Congressional Candidates Face Off In Barnstable
By: Michael C. Bailey
As the four men and one woman running for US Representative of the 10th Congressional District took to the stage, the audience erupted in cheers and chants for their chosen candidate.
It would be the first and only such outburst throughout the evening, marking a rare moment of calm amidst was has turned into an emotionally charged campaign filled with squabbling and rancor, from candidates and their respective supporters alike.
The setting was Cape Cod Community College, which last Thursday hosted one of the final debates to feature all five Congressional hopefuls on one stage. The League of Women Voters of Cape Cod co-hosted the event, and League President Judith Thomas’s appeal for civility was heeded all around.
This was no small feat in light of several recent debates featuring – primarily, sometimes exclusively – the two party candidates, Democrat William R. Keating and State Representative Jeffrey D. Perry (R – Sandwich), whose encounters have been characterized by barbed exchanges centering as much around the candidates’ character as their stances on the issues.
The debate format provided the three unenrolled candidates – MaryAnne Lewis, James A. Sheets, and Joseph van Nes – with equal time in the spotlight, and left no opportunities for any one participant to directly confront another.
The opening statements portion of the evening began with Rep. Perry, who recited what has become a mantra for his campaign: “If you like what I’ve been doing as a state legislator these past four terms, then you’ll like what I’m going to do as your next Congressman.”
Rep. Perry touched on his priority areas of job creation, lowering taxes, reducing government spending, and “unconditionally” supporting American troops.
Mr. Keating – a former state representative, state senator, and current Norfolk County district attorney – said he entered the race because “I can’t remember a time when our institutions – our large institutions have failed us the way they have now.” He specifically cited a failure on behalf of the safeguards put in place to protect the economy from “the recklessness and greed of Wall Street.”
Mr. Keating listed his support for sustaining the current retirement age as defined by Social Security, closing tax loopholes that allow US companies to outsource jobs overseas, and helping Cape Cod deal with its water quality issues -- “my first local priority,” he said.
Joseph van Nes, a first-time candidate for elected office from West Tisbury and one of the three unenrolled candidates on the ballot, has promoted himself as an anti-war candidate, and in his opening statement he blamed the struggling economy on “a corporate war with no end in sight.” He advocated pulling out of the Middle East to rob the Taliban of a justification for its aggression against the US. “War begets war…peace begets peace.”
He specifically refuted arguments that military action in the Middle East was tied to women’s rights, noting that other countries have equally bad or worse track records in that area than the Middle East, and even American popular culture such as programming on MTV denigrates women.
MaryAnne Lewis, a former state representative and unenrolled candidate, said she has heard from voters throughout the district “how frustrated people are with what’s going on in the world of politics today…the vast majority of voters don’t feel that either the Democratic or Republican parties represent their interests.”
As an independent candidate, Ms. Lewis said she would be free of the loyalties that compel party candidates “to toe the party line and adhere to a strict partisan agenda.”
She also touted her record in the Legislature, where she served from 1995 to 2003, during which time “we implemented over 40 tax cuts…and we saved over $3 billion in a Rainy Day account.”
James A. Sheets -- a former Democrat, state representative, and six-term mayor of Quincy – said voters were “frightened and angry about out-of-control spending” that requires the US to borrow $4 billion a day “simply to operate our government.”
He blamed the country’s economic woes on “Democrats and to some degree the Republicans [who] weaken American’s foundation of free enterprise, self-reliance, and rugged individualism by substituting a nanny state of big government.”
The first of the night’s questions focused on Cape Cod’s water quality issues, and asked the candidates how they would help the region cover the up to $8 billion cost of meeting federal water quality mandates, and if they would support federal funding for a pending National Academy of Sciences review of the science behind local wastewater management plans.
Mr. Keating reiterated his dedication to addressing water quality issues and tied water quality to the Cape’s economy, and said he would support the NAS review. He said Cape Cod taxpayers should be getting federal assistance to address the problem, but he did not specify what he would do to obtain that funding.
Mr. van Nes did not answer the question beyond remarking that municipalities and the federal government should “maybe go half-and-half” on the costs attached to the issue.
