A crowded field of candidates is running to succeed state Sen. Susan Fargo, but not even the League of Women Voters was ready for the swarm of people who turned out to hear the primary election debates in Concord Wednesday.
The horde trying to get into forums for the two Republicans and five Democrats running for the seat was so large that the League of Women Voters of Concord-Carlisle had to stop the proceedings and ask everyone who didn’t have a seat to leave per the order of the fire department.
Dozens of people standing along the walls had to file out of the room at the Harvey Wheeler Community Center because the room only has a capacity for about 120 people. Officials estimated about 250 wanted to get inside.
“This has been more popular than expected,” said the League’s voter services director Erin Pastuszenski to the crowd.
Three weeks before the Sept. 6 primary, interest in the race seemed so high that some who were asked to leave the forum lingered outside the building watching through the windows.
Inside, it was easy to hear the candidates make their pitches for why they should be elected to the Third Middlesex District state senate seat, which represents Bedford; Carlisle; Chelmsford; Concord; Lincoln; Waltham; Weston; precincts 3, 8, and 9 in Lexington; and precincts 1, 4 and 5 in Sudbury. Fargo announced in February that she would not seek re-election.
Republicans Greg Howes, of Concord, and Sandi Martinez, of Chelmsford, took the stage for the first of two forums moderated by Nancy Carapezza, a former president of the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts.
The second forum was for the five Democrats vying for the senate seat: Mike Barrett of Lexington, Alex Buck of Chelmsford, Mara Dolan of Concord, Joe Kearns Goodwin of Concord, and Joe Mullin of Weston.
A difference between the two Republicans quickly arose when Carapezza asked where the candidates stood on a proposal that would extend the state’s bottle bill to include containers that hold water, iced tea and other non-carbonated beverages. The current law assesses a refundable nickel deposit on carbonated beverage bottles, including beer and soda.
Martinez, who helped form the Greater Lowell Tea Party, said the people she has spoken with feel that the bottle bill is just another tax. She said there is concern that taxing water and juice bottles could have some unintended consequences.
“That might encourage people not to choose the healthy choices of water and juice,” said Martinez, who has run three previous bids for the Third Middlesex seat that were unsuccessful.
Howes, who completed two terms on the Concord Board of Selectmen this year, said that as a selectman he and his colleagues wrote a letter to the state encouraging legislators to pass the bottle bill.
“I believe people are willing to pay a nickel of tax to solve the problem of too much plastic in our environment,” Howes said.
One of the more intriguing questions to the Democratic candidates asked if there is an issue that they feel so strongly about that they would support or oppose it even if it meant breaking with their party or going against their constituents.
Dolan, a public defender who has been a member of the Democratic State Committee, voiced her opposition to the state’s new “Three-Strikes” law that bars parole for habitual violent offenders. But Dolan said she agrees with the Democratic platform.
“I think the Democrats are right,” Dolan said. “I frankly am hard pressed to think of an issue that I would break with them over.”
Kearns Goodwin, an Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he would have voted against the state’s casino bill and there are always issues that a person should be willing to stand up and fight for working class families for even in the face of Democratic opposition.
“I think that is one of the reasons that the entire process has gotten such a bad rap,” said Kearns Goodwin. “People feel that individuals are going along with the party line for its own sake.”
Mullin, who has served on several local boards and committees, including as a selectman in Weston, said that even though it wasn’t included in federal health care reform, he supports a “single-payer” system, which is an insurance system administered by the government.
On the state level, Mullin said he opposes the Democratic Party having primary elections in September leaving only a few weeks before a general election in November. Mullin said he thinks the primary elections should be held in June.
Barrett, a former state senator who ran for governor in 1994 and lost, said he’s proud of the Democratic Party, but he said the party can’t help but be affected by the conservative surge washing over the country. Barrett said cuts have been made to human services in recent years “without a squeak from the Democratic leadership” because the party has felt constrained not to discuss adding revenues.
“We are growing more timid,” he said. “I would beg to differ with my leadership if we continue with that trend.”
Buck, an engineer who has worked in the life sciences industry and served as a Chelmsford Town Meeting member, said he would have differed from his party on the legislative redistricting for Chelmsford as well as some provisions in the state’s casino laws.
He said he thinks candidates are elected to represent their communities, not their political parties.
“We have too many career politicians—folks that are up there making the choices for their career and not the communities,” Buck said.
The winners of the primary elections for both parties will face off in the general election on Nov. 6.