State Senate Candidates Face Off with Mixed Results
Oct 30, 2018 06:00AM
By Pamela Johnson
Incumbent Senator Ryan Fattman (R-Webster) faces challenger Tom Merolli (D-Mendon)
story & photo by Marjorie Turner Hollman, Contributing Writer
It is often said that all politics is local, and at the recent public forum in Milford, hosted by Citizens for Milford, a non-partisan organization, this truism was on full display. Candidates for State Senate, incumbent Ryan Fattman (R-Webster) and challenger Tom Merolli (D-Mendon), faced off for an hour’s debate, having 2 minutes at the opening and closing of the hour for statements, and the rest of the time given over to questions from the audience. (The forum also hosted the incumbent and the challenger for the state representative seat for Milford, Brian Murray and challenger Sandra Slattery Biagetti; however, this race does not particularly affect Bellingham residents.)
The moderators laid out ground rules and made clear that they would feel free to cut off political statements from the audience. A very few audience members pushed this boundary, and the moderators quickly stepped in to keep control of the gathering. They were not, however, able to suppress audience laughter on two occasions during the Senate debate. One occurred when Ryan Fattman insisted that the U.S. healthcare system is great and citizens from other countries are lining up to get care from our hospitals that they cannot obtain in Canada. Moderators intervened and insisted that the crowd stop calling out which countries they had gotten healthcare from.
The other instance of laughter occurred during a back and forth about accepting money from hate groups. Merolli challenged Fattman’s sources of funding for his campaign, noting that one of the groups supporting Fattman’s campaign has been labeled a hate group. Fattman responded indirectly, addressing the issue of hate groups and insisting that many groups have been labeled hate groups by certain organizations; but, he continued, “I don’t think we have hateful people working for the government.” Once again the crowd broke out in rueful laughter of disbelief.
Aside from these few moments, the rest of the debate was not only respectful but informative, and offered some clear differences between the two State Senate candidates. When asked why Republicans were so hateful toward immigrants, Fattman stressed his concern for public safety. He noted the availability of U Visas as an option for immigrants in fear of their lives, expressing his compassion for immigrants who are not being protected from fellow immigrants who prey on unwitting new arrivals. Fattman said, “I am against the idea of having a Sanctuary State.” He went into much more detail about his stand on immigration, including stories of being deeply moved by the plight of families victimized by violent crime against them.
Merolli stood firmly behind his grandparents’ Italian heritage, noting that at one time they might have been considered illegal immigrants. “We need to strike a balance for the police to work against violent crime, but not have them deal with immigration,” he said.
Healthcare, as noted above, was a topic of great interest to the audience. Merolli offered the instituting of sales tax on online purchases as a new source of revenue that could help fund schools and healthcare. Fattman suggested cutting off funding for projects such as the Boston Convention Center.
Fattman pointed to his work of bringing jobs to the district through the MA work grants, while Merolli countered that, of 40 districts in the state, the district that the two men are hoping to represent stands presently at 31 out of the 40 in infrastructure funding from the state.
The candidates also differed on their stands on question 1, concerning nurse staffing ratios. Fattman noted that on the surface he agreed that the initiative was a good thing, but said that when he looked into the details and the unintended consequences, he did not support the ballot question. “Let’s handle this as it ought to be—with legislation,” he said. “Let us do our jobs.”
Merolli came out clearly in favor of question 1, expressing his concern about nurse burnout and noting that many nurses have left the field because of the pressure of unrealistic nursing ratios. “But I will work to implement whatever the voters decide,” he said.
In closing statements, Fattman noted, “We are here to celebrate democracy. Tom and I are opponents, not enemies. Americans are good people who celebrate democracy using the podium, not guns.”
Merolli closed by noting, “We take much for granted. Before I decided to run, I took my state senator for granted, but in talking to town leaders, they all asked, ‘Where’s Ryan?’ We have had no leadership. I think things can be better, with more equitable school funding, veterans’ housing, and work to help elders age in place.”
Numerous present and former state representatives and candidates also attended the forum, including State Representative candidate Pat Malone (D-Webster), State Representative Kevin Kuros (R-Uxbridge), and former State Senator Richard T. Moore (D-Uxbridge).
Afterwards, Kuros observed, “Having worked closely with Senator Fattman for the past 8 years, I support his re-election. The debate reaffirmed to me his positive thoughts on how to address the many issues and challenges we face as public officials. While I appreciate Mr. Merolli’s stepping forward to run, his platform has been one of attacks on the Senator, coupled with un-affordable proposals with little chance of gaining the momentum to become law if he were elected.”
Moore noted that he was enjoying retirement and grateful to no longer have to drive the Mass Pike to go into the Boston State House every day. In reflecting on the just-finished debate, he observed, “Ryan went to 841 events, but when I served, I went to a whole lot more events than that in the same time period. If Ryan is reelected, I hope he has learned something from this campaign, and if he is not reelected, he will have learned something as well.”
Election Day is Tuesday, November 6. Please step forward to exercise this important privilege that so many have fought and died to preserve.
The entire forum is available for viewing at citizensformilford.com/projectsevents/town-candidates-forum-2018.