Similarly, neither Ms. Lewis nor Mr. Sheets answered the question as asked. Ms. Lewis extolled the value of water quality to the district and its economy, and said she would refuse to sign any “no pork pledge” that would impede her freedom to acquire federal funding for any local projects.
Mr. Sheets said he would bring community leaders together to form a consensus on how to best address water quality issues, then go to Washington to “fight for the money.”
Rep. Perry said the NAS review “on the larger Cape-wide problem” of water quality needs to happen, and said he would pursue federal funding. He clarified that he would not seek a simple budget earmark, but would push for a “merit-based grant” to fund water quality projects of immediate need on the Cape.
Attached to what has become a staple question of the race, whether the candidates support Cape Wind, came a related question on whether the candidates supported offshore wind as part of the nation’s energy policy.
Mr. van Nes did not directly state whether he supported Cape Wind, but said that any such project should give its profits to the public since it was sited for public lands (Nantucket Sound). He referred to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and said that if the public was going to have to share the cost of clean-up, it deserved a share of the profits as well.
He supported expanded offshore wind under those same conditions.
Ms. Lewis opposed Cape Wind because of what she deemed a deeply flawed review process, but said she supported offshore wind as part of “a diversified energy portfolio, and part of that is to move to renewable, greener sources of energy.”
Mr. Sheets also opposed Cape Wind and supported a diversified energy portfolio that included green options, but said his main concern over wind and solar power was its high cost to consumers.
“Look at what it costs for a kilowatt hour of fossil energy,” he said, “and we use Cape Wind as an example, it costs 8 to 10 cents more per kilowatt hour for energy produced by wind.” He said a third of that cost would be born by small businesses.
Rep. Perry opposed Cape Wind because “it’s in the wrong place, it’s too expensive,” and relied too heavily on federal subsidies. He supported land-based and deep-water wind energy facilities.
Mr. Keating was the only candidate to express support for Cape Wind, but he did not clarify his position on offshore wind in general. He instead touched on the issues surrounding the zoning of land-based wind turbines, and said the Cape Cod Commission could play a role in helping towns figure out how to zone wind turbines “in a reasonable and planned manner that does not impact people in their residences.”
The candidates shared their ideas on how to improve the general year-round job market on Cape Cod and specifically the local fishing industry, and the Bush-era tax cuts and government regulations were recurring themes among the five Congressional hopefuls.
Ms. Lewis referred to her stance on green energy and identified the renewable energy industry as a potential economic engine for the region. She vowed to repeal “over-burdensome regulations that negatively impact the fishing industry,” which she said would have a ripple effect on other business sectors, and would ease regulations that impede small business growth. She supported extending the Bush tax cuts.
Mr. Sheets made general comments about the need to improve the business climate locally and nationally through tax credits and easing regulation, and he blamed Congress and President Barack H. Obama for creating an economic climate that was unfriendly to business growth.
Rep. Perry called for extending the Bush tax cuts and for the repeal of what he refers to as the “death tax,” the estate tax on holdings transferable following the demise of the previous holder. He said the Massachusetts Military Reservation could serve as the foundation for unspecified new economic development opportunities because of its extensive existing infrastructure.
He said the sector management system of regulating the fishing industry, in which fishermen form cooperatives (“sectors”) that share a quota on their collective catch, is “killing the fishermen.”
Mr. Keating said briefly reiterated the value of local water quality to the Cape economy, lauded the “Open Cape” broadband infrastructure initiative for opening up economic development opportunities, and said the MMR could serve as a home for unspecified industries. He did not directly answer the question about helping the fishing industry.
Mr. van Nes said the fishing industry needed regulation to maintain healthy fish stocks, but said other states’ regulations should not infringe with Massachusetts’ regulations. He called for an interstate alliance to deal with regulatory matters, and opposed expanded oil drilling that could rob the industry of viable fishing grounds.
The candidates were generally in agreement that extending unemployment benefits is beneficial to the economy, but had different ideas on how those benefits should be applied and for how long.
Rep. Perry did not believe that benefits should be extended beyond the current 99-week limit, particularly at a time when the government needed to curtail spending to reduce the deficit. “We can’t have a self-entitlement system known as unemployment insurance that goes on in perpetuity,” he said. “At some point we have to say, this is all we can afford.”
