More binds the five candidates running in next Tuesday’s Democratic primary for state representative than separates them. They are unanimous in their support of Barack Obama for President. Gay marriage gets a thumbs-up across the board. They all wear suits. On the issues that will face the incoming state representative, there is a lot of common ground too. Each candidate supports better pay for teachers, local farming initiatives and development of alternative energy.
But there are key differences in education and affordable housing and they divide sharply on immigration and the Steamship Authority.
And mentioning the Cape Wind project to the assembled candidates is a sure way to start a fight.
Dan Larkosh was born in Oak Bluffs and attended the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. He has been a lawyer for the past 18 years, practicing on the Vineyard for the past 10 years. Although he has never held public office, his work regularly brings him before government boards across the Island. “I grew up here with a single mom and I’m the product of the Massachusetts education system,” he said.
Tim Lasker is an electronic media consultant who runs Swift Wind Energy LLC, a home wind technology company. He was elected to the Chilmark planning board in 2006 and is on the town affordable housing committee. He was born in New York, has lived on the Island for 30 years and has three adult children. He worked on the Chilmark master plan and co-chaired a Vineyard campaign to elect Gov. Deval Patrick.
A Falmouth native, Dave Moriarty runs a construction company in Falmouth and interned at the state house under Eric Turkington while attending Emerson College. He proudly cites his status as a lifelong Democrat. “What happens to the Cape and Islands happens to me,” he said.
Roger Wey is a 21-year veteran of the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen. He also has eight years experience as a member of the Dukes County Commission and served on the town board of appeals. He said his experience in public service is an important qualification for the job. “I know what it’s like to make tough decisions and I’m the type of person who can do that,” he said.
Tim Madden, a longtime Nantucket resident, was legislative liaison for the island for 10 years. He has also been selectman on Nantucket, where he ran a restaurant. He said he always intended to run as a Democrat but that it wasn’t until March 3 that he learned Mr. Turkington would not be seeking reelection; he therefore missed the Feb. 26 deadline to register as a candidate in the Democratic race. He registered as an unenrolled candidate and has since been running on stickers, or as a write-in candidate. “[Running a write-in campaign] is a legitimate way to put yourself forward as a candidate for office,” he said.
The slip-up puts Mr. Madden in an interesting position. He has run a full campaign for the Democratic primaries, appearing on Plum TV and Nantucket television and attending candidate forums. However, if he does not win the Democratic primary he automatically becomes an unenrolled candidate on the November ballot, joining another two unenrolled candidates who have not campaigned as Democrats.
On Wednesday afternoon all the candidates save Tim Madden came to the Gazette for a roundtable interview on the issues. Mr. Madden was interviewed separately by telephone.
The SSA is quiet these days but it has not always been so. Six years ago the two Islands were in a bitter fight to keep control of the boat line which is their lifeline. It all played out on Beacon Hill, where powerful New Bedford legislators ran roughshod over the Cape and Islands delegation. The result was an expanded five-member SSA board that included New Bedford — but the two Islands retained control through a weighted vote.
Mr. Wey and Mr. Madden were there for the SSA war, and they are on the alert over a bill that has been lurking in the state house for the last two years that would tamper again with the boat line.
Mr. Wey said he has never seen the Steamship Authority work as well as it does today and he credits general manager Wayne Lamson for the smooth sailing. “Wayne Lamson has done a great job,” said Mr. Wey, “he knows finances and the steamship has never run smoother. There’s some concern about freight going through Woods Hole. But the lifeline is through Falmouth and we should try to make it work as well as possible.”
Mr. Madden agreed: “Quite frankly I think it’s working extremely well. The governors have been working well together for a long time,” he said.
Mr. Lasker said service is extremely efficient, but as a longtime commuter, he has experienced its teething problems firsthand.
“When you use [the boat line] a lot you have a love- hate relationship with it,” he said. But he added that he is against giving control to the state.
“I have frustration over its governance but I’d rather deal with the devil I know than those I don’t,” Mr. Lasker said.
Mr. Moriarty said he is not in principle opposed to the ferry operating out of New Bedford if it made financial sense, and he emphasized that Falmouth bears the brunt of Vineyard freight traffic.
Mr. Larkosh, meanwhile, is firmly in favor of state intervention.
“As you know I’ve receive the backing of the marine engineers beneficiary association [the union that represents some 200 unlicensed boat line workers],” he said, adding, “One of the questions they asked is am I familiar with the transportation bill which would put oversight with the state department of transportation. And I do support that bill — I think it would improve the Steamship Authority. I’d like to take another look about coming through New Bedford because I think it’s a viable option.” He concluded:
“People like to say the SSA is our lifeline. It’s true to an extent but I think the larger truth is the steamship line and Falmouth is our lifeline to the mainland. We need to be good neighbors.”
Most candidates spoke to a need for higher teacher pay and small class sizes. Mr. Wey argued that education should begin at a younger age. Mr. Larkosh is against increasing teacher hours, while Mr. Madden favors optional extra school hours for students whose parents work longer hours.
Mr. Wey emphasized that Chapter 70 should be fully funded.
