Taxes Skeptic, Former Teachers Union President Square Off in Taunton State Rep Race

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Taxes and experience distinguish the two major party candidates seeking a vacant state representative seat in Taunton tomorrow.

Voters can pick either Kelly Dooner, a Republican, or Carol Doherty, a Democrat, to replace former state representative Shaunna O’Connell, who resigned in January after being elected mayor of Taunton.

The special election was originally set for March 31 but was delayed because of the coronavirus emergency.

The district includes Easton’s sixth precinct but is mostly in Taunton (it includes Wards 1, 2, Ward 3: Precinct A, and Wards 5, 7, 8).

Doherty touts her political experience. She is in her fifth term as a member of the Taunton School Committee and previously served as the president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, which is the largest teachers union in the state. Additionally, she serves on the Board of Directors of the Downtown Taunton Foundation, a non-profit organization and economic revitalization effort in the city.

It’s that kind of experience that Doherty says would be an asset on Beacon Hill.

“The list of things I’ve been involved in over the years shaped my experiences and gave me a better knowledge base to bring to the State House,” Doherty told New Boston Post in a telephone interview on Monday. “I’ve been able to talk to members of the community, I’ve worked with my colleagues to provide a quality education for kids. The schools are a microcosm of the community. About 53 percent of our kids come from low-income communities. I think I’ve gained a pretty good idea of the wants and needs of people in the community.” 

Doherty said her experience with public education is beneficial now especially for a couple of reasons. Not only is the Catholic school in Taunton closing at the end of this school year (Coyle & Cassidy), but she expects the coronavirus emergency and its economic impact will hamper the school system’s budget. She added that the need to maintain social distance could also create additional costs for the community. 

“As a state, we’ll need to figure out how to take care of our most vulnerable populations among others and not burden the taxpayers with additional taxes,” Doherty said.

Doherty’s plan calls for increasing the corporate tax rate from 8 percent to 9.5 percent, increasing the state income tax on income over $1 million by four percentage points, increasing the state tax on long term capital gains from 5 percent to 8.95 percent, and taxing college endowments exceeding $1 billion (which includes Harvard), as she previously told Progressive Massachusetts.

When it comes to the community’s constituents, Doherty said she would like to communicate with them regularly, holding town hall meetings — whether they are virtual or in-person. 

On the issue of the coronavirus pandemic, she said she generally agrees that Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker is taking the right approach.

“I think his process addresses the need to re-open businesses safely so that we can get people back to work,” Doherty said. “Secondly, I think this pandemic shows how our system isn’t working for our most vulnerable populations. I think the good things will be adapted forward and it’s exposing the loopholes that will need to be fixed.”

Doooner, who is 27, has not held elected office. She currently serves as a national committeewoman for the Massachusetts Young Republicans and has been involved with the organization since 2012.

“It’s been great that they’ve been able to show me the ropes along the way,” Dooner said of her experience with the Massachusetts Young Republicans during a telephone interview with New Boston Post on Monday.

“I’m a young, new, fresh voice that’s ready to come in here with a lot of energy and new ideas,” she added.

Dooner’s platform states that she will oppose tax increases. She said it’s one of her top priorities along with opposing driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants and opposing legislation that would make Massachusetts a sanctuary state.

“If we have to continue raising taxes, we have to go look at the budget,” Dooner said. “It’s not a money problem, it’s a money management problem.”

As a fellow Republican, Dooner said she supports O’Connell and feels as though she could effectively work with the mayor to help their constituents.

“She did a great job as the state rep and she will do a great job as Mayor,” Dooner said of O’Connell. “I have a good working relationship with her, and she needs an ally in the State House. I’m looking forward to continuing to work with her.”

When speaking about the coronavirus pandemic, Dooner said she would like to see more businesses be able to re-open, provided that they can do so while being safe.

“This is new territory,” Dooner said. “It’s important to protect our seniors and those who are high risk. The biggest thing is making sure those who need to be protected are protected. I think we need to re-open the state. Businesses should be able to submit plans on how they can safely do so. If these big stores can stay open, small businesses should be able to.”

Both candidates support legal abortion, but they differ in approach.

Doherty has been endorsed by the political action committee of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts as a supporter of the ROE Act abortion expansion bill.

Dooner said she opposes late-term abortion.

“Abortion rights are already guaranteed in Massachusetts, per the Constitution, but late-term abortion is something I’d work for,” she said, meaning she’d try to prohibit it. “That’s a huge thing when they’re in the third trimester.”

O’Connell, the Republican who most recently held the seat, first won it in 2010, upsetting a Democratic incumbent in a close election. She won it four more times after that. In 2018, O’Connell won re-election overwhelmingly. She received 61.5 percent of the vote, beating Democrat Emily Farrer, who got 38.5 percent.

The Taunton election on Tuesday, June 2 is on the same day as a special election in the left-leaning 37th Middlesex District. In that race, Acton Democrat Danillo Sena is squaring off against Lunenburg Republican Catherine Clark. They are running to replace former state representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg), who stepped down in January to take a job as the president of the Alliance for Business Leadership.

The 37th Middlesex district includes Acton: Precincts 3, 4, 5; Ayer: Precinct 2; Boxborough; Shirley; Harvard; and Lunenburg: Precincts A, C, D.

Democrats currently control 126 of the 160 seats in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Republicans control 31. The two special elections tomorrow will determine whether Democrats maintain their current four-to-one majority in the House or slip under that mark.