Friday, October 22, 2004
Fargo, Thibault battle for state senate seat
With a week and a half to go before the election, the Fargo-Thibault race for the Third Middlesex senate seat is running hot. John Thibault, a Republican from Chelmsford, says Senator Susan Fargo is relaxing CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information) criminal checks for people who work with children and other dependent persons. Fargo, a Democrat from Lincoln, says Thibault is funding his campaign using his wealth to gain office.
This campaign has some of the highest rate of spending at the state level. Both sides have full-time paid campaign managers. Thibault raised $155,000 through the end of August, the last reporting period published, about half of it from his own personal funds, with $33,000 donated to his campaign by the Massachusetts Republican Party. Fargo's campaign disclosure shows she raised about $30,000 in the same period though she says the "negative campaign" by Thibault has brought in more volunteers and more funds.
The League of Women Voters sponsored two recent debates in the area, one at the Chelmsford Public Library on October 12 and one at Concord-Carlisle High School last Sunday, taking questions from the audience. At the Concord debate Moderator Rick Frese, a government professor at Bentley College, reminded the audience, "After the 2000 presidential election, you know that every vote counts."
Running as someone who will represent the will of the voters, Thibault is challenging Fargo, who has held office since 1997, on reforming state government. He said he will work with Governor Romney for reforms and assured voters, "I will have the ear of the Romney administration."
At both debates Thibault pushed Fargo on CORI checks. "The safety of children is at stake. Your constituents deserve an explanation." As the number of CORI checks has increased, Fargo says her office has received complaints that employers had to wait months for new hires. "We had gone too far in CORI checks. It was counterproductive. Children are protected at camps and schools. I never voted to endanger children," she insisted, "This is an effort to besmirch my record. It goes way far below the belt."
Fargo went on the attack on prescription drug coverage for seniors. Romney tried to eliminate funding for prescription drugs for seniors and vetoed money for co-payment assistance for seniors, she said. She called Thibault to answer if he would have voted with the governor or for seniors if he were in office. "I would not have voted with him on the senior drug issue," he said, "I don't agree with him on everything."
Fargo, a supporter of gay marriage said, "Civil unions are like being a little bit pregnant. They don't have the same number of rights as marriage." She has received thousands of e-mails and letters supporting the SJC's decision, in what she calls an emotional climate on Beacon Hill.
Thibault takes a different view. "I don't believe that four activist state judges should set policy. The question should come to the people in the Commonwealth for a ballot vote. I will abide by the decision of the voters in the district."
On another controversial topic, MCAS education tests, Fargo said she believes there need to be waivers for certain students. Citing an example of a special-needs child who looked at the test and tore it in half in frustration, she said, "We need assessments, not assaults on children's self-esteem. Kids learn in different ways. We need flexibility to provide different options."
Thibault disagrees on changing test standards on MCAS, part of the Education Reform Act. "You can't have it both ways; have education reform and then relax the rules. MCAS is not universally liked. I went online and took the test myself and struggled. But we are starting to see benefits. With higher scores and better schools the economy will be stronger for it. Let's not go backwards."
Both candidates say they will fight hard for more school funding for the suburbs. They are in agreement that charter schools should be funded without taking away from public school funds.
Prescription drugs from Canada
A question on importing cheaper prescription drugs from Canada also brought different responses. Thibault says importing from Canada is a short-term solution, not a long-term one. "We need to work with drug companies to get a reasonable profit," without gouging. He maintains that buying medicines from Canada won't affect jobs in Massachusetts.
Fargo said she supports "re-importation" of drugs from Canada and disagrees with price gouging by pharmaceutical companies. "The pharmaceutical companies have a grip on Washington."
Route 3 sound barriers
A hot-button issue at the Chelmsford debate was money for sound barriers for people who live near the newly-widened Route 3. "Sound barriers were vetoed by the governor. Why has he refused to fund them?" Fargo asked. Thibault admitted he also disagrees with Romney on this point. "I will work to try and make sound barriers happen." Fargo criticized the Republicans for playing political games; Romney said to Thibault on cable TV this year, "If you get elected this year, the sound barriers will be funded."
Fargo says the cornerstones of her campaign are education, economic development, energy and the environment, and affordable health care. Notable votes include the expansion of Route 3, school building reform and an assault weapon ban. In education, she said she voted to secure additional funding for the METCO program and to increase funding for special education and school transportation.
Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, which could be closed by the fsederal government, is a major priority for Fargo. Hanscom generates $4 billion into the area economy annually and has a lot of research and development associated with it, she said. She voted for $500,000 to lobby Washington on Hanscom's behalf.
Fargo said the state has lost over 200,000 jobs since Governor Romney took office. "That's 200,000 people not paying taxes," she said. Thibault agreed the state has lost a lot of revenue, but pushed back saying the legislature, which is run by Democrats, also has a spending problem. "If a family has a reduction in income, they put off buying a new car, or doing a new addition."
A fiscal conservative, Thibault pledges to eliminate state waste and patronage jobs. A member of the Chelmsford Finance Committee he had a successful 26-year career as a high tech entrepreneur and was CEO of GeoTel Communications. Thibault frequently refers to his blue-collar roots, growing up in Fitchburg. He attended vocational high school before entering high tech.
A self-made man who is proud of it, he wants to donate the senate salary to charity if elected, following the lead of Governor Romney and Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey who also had successful business careers before public office and waived their salaries. Thibault and his family have a charitable foundation that donates funds to homeless and battered women's shelters, food pantries, and children's support groups.
With his business background, Thibault says, "I will bring experience to Beacon Hill and I can help the people in the community. I will work to increase educational aid and local aid to the district." He said he will work to help create a better economic environment to encourage businesses in the state. Thibault has taken a no-new-taxes pledge. He asked Fargo if she was willing to do the same. "Remember George Bush, no new taxes?" she replied saying she wouldn't make such a promise.
In closing remarks at the debates, each showed their best side. "This election is about choice: business as usual, or reform. I will work on your behalf. I will stand up to special interests," said Thibault. "It has been a one-party system in Massachusetts. We need debate on the table and the citizens need to be represented. I will listen to the will of the voters." He later said he would not give an automatic vote for the Republican party, but would work to represent the people of the district.
"No one will work harder for you," said Fargo. "I work seven days a week." Fargo said she is proud of her record and the bills she authored or co-authored including the state's "Do Not Call" anti-telemarketing list, the Child and Family Protection Act banning dangerous pesticides from schools and playgrounds, the Patient's Bill of Rights, the workplace smoking ban that passed this year, and a circuit-breaker law that offers tax relief for seniors. She also authored the buffer-zone law that protects people who work at family planning clinics.
In a switch from the first debate, Thibault took time at the Concord debate to compliment Fargo: "I respect my opponent. I know it's sometimes a thankless job...She has clearly shown compassion for people in her district," he said, "but we have to be able to survive economically."
As expected, Thibault had a large crowd of supporters at the debate in Chelmsford where he lives. He has also been campaigning heavily in the city of Waltham where there are a large number of voters. According to Thibault, demographics show over 50% of voters in the district are in Chelmsford and Waltham. "Every town is important, every vote is important." He says his campaign's own polls indicate that at this point, "It's extremely close."
Fargo says she has carried all the towns in the district in each of the four previous elections. Signs for both candidates are piling up almost as fast as leaves on front lawns along main roads in the area.
The Third Middlesex Senate district covers nine towns from Chelmsford in the north down to Waltham in the south and includes Bedford, Carlisle, Concord, Lincoln, Weston, and parts of Lexington and Sudbury.
© 2004 The