and a distribution facility in Littleton.

“When I tell you I know what it takes to get the economic engine of the Third District running, it’s because I have done it,” Green said.


Mike Mullen

Mullen works in information technology in health care. He said his background is in workers compensation. He lives in Maynard.

During the debate Mullen took mostly left-of-center positions or provided information about policy questions without prescribing ways of addressing them.

He said he is against tariffs but prefers “more nuanced” ways of dealing with trade problems.

He called for universal background checks on guns, said big money and special interests are threatening American democracy, and that illegal immigrants need a path to citizenship. He also expressed opposition to the Trump tax cuts.

He called himself “a commonsense independent candidate that’s on the ballot.”

He said he is often asked one key question on the campaign trail:

“Can an independent win? I say yes.”


The election is Tuesday, November 6.