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Senate candidates engage in calm, poignant debate

Date: 10/17/2014

AGAWAM – The candid debate between state Sen. Donald Humason Jr. and challenger Patrick Leahy was characterized by a humor-laden back and forth that pulled no punches.

The West of the River Chamber of Commerce hosted a Candidates’ Forum on Oct. 9 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Roberta G. Doering School, where the candidates for the 2nd Hampden and Hampshire District - Agawam, Southwick, Granville, Tolland, Russell, Montgomery, Southampton, Easthampton, Chicopee (7, 8A, 9A), Westfield, and Holyoke – faced off.

Robert MacDonald, member of the Chamber’s board of directors, served as the moderator, while Laura Hutchinson of WWLP and Chris Pisano of WGGB posed questions submitted by constituents. Each candidate had a minute and a half to respond to the questions. The second half of the event was a Lincoln-Douglas debate where the candidates alternated asking each other questions, with the asker having time to rebut the given answer.

Leahy’s main criticism of Humason was that the senator has only filed four pieces of legislation where he was the main sponsor in his entire political career.

Leahy addressed Humason, “In my research of your extensive history at the State House, I found and only could find four pieces of legislation that you sponsored and signed into law – four in 12 years. This should be very easy for Don to refute and prove to us that it is not true. Don, name the bills that you’ve sponsored and gotten signed into law, one or two that you’re most proud of, that you actually sponsored and got signed into law.”

Humason responded, “Again, my opponent doesn’t recognize that the job of a legislator is to do more than just file bills and pass laws by themselves. Many times I’ve spent, with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, working with them to hear what our constituents wanted, listen to what our mayors and select boards asked us to do; and, whether I’ve sponsored a bill, or co-sponsored a bill, sponsored a piece of amendment to a budget, or co-sponsored a piece of amendment to a budget – again, I don’t have that pride of authorship. I don’t need to go down to Boston and say ‘Look at all the legislation I’ve gotten through.’”

Humason added, “One of the things I’m happiest about I mentioned just a few minutes ago, [is that] I took a bill that had been languishing in the Legislature for a number of years and working with your state Rep. and my colleague Aaron Vega, we were able to pass the volleyball bill. Probably not so important to the town of Agawam, but in the city of Holyoke volleyball was invented there, it was the birthplace for that sport and this bill will literally create volleyball as the recreational team sport of the state. I didn’t file that. That was a bill filed by [former state Sen.] Mike Knapik and [state] Rep. Mike Kane and then Rep. [Aaron] Vega. But when I got in as your state senator, I recognized that it hadn’t gone anywhere and needed to move.”

Leahy accepted the opportunity to rebut the answer. He said, “Four pieces of legislation in 12 years. I’m going to let that sink in – four. In the same time frame, Michael Knapik filed and passed forward 300. Four. There has been a lack of representation in the city of Westfield. Already, [state Rep.] John Velis has passed more than Don Humason did in 12 years.”

Humason stated that his experience provided the necessary skill for the position. Leahy stated that Humason’s tenure was detrimental because it resulted in complacency.

Humason said, “It’s been really good to have, in fact Patrick, a seat at the table to be able to work with my friends on both sides of the aisle; and sometimes, to have to oppose the majority – to oppose the governor, to oppose even the Senate president when I needed to. But to work collaboratively, when I could, is one of the best parts about being a senator. I, for one, am proud of the record of accomplishment I have in 11 years as a state representative in Westfield where I was re-elected every single time by the voters; and, also, in the 11 months that I’ve been a state senator. Certainly, there will be times to file magnum opuses of legislation and to get my name on there if I so choose, but more importantly people here in Agawam [to the audience in general], I want you to represent you as your senator so I can help you cut the red tape of government, work through the things that sometimes come down the Pike from Boston that we don’t like.”

Leahy said, “I am not a career politician. I believe we get the government we deserve and I think that we need people from everyday walks of life to go down to Boston and give Boston a reality check every once in a while. We don’t need career politicians telling us how bad things are and that the other person’s fault. We need people coming up with solutions and getting things done – things that they can actually prove. Right now we do not have that.  Right now, Boston is not going in the right direction, it’s not on the right track.”

