Democratic Party candidates talk environment, education, spending at Candidates’ Night

Aug 2, 2022

MARION — Remarks featured both accusations and policy differences as longtime state Rep. Bill Straus and challenger Rick Trapilo faced off Tuesday night in a forum for Democratic primary candidates.

Trapilo at one point called Straus a "part-time politician," while Straus suggested Trapilo was in the wrong political party. The two men agreed on a number of issues, clashed on abortion and emphasized different priorities.

The two appeared before a near capacity crowd in the community room of St. Gabriel's parish alongside Democratic candidates for county commissioner and district attorney.

The event was hosted by the Marion, Mattapoisett and Rochester Democratic Town Commissions and was moderated by Mike Cambra, Rochester Council on Aging Board Chair.

Trapilo, a first-time candidate, emphasized his history as a businessman in New Bedford, and his status as a political outsider. 

“I am a conservative, blue-collar democrat,” said Trapilo. 

He said that he is, “tired of career politicians who, at election time, make some press releases, get some grant money and then go back to business as usual. I am tired of business as usual.”

Straus pointed to his experience and track record over nearly 30 years in office. He brought up his efforts on South Coast Rail. Straus went on to remind voters of his support of “Romneycare,” a 2006 healthcare reform law that provides state residents with the option to have an affordable healthcare policy. It was later used as one of the models for the national Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare.

“I want to tell you a little about myself and the great job I think I’m doing,” said Straus. “I work hard, I engage with people, I’m positive and I also look for solutions.”

On several key issues, both Straus and Trapilo agreed. 

Both voiced support for the right to an abortion. 

Trapilo said he supports the right to an abortion, “in the case of incest, rape, or the health of the mother.” 

Straus said that a woman’s choice to have an abortion is between her and a physician. 

He drew a standing ovation, saying that Trapilo’s stance was “a step backward for the state.”

Both supported an adult’s right to assisted suicide, and they later agreed that their district and the state should invest in wind and solar power.

The candidates were asked to address Critical Race Theory and LGBTQ+ issues in schools. 

Trapilo said the nation’s young people are the future and that a solid education starts at home. He called for increased Chapter 70 funding for schools throughout the state. 

Straus said he wouldn’t support any laws like those in Florida, referring to Florida’s “Parent’s Rights in Education” bill, commonly referred to as the “Don’t say gay” bill. The bill says that teachers may not instruct on sexual identity from kindergarten through third grade. Instead, he emphasized his support for Massachusetts teachers and administrators.

Neither candidate addressed Critical Race Theory in their response. 

Trapilo also focused on the state’s tax rates and spending. 

“We are called ‘Taxachusetts’ for a very given reason,” said Trapilo, who added that the state’s $1.8 billion surplus should be back in the hands of voters.

Though often trading barbs, both candidates shook hands before parting.

The winner of this primary will face either Republican candidates Robert McConnell or Jeffery Swift in November.

Also speaking that evening was Rahsaan Hall, candidate for Plymouth County District Attorney, whose progressive platform addresses racial equity in criminal justice. He is running against Republican incumbent Timothy Cruz. 

“I don’t know if I necessarily want this job,” said Hall. “I think I was called to it.”

The election this fall will be Hall’s first time on the ballot. Previously, he worked as an Assistant District Attorney for Suffolk County and as a member of the ACLU. 

“I want to deliver a message about reclaiming the spirit of justice,” he said. “For too long, we have seen too many injustices in the criminal legal system.”

Hall proposed that through community engagement and clear policies, he would bridge the divide between the district attorney’s office and immigrant and minority communities.

He said that as district attorney, he would focus on racial justice, starting with data collection and analysis regarding racial issues in the criminal justice system, saying, “we cannot manage what we don’t measure.” 

In response to questions regarding concerns about public safety, he said that people need to “step away from the binary” that progressive policies equate to an increase in crime.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” said Hall, who called on his experience as a prosecutor, “I hope that based on all of the evidence presented this evening, you will find me guilty of being the best candidate.”

Where candidates for other offices focused on distinct policies, the candidates for county commissioner discussed how they would approach the job.

Both Da Silva and Bezanson stressed the importance of transparency in their office. They are both running to replace Republican County Commissioner Chairperson Sandra Wright, who is running for a fourth term.

Bezanson supported having a consistent meeting schedule that was in line with other municipal and town bodies throughout the county. He said that he would regularly meet with municipal leaders. 

“I [will] bring all the stakeholders to the table,” said Bezanson, who highlighted the importance of working together as a region to benefit everyone in Plymouth County.

Da Silva called on his roots as an immigrant and an outsider to the political system. He promised that he would work equitably with each of the towns and cities in Plymouth county. 

He said that everything that happens in his hometown of Hingham or in Brockton would also happen in Marion, Mattapoisett and Rochester. 

Ultimately, the decision will be up to the voters. 

The Democratic Party primary is on Tuesday, September 6, 2022. The general Massachusetts election is on Tuesday, November 8, 2022.