With just a month to go before the election in Massachusetts, Republican Governor Charlie Baker and his Democratic challenger Jay Gonzalez sparred about several issues during their first televised debate Tuesday night.
Repeatedly during the hour-long free-wheeling debate, on almost every issue raised from transportation to clean energy to crime, Gonzalez faulted Baker for not doing enough.
"There is so much more we need to do to make a difference for working families in this state," said Gonzalez. " I'm going to provide bold leadership."
The incumbent, seeking re-election to a second four-year term, strongly defended his record, pointing to increases in spending on education and local aid, criminal justice reforms, and expanding access to wind and hydropower.
"If I was a status qou governor there would still be thousands of homeless famlies living in hotels and motels in Massachusetts, there arn't," said Baker.
Trailing badly in public opinion polls in the race for governor, Gonzalez used much of his time during the debate to tout his plan to raise taxes on high-income earners and private college endowments to pay for fixes to mass transit and put more money into the state’s public education system.
" I am gonig to raise taxes on the wealthy by $1 billion in my first year, and $2 billion more in my last year so we can make these investments," said Gonzalez who accused Baker of following " the same old Republican playbook -- no new taxes. And we know what we get for that: working families left behind."
But Baker pointed out that Gonzalez, who was budget chief under Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick, would be unable to raise most of the billions of dollars he proposes to spend for at least four years, which is how long it would take to potentially change the state Constitution to allow for higher tax rates on the wealthy.
"He can talk all he wants about having $1 billion to spend. He just gave you $4 or $5 billion in items he wants to spend it on. He's overselling what is possible here," said Baker.
Gonzalez said he would move quickly and more aggressively than he said Baker has to fix the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which he said is the top issue he hears about while out campaigning.
"With the lack of urgency and the fact the system has not been fixed, I am surprised commuters haven't revolted," said Gonzalez.
Baker said his administration has spent almost $2 billion on repairs to the mass transit infrastructure to keep the buses and subways running.
"It is not sexy stuff. It is signals and switches and third-rail and tracks," said Baker. " And yes, there is more to do, but the bottom line is if you don't start by fixing this stuff that really matters around the system's current performance you are never going to get there."
In an appeal to partisanship, in the heavily Democratic-leaning state, Gonzalez criticized Baker for endorsing Geoff Diehl, the Republican state legislator and ardent supporter of President Trump running against U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren.
"By backing Geoff Diehl, Governor Baker is supporting an anti-choice agenda, anti-LBGTQ, pro-NRA agenda," said Gonzalez.
Baker said he endorsed Diehl even though he does not agree with him on many issues.
" I am running for governor, not Geoff Diehl," responded Baker.
The overtime pay scandal at the Massachusetts State Police also came up during the debate.
Gonzalez asked Baker, "When are you going to fire someone at the State Police?"
Baker called Gonzalez's critique of his administration's response to the scandal "political nonsense."
Tuesday night’s debate was televised on WSBK-TV in Boston and simulcast on C-SPAN. The audience may not have been large as it overlapped with the Red Sox-Yankees baseball game.
Baker and Gonzalez are scheduled to debate two more times.