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Mass. GOP Senate Candidate O’Connor Calls Markey An Extremist, Explains His Vision

A grey haired white man in a dark blue shirt smiles
Kevin O'Connor for US Senate
Kevin O'Connor.

Kevin O’Connor is the Republican challenging Democratic U.S. Senator Ed Markey’s reelection bid in November’s general election. The lawyer and father of four says the Markey, who defeated Rep. Joe Kennedy III in the September primary, is an extremist in his own party. O’Connor describes himself as a common sense candidate opposed to career politicians. WAMC spoke with O’Connor after the only debate of the campaign Monday, to discuss O’Connor’s support of President Trump, his defense of privatized healthcare and how he plans to win over voters in a staunchly blue state.

O'CONNOR: Well it's staunchly democratic state in some respects. Five of our last six governors have been Republicans, and no one has ever won statewide as a Democrat running the way senator Markey is, wrapped in that AOC, Bernie Sanders, extreme left wing of the Democratic Party flag. I mean, that's- No one's ever won that way. So, Senator Markey, in the course of this campaign has gone so far as to mock JFK. He actually ran an ad in which he said he was tired of people asking, not what their country could do for them, but what they could do for their country. And he thought it was time we all just started asking, it's time for us to ask what our country can do for us. So during a primary against Joe Kennedy, Ed Markey was mocking Joe Kennedy's grand-uncle who's a great hero in Massachusetts and for almost all Americans. It was it was so inappropriate, but even beyond that, more importantly, Senator Markey is repudiating just common sense American values. And that's not what the people in Massachusetts want. So you take this, this is a year where we're things are changing. There's been so many changes. No Democrat has ever run the way Ed Markey is running. And I think most people in Massachusetts have common sense. They don't want our police defunded or disarmed. They don't want to pack the Supreme Court. They don't want to abolish ICE. 

WAMC: Let's start digging into these issues. One of the signature pieces of legislation for Senator Markey is the Green New Deal. What is your stance on that piece of legislation and climate change as an issue at large?

The green new deal is not a serious proposal. Senator Markey didn't even vote for it. Most people in Massachusetts don't know, it was put up for a vote and Senator Markey didn't have the courage to vote for it. He voted present. So he can't even vote for that proposal, and that was a year ago. So he's not serious. That's not a serious piece of legislation, a law and he admitted it by failing to even vote for it. I view climate change as an important issue. And it needs to be taken up with seriousness and purpose. Many Americans agree that we want to be carbon neutral by 2050. That would be my goal as well. And the way we achieve that is we promote innovation in terms of sources of energy and carbon capture. Just we basically turn to technology. And we pump money into research institutions like the University of Massachusetts, Harvard, MIT, and we come up with the game changing technology. And we also want to promote natural solutions like forestry management, planting of trees. There's a lot of things that we're that we can do. We need to build our infrastructure. We need to modernize it, 21st century, so that it's more efficient, and can take us on a path toward carbon neutrality. A lot of these things are happening already. There was an infrastructure- There were proposals last year from the administration, and the administration wants to do infrastructure, Senator Markey opposed it. He wish he was blocking infrastructure last year, as he always blocks. He basically, he's all about resistance, and not about results.

So let's dig into that. President Trump has proven to be a controversial leader in American history. What is your stance on the President as a member of the Republican party? Of course, Governor Baker has expressed disapproval of the President's behavior on a regular basis. Do you stand with a fellow Massachusetts Republican on that issue? Or what's your view?

I'm gonna vote for the President.

Do you want to expand on that? What about Mr. Trump's policies or tenure has won your vote for the coming election?

Well, so every election is a choice, and this is a choice between two candidates. I'm voting for the candidate who is best on public safety. The opposing candidate wants to basically - and certainly senator Markey - they want to see defund the police and they want to abolish ICE. They will make our neighborhoods less safe. I think the Republicans candidate, the administration, is much better in that regard. The administration is much better economically. We had a record breaking economy that was the best in history for African Americans, for the bottom, the lowest 20% wage earners. It was a great economy, and the economy nationally is coming roaring back. And the President represents the best opportunity for us to rebuild our economy. And then finally, national security and strength. Senator Biden, Vice President Biden and certainly Senator Markey have records of just abject weakness in terms of foreign policy. And we can do much better. I support a strong America. Senator Markey, by the way, wants to cut the defense budget by 50%. That's in his Green New Deal. He wants to cut the US defense budget by 50%. It would render us- It would be a terrible signal to the world that would render us vulnerable. It's totally unacceptable. And I think anyone of common sense realizes that it's just one of a series of terrible ideas from Senator Markey.

