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2nd district hopefuls vie for GOP rep nod

The sole local primary race in Franklin County on Tuesday pits two North Quabbin Republican women against one another, with the winner going on to challenge two-term incumbent Democrat Rep. Denise Andrews of Orange in November.

Both Karen Anderson of Orange and Susannah Whipps Lee of Athol have 100 ratings from the Gun Owner’s Action League — which calls itself “the official state firearms association” — and both have staked out similar positions, calling for more jobs in the Second Franklin District and criticizing Andrews and the Democrat-controlled Massachusetts government.

Lee and Anderson have come together just once for a live debate, and again for a televised debate, agreeing in their opposition to recent toughening of gun control laws.

About the use of medical of marijuana, Lee says she’s “torn on the issue” and doesn’t “see the state having a good plan for implementation,” while Anderson says, “We shouldn’t have it in our area. The law should be revised.”

They differ in their positions on a proposed natural gas pipeline that would cut through the northern part of the Second Franklin District, with Lee saying she opposes a pipeline that she says would provide “no benefit to the district” and cut through unspoiled land that is “very ledgy and bony.” Anderson speaking in both debates, said she was uncertain about her own position.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions, and we need to find out those answers,” Anderson said. “We may have already had the decision made for us without us knowing, and we need to find out those answers.”

Both women say the economic distress in the district, caused by a need for more and better jobs, is the root cause of many of the substance abuse issues and what Lee calls a sense of “hopelessness.” Yet the Republican candidates differ in their approach to dealing with the rise in drug use.

Lee calls for attacking addiction through education as well as law enforcement and rehabilitation, while Anderson stresses the need for tough measures “to get the dealers off the streets,” as she said at a recent candidates’ debate in Petersham:

“A quarter of the people are on (state Medicaid). 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.”

Lee, a 45-year-old co-owner of the family flood-gate manufacturing business her parents founded in Athol 37 years ago, is an Athol native and graduate of Athol High School, Mount Wachusett Community College and Johnson & Wales University, and she attended Fitchburg State College. A former selectman and chair of Athol’s 250th Anniversary Committee, Lee has been president of the Athol Historical Society and the Friends of Athol Council on Aging as well as a member of the town’s Personnel Board.

She calls herself “a business owner (and) proven job creator with first-hand experience with the legislation and taxes that businesses face” and says she has a history of public service in the region and is “the only candidate who has a chance of beating the incumbent.”

Anderson, the mother of five sons and one daughter, grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., and moved with her husband to Orange. Anderson has served on the board of education at the North Congregational Church of New Salem and is a caretaker for the Cerebral Palsy Foundation.

As a mother of six children and as someone who’s cared for both her grandmothers as well as cerebral palsy patients, she says, she’s listened to voices in the district and is well qualified to represent them on Beacon Hill.

Apart from Athol and Orange, the Second Franklin consists of Gill, Erving, Warwick, New Salem and Wendell as well as the Worcester County towns of Royalston, Phillipston, Templeton and Petersham, plus part of Belchertown in Hampshire County.

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