BOSTON — The four candidates for governor of Massachusetts met Monday night in their final broadcast debate before Election Day, now just one week away. Despite a close race between incumbent Gov. Deval Patrick and Republican Charlie Baker, this debate was a relatively tame affair.
Maybe this is what 15 months of campaigning does. In the end, folks are just tired of the fight — even the candidates. That’s the way it seemed last night. For the most part moderator Charlie Gibson — formerly of ABC News — managed to direct the candidates away from contentious debate and loud arguments. Still, they pressed their points. Patrick touted investments in education, health care and jobs that he says have put Massachusetts ahead of most other states in this tough recession.
“We’re at 8.4 percent, we had in September the largest single drop in the unemployment rate in over 30 years,” Patrick said.
“We’re not done, I’m not declaring victory by any means, but we are making progress, and we are growing, by the way, in those areas that are sweet spots for us, and it depends on the investments we’ve made in education, in innovation and in infrastructure.”
Patrick views the state as a glass half-full. And when he tried to express that view late in the evening, his opponents were quick to pounce.
“You know, not everything in Massachusetts is bad. There’s a lot good happening right now,” Patrick said.
Patrick’s Republican challenger, Baker, argued the state should be in much better shape and pressed his case for reforming state government, cutting taxes and streamlining regulations. Baker pointed out that while the unemployment rate is coming down, so are the number of total jobs in the state.
“For me this whole thing comes down to, you gotta be real about what’s really going on out there,” Baker said.
“And the governor can say all he wants about how much better things are getting and how he’s investing in jobs, but the truth is, eight tax increases and 20,000 people out of work — 24,000 people if you count the month of August. That’s not heading in the right direction.”
Baker also had to play defense last night. Gibson asked him about a memo he wrote in 1998 when he was the state’s budget chief. It warned that spending on the Big Dig could force “draconian” cuts to other transportation projects. But as Gibson pointed out, Baker was arguing publicly back then that the Big Dig wouldn’t lead to cuts.
“So why were you saying one thing in public and another privately?” Gibson asked Baker.
“The memo that I wrote was about my concern about state spending overall,” Baker replied.
Then Baker sought to turn the tables on Patrick, chiding the governor for failing to come up with a plan to close a projected budget deficit.
“And I think it was exactly the kind of memo, frankly, that we should see out there,” Baker said. “As I look at the current state of affairs in Massachusetts I see that $2 billion deficit that we face next year, and I certainly hope somebody’s writing a memo to you, that’s telling you how we’re going to get out of that one.”
The memo is at least awkward for Baker. Patrick has criticized him for his Big Dig funding plan, saying it diverted money away from road and bridge repairs. Patrick pointed out that Baker’s own memo says more or less the same thing.
Independent candidate Tim Cahill also weighed in.
“The biggest thing that bothered me about the memo is the fact that it was going to be hidden until after the re-election of then-Gov. Cellucci,” Cahill said. “That’s what bothered me because I think that what people are looking for is us to be straight when we’re running for office, not to lie to them, not to misrepresent or to say something quietly when it should be said publicly.”
But Baker returned again and again to his main theme: reforming state government and cutting taxes. And in a debate that was for most part quiet and civil, he prompted this skirmish with Patrick:
“And I think we need to reduce taxes, and I’m waiting, I’m waiting, for the governor to put forth a proposal of what he’s planning,” Baker said.
“The governor’s only proposal, from what I can tell, to deal with the current $2 billion problem, is going to be to raise taxes, and that’s exactly the wrong message to send…”
“You’ve never heard that proposal, you’ve never heard that proposal from me, you’ve been saying that for 15 months, you’ve never heard that from me,” Patrick interrupted.
Moderator Gibson ended the debate by encouraging a bit of comity among the candidates, asking them to say something positive about the opponent across the table. Cahill said this about Jill Stein, of the Green-Rainbow Party:
“If I ever got sick, I would want Jill Stein (to be my doctor),” he said.
For her part, Stein said she respected Cahill’s passion and conviction.
Patrick called Baker one the state’s smartest business leaders, and said, if re-elected, he would use some of his ideas. Baker called Patrick compassionate and said he offers a wonderful story about what a great country America is.