Charlie Baker, Martha Coakley Wrangle Over Issues in Final Massachusetts Gubernatorial Debate

The debate included some lighter exchanges and a tearful moment for the GOP candidate


Republican Charlie Baker and Democrat Martha Coakley made their final pitches to voters in the governor's race on Tuesday in a televised debate that pointed out sharp differences in policy but included some lighter exchanges and a tearful moment for Baker as he recounted a story of a struggling fishing family.

The candidates discussed a range of issues including taxes, job growth, the best response for states to Ebola and the tone of the campaign, which will end when voters go to the polls on Nov. 4 to choose a successor to Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick, who is not seeking re-election.

The final debate, originating from the WCVB studios and sponsored by the Boston Media Consortium, was seen as particularly critical for Coakley, who's trying to shake off the perception her campaign may be losing momentum in light of recent polls suggesting Baker has surged into a lead.

Baker and Coakley, in a sometimes confusing exchange, appeared to pledge not to raise state fees if elected governor.

It began with Baker, a businessman, asking Coakley, the state attorney general, why she would consider raising taxes, to which she responded that she had no desire to raise taxes and was hoping the state's 5.2 percent income tax would come down automatically as the economy improves.

When asked if she would consider raising state fees to generate revenue, Coakley turned the question on Baker.

"I'm not going to raise fees," replied Baker.

"Then I'm not going to raise fees either," said Coakley.

Later, the attorney general told reporters that she intended that response as a joke, but she reiterated that she was hopeful that taxes and fees would not have to be raised and criticized Baker for not explaining how he would offset revenue from tax cuts he has proposed for small businesses. Baker said during the debate that Coakley has no plan to pay for $1.5 billion in new spending she has offered.

Baker and Coakley disagreed when asked if they supported the decisions of Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to have health care workers who had contact with Ebola patients in West Africa quarantined for three weeks upon their returns.

Baker said he thought the quarantine was "probably a reasonable strategy and one that should be considered in (Massachusetts)," adding that he thought the state's planning for possible cases of Ebola patients had been disappointing to date.

Coakley said the concerns of New York and New Jersey were different because of direct flights to those states from West Africa.

"I think they have risks because of flights coming into their state that we don't," Coakley said.

Among a series of questions in the debate's final moments was one asking the candidates when they last cried. Baker became emotional, and for a moment was unable to continue speaking, while recounting the struggles of a New Bedford fishing family as the industry declined.

"As a commonwealth we have done a terrible job of standing up for those people" Baker finally said.

Coakley said the last time she had cried was during a memorial Tuesday honoring a union activist and political supporter who recently lost a battle with leukemia.

Though both candidates have sharpened their attacks in recent weeks, both said they respected the campaigns their opponents had run.

The debate ended with Baker and Coakley exchanging a laugh and a high five as Coakley, who in the past has fumbled questions about local professional sports teams, reminded voters that earlier in the campaign she was able to identify Jimmy Garoppolo as the New England Patriots' backup quarterback.

As was the case in several other recent debates, the three independent gubernatorial candidates on next week's ballot - Evan Falchuk, Jeff McCormick and Scott Lively - were not invited to participate. 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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