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It’s on Social Media, but This Debate Has Been Less than Social

October 7, 2018

Sentinel & Enterprise

THE RACE BETWEEN candidates for the Worcester and Middlesex state Senate district continues to play out as a debate across social media as Republican incumbent Dean Tran and Democratic challenger Sue Chalifoux Zephir lob jabs from the comfortable distance provided by the internet.

The notebook

A pro-Chalifoux Zephir video shared by the Planned parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts last Sunday claimed Tran had “tried to block the Planned Parenthood health center in Fitchburg” and “opposes anti-discrimination protections for transgender people.”

In response, Tran posted to Facebook on Sunday that his opponent was busy “issuing dirty campaign videos.”

“Really?!” wrote Tran in response to the claim he tried to block Planned Parenthood. “I must have done this is my sleep. I don’t even have enough time to spend with my family let alone blocking a facility.”

Tran would go on to criticize the claim further in that same post, referring to it as “desperation.”

“They were chastised last year for making this statement by twisting facts and now it is back again,” he wrote, referencing the anti-discrimination protection claim, which was also alleged before his 2017 election. “Didn’t this tactic fail miserably last year as well? This is how uneducated they think the public is by trying to fool you a second time.”

WHILE JENNIFER FLANAGAN, who is the former Leominster state senator and currently sits on the Cannabis Control Commission, hasn’t endorsed either Tran or Chalifoux Zephir in the upcoming Senate race, we think her Facebook page is a good indication of who she’ll be voting for in November.

She took to her public page at about 8:40 p.m., Wednesday -- because public employees are prohibited from any political activities between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. -- and went full blast on Tran for several comments he made during a forum at Leominster High School last week between he and Chalifoux Zephir.

Tran, during the forum, said he deserved a second full-term as senator because of the nearly $29 million he has brought to the district in his seven months on the job.

Tran also told the students, faculty and staff that: “Things I’ve done in the last seven months, other legislators would take decades to do.”

We’ll let Flanagan take it from here:

“Wow, impressive! Could you please tell us when the checks for those programs will be cut? When will the projects you lobbied for get funded? Putting line items in a bond bill doesn’t get the program funded. Working with the delegation to get these programs funded once a bond has been issued, which really hasn’t happened in the last seven months, is when the funding will see the light of day. Please don’t make it seem like its more than it really is.

“Don’t believe me? Ask your State Reps in the Worcester & Middlesex District,” wrote Flanagan.

“Senator, if in seven months you’ve accomplished all that you’ve promised then you need bigger district priorities.”

“Please start telling the truth. Elected public service is not a one man show, for anyone!,” she wrote.

She finished the blast with ”#ComeCleanDean.”

WITH THE EYES of a nation upon him, he might have flaked. But Arizona’s retiring U.S. senator kept his word and brought the Kavanaugh confirmation circus to Boston this week, a traveling production that may have inspired a future president.

Sen. Jeff Flake’s appearance on Boston’s City Hall Plaza at the Forbes Under 30 Summit came just three days after he forced Republicans to reopen an FBI investigation into Brett Kavanaugh and two days after U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren declared, “Time’s up.”

At a town hall in Holyoke last weekend, Warren did what she’s long resisted doing, and what her Republican opponent Geoff Diehl has been warning about for months. She acknowledged that she’s thinking about running for president.

“So here’s what I promise, after November 6, I will take a hard look at running for president,” she said,

So what pushed Warren to make that declaration? Trump being Trump, for one thing.

But also, she said, the process of watching powerful men (the Senate Judiciary Committee) coalesce around another powerful man (Kavanaugh) to ensure that he can attain an even more powerful (and lifetime) appointment.

So it was in this environment in Boston that Flake touched down on his way to New Hampshire, of all places, to speak to a conference of future leaders about his hesitance to embrace Kavanaugh as the next Supreme Court justice.

He was greeted by protests organized by Democrats urging him to vote no. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez showed up. So did Adam Rippon. Flake insisted he wanted a “real investigation” into the allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh. “It does no good to have an investigation that just gives us more cover,” Flake said.

But by the end of the week Flake would become a Kava-yes, and Kavanaugh’s confirmation seemed all but assured.

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THE ONLY THING in Massachusetts rivaling the bitterness of the Kavanaugh confirmation process right was Question 1.

