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Bastien Flanagan Debate in Leominster

October 30th, 2014 | No Comments

While the rest of the world was focused on game six of the world series, the national race for the senate and the Charlie Baker Martha Coakley debate  two candidates for State Senate in Massachusetts and their supporters converged on Leominster city hall:

Both Senator Jen Flanagan & former rep  Rich Bastien’s people turned out in force for the pre-debate standout while inside the final preparations were made.

While the debate was carried on Leominster Public access cable it still drew a fair-sized crowd.

Unlike the Wofford Tsongas debate applause was allowed after answers.  That came in handy allowed me time to live tweet just about every question and response. Before I get to some of those tweets let me give you the post debate comments of both candidates first Senator Flanagan

Then former rep Bastien

In the debate the candidates agreed on more issues than you might expect.  from the Kinder pipeline (both opposed although Flanagan wants to work with federal reps)  the new  bottle bill (both opposed Bastien calling it a tax on water Flanagan saying it’s not necessary with the current recycling).  Both suggested college costs have to be controlled (Flanagan talking about controlling fees Bastien suggesting state money directed to well endowed colleges be diverted toward state and community colleges)  and both against increasing taxes to pay for mental health programs (Bastien noting his signing of the no-tax pledge Flanagan saying new taxes won’t help arguing for reorganization instead).

There were also pronounced differences on a new Fitchburg Charter School (Bastien for Flanagan against) On question 1 the automatic Gas tax, Bastien calling it ducking responsibility and noting the cost per mile of road in Mass. vs other states while Flanagan noting she is constantly told by local cities & towns that more money is necessary for roads.

The elbows came out when Bastien hit Flanagan on her record nothing she voted for the budget including the bottle bill and for Deval “Patrickcare” while coming out against the ballot question and the nursing cuts but the most dramatic exchange came after the obligatory mutual Unitil bashing..

Bastien noted Flanagan while hitting Unitil took campaign donations from them, Flanagan was indigent

But Bastien countered noting the firm that donated openly boasts on their site about influencing legislative and regulatory processes.   That drew an unfortunate answer from Flanagan

Tip O’Neill famously noted he didn’t look at donations when he was voting but while Flanagan’s defense drew strong applause from her supporters at the debate her answer in an age when national democrats are constantly talking about the corrupting influence of money from corporations might not play well beyond the base.

In fairness it’s really a catch 22 for a sitting committee chair running for re-election. If your influence as a finance sub committee chair of a 30+ Billion dollar budget is a selling point for voters of a district it’s certainly going to be an even bigger selling point for firms looking to influence how that money is spent when they decide who to give money to.  It’s the classic chicken & egg problem and if this was a national race the video of that exchange would go viral potentially destroying a candidate.

With a local race and an office holder who is fairly well-known in the district with a reputation as a caring advocate, particularly on mental health issues (where a lot of the debate oddly seemed to focus on) A quote like that might be twitter fodder but  it’s unlikely to produce more than minor damage,  even in a state as cynical as Massachusetts.

My take? I’d give Bastien the debate on points but I don’t think Flanagan cost herself votes that she already had.

I think this race is going to come down on turnout if “Turn the rascals out” is the cry then in the year of a GOP wave Baker’s coattails will make the difference for Bastien, if however the sentiment is more anti Coakley than anti incumbent mood then she has a great chance of staying where she is.

I’d watch this race, it might say a lot about where at least Central Massachusetts is going.

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