By DAN TOMASELLO
DANVERS — The three candidates vying to represent the North Shore in Congress clashed in a heated debate at Danvers High School on Thursday, Oct. 23.
The three Sixth Congressional District candidates looking to succeed Congressman John Tierney are Wakefield Republican and Lynnfield High School Class of 1981 graduate Richard Tisei, Democrat Seth Moulton and independent Chris Stockwell. The three candidates answered questions from panelists Christian Wade, State House bureau chief for The Salem News; Lowell Sun editor Jim Campanini and Peabody Area Chamber of Commerce Director Deanne Healey. The Salem News and The Lowell Sun sponsored the debate, which was moderated by Salem News Editor Steve Olson.
The debate covered a variety of different issues including veterans’ benefits, campaign finance reform, the economy, deficit reduction, foreign affairs and immigration.
The debate’s most heated exchange came when Tisei condemned a TV advertisement that Moulton, an Iraq war veteran, ran with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recently. The ad references Tisei’s votes against state budgets while he was a state Senator in 2008 and 2009 and the ad accuses Tisei of voting against increasing veterans’ benefits.
Tisei fired back by calling the ad a “lie.” He said he voted against the state budgets because he claimed they raised taxes.
“In Massachusetts, veterans’ issues were never political,” said Tisei.
Moulton defended the ad by stating Tisei could refer to past votes he took in the state Legislature pertaining to veterans’ issues. In regards to the budget votes, Moulton admitted: “I am not saying that you took those votes purposefully to hurt veterans.”
“That’s what your ad does say, Seth,” Tisei interjected.
Moulton also accused Tisei of airing misleading ads about him, and said he is “not beholden to Wall Street donors,” a theme being reiterated by the Tisei campaign. Moulton said Tisei, who he repeatedly called a “career politician,” has received more campaign contributions from Wall Street than he has, including $800,000 from a Super PAC sponsored by a Wall Street hedge fund billionaire. Moulton also said Tisei has held fundraisers in New York City, Miami and Washington, D.C.
Stockwell, a Marblehead businessman, said the bickering between Moulton and Tisei was counterproductive, prompting a round of applause from the audience.
“We should be talking about jobs and the economy, not this,” said Stockwell. “This has wasted, I don’t know, five minutes.”
Moulton and Tisei were asked, “What purpose do the Super PAC ads serve in this race except spread negativity.” The candidates were also asked why they have not “disavowed” the ads.
Tisei said he “hates the fact that Super PACs are out there” and said the situation is the equivalent of living in the “Wild West.” He said he supported campaign finance reform while serving in the state Legislature.
Moulton said he opposes Super PACs. He said he was proud to be endorsed by Larry Lessig, a political activist from Harvard University who supports candidates who support campaign finance reform.
Stockwell accused Moulton and Tisei of being hypocritical because they have received campaign contributions from Super PACs and special interest groups.
“It’s disingenuous to say … I am in favor of campaign finance reform and then accept (campaign contributions),” said Stockwell. “You need to disavow it. We need to take the money out of politics. Corporations are not people and they shouldn’t have those rights.”
Tisei said while the economy has been stagnant for the past six years, the cost of living has increased and wages are flat. He said people are struggling throughout the district while “the government has become too big, too dysfunctional and too disconnected from the people.” He said “bad laws, bad regulations and bad tax policy” as well as the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, are hurting small businesses.
Moulton said he supports reforming the corporate tax code to help small businesses. He said he supports closing tax loopholes, increasing educational opportunities and said America needs to do more to address its crumbling infrastructure. He also supports eliminating the medical device tax included in the Affordable Care Act and overhauling fishing regulations so fishermen can get back to work.
Stockwell said he has worked in small and large businesses. He said he would develop an economic council geared toward improving economic development in the district. He said he would urge companies to bring jobs back to the district from overseas.
Deficit and debt
In response to a question about reducing the national deficit and debt, Moulton said he supports the Simpson-Bowles Plan, which would cut the national deficit by nearly $4 trillion. He said the plan is “a great example of the kind of bipartisan compromise that we can have to move the nation forward,” but said Congress’ “hyper partisanship” has led to political gridlock.
“My platoon in the Marines were not all Democrats, nor were the companies that I’ve worked for,” said Moulton. “We came together with remarkably different backgrounds. We had different religious beliefs and different political beliefs but at the end of the day we were able to set aside those differences to do what is best for America.”
Stockwell said he would have cabinet heads prioritize certain programs and supports cutting programs that are the “least effective.” He said the only way the national deficit and debt can be reduced is if “we start breaking through this polarization and gridlock that grips the nation.”
Tisei said the Simpson-Bowles plan is a “great starting point” for reducing the national debt and deficit but said President Barack Obama “ran away from it.” He said Massachusetts has a constitution amendment that requires balanced budgets to be passed each fiscal year, which is not the case in Washington.
“In Washington, it’s like they have a printing press in the basement of the Capitol,” Tisei said. “The people who are in this room don’t have much to worry about but it’s your kids and your grandkids who will be paying that debt for years to come.”
When asked a question about foreign policy, Stockwell said it’s America’s responsibility to take an active role in the world, particularly in the Middle East. He supports Obama’s plan to defeat ISIS but said he opposes using ground troops.
Tisei said ISIS is “more of a threat than Al Qaeda ever was.”
“Look at the horror that’s taking place, the beheadings, the genocide,” said Tisei. “What I want to do is make sure the president has all of the tools in his toolbox necessary to protect the country.”
Moulton said he believes America’s “national security policy should be to defeat ISIS.” However, Moulton said, “I don’t think its right putting American ground troops in Iraq.” He said the situation requires a political solution.
“At the end of the day, Iraq has to be able to protect its own borders and protect its own people,” said Moulton. “If we go and solve the Iraqis’ military problem for them, I guarantee we will be back there in two or three years from now.”
When asked about Ebola, Tisei said he supports instituting a travel ban to West Africa.
“I think what we should be doing as a country is making sure what is an epidemic in West Africa doesn’t turn into a pandemic,” said Tisei.
Moulton said he is open to the idea of temporarily halting flights from West Africa. He also noted the U.S. has the best doctors and disease experts in the world and said they should be making decisions on the matter.
“We’ve got to address this problem at the source because we don’t live in a world where simply isolating ourselves will solve the problem,” said Moulton.
The three candidates had different opinions on immigration. Stockwell said he supports improving border security and chastised Congressional Democrats and Republicans for failing to pass immigration reform this past summer.
“This is one of the most critical issues we are facing and (Congress) kicked it down the road so they could have a better summer vacation and wouldn’t have to deal with it until after the election,” said Stockwell. “That is disturbing.”
Tisei said he supports legal immigration and said strengthening border security should be a top priority. He claimed that 40 percent of illegal immigrants “came here on visas and then just disappeared.” Tisei said he opposes “amnesty,” but said he is open to setting up a green card and work visa program for undocumented workers.
Moulton said he supports comprehensive immigration reform, including securing the nations’ borders. He said he supports the bipartisan immigration reform bill that passed the U.S. Senate last year. Moulton also accused Tisei of being “more conservative” on the immigration issue than U.S. Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and Marco Rubio (R-Florida), who both voted in favor of the Senate bill.
Stockwell defended Tisei by stating the Republican nominee is a moderate.