Senate Democratic Candidates Spar At Easton Forum

BOSTON — Five Massachusetts Democrats remain in the race to take on incumbent U.S. Sen. Scott Brown in next year’s election.

While Elizabeth Warren is considered a clear front-runner in the democratic race, the other candidates are not backing down. In fact, several are speaking out on some of the same economic issues that comprise the heart of Warren’s campaign.

WBUR’S Bianca Vazquez Toness joined Morning Edition to discuss Tuesday’s candidates forum on the Stone Hill College campus in Easton.

Bob Oakes: Tell us about what happened last night.

Bianca Vasquez Toness: It was raucous, actually. At times, I thought the audience, the voters, might revolt, because they found the questions frivolous. And the moderators didn’t ask weightier questions on Iran, for example. One candidate in particular stood out for really pushing front-runner, Elizabeth Warren, on some issues. Listen to this question on Occupy Boston, and whether Occupiers should be allowed to bring in winterized tents. You’ll hear Warren, and then immigration attorney Marisa DeFranco:

Warren: Everyone has to follow the law. Including the people on Wall Street. [applause and laughter from the audience.]

Franco: When you say that everyone has to follow the law, it really bothers me, because it makes a presumption that people are breaking the law–

Warren: — No it doesn’t.

Franco: It does. Let me finish. You know what, Rosa Parks broke the law. There is such a thing called, as a tradition in this country, as civil disobedience. And the women who wanted suffrage, standing outside, Wilson didn’t want to hear from them.

Bianca, was it just DeFranco going after Warren, what about the other candidates?

DeFranco was certainly the most aggressive. She really drew a distinction between herself and Warren in this debate. State Rep. Tom Conroy and engineer Herb Robinson did that a lot less. Listen to this exchange, when all the candidates agree that there should have been more prosecutions on Wall Street after market collapses in the sub-prime mortgage mess. Warren said funding of watchdog agencies is part of the problem.

Warren: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, this is an agency that has the capacity to help hold Wall Street accountable. Some of the largest financial firms on Wall Street. It doesn’t get all of its tools in place until it has a director confirmed by Congress. And what we have right now, is 45 senators — 45 Republican senators — who’ve said they will confirm no director.

But former federal prosecutor, James King, jumped in with this.

King: Let me just say that I wish the Consumer Protection Bureau was the most successful in the history of federal government.

Warren: Your mouth to God’s ears.

King: But that’s not where criminal prosecutions lie. And it’s not where it should lie, it’s not within their jurisdiction. And you don’t need a lot of people at the bureau to refer criminal investigations to the Justice Department.

So they proved Tuesday night that they can maybe differ or bicker on some of the issues as they nibble around the edges. But are there really very many differences between these five Democrats?

Well, DeFranco appeared further to the left than the rest of the group. She said she was the only one of the candidates that supports single-payer health care, and no one disagreed with her. When the candidates talked about how to address the growing income gap in America, for example, Warren talked about investing in education. Whereas other candidates like Conroy and King talked about adjusting the tax rates, and DeFranco talked about strengthening the unions.

Give us a sense of the crowd last night, Bianca. What sort of reception did the candidates get from the several hundred people who were on hand?

Well, as we might expect, people responded well to Warren. The big surprise was DeFranco. People liked that she spoke out and that she appeared well-informed on a variety of issues. She mirrored the anger the people in the room have about economic inequalities and situation in this country right now. Listen to Kathy Godbottom from Weymouth:

I think the three men could go home. [laughs] I like Marisa, and I like Elizabeth. That’s the second time I’ve heard both of them speak. I tend to support Elizabeth Warren, mainly because I think she’s the one who’s likely to take down Sen. Brown, and I’d like to see him gone.

By the time I left, there were two large groups of people swarming around Warren and DeFranco while the rest of the candidates looked kind of lonely. Voters, of course just like Godbottom, said that they felt like Warren would have a better shot of beating Brown.

