GOP’s Tatyana Semyrog Hits Dem Josh Cutler Over Police Reform Bill In State Rep Race Debate

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Whether to support the cops or police them took a prominent role in a state representative race debate on the South Shore.

Tatyana Semyrog, a Republican challenger, criticized state Representative Josh Cutler (D-Pembroke) for his view of police. Cutler represents the Sixth Plymouth District, which includes Pembroke, Hanson, and most of Duxbury.

In July, Cutler voted in favor of a police reform bill that would restrict “no-knock warrants,” eliminate qualified immunity for decertified officers, and prevent school officials from giving information about students to law enforcement agencies.

“It touches directly upon the safety and well being of this district,” Semyrog said during the debate, hosted by PACTV, a regional cable access station. “It is such an important and vital issue due to the fact that three, all three of the police departments in each town are spectacular. Spectacular chiefs, spectacular officers, and so many of them are telling me — door to door again — that they want to hang up their uniforms, that they want to take early retirement because of this bill. And they are angry and upset and feel betrayed and if they the police officers do do those things such, as what they did in Rochester when the whole department walked off the job. Wow. How’s that whole thing going to impact our communities and our safety? It is my number one concern.

She added:  “I’ve spoken to a woman who cried on my shoulder and said, ‘My brother’s a police officer, why is his son wondering why’s my daddy an enemy now?’ And she’s crying and I cried with her and held her. It is devastating. This bill is devastating, and my opponent voted for it, and I think it’s despicable. Now we need to honor our men and women in blue, not defund them. Defend not defund.”

Cutler said he has no interest in defunding the police. He said he helped secure $50,000 for the Pembroke Police Department to buy riot gear in 2017, successfully filed a state budget amendment for $25,000 in funding for the Hanson police and fire departments to buy new mobile communication radios, and got the state to provide $25,000 to the Pembroke police to buy a utility terrain vehicle.

“I would agree in one respect, in that I think our law enforcement job does a fantastic job here on the South Shore, and in Massachusetts,” Cutler said. “We have great departments. We have great chiefs. I’ve worked with them on many occasions, and I think they do a great job. I think there’s also a need to look at policing reform and accountability.”

Cutler argued that the point of the police reform bill is to have uniform certification requirements for police, which he said the vast majority of other states have.

“I certainly wouldn’t ever do anything to defund police,” Cutler said. “I don’t support ending qualified immunity. I’m disappointed that my positions are being frankly just misconstrued.”

Semyrog shot back.

“So Mr. Cutler, what you’re saying is before you were against the police, you were for the police,” Semyrog said. “I appreciate all the things that you have done for our departments previous to this despicable vote that happened … in July. Good for you.”

Semyrog continued to criticize Cutler’s vote during her rebuttal. She touted endorsements from the police unions in Pembroke and Hanson as well as the Massachusetts Coalition of Police.

“You did this bill together with other Democrats on Beacon Hill behind closed doors without consulting the experts on this matter, and pushed it through, you know, and betrayed all of the police officers,” Semyrog said.

“Now why is it that if it’s not defunding as you like to call it, why is it that the police officers feel that it is?” she later added. “Why is it that they want to hang up their uniforms because of this bill if you’re saying that I’m misconstruing my facts? I trust the police officers more than I trust an eight-year politician and a lawyer. I trust those who come to my door when I’m in trouble to save me. That is who I trust. I think that this is a very important matter that you need to own. You need to own this instead of deflecting and backpedaling.”

Cutler spent little time during the rest of the debate on the police bill, but came back to it briefly toward the end.

“I think we do need some policing reform. I think to call it defunding police is just factually wrong. That’s not the case. In fact, we’ve added funds for police,” Cutler said.

Earlier in the debate Cutler portrayed himself as an experienced and able legislator who has tried to bring people together while increasing state funding for local public education, increase economic development, and combat climate change.

Cutler touted endorsements from mostly left-leaning organizations, including the AFL-CIO, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the Massachusetts Nurses Association, Iron Workers Local 7, Laborers Local 133, the Carmen Union, Massachusetts Voters for Animals, Massachusetts Organization of State Engineers and Scientists, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 104, Massachusetts & Northern New England Laborers’ District Council, Teamsters Local 25, and International Union of Operating Engineers Local 4.

He also said he has the support of several local elected officials who are registered Republicans, including certain members of the Whitman-Hanson Regional School Committee and the Duxbury Planning Board.

Cutler touted the honor he received recently of hosting a meeting of the Massachusetts House Ways and Means Committee, which he sits on, at the Duxbury Senior Center.

Semyrog focused mostly on public safety. But she also criticized Cutler for supporting a carbon fee on gasoline through the Transportation and Climate Initiative.

The debate took place Monday, September 21 but was published by PACTV on Wednesday, September 23.

The race features two vastly different candidates.

Cutler, a lawyer who previously ran his family’s weekly newspaper in Duxbury, is a liberal Democrat, but somewhere in the middle of the party’s caucus on left-leaning Beacon Hill. He had a 3 percent lifetime rating (out of a possible 100) from the American Conservative Union as of 2019, but only a 69 percent rating from left-wing Progressive Massachusetts during the current 2019-2020 legislative session.

He supports legal abortion, but gets only an A- from NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, possibly because he is not a sponsor of the proposed ROE Act abortion-expansion bill. Cutler is seeking a fifth term.

Semyrog, a widow and single mother, is a conservative pro-life Republican. She describes herself as an inventor and entrepreneur.

Semyrog is a former Soviet refugee who worked in constituent services for former Massachusetts U.S. Senator Scott Brown and two other former members of Congress.

The general election is set for Tuesday, November 3.

The debate in its entirety can be viewed below: