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Mark Fisher makes no apologies for being a tea party member or for his belief in a minimalist government even while running for office in a state where many Republicans prefer to stay closer to the political center.
A small business owner from Shrewsbury, Fisher is all that stands between Charlie Baker and a clear path to the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Whether he can force a September primary with Baker - who lost to Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick four years ago - will be decided at the upcoming GOP state convention.
Fisher announced his candidacy on Dec. 16, the 240th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. His campaign has focused heavily on removing tolls from the Massachusetts Turnpike, something he said politicians promised decades ago but never delivered, even after the original highway bonds were paid off.
"Do we fight for small government and individual freedom, or do we allow big government to get bigger and bigger, take over more and more of our lives and erode our personal liberties and become more intrusive?" Fisher asked during a recent appearance at Suffolk University Law School.
Fisher's other campaign planks include cracking down on welfare fraud and illegal immigration as well as opposition to the federal health care overhaul.
"I'm a full platform, no excuses necessary, loyal and proud Republican," he said.
The Westfield native said he joined a union and went to work for a local paper goods company after high school, "learning the value of a buck." He later attended community college before earning engineering and business degrees from Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
Fisher, 56, explained that he was unemployed several times as companies he worked for closed or left Massachusetts. After a 2008 layoff, Fisher purchased Merchant's Fabrication, a small manufacturer of customized metals in Auburn.
"I've been on unemployment, I know what it is," he said. "These (government) programs are necessary, and they are there for the needy who need them, not the greedy who abuse them."
Fisher vehemently opposes driver's licenses or in-state college tuition for people living in the U.S. illegally, saying it rewards bad behavior.
"They can get their benefits somewhere else, not in Massachusetts," he said.
Fisher not only opposes the Affordable Care Act but would also seek repeal of the state's 2006 universal health care law - the latter position putting him at odds with Baker and other Massachusetts Republicans. Fisher envisions a free market system in which health insurance covers catastrophic illnesses, leaving consumers to shop around for the best prices for routine medical care.
Fisher opposes abortion and gay marriage but adds he would not impose his personal beliefs on others. He takes a similar nuanced stance on casinos: He would vote for a proposed ballot question to repeal the state's gambling law, but as governor, he would not try to interfere with casino operators.
Fisher believes enough Republican delegates back him to achieve the minimum 15 percent support required to set up a primary battle with Baker. But he worries that some of his western Massachusetts supporters will eschew the trek to Boston to vote in the party's March 22 convention.
Baker, a moderate and former head of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, says his campaign is focused on jobs and education. Baker's willingness to consider an increase in the state's minimum wage is among other issues that separate the candidates, Fisher said.
As to his longshot chances of becoming governor, Fisher points to Govs. Chris Christie in New Jersey and Scott Walker in Wisconsin as conservative Republicans who have triumphed in Democratic-leaning states.
"In Massachusetts, the bluest of blue states, we elected Ronald Reagan, a conservative, twice in the 1980s," he said.
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