Gov. Charlie Baker and his Democratic challenger, Jay Gonzalez, both tried to make their case to voters Wednesday night in an hour-long televised debate hosted by WGBH News, less than three weeks before the midterm elections. Moderators Jim Braude and Margery Eagan asked the candidates to explain their positions on a range of issues facing the Commonwealth, including public transportation, the opioid crisis and education.
Overall, Baker defended strides that the state has made under his leadership, while Gonzalez criticized the governor's administration for not making enough progress. Here are six of the issues the candidates clashed on:
Voting For Geoff Diehl
Gonzalez asked Baker if he was planning to vote for Geoff Diehl, whom Baker has endorsed. Baker hesitated, then said he was planning to vote for himself and for Lt. Gov. Polito. Baker repeatedly stressed that he hadn't made a decision yet about whether or not he was voting for Diehl. "So you're asking people in Massachusetts to vote for Geoff Diehl, and you're not even going to vote for him?" Gonzalez pressed further. "I'll make my decision eventually, and I'll make sure people know," Baker answered. When speaking to reporters a few minutes after the debate, Baker reversed himself, saying he would vote for Diehl and that he "misspoke" during the debate.
Luring Businesses To Massachusetts
The candidates disagreed on how far to go to entice big businesses — like Amazon and GE — to open operations in Massachusetts, but whether either of them support tax breaks for businesses was not clear. Gonzalez criticized Baker for giving General Electric $125 million in incentives to come to Boston, but when asked whether he would be against any tax breaks for companies, Gonzalez replied, "I'm not saying never, maybe modest, but not $125 million." Baker said he would not give tax breaks to companies like Amazon, but he would invest in "social betterments ... I would only be interested in doing stuff that would be associated with what I would call social betterments," he said. "I do think in some cases public betterments are a good investment."
The candidates agreed that investment in public transportation is key for Massachusetts, but they disagreed on how successful such investment has been thus far. Baker touted the $8 billion that the state has planned to spend in the next five years to improve the MBTA's orange, green and red lines. Gonzalez argued that Baker's administration has not done enough and said that, as governor, he would tax the wealthy to pay for a $3 billion investment in the state's education and transportation systems. "We have to be honest with voters," he said, "that we need to invest more to get our transportation system to where it needs to be."
Gonzalez criticized the governor’s handling of the State Police, calling the overtime fraud and the handling of relevant documents an attempted cover-up of criminal activity. Baker called the destruction of the records a “mistake.” Gonzalez countered that the records were relevant and that there was criminal activity at the State Police on Baker’s watch. “You haven’t fired a single person at the State Police,” Gonzalez said.
Early Childhood Education
Gonzalez has campaigned on increasing access to early childhood education. During the debate, Baker took the opportunity to question the math behind Gonzalez’s plan. “The notion that he has put enough plans on the table to fund all the stuff he’s promising and committing to simply isn’t true,” Baker said. The governor highlighted the $100 million his administration has invested in preschool, while Gonzalez criticized Baker for being satisfied with the state of early childhood education. “To me, that’s unacceptable. I’m not running to keep the status quo going,” he said.
While on the topic of healthcare, Gonzalez asserted that moving the state to a single-payer system would save money by cutting administrative costs. He went so far as to say that the $61 billion spent on healthcare in the Commonwealth is “spent in a dumb way.” Baker pushed back on Gonzalez, saying that there is zero evidence to support his claims. Baker said that he thinks that the people of Massachusetts are, overall, pleased with their quality of healthcare.