Mr. Keating spoke from his perspective as a DA about the impact of economic hardship on people, and how his office has investigated a number of suicides by people backed into financial corners. “It’s a disgrace to not try and do everything we can to help people in the greatest need, probably in our whole lifetime,” he said, and he supported extending unemployment benefits.
Mr. van Nes criticized big business for championing capitalism when things were good, but asking for a government bailout when faced with extinction while simultaneously opposing similar aid for individual citizens.
Ms. Lewis said unemployment benefits should have been extended, but with the condition that recipients commit to performing volunteer work until they found a stable job. “I think it gives them dignity,” she said, “and also provides a networking opportunity” through which to find gainful employment.
Social Security, Medicare
The candidates were asked for their stances on minimum wage laws, Social Security, Medicare, and veterans’ benefits. Mr. van Nes did not express direct support or opposition to any of these and instead blamed the nation’s involvement in the Middle East, and the entailing cost, for forcing the US to have to consider cuts to these and other programs.
Ms. Lewis supported the programs and said conditions should not be changed for any citizens already in them, but said the federal government needed to reduce spending. She also called for scaling back military involvement in the Middle East, and reviewing which military bases are no longer crucial to those operations to reduce spending.
Mr. Sheets said Medicare and Social Security needed to remain strong for the benefit of senior citizens who have planned their lives around them. He chided the federal health care bill for cutting “one-half-trillion dollars out of Medicare,” a move that would limit health care for seniors.
Rep. Perry called Social Security “a promise…a social contract” between the government and citizens who have paid into the system, and said anyone already receiving Social Security or within 15 years of the retirement age should not see any changes to their benefits. However, he said Social Security is poised to be “upside down in 2016 and bankrupt in 2017.”
He added that his support for veterans was “unconditional. We have to support our troops and veterans. They deserve nothing less.”
Mr. Keating disputed Rep. Perry’s timeline for Social Security and said according to the Congressional Budget Office the program would be “solvent for another 27 years.” He said he would not support raising the retirement age, calling it a “wrong-minded idea.”
He also challenged Mr. Sheets’ and Rep. Perry’s remarks about the Medicare cuts. “It’s simply not true,” he said, adding that Congress had an opportunity to weed out $60 billion in Medicare fraud. “I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t want to do that.”
All five candidates responded to an audience question directed at the three unenrolled candidates, asking them how they would be effective representatives in a bipartisan Congress.
Ms. Lewis pointed to her time in the state Legislature as proof of her “track record of accomplishments and leadership ability in a legislative body,” and said her non-party status means she would “not be beholden to party leadership.”
“You can be more effective as an independent,” Mr. Sheets said, echoing Ms. Lewis’s remarks, “and you can be more effective because you’re not going to be controlled by the speaker (of the House) and the leadership in either the Republican or Democratic Parties.”
Mr. van Nes elicited unintended laughter from the audience when, in trying to make a point about how a win by him would inspire voters to support more independent candidates, he stated, “I’m going to walk through the door in Washington, the other politicians are going to take one look at me, they’re going to say, ‘Oh my God, where did we go wrong? Our jobs are in trouble’.”
Rep. Perry said he has already proven he can act independently of his party, in 2006 when he opposed the state-level health care reform bill championed by “a friend, Mitt Romney”; he was one of only two legislators to vote against it.
Mr. Keating presented as proof of his independence his 1994 fight with William M. Bulger, at the time the president of the Massachusetts Senate and, in Mr. Keating’s words, “the most powerful person in Massachusetts at the time.” Mr. Keating challenged Mr. Bulger for the presidency, but lost after a brutal 14-month battle.
During the debate, the five candidates for US Representative of the 10th Congressional District made numerous claims tied to the major issues of the day. How right – or wrong – were they? We compare the candidates’ claims to the facts.
JEFF PERRY: “We have a $13.5 trillion national debt.”
