GOP candidates Whipps Lee, Anderson face off in race’s only debate

PETERSHAM — The two Republican hopefuls in the region’s only primary contest sat far apart at a long table on the Petersham Town Hall meeting room stage this week, but Susannah Whipps Lee of Athol and Karen Anderson of Orange appeared to be not that far apart on positions relating to the economy, guns, immigration and other issues.

Lee, an Athol selectman who was the sole Republican candidate in 2012 running against incumbent Democratic Rep. Denise Andrews, D-Orange, will face off against political newcomer Anderson in the Sept. 9 Republican primary for the two-year 2nd Franklin District seat.

Before an audience of about 85 people in the hour-long debate sponsored by the Petersham Republican Committee — the only live debate of the race — the two women disagreed sharply on little, with sparks flying only once, after Anderson emphasized that she had been out talking with people and testifying before the Legislature against more gun control reform.

“Mrs. Anderson talks about how she wants to represent the people of the district,” Lee said at one point. “You registered to vote in 1997 and you attended your first town meeting in June of 2014. You’ve had 17 years where you’ve not represented yourself or your family or your neighbors by not attending town meeting. I’ve been at my town meetings, I’ve been at my selectmen’s meeting. ... I understand how important it is to represent people, and I’ve proven that over several years.”

Both candidates agreed on the need for jobs in the district, the lack of which they said was an underlying contributor to a drug and alcohol problem. Both women also blamed what they called over-taxation by the state.

And both women were adamant that gun control is already too stiff in Massachusetts and railed against the state’s new gun control law.

“Absolutely not!” responded Lee, an avid sportsman with a license to carry a concealed weapon, to a question about whether she would favor a ban on assault, semi-automatic or concealed weapons in restaurants, malls, churches or other public places. “I believe in a lot of instances, the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun. We need to enforce the laws that we already have, get illegal guns and guns that are used in commission of crime off the streets, and we need to leave our law-abiding citizens be.”

Anderson’s response was similar: “Those are the places we need to defend ourselves the most. When you are in church, and this happened before down in the Amish community, where a man came in and slaughtered the whole schoolhouse, it was because they were undefended.”

Anderson called the new gun reform measure “treacherous,” adding, “If you have in your home a reason why the sheriff would not want you to have any more, and they come in to confiscate all of your weapons, that means that anyone in your family is not protected anymore. And we need to repeal that.”

Both women spoke against a law automatically tying the state gasoline tax to inflation, and against raising the state’s minimum wage recently from $8 to $11 an hour by 2017.

“Raising the minimum wage does not create more jobs,” Anderson said, “and that’s the problem we have in our area.” Arguing that the legislation would burden small businesses, she said, “We need to have more efficient measures, more accountability for what’s going on before we start making these kinds of decisions.”

Lee said, “The fact is, there are some $6- or $8-an-hour jobs, scooping ice cream, bagging groceries, jobs like I had when I was a teen ... but they’re not living-wage jobs. The answer is to create more jobs.”

To do that, said Lee, a co-owner of her family’s Athol-based manufacturing business, the state needs to eliminate some of the burdensome taxes like an inventory tax that encourages many Massachusetts businesses to warehouse their inventory elsewhere.

Asked to suggest ways to make public eduction better, Anderson complained that the new Common Core Standards don’t allow teachers the flexibility to meet the needs of their students, while Lee complained about cuts in state aid, but added, “The idea that factually inaccurate, politically skewed national curriculum can replace the commonsense decisions made by parents and educators on a local basis — it just boggles my mind.”

Both candidates spoke on the need for more control and accountability to prevent welfare fraud, and against illegal aliens living in the state, with Lee explaining, “I believe in immigration. My husband is a first-generation immigrant from Vietnam ... but the way this recent flood has happened is not the right path. There is a legal path to citizenship.”

Anderson said that what was described as illegal immigrant children are in fact sometimes in their 20s.

“In America, we celebrate our birthdays regularly. In other countries, they don’t. Some of them don’t know how old they are, but they’re told, ‘If you go to America, they will fix you, you will have opportunity.’ They’re sold on this opportunity.”

The “invasion” of illegal children coming to the state, Anderson said, “is a health risk for all of us, and we need to put the door on our border. ... If you want the American dream, you come over here the right way.”

Differences surfaced when the candidates addressed ways to reduce dependence on illegal drug use, with Lee emphasizing, “Mental illness, substance abuse and this recent heroin addiction need to be attacked from several levels, from a law enforcement perspective, from a rehab and treatment perspective, and we need to educate young people ... You’re dealing with generational hopelessness due to lack of employment and lack of opportunity for people.”

She added later, “I can’t stress enough that education is where you start, rather than combat the problem after it’s happened.”

Anderson emphasized tougher measures “to get the dealers off the streets,” and added, “A quarter of the people are on (Mass Health) When a quarter of the people are on the program, there is a situation for people ... that they would be hopeless, because they haven’t seen it. If you work hard, we seldom dream. I don’t think more education in the school about drugs is going to solve the problem. ... Yes, bring the jobs, yes, help them out, but we have to watch that we’re not just supporting those habits either by one-quarter of the people still being on the Medicaid program.”

The two candidates also said they oppose the Tennessee Gas Pipeline project proposed to come through Erving, Warwick, Orange, Athol, Royalston, Phillipston and Templeton in the district.

The district also includes Gill, New Salem, Wendell and Petersham, plus one precinct of Belchertown.

You can reach Richie Davis at rdavis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269

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