Election 2008 : Four candidates battle for state representative's job
State representative Eric Turkington's decision not to seek reelection after 20 years in office set off a political scramble among those eager to represent a district that includes Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, and part of Falmouth.
Attorney Dan Larkosh, a Democrat of West Tisbury, emerged from September's rough-and-tumble Democratic primary with a narrow victory over Tim R. Madden of Nantucket, a write-in candidate.
Four candidates for state representative appear on the general election ballot. Mr. Larkosh is listed as a Democrat, Jacob D. Ferreira of Vineyard Haven and Mr. Madden are running as independents, and Melissa C. Freitag of Falmouth is listed as unenrolled.
The issue of party affiliation has been a point of contention among the candidates. Mr. Madden mounted a strong write-in campaign to finish second in the Democratic primary. Other candidates griped that the write-in campaign essentially gave Mr. Madden a chance to run twice. Both Mr. Madden and Ms. Freitag say they will enroll as Democrats if elected. Mr. Ferreira says he will remain an independent if elected.
Another campaign issue that has sent sparks flying is the charge that Mr. Larkosh supports a state takeover of the Steamship Authority. In a conversation with The Martha's Vineyard Times Tuesday, Mr. Larkosh accused Mr. Madden's campaign supporters and others of spreading false information. He said he supported legislation filed in the past by SSA unions that would give state transportation authorities a small vote on the boatline board, but does not support a state takeover.
Of the four candidates who will square off Tuesday, three are islanders and two are from Martha's Vineyard.
Jacob Ferreira, 28, is a Coast Guard veteran and co-owner of a business which promotes sustainable agriculture. He graduated from Northeastern University in 2003, and from the U.S. Coast Guard Officer Candidate School in 2004. He served three years in the Coast Guard on active duty and remains in the Coast Guard Reserves. If elected, he says he would focus on educational opportunities, support for small businesses, protection of natural resources, and a long-term approach to development and growth.
Melissa Freitag, 42, is a history and government teacher at Cape Cod Community College, and she has also taught at two Cape high schools. She lives in Falmouth, where she currently serves on the Falmouth Historical Commission. She lists fiscal responsibility, economic development, the environment, and educational funding as priorities.
Dan Larkosh, 44, is an attorney who lives in West Tisbury and practices law in Edgartown. He was raised in Oak Bluffs and graduated from the University of Massachusetts and Suffolk University Law School.
Mr. Larkosh lists protecting the environment, reducing the cost of energy, affordable housing, and increasing school funding as among his top issues as a candidate.
Tim Madden is currently the Nantucket legislative liaison for retiring state representative Turkington and a small business owner in Nantucket. He has held several positions in local government, including selectman and county commissioner.
Mr. Madden cites health insurance and property insurance reform, environmental funding, and education reform as important issues for his campaign.
As part its election coverage, The Martha's Vineyard Times asked each candidate to respond to two questions. Their answers to each question appear, in the order the candidates are listed on the ballot.
1. Governor Patrick has signaled deep cuts in state spending. Please identify three general budget items where you would push to reduce spending. (After this question was submitted to the candidates, Governor Patrick outlined the details of his revised spending plan.)
Mr. Larkosh: Generally speaking, our first cuts should start with earmarks that are not service oriented. For example, I would look to cut things like a duck boat for a north shore community, but continue to fund earmarks such as the Cape Cod Community College Diploma Plus program designed to keep high school students in school. Second, we should look to cut new spending on peripheral programs and projects like skating rinks, parks and such (though maintenance of existing facilities should be maintained at some level). Third, we should revisit budget items that were passed by veto overrides. Finally, I would like to search for redundant administrative costs and overhead. We may be able to realize cost savings by merging departments that provide similar services. Clearly we want to avoid painful cuts in local aid, education, and significant and necessary social service programs. Also, we want to avoid cutting programs that have matching Federal funds. For example, if Medicaid is cut by a dollar, the state will lose 50 cents in federal government revenue, and will only save 50 cents in state tax dollars.
Mr. Ferreira: I believe that many of the recommended "voluntary" reductions across departments including a Judiciary budget cut ($22.1 million), a Legislative budget cut ($9.0 million), and a cut in the Governor's budget ($1.17 million) outline a healthy start. I am hopeful that such reductions will trim some of the government fat that currently exists in the Commonwealth. We must become economically efficient and as your next State Representative, I will work with my colleagues to become better stewards of our tax dollars. Governor Patrick has outlined almost $1 billion in cuts, including $755 million in direct spending from the budget. The Governor has done a good job to protect a number of key areas, including education, health care, and services for veterans. However, we must not forget that Governor Patrick also put forth some unnecessary spending initiatives as part of the state's $28 billion FY09 budget only a few months ago. We must be fiscally responsible at all stages of the budget process, not just when a crisis occurs. I also believe that there are certain budget items where spending must not be reduced. Education funding must not be diminished. Rather, education must be identified as our most important resource. It connects our present to our future, and any cuts in education would be detrimental to our young people and our communities for years to come. We must also work feverishly to protect funding for small businesses, as they are the backbone to the economic security of our community. As credit freezes up, small businesses that depend upon floating loans in order to make payroll continue to suffer. We need to protect funding measures outlined to support our small businesses.
