Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick, Republican Charles Baker and independent gubernatorial candidate Timothy Cahill had some of their sharpest exchanges yet on Monday during a debate otherwise focused on the state's biotechnology industry.
Baker, who is running about even with Patrick, pounded away on the state's business climate, saying it's too heavy on taxes and regulation and not friendly enough to corporations that can provide job growth.
"This is a No. 1, Day 1 problem in a Baker administration that we go after," he told members of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council.
Cahill, a former Democrat serving as state treasurer, said all industries deserve help. "We must lower taxes across the board and not just focus on picking winners and losers," he said.
Patrick, the Democratic incumbent, strongly rebutted both his rivals throughout most of the nearly 90-minute forum. The fourth candidate on the Nov. 2 ballot, Jill Stein of the Green-Rainbow Party, was excluded amid lagging poll and fundraising numbers.
At one point, sitting to the left of Cahill and Baker, Patrick said, "I am often reminded that the gentlemen to my right have spent twice as much time on Beacon Hill as I have and accomplished half as much."
At another point, he again hit both his rivals, saying, "One thing that would help is to have candidates out there who aren't always talking the commonwealth down, as we have right now."
And yet one more time, Patrick followed up their remarks by saying, "Sometimes I listen to my colleagues here and I wonder where the can-do attitude of America has gone."
On biotech-specific issues, all the candidates said they oppose a ban on gifts to doctors from the pharmaceutical industry that Patrick signed into law in 2008. All argued it has since been superseded by new federal transparency guidelines.
Cahill said he never would have signed the state measure and said it made doctors and pharmaceutical employees feel like criminals.
Baker, a former Weld administration budget chief and president of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, recalled going to conventions and seeing signs warning that workers from Massachusetts were banned from accepting free pens or other trinkets.
He blamed Patrick on a "lack of leadership" for not repealing it during the recent legislative session.
The governor said his goal is to align the state ban with the federal rules. If the state ban can be eliminated, he said, "I'm there."
The candidates also disagreed about how much the state should focus on the biotechnology industry as it rebounds from the national recession.
Cahill advocated across-the-board tax cuts to boost all industries, while Baker said the state needs to strength its own balance sheet if it hopes to make strategic investments in anything.
Yet Patrick said he was proud to have signed a $1 billion life science initiative shortly after taking office in 2007. He argued the industry is one of the state's strengths and needs to be supported.
This program aired on October 4, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.