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  • Nancy

    The only reason more of the those in the audience weren’t jumping the Warren ship for Marisa DeFranco’s is that so many of them have “skin” in the game (read:money–whether it be five dollars or hundreds or thousands). Many state and local activists fell into the endorse-early-and-coalesce-around-the-candidate bandwagon, which I believe was a mistake.

    Warren is NOT the progressive the democratic base (and the republicans) have labeled her to be, evidenced, as mentioned above, by her views on the Occupy movement (claiming she’s the intellectual foundation of the movement–give me a break) or single-payer healthcare.

    There’s much more evidence to suggest Warren’s votes in the US Senate would be measured on the blue-dog side scale.

    Warren, in fact, WAS A REPUBLICAN until her mid-forties, when she set out to prove those who benefited from a law that made it easier for companies and individuals to declare
    bankruptcy were “…a bunch
    of cheaters… I was going to expose these people who were taking
    advantage of the rest of us.” This soundly disproves her most repeated and applauded campaign phrase, “I’ve been fighting for the middle class all my life!”

    A window on Warren’s stance on Iran (and what it indicates for her foreign policy/homeland security position)  can be gleaned by this statement, made in response to a question at a campaign appearance in Gloucester:

    ““Our number one responsibility is to protect Americans
    from terrorism, that’s our job, so being tough on terrorism is
    enormously important.” … “We should take nothing off the table, but the facts are still
    emerging,” Warren said when asked if she would support
    military action against Iran.”I’ve heard responses to this quote ranging from, “She didn’t mean what she said,” to “She didn’t SAY nuclear weapons, so that’s not what she meant.” In my opinion,  a U.S.Senator, or someone running to be one, should know words matter. All the time. “Nothing is off the table” means just that: nothing. I believe the statement was reckless, whether she “meant it” or not. And, if she did mean it, she’s no progressive!This all sounds so familiar to those of us who have been disappointed by the difference between Obama’s campaign rhetoric and how he has governed. If we’d thought more with our common sense and our brains instead of our hearts and our hope, we might have seen him as the centrist he is. I fear those supporting Warren are doing the same thing.Hopefully, Warren will participate in more forums (or–dare I suggest–true debates?), as her opponents have done for months and months all over
    the Commonwealth. If she does, I have no doubt her supporters will
    begin to drop off and join Marisa’s campaign, as a number of them did
    last night. If Warren doesn’t debate and meet the challenge head-on, and ends up winning the nomination, she’ll be an untested candidate who will be run over by Brown and his pick-up in the general election.Re. those crowds you saw around Elizabeth and Marisa: Elizabeth’s minions were there to shake hands with the celebrity; those crowding around Marisa were there to pledge their support and volunteer. I think Marisa DeFranco had a great night!

  • Cherie Beneteau

    Don’t be afraid to TRUST someone new with fresh sensible ideas and solutions who is like a’ dog with a bone”.,,,,,, MARISA DeFRANCO………She will not back down until she gets satiafaction for the underdogs! Who are the underdogs? All of those candidates trying to pull the blinds over the American people’s eyes!!!!

  • Michael

    Marisa De Franco was a breath of fresh air. She and Tom Conroy were the best  prepated and most confident–if anyone showed up with no prior knowldge of who Elizabeth Warren was, I don’t think they would have paid much attention to vague-sounding platitudes.

    De Franco showed the kind of fire really needed in a candidate. Where Warren carefully  modulated every statement (after all, she’s being coached by high-priced consultants–who also serve as lobbyists for the casino interests!), De Franco spoke from the heart, and made no reservations about a genuine progressive. Warren has some genuine expertsie on matters of economics, no question–but she’s a one-trick pony, and downright disappointing when it comes to the wars, single payer, climate change, free trade, unions–you name it. Democrats due themselves a disservice in jumping on the big-money bandwagon so early–we’ve been down this path so many times before.

    Thanks for your objective coverage, and let’s have many more debates!

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