Friday, October 22, 2004
Atkins vs. Stevenson: House candidates trade barbs; admit common ground
On Sunday, October 17, candidates for state representative Doug Stevenson and Cory Atkins engaged each other and addressed the audience in a League of Women Voters Concord-Carlisle (LWVCC)-sponsored forum, moderated by Concord's Rick Frese, professor of government at Bentley College.
Frese allowed each candidate a three-minute opening statement. Atkins introduced herself as the representative with the most independent voting record in the House, listing her areas of focus as state funding for education, rebuilding the economy, and reforming the legislature. She is the chair of the science and technology caucus and also works with Common Cause, which is "drafting legislation for campaign finance reform," and proposing "an independent commission to handle redistricting for the Commonwealth."
Stevenson asserted that Beacon Hill interests have left voters out of the process of government, challenged Atkins' self-portrayal as a reformer, and vowed to represent the "multiple generations and multiple and diverse opinions" of this district. He cited his experience as a Carlisle Selectman and promised to bring to the House "the political astuteness of a seasoned elected official, the experience of a small businessman, and the compassion of a father, husband, and son."
Frese asked Atkins: "What has made public service worthwhile to you?" Atkins described the rerouting of Assabet Avenue to ensure the safety of Concord children as a "tangible" reward. She also relished opportunity to work through a "constitutional crisis," keeping "discriminatory language out of the oldest, most respected working constitution in the world" [the Massachusetts state constitution, written by John Adams].
Frese asked the challenger, "What has motivated you to run for state office?" Stevenson replied, "I believe in public service. I enjoy the opportunity of working with my neighbors, and I believe I can offer more to a broader constituencyI have a natural desire to be part of the marketplace of ideas, of representative democracy."
Prescription drugs from Canada
Limiting the candidates to two-minute answers, Frese then posed questions submitted by audience members or formulated by the LWVCC. Stevenson answered the question, "Do you support importing prescription drugs from Canada and how will this impact Massachusetts jobs?" by affirming his support for reasonable drug re-importation from Canada, but urged that the legislature must work for long-term solutions and meet the challenge of funding universal health care.
Atkins responded by declaring, "the pricing of drugs is one of the biggest taxpayer scams in the U.S. Every nation bargains with the pharmaceutical companies but the U.S. because the present [Federal administration] will not negotiate [with them] so, yes, we should go to Canada to re-import American drugs." As chair of the House science and technology caucus, she has been working with organizations across the state and with Congressman Martin Meehan to find a better solution to the skyrocketing costs of prescription drugs.
Cooperating on CORI checks
Frese's next question, "What is your position on CORI [Criminal Offender Record Information] checks?" gave Stevenson and Atkins a chance to agree and highlight their cooperation. Pointing out that he supports CORI checks "in all private facilities and businesses," Stevenson said that the Carlisle Selectmen had petitioned Atkins to see "if the checks could be made less bureaucratic" in response to citizen complaints that the system was unwieldy. He was "pleased to see that this has happened," as volunteers, the backbone of many programs and organizations, "are easily discouraged by layers of bureaucracy." Atkins added, "CORI checks can now be done in ten minutes," but warned that they are "only good for three years and they only cover what a person has done in Massachusetts," so people should not be lulled into security by these checks.
Seeking leadership balance
Asked what changes she would make if she were "to become Speaker of the House tomorrow," Atkins said she would follow the Congressional model to be sure all districts in the House would "get the same budget" and would work for "transparency between the House and Senate," that she would encourage "robust debate," and that she would work toward balancing leadership positions "regionally and by gender." Joking that "the only minority in the House that is smaller than women is the Republicans," Stevenson said he would work for parity for suburban legislators, transparent democracy, and the end of backroom politics in choosing leadership.
Challenging Atkins on redistricting
Candidates agreed on the necessity for campaign finance reform and were then invited to ask each other questions. Stevenson challenged Atkins' vote on redistricting, noting that her district included two towns broken up by the new law. She responded that "82 towns were split" by the legislation and that "at the end of the day it was an up or down vote. There was no remedy at the time, but I am working with Common Cause to make an independent redistricting commission."
Questioning Stevenson on taxes
Atkins then asked Stevenson why, in his criticism of the tax freeze at 5.3%, he had not addressed the provision in that legislation that requires an automatic rollback to 5% when economic conditions permit. Stevenson shot back that it wasn't necessary to freeze the tax rate at 5.3% because "many other cuts could have been taken before local aid was cut. In Carlisle in 2002, there was an average $300 increase" per taxpayer.
To close the afternoon, Frese allowed two minutes each for final statements. Stevenson said that his record "transcends party affiliation," that he would "take all I have learned at the local level to the state level," and that he would advocate for three generations: children, adults, and seniors. In the only statement of the afternoon that prompted protests from the audience, Atkins denigrated what she called Stevenson's lack of understanding of legislation and distortion of her record. She then finished with, "I am committed to getting more funds for local aid and to property tax relief."
© 2004 The