In today's Telegram & Gazette:
LEOMINSTER - Views offered by candidates Natalie Higgins and Thomas "Frank" Ardinger were occasionally similar, but often at odds Tuesday night at a 4th Worcester District candidates forum in Leominster City Hall.
While both candidates for state representative pledged to represent the interests of the city first, they disagreed on such things as taxes, legalization of marijuana, charter schools and other issues at the forum.
Ms. Higgins, 28, the Democratic nominee, defeated veteran City Councilor Richard Marchand in the state primary in September. She is the executive director of the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts, a member of the board of directors of Pathways for Change in Worcester, and has interned with state Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, D-Leominster.
Mr. Ardinger, 72, a Republican, is a self-employed financial adviser, who also worked 17 years in the restaurant industry. He served eight years in the Navy submarine service in the 1960s. Last year he ran unsuccessfully for City Council as a write-in candidate. In September he was unopposed for the Republican nomination.
The two candidates are seeking election Nov. 8 to replace state Rep. Dennis Rosa, D-Leominster, who announced earlier this year he would not seek re-election.
The candidates are on opposite poles on the issue of taxes. Mr. Ardinger has said he will not vote for a tax increase while in office. He reiterated the stand at the forum.
"As long as I hold this office I will not vote to increase taxes," he said. "I believe we have enough money."
Mr. Ardinger said he believes the state does not have a money problem, but does have a spending problem. He said the only exception would be if an increase was matched by a tax cut somewhere else.
Ms. Higgins would not take the same pledge, saying she supports fairer taxes. She said she struggles to pay bills like many others in the state, but she said the state needs to bring in more money. She said although state revenue has been cut in recent years, the average person is paying a higher percentage of their income than the wealthier residents in the state. She said the highest earners need to shoulder more of the burden to help pay for needed improving roads, public transportation, schools and other needs.
"I'm going to look for solutions because we can't keep going the way we are going," she said.
Mr. Ardinger argued that they way to improve the state's finances is by bringing jobs to the state and said taxes do not bring in jobs. Ms. Higgins countered that she supports the Fair Share Constitutional Amendment that would assess an additional 4 cents on every dollar earned over $1 million. She said it would be a fair way to bring more money to the state.
The candidates also disagreed over marijuana legalization and removing the cap on the number of charter schools in the state. Mr. Ardinger opposes marijuana legalization and supports removing the charter school cap. He said if marijuana is legalized, children will find a way to get the drug, and he said allowing more charter schools will improve opportunities for students. Ms. Higgins says marijuana has not proven to be a gateway drug. Under the present system, she said, marijuana is decriminalized but people still have to buy it from drug dealers. She said charter schools get to pick and choose the students they take while bleeding money out of the local districts. She said public schools are left to educate the more needy or challenged students with reduced resources. She said she wants to make sure everyone has access to high quality education.
The candidates agree Leominster has an exceptional charter school with the Leominster Center for Excellence. They also shared similar views on dealing with the opioid crisis and agreed they are concerned about the impact that rising educational costs have on families.
The forum was sponsored by the Sentinel and Enterprise.