By Madiha Gomaa
Boston University Statehouse Program
Two candidates for the Norfolk, Worcester and Middlesex Senate seat discussed economic development issues, climate change, abortion and other topics in a virtual debate hosted by the Charles River Regional Chamber.
The Monday encounter between two current Legislature members, state Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham, and state Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Wrentham, has generated some controversy, with Dooley charging Rausch with playing fast and loose with the facts, while the incumbent senator focused on what she said was Dooley’s opposition to abortion and his possible votes for Donald Trump.
Rausch is now completing her second term as a state senator in a district that was reshaped this year, dropping communities from Bristol County and adding some from Worcester County. She has been an attorney in the public and private sectors and a lecturer at Northeastern University.
Dooley was elected to the House in a special election in January 2014. He’s a former town clerk elected for Norfolk, and prior to that, he owned a small business and did residential construction and remodeling.
Pandemic, small business
Both candidates made it clear that they strongly support small businesses and will continue to do so. Dooley said that Massachusetts needs to be more affordable for businesses and have fewer regulations. He proposed to reduce the cost of LLC filings and to use rainy day funds and some of the excess revenues to subsidize the infrastructure.
Rausch said that she provided policy and funding support to help workers get back into the workforce, and will continue to do so through the Small Business Advisory Council she established during the pandemic.
“I firmly believe that one of the best things I can do is listen carefully and then turn comments from people who are running small businesses now into results that are going to actually make a meaningful difference in their business operations,” she said
When asked about Gov. Charlie Baker’s approach toward these businesses during the pandemic, Dooley offered both support and criticism. He lauded Baker’s concept of phased reopening, which, he said, gave businesses flexibility.
“Baker worked hard and fast and took the bull by the horns when a lot of other governors around the country were not taking action,” Dooley said. But he also criticized Baker’s moves in May 2020 — describing it as “picking winners and losers.”
“Target and Walmart and some of these mega-corporations were allowed to open, whereas small and pop businesses that were selling the exact same items on Main Street weren’t,” Dooley said.
On the other hand, Rausch avoided commenting on Baker’s approach, saying, “I want to focus on moving forward.”
She said she is a strong advocate for following the science and experts and emphasized that having a strong public health infrastructure is the way to keep businesses open.
Plastics and carbon tax
Rausch, Senate chair of the Legislature’s Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee, said the state could not afford to ignore the impact of plastics. She also pointed out that the disparate implementation of banning plastics is what concerns the business community the most.
Having different rules across towns and cities makes it difficult for people to do business efficiently.
“At this stage, roughly half of the municipalities in the state have implemented a plastic bag ban in some form,” Rausch said.
She said she is not opposed to looking at carbon taxes, but when asked to choose one of six plastic products that should be banned immediately, Rausch answered, “I want to come up with a comprehensive statewide solution that makes sense for all the people who are involved here, that includes business owners, producers and our families and workers.”
Dooley opposes both a statewide ban on plastic products and a carbon tax. He said it’s better to focus on education and establish incentives rather than create carbon taxes, penalties and fines.
“I think it’s more important that we continue to educate the community and work with different communities because different businesses have different needs,” he said.
One of the submitted questions related to Massachusetts Teachers Association President Max Page’s comments in August that the focus on income and career readiness speaks to a system tied to the capitalist class and its needs for profits. Charles River Regional Chamber President Greg Reibman asked both candidates whether schools focus too much on careers in college.
Rausch said that she hadn’t assessed that particular comment. “I can’t offer an opinion on it,” she said.
Dooley said that he disagrees with Page’s assessment and his views on capitalism as evil and corrupt.
“I think it’s very important that we continue to focus on programs and policies that will make our students productive members of the society and actually be able to go out and get a job and help build the economy,” he said.
Dooley said that he is pro-choice and disagreed with the Supreme Court’s decision to take away a right after 50 years.
However, he joined Baker in opposing legislation that allows women as young as 16 to obtain abortions without parental consent.
Rausch, who has been a strong advocate for abortion rights since day one, said that young women can stand on their own two feet.
“I remain and always have been and always will be steadfastly committed to making access to the full spectrum of reproductive health,” she said.
Reibman asked Rausch why she was just one of two Democrats running for reelection not to be endorsed by Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Maura Healey.
Rausch said that she has already been on several coordinated canvasses with Healey. She also pointed out that she has been endorsed by more than half the Senate and every Democratic state representative in the district.
“I’m endorsed by more than 50 local leaders hailing from every single town in this district,” she said. “But the most important endorsement in this race is the endorsement of the voters.”
Dooley said relationship matters. “I have a great relationship with Attorney General Healey, and I know I accomplished a lot of things because of my relationship with Charlie Baker,” he said.
Dooley was vague about his support for the former president saying, “I haven’t voted for Donald Trump twice.” Dooley said he has been critical of Trump and ran against MassGOP Chairman James Lyons to try to take back the party from the extremists.
“If I voted for Trump, I probably wouldn’t have been endorsed by Charlie Baker,” he said.
Rausch said she had never called Dooley a “Trumper,” adding “Let’s also be clear that there was an article published written by Lisa Kashinsky in the Boston Herald in November of 2020 that said, and I quote, ‘Dooley voted for Trump,’” she said.
Asked about the support of the four ballot questions, Rausch said she intends to vote yes on Question 1, while Dooley will vote no on the state constitutional amendment to create a 4% additional tax on all income earned above $1 million. Rausch said that she is still researching Question 2, while Dooley intends to vote yes on the proposal to require dental insurance carriers to refund excess premiums.
Both candidates are still undecided on Question 3, which proposes changes to the state’s liquor licensing laws but only for off-site consumption. Rausch said she is in favor of Question 4, while Dooley will vote no on the one to allow undocumented immigrants to apply for a driver’s license.
The Norfolk, Worcester and Middlesex district includes Bellingham, Dover, Franklin, Medfield, Milford, Millis, Needham, Norfolk, Plainville, Sherborn and Wrentham.
This story originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle.