Debates, not campaign ads, best way to gauge the candidates
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Saturday, October 9, 2010

Listen! The wind is rising, and the air is wild with leaves, we have had our summer evenings, now for October eves!
Humbert Wolfe (1885-1940), Italian-born British poet

Listen! Debates are scheduled, the airwaves are wild with ads ...

I love campaign debates, which I look forward to watching on October eves every other year and am excited about the Salem News' Hudak-Tierney congressional debate scheduled for next Thursday, Oct. 14, in Beverly. I'm not so excited about debates on October early-mornings.

State Sen. Thomas McGee, D-Lynn, has agreed to only one debate, at a Lynn Chamber breakfast, at 7:30 a.m. Oct. 15. Sleepy voters who want to attend must pay $35. Unless we are being served a couple of lobsters for breakfast, we are apparently going to pay extra to hear this one-only debate, which seems to limit democratic participation in my senatorial district.

My partner Chip Ford, who grew up in Lynn, is unhappy about paying admission to a debate. He recalls the rough and tumble politics of the old days, when McGee's feisty father was the state representative from Lynn, who eventually became speaker.

Chip notes that Christopher Dent McGee the Younger's Republican challenger is a Marine Corps veteran like McGee the Elder, and not afraid to engage. He wants to have free debates in Lynn, Marblehead and Swampscott. McGee is apparently hoping for a quiet race that he can win on name recognition alone.

Republican congressional candidate Bill Hudak wants more debates too, and has offers from Salem State, Gordon College, Merrimack College and Essex South Medical Society, among others, to host one. The medical society debate would be on ObamaCare, which Hudak tried to get Tierney to debate before he voted for it last year.

Both Beacon Hill and Congress are on vacation now until the election, so there's no reason that incumbents can't agree to defend their records at more public forums.

Well, maybe one reason: They can't defend those voting records. This might explain why many incumbents' campaigns this year are primarily attacks on their challengers.

The worst campaign debate of this or any season took place on Fox 25 last night, as John Tierney was allowed by moderator Maria Stephanos to talk over his opponent for a full 10 minutes. Unable to defend overlooking his wife's illegal tax activities, Tierney sneered and snarled his way through the first debate, which followed the scandal eruption earlier in the week.

The strangest "campaign plan" this year is the Democrats' use of a particular ad across the country that accuses Republicans of pledging to drive jobs overseas. I've seen this ad used against both Jeff Perry, who's running for the South Shore seat in Congress, and gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker.

At first I was puzzled: Who would believe that any candidate would take a pledge like that?

It eventually dawned on me that the Democrats, under the name Campaign for Massachusetts Future, are attacking Republicans for taking the Americans for Tax Reform's Taxpayer Protection Pledge, in which they promise not to vote to raise taxes. Apparently there are some federal tax loopholes used by companies that are involved with exporting jobs, though what the connection is I'm not sure. I can't imagine how it applies to a potential governor's pledge not to raise income, sales or property taxes.

It's not surprising that Democrats don't know how the Taxpayer Protection Pledge works; none of them running here this year have taken it. It actually does allow loopholes to be closed if other taxes are cut at the same time, avoiding a net tax increase.

So if Baker closed a loophole, then kept Deval Patrick's broken pledge on property-tax relief, or the Legislature's longtime promise to roll back the income tax rate to 5 percent, he'd still be honoring the pledge he has taken. So what's with the dumb ad?

No other ads have really caught my attention yet. I've been watching mini-debates moderated by Jon Keller (WBZ), Emily Rooney (WGBH), Janet Wu and Ed Harding (WCVB), and Jim Braude (New England Cable News).

Voters are also becoming acquainted with candidates for the Massachusetts constitutional offices on these stations and on many talk radio shows, where legislative candidates also call in. My radio is always playing either WRKO (680 AM) or WTKK (96.9 FM).

Many of us already know for whom we are voting. But for people who are just tuning in to the 2010 election, debates are much better decision-making aids than paid political ads.

Listen! The wind of change is rising ...

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Lowell Sun, Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.

More of Barbara's Columns