Coronavirus, Left-Right Clashes Differentiate Candidates in Massachusetts Senate Special Election for Cape-and-Plymouth County Seat

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Voters in three Plymouth County towns and three Cape Cod towns are set to choose their next state senator Tuesday, May 19, filling a seat that has been vacant since late last year.

It will be one of the first elections in the country where the coronavirus pandemic is a major issue on voters’ minds.  

The two candidates are Republican Jay McMahon, a Bourne lawyer who was the party’s state Attorney General nominee in 2018, and Democrat Susan Moran, a member of the Falmouth Board of Selectmen. 

They are running in a special election to replace Republican Vinny deMacedo of Plymouth. He resigned on November 20, 2019 to take a job as the director of regional partnerships at Bridgewater State University.

The Plymouth & Barnstable District includes six towns: Pembroke, Kingston, Plymouth, Bourne, Sandwich, and Falmouth.

When the campaigns began last fall, the economy was in good shape. Now, after two months of the coronavirus emergency, the unemployment rate in Massachusetts is 25 percent and 28 percent in Barnstable County.

The candidates clash on issues and approaches. McMahon wants to lower taxes. Moran wants to increase government spending and taxation.

McMahon has released a detailed plan to try to spur economic recovery. It includes, according to his web site:

An immediate 30 day meals tax holiday when restaurants reopen. A one-year moratorium on new regulations on businesses. Reduce the sales tax to 5%. Make several sales tax holiday weekends one each month, starting in June. Repeal the AirBNB tax. Furlough all non-essential state employees for two weeks. Stop all legislation raising the gas tax, creating carbon taxes, and new tolls. Lift the ban on happy hours to help the restaurants. Require Social Security Number verification for all taxpayer-funded benefits. Immediately review the list of essential businesses so as to allow businesses to submit a social distancing plan for reopening.

McMahon told New Boston Post by telephone on Friday that it is vital for the Cape Cod economy to reopen for the summer because it has what he refers to as a “three-season economy.” The Cape relies heavily on tourism, and he noted that the crucial summer season starts up around Memorial Day.

“People make their plans well in advance, so they’re not gonna wait around for us to open up as other states begin to open up,” he said. “We’re competing with other New England vacation spots like down in Newport or up in the lakes regions in New Hampshire.”

Moran did not respond to requests for an interview.

But in other venues, she has expressed support for implementing single-payer health care in Massachusetts and the $18 billion transportation bond bill, according to Progressive Massachusetts — both of which would require tax increases.

McMahon emphasized his opposition to tax increases and fees, including the Transportation and Climate Initiative carbon fee and turning Route 3 into a toll road. He also opposes upping the state tax on long-term capital gains from 5 percent to 8.95 percent, something Moran supports, according to a questionnaire she filled out for Progressive Massachusetts.

“You look at these past couple of years and we had a $1 billion surplus,” McMahon said. “What that tells me is you’re taxing people more than you need to, so you can back off it a bit. If you let people keep their money, they’re going to put it into the economy and that will help us out.”

McMahon also wants to make it more affordable for people to vacation on Cape Cod and in the Plymouth area, in light of Plymouth’s 400th anniversary this year.

That’s why he opposes the state tax on AirBNB rentals.

The state tax on short-term rentals is complex. Several portions apply to the Plymouth & Barnstable District. Of those McMahon said he opposes a 5.7 percent state excise tax, a 2.75 percent Cape Cod and Islands Water Protection Fund Excise Tax, and a Local Option Excise Tax ranging from zero to 6.5 percent (depending on the community). (Some cities like Boston, Springfield, and Worcester also charge a 2.75 percent Convention Center Finance Fee.)

“Before this tax went in place, there were about 4,000 AirBNB choices on Cape Cod,” he said. “Now, there’s about 400. It could be a more affordable way to travel down here and when people stay at an Airbnb, they’re still putting money into our local economy. We could really use some of that right now.

On the prospect of reopening the state from the coronavirus shutdowns, Moran told The Cape Cod Times last week, “I support the governor’s four-point framework to reopen the economy based on health science and expertise from business leaders.”

During an April 27 Falmouth selectmen’s meeting, Moran spoke further about her view of the coronavirus pandemic when she voiced her support for canceling the Falmouth Road Race, which is the largest event in the town each year, drawing as many as a 100,000 people. Moran supported a safety-first approach.

“Is it an event where social distancing can be incorporated?” she asked. “For example, you think about running and people are sort of sweating and throwing water and it seems like that may not be just by definition an adaptable event where people can’t be regulated to have that complete social distancing. I think it’s important to come up with a policy so people can make their plans and expectations, and really maybe get them to think about whether this might be the time to give advance notice — both for the town and for their participants.”

The Plymouth & Barnstable District in recent years has tilted Republican for state Senate, though this race is considered competitive.

In 2018, deMacedo won re-election in the district with 58.8 percent of the vote. He ran unopposed in 2016.