Contested seats, ideas await voters

By John Laidler
Globe Correspondent / November 2, 2008
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The presidential race may be foremost on the minds of area voters, but several state and congressional posts also are on the ballot in Tuesday's state election.

In four Massachusetts House districts, incumbents are battling challengers. In addition, two of the region's members of Congress also face opposition, and local voters will help decide the race between US Senator John F. Kerry, a Democrat, who is being challenged by Republican Jeffrey K. Beatty and Libertarian Robert J. Underwood.

Ballot questions propose eliminating the state income tax, decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, and banning greyhound racing at state tracks.

In Newburyport, there is a local bal lot question on a proposed debt exclusion, a 10-year tax increase to repay debt. The $7.8 million requested would free up funds in the operating budget to restore school programs, fund infrastructure repairs, replace vehicles and equipment, and help meet the city's retirement costs.

Two of the State House races are rematches.

In one, Representative Lori A. Ehrlich of Marblehead is vying with Marblehead Republican John Blaisdell. Last March, Ehrlich defeated Blaisdell and independent Mark Barry in a special election.

"It's been a profound honor to serve the district I love so much," Ehrlich said. "I hope the voters have been happy with my hard work and I hope to have their confidence to continue.

"I bring a unique skill set to this position with over 20 years as a certified public accountant and over a decade of policy advocacy. This has served the district better than I had even anticipated," she added.

Blaisdell is undaunted.

"I have positive feelings, but I'm unsure about the outcome because I think a lot of the votes will be tied in to Question 1," he said, referring to the proposed income tax repeal, which he supports and Ehrlich opposes. "I don't know which way that's going to go."

Blaisdell said he offered "reform and change, somebody who will stand up to the corruption on Beacon Hill, somebody who will not be afraid to stand up and speak their mind concerning the wrongful spending of money."

In the other rematch, Representative Barbara A. L'Italien, Democrat of Andover, faces Lawrence Brennan, a Georgetown Republican and former selectman. In 2006, L'Italien turned back a challenge from Brennan.

Brennan said he is cautiously optimistic about his prospects, noting that he has had more opportunity to connect with voters this time because he started his campaign earlier and there were more forums.

He said that as a selectman and a former School Committee member in Salem, "I've been tested by fire trying to balance the needs of the entire community." He wants to open up the state budget process to the public and would make it a priority to protect schoolchildren and seniors.

L'Italien said that while she is optimistic about the outcome, "I think people are feeling overwhelmed by the economic downturn and the impact on their wallets, so I don't know where that goes. That's the big unknown."

She said she offers "steady, independent leadership. I've weathered an economic downturn in my freshman term, in 2003-2004, and at the time supported many of the reforms and cost-cutting measures proposed by then-governor [Mitt] Romney. I'm willing to do that again and make the tough decisions necessary to keep our state moving forward."

State Representative Brad Hill, an Ipswich Republican, is running against Boxford Democrat and first-time candidate Donald Bumiller.

"My campaign is going strong. We are gaining a lot of support as we go door to door getting our message out and listening to the people," Hill said. "I offer experience in the legislative arena, which I think will be very valuable as we move into these slow economic times. And I offer bipartisanship, which is very important not only for the district but the Commonwealth as a whole."

Bumiller is a lawyer and president of the Essex County Bar Association.

"We've called several thousand people in the last month and the response has been very positive," he said. "That's on top of meeting people along the way.

"I'm going to participate in the political process and deliver results," Bumiller added. "It's time for us to roll up our sleeves and get to work in solving the difficult problems that are confronting us," such as the need for more state aid for education, tax relief for seniors, and job creation.

House Republican leader Brad Jones, of North Reading, is being challenged by Reading Democrat and first-time candidate Claire Paradiso, who mounted a successful write-in primary campaign.

"I think the campaign is going very well," Jones said. "We've got a tremendous outpouring of support from both longtime supporters and new supporters throughout the district."

He said he has brought "a proven track record of service, of effective leadership in handling both constituent issues and local issues, and of being able to have a say and an impact in the process at the State House."

Paradiso, the longtime executive director of the Lawrence Teen Coalition, has served on numerous regional and local advisory groups on youth, family, and environmental issues.

"We entered the race late, but I think we've covered a lot of ground and gotten a lot of support in the district," she said. She said she promises voters "aggressive leadership, years of experience, and dedication to solving some of our issues. In particular, I want to work on youth and elderly issues."

US Representative John F. Tierney has opposition from West Newbury Republican Richard A. Baker, while US Representative Edward J. Markey faces Revere Republican John Cunningham.

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