So you mentioned a moment ago that the economy is roaring back, and of course, you're referring to the dip taken by the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic. There's been a lot of criticism of the Trump administration's handling of the pandemic. I'm interested in your thoughts on how President Trump handled the pandemic, and as well as how Governor Baker here in Massachusetts also responded to the outbreak.

Well, as I said last night, everybody's got incomplete grades, I would say. I think that what the administration did well was shutting down the travel. I think the surge of supplies was favorable. And I'm optimistic about Operation Warp Speed. And I want you to know that this is a very personal issue for me, my father had COVID-19. My 86-year-old father came down with COVID in April. And he almost died, he spent nine days in the hospital. And we had to call him one night and say goodbye. So it's an issue near and dear to my heart. We lost my cousin three weeks ago, he was a firefighter and was in his mid-60s. So it's a very serious issue. And then with respect to Massachusetts, I favor opening up as fast as possible. We want to be safe. But I'm the father of four boys, two of my kids are in public school right now. I have a fourth grader and an eighth grader. And I see that the education for them is not as good as it would be in person. And I think that's also reflected that the lack of human connection is a consequence in a lot of other areas, whether it's the suicide hotline calls, whether it's the rise in substance abuse, and the failure and the really tough time that small businesses are going through. And the people who are displaced from jobs. A job is a lot more than just a paycheck for most people. It's a connection with society. And as we lose those connections, you can't just make up for it with money. We are social beings by nature, and we want to be connected. So I credit everyone with best efforts in terms of trying to address this, and I'm optimistic that American innovation will lead us to a cure, and will get us back on track. And I hope and expect we can do that soon and safely.

There's been a lot of observations made that America and its response to the pandemic has seen a much higher rate of death as opposed to similar nations around the world through this attempted effort to control it here by the Trump administration. What do you attribute that to?

Well, I think we're within, in, among industrialized nations... There are a number of comparable industrialized nations that are at or around where we are at. We have a federal system. And we have a very diverse country, just as we have a very diverse state. And the solution for Montana is not the same as New York City. And so our policies, I think, appropriately, were federally-oriented in many respects. But we're not done yet. I really emphasize that we're not through this yet. We need people to be smart and sensible. And if we do that, I'm optimistic that we'll get through okay. And then we can get our economy roaring back.

On your website, you talk about your opposition to what you describe as socialized healthcare, and certainly you differ strongly from Senator Markey on the issue of Medicare For All, for which he is a co-sponsor of that legislation. When you look at a system like China, which has a socialized health care system and has a much lower COVID rate at this point, that contrast seems to fly in the face of what you're talking about as far as a privatized system here in the States.

Well, the Chinese statistics are totally unreliable. China lied to the world about the genesis and the transmission of COVID. So I don't think we can count on their statistics. There are countries in Europe that have fully socialized systems that have death rates that are as high or higher than ours. And a lot of our deaths were out in New York City, frankly, where the governor engaged in some pretty misguided policies. So I don't think that the system that Senator Markey is talking about would do anything other than bankrupt Medicare. Joe Biden has said that Medicare, the Medicare For All ban on private health insurance would do nothing but bankrupt Medicare, hurt Medicare and not improve healthcare quality. In Massachusetts, we have a good system and we have some of the best healthcare providers in the world. We want a system that is rooted in quality of outcomes and promotes quality care and coverage for everyone. We have a good model in Massachusetts. And that's a sound model for our country.

A big topic of conversation on the national level in the last week has been the Trump administration's relationship to nationalist white supremacist groups in America. I'm interested, what are your thoughts on those dynamics? Many have criticized the president for not being overt in calling out white supremacy or nationalist groups. Others say that that is an exaggeration. What's your stance on this issue, Mr. O'Connor?

I absolutely, unequivocally renounce all forms of racism and white supremacy. I think it's antithetical to everything that we stand for. I've been a fighter my whole career for promotion of diversity and inclusion, not in terms of quotas, but in terms of making sure there's not discrimination, that there are fair processes, that we make the best use of all available talent, and that we do everything we can to mentor people and support people so that they can fulfill their potential. So I think white supremacy is deplorable. And I have no tolerance for it, and will do everything I can as a senator to promote unity and the best American traditions.

So lastly, you're running as the underdog here. What do you think the pivotal point is going to be in this campaign to win over Massachusetts and take the election in November?

I think people are seeing that Senator Markey is outside the mainstream of his own party. He's an extremist and, and people have long known, especially in Western Massachusetts, you only see Ed Markey every six years. Just, he's not a hard worker. He's not focused on the needs of the people of Massachusetts. He's taking very extreme policy positions and he's totally ineffective as a senator. In fact, he's shown effectively that he's afraid to even vote for his own signature legislation. I offer a completely different vision. I will be a hard working senator who will be out in our communities and who will be focused on working with anyone and everyone regardless of party help the people of Massachusetts.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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