Voters trying to decide where to stand on the hotly contested nurse staffing ballot question got a third set of numbers this week to wrap their heads around as the Health Policy Commission put out its cost estimates, tallying $676 million to $949 million in annual expenses to meet the proposed nurse-to-patient ratios.

The other two price tags assigned to Question 1 come from supporters -- who predict a much smaller lift of up to $47 million -- and opponents, who are looking upwards of $1 billion.

While these newest figures come from a state agency whose leaders stress they weren’t looking to tell people how to vote, the campaigns (and their millions in fundraising) stood ready to do just that.

Depending on which side you fall, the release marked either an “absolutely terrifying day” for a health care system that can’t afford the added costs, or a “missed opportunity” to address a “growing patient safety crisis.”

In a fight that pits the Coalition to Protect Patient Safety against the Committee to Ensure Safe Patient Care, where yard signs declare both that nurses say yes on 1 and nurses say no on 1, confused voters could welcome independent numbers -- or they could just add to the clutter.

THE GOVERNOR’S RACE is about to get a jolt. Next week, Charlie Baker and Jay Gonzalez will meet in the first of three head-to-head debates.

But in the run-up to that showdown, the gubernatorial campaign trail was quiet. Baker went off to D.C. to speak to the Log Cabin Republicans while Gonzalez held several events to promote his revenue plan to tax large university endowments.

MEANWHILE, ATTORNEY GENERAL Maura Healey and Republican attorney Jay McMahon took part in a rapid-fire, half-hour appetizer, squaring off on WGBH’s Greater Boston in their first face-to-face meeting.

In case anyone needed a reminder, Healey and McMahon could not be any more different. McMahon supports President Donald Trump, and a travel ban, will vote no on Question 3, thinks Healey overstepped in her copycat assault weapons ban enforcement, and believes there is not a trace of racism in the criminal justice system.

Healey, meanwhile, has built her reputation on suing the White House, is “Yes on 3,” despises the NRA and might not totally agree with Warren’s assessment of the criminal justice system, but sees racial and socio-economic disparities that must be addressed.

One of Healey’s more interesting responses came from a question on whether Massachusetts should be a “sanctuary state.”

“That’s not my call. I’m the attorney general. My job is to enforce the law,” Healey said, which sounded a bit like a duck.

DEFERRING TO A higher authority is exactly what the governor did this week as well.

Asked by the Springfield Republican editorial board about the accusations of mid-flight groping against his youngest son A.J. Baker, Baker deferred to the U.S. Attorney’s office, which has made clear that it won’t comment unless it decides to bring charges.

Technically, there’s nothing stopping Baker from letting everyone else in on what he surely knows to be the status of the investigation, but for now the governor’s position is that it’s a family matter and should stay that way.

ALSO THIS WEEK, fresh criticism Monday of the Cannabis Control Commission gave way to the issuance of the first two final retail licenses for recreational marijuana sales in Massachusetts.

It could still be weeks before those pot shops open their doors to casual customers, but the CCC vote to issues licenses to retail shops in Leicester and Northampton should alleviate some of the pressure starting to build over the state’s slow rollout of legal pot.

“The Cannabis Control Commission needs to pick up the pace,” said Will Luzier on Monday.

Luzier managed the 2016 ballot campaign in Massachusetts, and noted that California and Nevada both legalized marijuana at the same time as Massachusetts and have had shops up and running for months.

The continued delay, advocates said, has cost the state $16 million out of the $63 million leaders were counting on for this year’s state budget.

Baker shrugged off the forfeited revenue as just a drop in the state’s big revenue bucket, which might have been expected given the governor’s opposition to legal pot in the first place.

OF MORE INTEREST to the governor has been housing, and though the Legislature failed to pass his housing production bill this session, metro-Boston area mayors announced that they had the governor’s back and would do him a few better.

Where Baker pushed for 135,000 new units by 2025, and legislation he said is needed to help accomplish that, the Metro Mayors Coalition announced their own commitment to build 185,000 new units by 2030. The governor’s zoning reforms? Unnecessary to hit the target, they said. So problem solved?

STORY OF THE WEEK: Taking a “hard look” at the cost of Question 1...

Contributors to the Sunday Notebook are Sentinel & Enterprise staff writer Peter Jasinski, Sentinel & Enterprise city editor Cliff Clark and State House News Service reporter Matt Murphy. Katie Lannan contributed analysis of the Question 1 campaign.

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