In the wake of the success of charter schools across the state and in particular on the Vineyard where enrollment is up and teacher retention is high, there is some discussion of raising a cap on state funding for charter schools.
Mr. Larkosh and Mr. Madden both said that they would prefer charter schools be treated as a separate line item in the state budget so as not to take any funding that would otherwise go to public schools.
“I would like to see more money for public school before I saw it for charter schools,” said Mr. Madden.
Mr. Lasker, who is a charter school advocate, disagrees.
“A separate line item in the budget would be the death of charter schools,” he said.
Mr. Lasker and Mr. Madden share the view that while the educational needs of the district are numerous, there are areas of the commonwealth where the needs are greater.
“Like it or not, we’re part of this commonwealth,” Mr. Lasker said.
Discussion turns immediately to Cape Wind, developer Jim Gordon’s privately financed plan to build 130 giant turbines on Horseshoe Shoal.
Mr. Larkosh is strongly in favor of what would be the first large-scale offshore wind project in the U.S.
“It is a tremendous amount of power it’s three quarters of the electricity needs of the Cape and Islands. It’s a tremendous opportunity. We have to be leaders in clean renewable energy,” he said, adding that America is significantly behind European countries in alternative energy development.
He said Cape Wind has gone through an exhaustive permitting process.
“I think they’ve played fair,” he said.
Mr. Lasker opposes Cape Wind without significant changes to benefit the Cape and Islands. “None of this electricity is going here and there is no local benefit in any way shape or form,” he said. He favors community energy and individual wind turbines.
“I have a challenge out to Cape Wind: negotiate with NStar enough to shut down the Sandwich [power] plant permanently,” Mr. Lasker said.
Mr. Larkosh suggested that there is tourist potential in turbines on Horseshoe Shoal, but Mr. Moriarty disagreed.
“If we don’t protect the tourist industry we’re done for. People come here for the majestic beauty,” he said. He called Cape Wind a “lose, lose, lose” for the people of the Cape and Islands. He added that the European innovation Mr. Larkosh referred to was publicly funded.
“Private enterprise built the railroads,” Mr. Larkosh shot back. “There are lots of ideas floating around — local turbines, turbines at Otis. These are all pipe dreams. Even deep water, this is something that’s being studied, the technology is just not there yet. Cape Wind is something we can do now.”
Mr. Wey said he is for wind farms in principle but is against Cape Wind for public safety and environmental concerns and because the Cape and Islands do not stand to directly benefit financially. He added that he is in favor of deep-water farms, pointing to a project off the coast of Italy.
Mr. Madden took a pragmatic approach:
“I’m not opposed to Cape Wind and I think it’ll get the permits it needs, he said, adding: “Most people wish it was less visible; I do too. We should focus on the positive.”
Immigration is a hot-button issue across the country; the candidates differed in their views about driver’s licenses for immigrants and in-state college tuition policy.
Mr. Moriarty was a lone voice against in-state tuition or licenses for illegal immigrants.
“I don’t believe they’re entitled to driver’s licenses. You come to this country, there are certain rules. Breaking our laws is not a pathway to citizenship. I’m a contractor and I don’t hire illegal aliens. I like to pay a livable wage to Americans,” he said, adding that a child of an illegal immigrant born in the country should be entitled to tuition.
Mr. Wey said children of illegal immigrants should be entitled to tuition and that he is for driver’s licenses — he added that both measures should be taken as a path to citizenship.
Mr. Larkosh had his own take on the subject. “It’s up to the federal government to enforce immigration laws but so long as people are in the state they deserve to be treated equally. They need to get to work and they also deserve equal education,” he said.
Mr. Lasker supports licenses.
“It’s a way to start understanding who is here,” he said.
Mr. Madden is for in-state tuition for illegal immigrants if there is some mechanism to prove that the applicant has not entered the country for the purpose of exploiting education opportunities. He also said the measure should be part of a clear path to citizenship. However, he is against issuing driver’s licenses to immigrants, arguing that a federal ruling on the identification requirements for obtaining driver’s licenses must first be established.
“The federal government needs to strengthen — or make a federal definition one way or the other on what a driver’s license ID means,” he said.
There is no disagreement on the motherhood and apple pie topic of the day, only on how to pay for it.
“As far as I’m concerned it is a crisis,” said Mr. Lasker. “We’re losing diversity in our towns and we need our firemen, policemen, teachers. Housing bank — great idea. Taxing the seller not buyer, so if I’m a buyer I don’t care.”
He also said more rental units are a priority.
“Middle Line [a town-sponsored affordable housing project in Chilmark] is going to be a great project but we need affordable rental lots. A 28-year-old kid needs a year-round rental.”
While Mr. Larkosh said he supports the principle of affordable housing, he argued that it should be privately funded.
“Wonder why we need a bill,” he said of the housing bank, adding that Housing on the Tube, an affordable housing fund-raiser, raised $1 million this year.
Mr. Wey favors the housing bank bill.
“I fully support the housing bank with a one per cent tax on the seller. It’s an important issue, there’s no question about it — we have to keep nurses, policemen and municipal workers on the Island,” he said.
Mr. Moriarty agreed on the need for housing for working families.
“Too many families are being driven out of here,” he said.