TEWKSBURY, MA — State Rep. Dave Robertson, a Democrat, and Republican challenger Alec DiFruscia clashed Thursday in the 19th Middlesex District debate, ahead of the Nov. 3 election.
Robertson spent much of the debate touting his record of his first term in the state house, while DiFruscia focused on his core positions: pro-police and anti-taxes. On many issues, the candidates agreed, with Robertson's positions hewing to the right of his Democratic party colleagues.
The debate was moderated by Robert Hayes of the Wilmington Apple, who asked questions submitted by residents of the two towns that make up the district, Wilmington and Tewksbury.
Early questions focused on topics of acrimony throughout the campaign: police reform, gas taxes and illegal immigration; all three topics have been the subject of dueling ads or campaign materials from the two candidates or their supporters. In all three cases, DiFruscia attempted to tie Robertson to the left wing of the state Democratic Party.
Robertson voted against the state house police reform bill, but DiFruscia accused him of "he refusing to stand up to the radical left." Both praised Tewksbury and Wilmington's police departments and agreed that qualified immunity should not be ended. They also supported requiring body cameras.
On gas taxes, DiFruscia criticized the "market-based compliance mechanisms" in the house's recent 2050 climate roadmap amount as gas taxes by another name, while Robertson pointed to tax credits as a potential alternative and noted that he'd voted against an increase to gas taxes.
On illegal immigration, the two candidates agreed that driver's licenses should not be available to undocumented immigrants, and said the state should work to support legal immigrants.
After the questions on past controversies, Hayes asked the candidates if they disavow misleading attacks and pledge to run positive campaigns. Both did so, and DiFruscia defended himself against an attack that claimed he did not participate enough in town politics. He has voted 17 times in town, and missed "a couple town meetings here and there."
The candidates agreed whole-heartedly on a couple of questions, including opposing the ROE Act, which would expand abortion access, and supporting the Redmen Tewksbury mascot.
On local issues, both supported work on Route 38 and using Community Preservation funds on sidewalks, although they had different picks for local building project priorities. They both oppose a Gov. Charlie Baker proposal to reduce the vote threshold for local zoning changes to a simple majority, down from two-thirds.
On supporting small businesses through the coronavirus crisis, Robertson touted his advocacy work, including helping them get Paycheck Protection Program loans, while DiFruscia returned to lowering taxes. Both candidates reiterated the need to improve Route 38.
Asked to name three issues on which they differ, Robertson said he stood out in his support for public education, his support for senior housing, and his support for working families. He pointed to his support from unions.
DiFruscia reiterated his pledge to never raise taxes and to always back the police.
"I won't be part of the go along to get along crowd at the state house," DiFruscia said.
No surprises came when the candidates were asked who they're voting for: DiFruscia backs President Donald Trump, while Robertson backs former Vice President Joe Biden. But on that question, and on the topic of Robertson's endorsement of Sen. Ed Markey, both attempted to pull the discussion back to local issues, at least in their own case.
The debate ended with an argument about the budget: DiFruscia criticized the state legislature for not passing one yet, while Robertson defended the decision, saying the state is waiting to see if the federal government provides more aid.
The full debate is available here, from TewksburyTV.
Christopher Huffaker can be reached at 412-265-8353 or firstname.lastname@example.org.