In their second debate Wednesday, Fourth Congressional District candidates Sean Bielat and Joe Kennedy III took center stage in front of a packed room at UMass Dartmouth’s Advanced Technology and Manufacturing Center in Fall River to discuss the "American Dream."
Bielat (R-Norfolk) and Kennedy (D-Brookline) sparred on issues related to the "American Dream," including jobs, the economy, health care, and education.
The debate was sponsored by MassINC, publisher of Commonwealth Magazine and moderated by Michael Goodman, the chair of the public policy department at UMass Dartmouth. Kennedy and Bielat were asked questions from Aaron Frechette of the Fall River Herald News and Taunton Gazette, Bruce Mohl of Commonwealth Magazine and Alan Zarek of WSAR Radio.
Bielat touted his record in the private sector and in the military while Kennedy pointed to his background in the Peace Corps and as a public defender. The two candidates remained civil throughout the forum, and even complimented each other on multiple occasions - including when asked what they respected about their opponent.
Kennedy said Bielat had a "nice family" while Bielat said of Kennedy, "nothing shows lack of integrity or character."
The two were split on most issues, however, including job creation. Kennedy focused on education to create a skilled workforce, explaining that jobs are available, but few have the correct skills to fill those positions.
"Fifty-two percent of people who graduated in the past three years are unemployed," Bielat responded. "I don’t think education is the problem. I think the problem is lack of jobs."
Bielat suggested giving taxes back to families and setting a regulatory environment to "make things predictable."
On multiple occasions, Kennedy linked Bielat to the proposed budget of Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan. Kennedy said the budget would cut education and "voucherize" the Medicare program.
Bielat said that anyone talking about solutions to the deficit problem, including Paul Ryan, should be listened to, but he did not necessarily "endorse" his budget.
"'Endorse' is a little bit strong," he said. "I said there were good ideas in the Ryan bill and I will continue to say that because I believe it’s true."
Candidates disagreed on the Affordable Care Act, as well. Kennedy said that while he would like to "tweak" certain parts of it, such as the medical device tax, he was "a big supporter" of Obama's landmark healthcare bill.
Bielat disagreed, and said the Federal government should "encourage competition."
Candidates disagreed on the Defense of Marriage Act, with Kennedy supporting its repeal and Bielat saying the "government should stay out" of anything involving property rights or investments that belong to individuals.
When asked if the candidates had future plans in politics, Kennedy said he hadn't thought that far in advance.
"I fully intend to serve out that term and take it from there," he said.
Bielat said he believes in "Citizen Legislators" and had no intention of a "career in politics."
Locally, both candidates agreed in their support of the South Coast Rail, believing the Federal government can help with funding and permitting.
"I think there is a role to play for a federal representative," Kennedy said. "There are significant challenges to the development of the South Coast Rail. I think it’s an important one for the region."
Both had similar answers when asked about a casino in Taunton as well, saying it was most important that residents in the area support such a project. Both added, however, that helping small businesses should be the main priority when creating jobs.
“The issue here is - jobs or no jobs," Bielat said. "How do we get this country back going?"
Kennedy supported the repeal of Citizens United, while Bielat said he would if it came with campaign finance reform.
Both also agreed in their opposition of assisted suicide.
On the subject of their potential predecessor, Barney Frank (D-Newton), Bielat rated Frank's constituent services as a "10" while saying his polices were "near the bottom." Kennedy, however, praised Frank.
In closing statements, Kennedy touted his policies, including a "balanced approach to debt and the deficit," "education," and "support of small business."
Bielat told the story of his grandfather, who grew up during the Great Depression and served in the military during World War II, then worked in an assembly line to send his son (Bielat's father) to college.
"We need to send people to Washington who get it, who want to protect that, and realize how precious it is," Bielat said.
The two candidates will square off once again in a League of Women Voters forum on Monday in Wellesley.
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