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No one pretended to be unbiased at Tuesday's Environmental League of Massachusetts forum. The audience was made up of people who focus on the environment and energy — issues most closely associated with the left.
And Gov. Deval Patrick owned the evening. He was calm and rattled off tons of achievements.
"During the last four years," Patrick said, "Massachusetts has become the greenest state in the nation and I'm very proud of that."
That seems like an exaggeration as many rankings place Massachusetts further down the list — past Washington, Vermont and New York when it comes to environmental legislation, recycling rates and energy efficiency.
But not one of the other candidates challenged his depiction of the state as an environmental leader. And, in many ways, that's why Patrick appeared so strong.
He got to go first and he made a point to connect the economy and the environment, arguing that the key to rebuilding the economy is by addressing climate change.
"We're way behind, we've got a lot of ground to cover," the governor said.
This was an opportunity for the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, to distinguish herself from the status quo — or push Patrick to do more. She promised a green "jobs bonanza," but never really explained how she'd deliver it.
"The first priority is to get the lobbyists out and get the people back in," Stein said, describing what she would do during in her first 100 days in office. "I think we need campaign finance reform, we need to bring back clean elections. We need to redefine economic development. I think we need to start by taking development money and putting it to expanding green jobs in the community."
State Treasurer Tim Cahill — the independent candidate — doesn't include the environment as an important issue on his campaign website. And Tuesday night he didn't pretend to be a tree-hugger.
"I don't believe I'll be able to compete for all your affections as well as Gov. Patrick or Dr. Stein, but I'll do my best," Cahill said. "Sometimes those needs for pro-growth, pro-economic advocacy will work hand-in-hand with the environmental community. Sometimes it won't."
Cahill insisted that he's a pragmatist. He argued that protecting the environment and the economy are sometimes in opposition.
"We need to grow jobs and there are some people who would say, 'Not in my backyard, it's not going to happen.' That's where I will try to bring the balance and, if I have to lean, I will lean toward pro-growth," he said.
Republican candidate Charles Baker may have performed better if he had shown up. Instead, he sent a proxy — Rep. Brad Jones, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives. As soon as Jones started talking, about a third of the audience got up and left, which is too bad, because they missed Jones try to explain Baker's comments on global warming. Earlier this year, Baker raised concerns among environmentalists when said he is "not smart enough" to have an opinion about whether global warming is man made.
"I did have the opportunity to talk to Charlie about that," Jones said, "and I said, 'What up?' and I think his point was, for him, if you look at the idea of our economy being dependent on so much energy being from overseas, that in of itself says we need to do a different energy policy."
This might be the only time that green issues get top billing at a gubernatorial meet-up. But with Cape Wind and the Gulf oil spill in the news, the environment may be a factor in this race.
This program aired on June 30, 2010.
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