Fitchburg Senate Forum Shows Contrasts
FITCHBURG -- In what may be the last time they face each other before Nov. 6, state Sen. Dean Tran and his challenger, Leominster City Councilor Sue Chalifoux Zephir, outlined contrasting positions Thursday night on gun control and the nurse staffing question, among other issues.
The 30-minute forum, hosted by Fitchburg-Leominster All Politics and aired live on Fitchburg Access Television, saw the two candidates for the Worcester-Middlesex District seat whip through wide-ranging subject matter, but rarely engage the other.
On some issues their disagreement was clear. A question on whether the candidates would support additional gun control measures led to a debate on the merits of the so-called “Red Flag” gun bill, which Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law last summer.
The law allows for the removal of firearms from the possession of a person a judge deemed to be an immediate threat to themselves or others.
Tran, a Republican, was the only state senator to vote against the law, Democrat Chalifoux Zephir noted before adding that she would have supported the bill.
Tran said, “I am very proud of that vote” and that he did not support the bill because the final version was stripped of “mental health components” and the potential of government overreach.
“It sets a precedent that allows government to go after your personal property,” he said.
Police chiefs in Massachusetts already have the right to take guns away from residents, said Chalifoux Zephir, and the “Red Flag” law provided a process for a person who was stripped of their gun to get it back.
“This bill will save lives,” she said.
They were asked whether they support ballot Question 1, one of three referendums on the Nov. 6 ballot that would limit the number of patients that could be assigned to a nurse.
Tran did not offer his opinion or say whether or not he will vote in favor of the measure.
He said he generally dislikes ballot questions, which he said are to be considered by voters, and that his constituents will tell him “how to legislate this ballot question” on election day.
In contrast, Chalifoux Zephir said “the care of very sick people varies tremendously by hospital.” She said she supports Question 1, which would implement “safe patient ratios” and improve patient care.
“We need to take care of patients,” she said. “Bedside nurses are the first defense against somebody getting sicker and readmitted to a hospital.”
Asked to state the key component to developing the region’s economy, Tran said infrastructure, and pointed to the unfunded feasibility study regarding widening and improving safety on Route 2 that he successfully lobbied for on Beacon Hill.
“We have to make sure that our roads and bridges are safe, our buildings are safe for our residents as well as easy access to our highways,” he said.
Workforce development and vocational training were top of mind for Chalifoux Zephir. “We have an opportunity to really rebrand North Central Mass. as a place where the industry can find a highly skilled workforce,” she said, adding that the region must invest in public transportation, including adding a commuter rail stop in Gardner.
A question on how the candidates would leverage their political relationships on Beacon Hill saw both touting their ability to work collaboratively.
Moderator Kevin Cormier noted that Tran was endorsed by three regional mayors -- Democratic Fitchburg Mayor Stephen DiNatale, Republican Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke and independent Dean Mazzarella of Leominster.
Tran said “people don’t realize the relationships that I’ve built on people with both sides of the aisle” and that he worked with his Democratic colleagues to advance their initiatives, then pointed to his endorsement from “lifelong Democrat” and former state Sen. Robert Antonioni.
Chalifoux Zephir noted that five regional state representatives, including Reps. Natalie Higgins, Stephan Hay, Harold Naughton Jr. and Jennifer Benson, endorsed her -- “people who are crucial to getting things done.”
“I am a consensus builder,” she said. “I know how to work with other people to move things forward.”
The general election is Nov. 6.