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Endorsements season underway in race to replace Edward Markey in Congress

Posted by Your Town  September 18, 2013 01:03 PM

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The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a liberal group that has backed Sen. Elizabeth Warren, announced Wednesday its endorsement of Rep. Carl Sciortino, a Medford Democrat who has seen a television ad featuring his “Tea Party” father go viral.

Sciortino has staked out some of the more liberal ground in the Democratic primary contest for Congress he is waging against Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, Sens. Karen Spilka, Will Brownsberger and Katherine Clark, as well as Martin Long and Paul John Maisano, who do not hold elected office.

Spilka also rolled out the endorsements Wednesday of more than 100 elected officials, including Democrats like Sens. Harriette Chandler of Worcester and Michael Moore of Millbury and Reps. Chris Walsh of Framingham, Tom Sannicandro of Ashland, Jeff Roy of Franklin, and Kate Hogan of Stow.

During a debate sponsored by a range of liberal groups in Cambridge last Thursday, Sciortino said the United States spends too much on its military; he would vote to de-fund the National Security Agency; he opposes more “punitive” sanctions on Iran; and he believes America should critique Israelis “in a way that is respectful” for continuing to build settlements amid the ongoing dispute with Palestinians.

Brownsberger, a Belmont Democrat, distinguished himself from his rivals at the debate by standing by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that freed up corporate and union spending on political ads.

“It’s so ironic that we’re talking about abridging our constitutional rights at a time when we’re afraid about government surveillance, and think about what it means to corporations like Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club, Common Cause, The New York Times and Fox News to say they have no rights whatsoever,” Brownsberger told the crowd gathered at Lesley University.

After the debate, Brownsberger told the News Service he often persuades people to his viewpoint if given the time, but he said his breaking with the party in standing beside the controversial decision is “not helpful” on the campaign trail.

PCCC cited Sciortino’s early opposition to armed intervention in Syria, a position held by all five elected Democrats seeking the seat, though one that caused some inner turmoil for Koutoujian and Spilka.

“This was a very difficult decision for me,” said Koutoujian, who said the alleged gassing of a suburban neighborhood brought to mind the travails his Armenian grandparents experienced fleeing what he said was a genocide. Koutoujian said he supports prosecuting the Syrian president in the international criminal court.

“It was a very emotional issue for me. I’m Jewish. I lost a lot of family in the Holocaust. They were gassed,” said Spilka, an Ashland Democrat, who said she favors the negotiating that could bring about an international agreement on restricting the Syrian government’s chemical weapons.

Clark, a Melrose Democrat who said support of women’s rights is “the reason” she got into the race, made strong statements in support of Israel, saying, “I too want a two-state solution. We need recognition of the Jewish state of Israel.”

Though it did not generate any discussion in the debate where the ideologically worded questions had been provided to the candidates in advance, Brownsberger said he would support the full legalization of marijuana.

“I would go so far as to legalize marijuana. Let’s treat it the same way we do alcohol,” Brownsberger said. After the debate, Brownsberger said the issue is “not particularly controversial.”

Sciortino told the News Service he agrees that the policy for the leafy drug should be “legalize, tax, regulate,” while Spilka said she had no position on the issue, and Clark and Koutoujian expressed some reservations about the idea.

“We have too many people that are being incarcerated for drug offenses right now,” said Koutoujian, a former lawmaker who said he has “no problem” with the decriminalization of relatively small amounts of marijuana. He said, “We also have to be careful about the gateway effect,” referring to instances where marijuana leads to the use of harder drugs.

Clark said she supports the recent Department of Justice policy not to prosecute low-level, non-violent drug crimes that carry mandatory minimum sentences, and said she is “still looking” at the merits and drawbacks of legalization.

Spilka, who holds the position of majority whip in the Senate, said she would go to Congress and push back against Republicans seeking to limit women’s health choices.

“We need more feisty women in Congress and I will be a persistent voice to say, ‘Enough,’” Spilka said.

The primaries will be settled Oct. 15. Republicans competing for the party’s nomination in the race to succeed former Rep. Edward Markey, who was elected to the U.S. Senate this year, are Frank Addivinola Jr. of Boston, Michael Stopa of Holliston and Tom Tierney of Framingham.

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