Leahy quipped, “We lost a great champion in state Sen. Michael Knapik.”

Humason retorted, “Who’s backing me? Senator Knapik. Who’s he not backing? Pat Leahy.”

Both candidates were asked how they would help curtail excess government spending such as $800,000 on bottled water, which was the amount the Commonwealth spent last fiscal year.

Humason said, “I’ll have to think about that because there’s certainly no shortage of expenditures that our Commonwealth spends your taxpayer dollars on. Let me answer the question specifically to the bottled water. You’re [Hutchinson, who posed the question] probably referring to state offices like the State House and other places like that; I don’t know why in a Commonwealth where we have the Quabbin [Reservoir] and some of the best drinking water in the country we are spending so much money to buy bottled water for our state offices. I bring in, from home, my own well in Westfield, my own water to the State House.”

Humason continued, “Somewhere along the line, someone had the idea, some bureaucrat I assume, to start spending money on this and like many things, we never go back to look at that budget line item and say ‘Why is that there? Why is that necessary? Why can’t we change the way we do things and back that line item out?’ There are many ways to save on our state budget, we just need the willingness to go through line by line, item by item, and literally sharpen the pencil and take it out. There has to be the willingness though. Part of that is driven by you the voter and the people you elect and part of that is driven by the fact that Massachusetts is overwhelming a one-party state from the governor’s office on down to the political leadership, it is the Democratic Party that controls, from the executive process to the legislative process, the budget.”

Leahy stated, “Here’s a person that’s been at the state house for over a decade – his only employment. And things like this skyrocket under his watch. I’m sitting next to a self-described fiscal watchdog and over $800,000 on bottled water. These are the things that are wrong with Beacon Hill. These are the things that are wrong with people only ever working at the State House. The State House is a beautiful building, but it will warp your mind if that’s the only place you’ve ever been.”

Leahy continued, “You need to get out and experience the real world. In a private sector job, $800,000 for bottled water would never fly. That’s the kind of experience we need down in Boston to make sure that things like this don’t happen. In fact, one of my first jobs after school [college] was working with Shannon O’Brien and we rooted out and found $9 million that was being stolen. I’m the only one up here that actually has experience preventing fraud from happening. The other side of this table has watched it and was apparently unwilling, or unable to stop it from happening.”

Leahy also questioned Humason about his stance on gay marriage. Humason stated while he personally subscribes to the Christian belief that marriage a bond between a man and a woman that his oath as a legislator and Justice of the Peace is to “uphold the Constitution of the Commonwealth and the Constitution of the United States.”

Each candidate was asked what qualities he possess that make him the more effective candidate for getting the tax money paid to Boston reinvested in Western Massachusetts.

Humason said, “In the 11 months I have served as your state senator, I was appointed to four separate conference committees. In the 11 years I served in the House, I think I was only on two. Those conference committees are actually the people that negotiate the difference between the House and Senate versions of numerous bills. And, by the way, out of four conference committees, I voted ‘yes’ on three of them and ‘no’ on one. I have also had to work with members of the other side of the aisle constantly. I am a member of every party. I recognize that there are Democrats I have to serve with. That’s OK with me. I don’t mind that people have a different set of opinions or priorities. It is my job to try to convince them and it’s their job to try to convince me; that’s the nature of debate.”

Leahy said, “We have a once in a generation opportunity here. We’re going to have a Senate president from Western Massachusetts. This person will decide the bulk of what’s going to go through the Senate. We need to make sure we put a team in place that can work collaboratively with him and not against him. There’s only one person at this table tonight that’s voted ‘no’ more often than voted ‘yes.’ There’s only one obstructionist at this table. We need new blood in Boston. If you think Boston is working, you have a candidate that you can vote for. If you think Boston is broken, then elect Patrick Leahy and I will go down there and fix it. I will be at the table making these decisions. Right now, we don’t have that representation that this district solely needs.”