I attended last night’s debate in Hyannis between Charlie Baker and Christy Mihos (the blow-by-blow will be in next week’s Region) and it was an evening of concentrated Republicanism; just about every local Republican running for office on the Cape (and beyond) was there to see the two gents vying for the party nod for the gubernatorial race while scoring some primo face time.
It’s customary to talk about who won a political debate, but in this case the answer — and it is a cheesy answer — is: the audience.
As far as the candidates themselves go, neither man dominated the evening. In terms of presentation neither Baker nor Mihos were in tip-top form; Baker was under the weather and low on energy, and Mihos’s considerable energy occasionally took over and derailed his focus (to unintentionally comical effect; he referred to US Senator Scott Brown once as “Charlie Brown”). The sparks were few, far-between, and largely mild and ineffective; Mihos took a few light jabs at Baker, trying to play Baker’s former gig at Harvard-Pilgrim as complicity in rising insurance costs, but they fell flat. Baker did not respond in kind.
As for the issues, there were few significant differences between the candidates. Both extolled clamping down on state spending, cutting taxes, increasing transparency and accountability in state government, increasing the GOP’s presence in the Democrat-heavy Legislature, rectifying the many problems with health care in Massachusetts — nothing new here, honestly.
The differences were mostly in the details. Baker endorsed a “five-and-five” model for state sales and income taxes for the sake of maintaining local aid, while Mihos supported Question One on the November ballot to reduce the state sales tax to three percent. Baker would support a single casino in Massachusetts — licensed via an open bidding process and sited in a community that wanted it — in the name of capturing revenue currently jumping the border to Connecticut. Mihos vehemently opposed casinos and suggested instead legalizing sports gambling through the Massachusetts State Lottery.
I say the audience won because they got to witness a solid discussion of the issues that was not couched in sound bites and did not degenerate into negativity. A thrilling night? No, but an informative one.
The one topic into which moderator Rob Sennott never delved — for good or ill — were the candidates’ respective campaigns. Baker has been chided as a big-money candidate who collects special interest donations like baseball cards (his donor list as per the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance reads like a who’s who of the health care, banking, and insurance industries), and I think asking him about his true allegiances would have been completely valid — particularly since candidates beholden to the industries that led to the state and country’s many current challenges are coming under heavy voter scrutiny in this election cycle (and rightly so).
Then there’s Mihos, who has been bleeding out money and campaign staff since late last year, fueling speculation that he won’t even make it to September (or will formally hook up with the Tea Party movement, which he referred to several times during the debate). His campaign coffers are drained ($4,000 or so left as of February) and he’s lost several key staffers, many of whom have taken him to court to recover unpaid wages. It would have been fair to ask the man how he expects to run a state efficiently and economically when he seems to be incapable of running his campaign the same way.
But these are perhaps questions for a future debate…
The views and opinions in the Enterprise blogs are those of the author and are not neccessarily shared by Falmouth Publishing.