Ms. Freitag: On October 15th, the Governor identified $1 billion in spending reductions and specifically targeted several hundred accounts spanning all departments in the state government. The rationale for the Governor's cuts takes two forms: one, it "reduces spending that is not affordable given the current revenue estimate," and two, it "eliminates earmark spending...." While painful to cut because they benefit individual communities, earmarks are one of the three areas I would look to cut first, because they do not represent essential services. We'll have to do our part, and in Falmouth and on the islands this could include giving up beach and recreation facility improvements that are state-funded. There are hundreds of earmarks in the state budget each year, and if each district is willing to give up one or two, then tremendous savings are possible.
Second, renovations and new state building construction that can be delayed should be, while we need to preserve maintenance funding so that we do not create larger problems later. Finally, all infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges will have to be reviewed and prioritized, with some being delayed or reduced in scope. In general I would prefer not to zero out entire programs, but support across-the-board cuts to reduce spending throughout the entire government.
Mr. Madden: As we now know, the Governor has just made his cuts, and he's taken a responsible posture given the State's difficult circumstances. First, to demonstrate their leadership, the Legislators should accept a pay cut. Second, the Governor's proposal to phase out as many as 1,000 jobs is appropriate, I think, so long as it's accomplished through attrition, a hiring freeze, and short-term furloughs rather than layoffs.
I also agree with Governor Patrick's proposal to abolish a property tax exemption for telecommunications companies. He also recommended cuts in workforce training and other start-up programs. Beyond these worthy proposals, I favor enabling municipalities to join the state health insurance program and empowering towns with a local vote to impose new taxes on meals, hotels, and telecommunications equipment (as the Governor has suggested). The Legislature should have done so last year, but it didn't. Furthermore, I agree with the Governor that we must preserve "key targeted investments" in education, clean energy, healthcare reform. Don't touch local aid and Chapter 70 education funding. We face especially tough economic times right now. As a Selectman, I helped guide Nantucket through an economic downturn in the early '90s. I'm prepared to hit the ground running and represent this district forcefully as budgets come under pressure.
2. Do you support or oppose allowing resort style casino gambling in Massachusetts?
Mr. Larkosh: I generally oppose casino gambling as it is not in keeping with Massachusetts's tradition as a more family oriented state. Our families and small businesses will suffer if we allow large-scale resort gambling. The people who can least afford to gamble are the ones most severely hurt. Casino gambling would only add to their financial woes in tough economic times. Here on the Vineyard, we spent approximately $12 million on lottery gambling last year, yet less than $320,000 made its way back to our community in the form of local aid. Think of what we could do with that $12 million if we were to apply it to education, the environment, healthcare, community housing, and food and fuel assistance.
Mr. Ferreira: I would support casino gambling in Massachusetts once certain pre-conditions are met. For example, it will be every legislator's responsibility to learn more about the specifics of each project, the effects upon each community, and most importantly, we must evaluate our constituents' opinions on each project. I have read countless success stories related to the positive roles casinos play within states all across our country. In tough economic times like this, we must look at all projects that can create jobs and develop revenue streams that will benefit strong programs across the Commonwealth.
Ms. Freitag: Municipalities are entitled to have control over local development issues. Some communities in the Commonwealth wish to redevelop or revitalize former commercial districts, and want to include casino gambling in the development plan. While I do not personally believe in promoting gambling, if a community wishes to host gambling, it should be allowed to apply to the Commonwealth to do so. The resulting agreement should include a host fee that goes directly to the affected community to offset the impact of the casino, and this should be in addition to any state taxes or fees. I do believe a natural saturation point will occur - probably at one or two large complexes in Massachusetts - and that this will limit the overall impact. Casino proposals are tied directly to Native American tribes. In speaking recently with Aquinnah Tribal Council members about casinos, I was reminded of the positive social and environmental benefits that result from Tribal profits from casinos. Tribes reinvest their casino revenue into their members' well-being, as well as into environmental projects
Mr. Madden: Right now, I'm not (yet) prepared to support casino gambling - and here's why. First, the dollars people spend at casinos generate profits mostly for the casinos' owners. The benefits to our local communities would be minimal at best. Second, casinos saddle local taxpayers with added costs for infrastructure and local public services (think police, fire, courts, emergency rooms, etc.). I'm doubtful that casino gambling would generate sufficient revenue to offset those costs. We should be investing in other, better options for local economic development. I favor attracting businesses likely to benefit local workers (through better-paying jobs and solid employee benefits) and to stimulate local economic growth. That said, my job as a representative is to reflect the desires of my constituents - and if most of them want casino gambling for their community, I would very carefully weigh their support before I cast my vote at the State House. My overarching commitment is to respond to my constituents' concerns, and staying in touch with voters is the cornerstone of my political philosophy. As State Representative, I pledge to hold regular office hours on Martha's Vineyard to assure that responsiveness.