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Democratic Hopefuls Answer to Voters Ahead of Primary

Thursday, August 16, 2012

 

Democratic candidates seeking to represent Worcester's 15th District in the State House of Representatives answered some tough questions and outlined their positions during a public forum on Wednesday.

The Initiative for Engaged Citizenship (IEC) organized the event. Executive Director David LeBoeuf said the group was getting involved in the state-level race because of the importance of the District 15, Worcester's first minority majority district.

Panelists Kola Akindele, Jennifer Roy and Bob Kievra presented questions submitted by voters, and radio host Sherman Whitman moderated responses from the five candidates.

Candidates Frank A. Beshai, Dianna Biancheria, Mary Keefe, Ralph Perez and Kate Toomey staked out their positions on a wide range of issues and initiatives ahead of the September 6 Democratic primary election.

Social Issues

The topics of gay rights and abortion legislation provided the least controversy among the three Democratic candidates who were asked for responses.

Perez and Keefe were outspoken with their pro-choice and equality beliefs, and City Councilor Toomey said her personal beliefs as a Catholic would not stop her from supporting what is law in the Commonwealth.

Voter Identification

Voter rights and access to the ballot box have been core issues for the IEC, and several candidates were asked to respond on the topic of requiring identification at polling places.

"We need to make it as easy as possible for people to vote," Keefe said.

Toomey said she was not sold on one side or the other and would like to look to other states, such as Rhode Island, for ideas on how best to implement an identification requirement for voters.

Jobs and Unemployment

Beshai, a retired business consultant, spoke of the vacant office space in the downtown area and Union Station.

"We need to get these places filled," he said, and alluded to a plan to have Union Station occupied within his first year of office.

Keefe pointed to her work with the Community Labor Coalition and its efforts to ensure public money goes to fund projects providing jobs for local residents through the Responsible Employer Ordinance.

"I would be doing it whether I was running for office or not," she said, noting that the ordinance will be going before for the city council.

Massachusetts Minimum Wage

Perez staunchly supported an increase to the state's minimum wage, which he said still leaves full-time workers below the poverty line.

"Who in God's name wants to live in poverty?"

Keefe agreed, but neither she nor Perez offered any hard numbers.

Toomey said any increase to the minimum wage would have to take into account the cost of living index as well as the cost of goods, and she would be in favor of an increase if analysis showed it was warranted.

Healthcare

Keefe and Beshai both came out in favor of instituting a single-payer health insurance system in Massachusetts, but for different reasons.

"Single-payer insurance is a beginning to start to lower healthcare costs," Beshai said, taking a business-minded stance on the issue.

For Keefe, a single-payer system would be part of the progression in Massachusetts toward providing good and accessible healthcare to every resident as a right.

Toomey stood apart from her opponents and said she would not support a single-payer system.

"Right now, we have a great medical system set up," she said. 

 

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