FACT: As of this week the national debt had climbed to $13.6 trillion, driven mostly by the loss of tax revenue under the Bush tax cuts and the cost of the war in the Middle East: they contributed to $500 billion in debt last year and, if sustained, are projected to account for $7 trillion in future debt through 2019. TARP, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac bailouts are expected to contribute $111 billion during that period, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is expected to contribute $38 billion in debt. (The Congressional Budget Office and the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities)
JOE VAN NES: Military action in the Middle East “has put us $13 trillion in debt.”
FACT: The cost of military action in the Middle East since it began in 2003 stands at $1.09 trillion. (National Priorities Project)
MARYANNE LEWIS: During her time in the state Legislature, “we implemented over 40 tax cuts.”
FACT: The Legislature passed a total of 42 tax cuts during the 1990s, many of which were smaller tax exemptions and credits. Ms. Lewis was in the Legislature for half of that period; she was a state representative starting in 1995. (Citizens for Limited Taxation)
LEWIS: During her time in the Legislature “we saved over $3 billion in a Rainy Day account.”
FACT: By 2002, Ms. Lewis’s last year in office, the state only had $1.3 billion in its rainy day account, down slightly from a peak of $1.6 billion in Fiscal Year 2000 (National Association of State Budget Officers, National Conference of State Legislatures, Massachusetts state budget data)
JIM SHEETS: “Each day Washington borrows $4 billion simply to operate our government.”
FACT: The national debt has increased $4.18 billion per day since 2007, but not all of that is borrowed money; the government continues to collect revenue from the usual sources (taxes, fees, fines, etc.). The US currently owes nine foreign interests – including the countries of China, Japan, Russia, and the United Kingdom – a total of $4.06 trillion (Multiple sources)
SHEETS: Unemployment in the US “is frozen at a lackluster 9.6 to 9.7 percent.”
FACT: The unemployment rate has not been “frozen” for more than three months at a time in 2010. It hit a high of 9.9 in April and a low of 9.5 in June and July. The year-to-date average unemployment rate is 9.65. (US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics)
SHEETS: Cape Wind would cost consumers “8 to 10 cents more per kilowatt hour” than fossil fuel-produced energy.
FACT: National Grid and Cape Wind negotiated a contract in which the utility company would purchase power from the wind farm for 19.4 cents per kilowatt hour (cents/kWh) in the first year of the contract. National Grid’s current default service rate for residential customers is 8.11 cents/kWh, 11.3 cents/kWh less than the rate for Cape Wind power. (Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, Cape Wind, National Grid)
SHEETS: The federal health care reform bill cuts $500 billion from Medicare.
FACT: The federal health care bill does not cut present spending levels, nor do the cuts occur all at once. It reduces future spending on Medicare by $555 billion over the next 10 years, but Medicare will still increase to $929 billion in FY20 – a 79 percent increase over FY10 costs. (Congressional Budget Office)
PERRY: Social Security is going to be “upside down in 2016 and bankrupt in 2017.”
FACT: The Congressional Budget Office originally expected that the increase in baby boomers hitting retirement age would cause outgoing benefits to exceed incoming tax revenue for the first time ever in 2016. That happened this year and Social Security is facing a $29 billion primary deficit. However, this does not account for interest the program earns on a trust fund currently worth $2.5 trillion, which is, in and of itself, sufficient to cover benefits for the next 25 years. (Congressional Budget Office)
BILL KEATING: Medicare is subject to $60 billion in fraud.
FACT: True, and that is an annual loss. (Multiple sources)
KEATING: “I’m the only one in this race that actually risked their entire career and took on the most powerful person in Massachusetts at the time, Bill Bulger,” the Senate president, in 1994.
FACT: Mr. Keating entered the State Senate in 1985 and for the next eight years was a member of Sen. Bulger’s inner circle, voting in line with Sen. Bulger on several key issues. He had a falling out with Sen. Bulger in 1993 and reversed his previous stance on several issues, including term limits and televising Senate proceedings, then challenged Sen. Bulger – unsuccessfully – for the Senate presidency. He remained in the Senate until 1998 and left to take his job as Norfolk County DA. Sen. Bulger would remain Senate president until his retirement in 2003. (Reporter Jeff Jacoby in a story that appeared in the Boston Globe on September 20, 1994)