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Candidates for Gov. Spar for Last Time

By Beckett W. Sterner


The Democratic and Republican candidates for governor met at Suffolk University on Tuesday night for their final debate before the election.

The debate, which featured Democratic candidate and current State Treasurer Shannon O’Brien and Republican candidate W. Mitt Romney, was moderated by Tim Russert, moderator of the TV program “Meet the Press.” It did not include the three other candidates, Libertarian Carla Howell, Jill Stein of the Green Party, and Independent Barbara C. Johnson.

Romney and O’Brien answered questions posed by Russert in a heated argument which often devolved into accusations of dishonesty.

“You don’t tell the truth about what you believe,” O’Brien said.

Romney replied that she should raise the discussion “a notch” and called her behavior “unbecoming.”

Nonetheless, the candidates presented distinct differences between their declared policies on issues including abortion, the likely budget shortfall, new taxes and the death penalty.

Candidates spar over budget, taxes

One of the most publicized issues facing Massachusetts in the coming year is the possible $1.5-2 billion budget shortfall. During the debate, both candidates presented lists of savings they could find in the current state budget. Both, however, refused to take a pledge to not introduce new taxes during their term if they were elected.

But “I will not sign a tax increase passed by the legislature ... I will not in my budget next year have any tax increases,” Romney said.

O’Brien in response promised that she “would not sign a tax bill until I was convinced I had wrung every bit of savings out of our budget.” She also said that her “numbers have been backed up; Mitt Romney’s have been pulled out of the air.”

O’Brien and Romney each presented several departments which they said would face budget cuts if they were elected, none of which included education.

O’Brien’s main suggestions for saving money are purchasing Medicaid drugs in bulk and conserving energy in government buildings.

Romney said he wants to consolidate 15 of the government health and services agencies into only four agencies, thus saving about $245 million.

Each candidate’s proposals totaled approximately $500 million, well short of the $1.5-2 billion necessary to break even.

“If you’re just talking about cutting [the budget] the way the legislature cuts, which is in a panic, then you don’t have enough [money] ... Mitt Romney, being an outsider, is more likely to do it [correctly],” said Barbara Anderson, executive director of the Massachusetts Citizen’s for Limited Taxation.

The CLT does not endorse any one of the five candidates, but their only suggestion to members is to not vote for O’Brien.

Abortion endorsement questioned

The two candidates also discussed abortion and the death penalty.

Specifically, they argued over a proposal to allow women over the age of 16 to have an abortion without parental consent. Currently the cut-off age is 18.

Superficially, both Romney and O’Brien seemed to agree on a pro-choice platform.

“Access to these health services is very important, and I will fight for it at every step, ” O’Brien said. She later said that Romney had no record on abortion, because it was just “waffling.” O’Brien also accused Romney of accepting an endorsement from Massachusetts Citizens for Life.

Romney responded that he had never accepted that endorsement and that he “will preserve and protect a woman’s right to choose ... I will not change any provisions in Massachusetts’ pro-choice laws.”

The Executive Director for MCFL Marie Sturgis said that her group had never offered an endorsement to Romney. Romney is “not pro-life and does not meet their requirements,” Sturgis said.

Death penalty debated

O’Brien and Romney also debated over whether it is better to spend money on preventing crimes or enforcing the death penalty.

O’Brien focused more on prevention, while Romney thought the expense of maintaining the punishment was worthwhile.

“I don’t think the death penalty has anything to do with cost,” Romney said. “It has everything to do with deterrence. You commit these crimes and you’re going to pay the ultimate price.”

O’Brien countered by asking Romney if “it’s okay to spend millions of dollars to put someone to death, but it’s not okay to prevent the crimes in the first place.”

Currently, she is advocating for a new forensic technique known as “ballistic fingerprinting,” which may be able to uniquely link a bullet to a specific gun. The method, however, has not been fully backed by scientific evidence, and Romney will not consider endorsing it until it has.