AUBURN — Several Republican candidates for elected office in Massachusetts, including gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl, denounced vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions, supposed critical race theory and a comprehensive sex education curriculum deemed pornographic by its opponents at a town hall event in Auburn Thursday night.
The event was held at J. Anthony's Italian Grill in Auburn, and featured Diehl; U.S. congressional candidate Jeffrey Sossa-Paquette, who is challenging James P. McGovern, Julie Hall; who is running to unseat Rep. Jake Auchincloss; state senate candidate Kari MacRae running in the Plymouth and Barnstable District and secretary of state candidate Rayla Campbell.
The event was organized by several Central Mass. groups such as Opt-Out, Millbury Residents Stand Up and Central Mass. Freedom Assembly.
Moderator Carroll-Sue Cassela Rehm, who has been pushing for changes to Dudley-Charlton Regional School District, introduced the event by saying that parents can now no long celebrate the first day of school because of an array of concerns
"We don't do that anymore because we're afraid of what's going on there," Cassela Rehm said. "We're going to hear about mandates, we're going to hear about choice, you're going to hear about sexualizing our children."
The candidates addressed an almost entirely unmasked crowd who cheered fiercely at denunciations of supposed critical race theory in schools, opposition to vaccine mandates and calls for "parental consent" on matters of transgender children. At one point Diehl asked the crowd if anyone was an independent or a Democrat, with a few raising their hands.
Placed at the event hall were signs deeming the content of the Rights, Respect and Responsibility sex-ed curriculum inappropriate for children, and a sign denunciating critical race theory.
Critical race theory became a political flashpoint in education last year with parents and politicians denouncing it as a Marxist theory to teach students to view white people as inherent oppressors.
Several Central Mass. education leaders have said that critical race theory, a college-level field of study exploring the effects of racism on America's legal system, is not taught in grade school and that schools teach racial relations through history based on state standards.
One question suggested comedian and "The Daily Show" host Trevor Noah's autobiography, "Born a Crime," is an example of critical race theory in schools.
Implementation of the Rights, Respect and Responsibility sex-ed curriculum has been controversial in Worcester. The city's School Committee approved the curriculum last year with the support of public health officials saying education is necessary with the city's high rate of teen pregnancy. Parents groups have criticized the program, saying it exposes students to concepts they are too young for, and 2,970 students have opted out as of last October.
Sossa-Paquette gave an opening speech where he called for more local control of education.
"It's time that we take back the power from the federal government that has been taken from us not as Americans or as citizens of Massachusetts, but as parents," Sossa-Paquette said. "By rolling back federal regulations to return power to local and state levels, we can begin to have our voices be heard and drowned out by the divisiveness that consumes much of politics today."
In introducing Diehl, Cassela Rehm, compared the candidate for governor to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has become a rising star in the Republican Party for his resistance to COVID-19 measures and antagonism to the Biden Administration.
Diehl, who is running for governor with the support of former President Donald Trump and seen as a front-runner for the nomination following Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn's decision not to run, spoke with a message that resembled the politics of the GOP activist base than the moderate tone of Baker.
Diehl said conservatives are not being listened to on Beacon Hill, where Democrats have supermajorities in both chambers.
"If you think your voices are being heard, unfortunately it's not being heard. And sometimes we have to take the fight outside of the legislator," Diehl said.
Diehl praised the U.S. Supreme Court's decision Thursday to strike the Biden Administration's mandate that businesses with over 100 employees have a vaccine-or-test mandate but decried state courts for upholding Boston Mayor Michelle Wu's vaccine mandate for entering certain establishments.
Campbell, who has been photographed by the Boston Herald wearing a shirt supportive of the QAnon conspiracy theory, decried Secretary of State William F. Galvin, claiming that his office thwarted her efforts to get on the ballot in her 2020 attempt to unseat Rep. Ayanna Pressley. Campbell called for voter ID in Massachusetts and to purge the state's voter rolls.
Campbell, who is Black and has mixed-race children, gave a fiery denunciation of critical race theory.
"I have fought at (the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's) front door and been silenced. You're not going to teach my kids that they are half-racist," Campbell said.
At the end of her introduction, Campbell proclaimed that she and her children were unvaccinated and will fight any vaccine mandates.
A representative for State Sen. Ryan Fattman of the 18th Worcester District said Fattman could not attend the event because he had close contact with some who tested positive to COVID-19 and a prepared statement was read.
Fattman's statement criticized public health measures by the federal and state government in response to the pandemic, calling them government overreach and mentioned a bill he was co-sponsoring prohibiting "discrimination based on vaccination status."
"When my grandparents came to Massachusetts, they often saw signs that said 'Irish need not apply.' It's why they became Democrats and ardent Kennedy supporters," Fattman's statement read.
The candidates took several questions from the audience.
Diehl responded to a question on sex education saying that Rights, Respect and Responsibility was inappropriate for children but did not call for filing 51A reports alleging child abuse to school committees that implemented the curriculum, instead calling for them to be unseated in recall elections.
Diehl also said it may not be appropriate for former teachers to sit on school committees because they may echo the sentiments of teacher's unions and reiterated his opposition to government overreach. Diehl also said that vaccines are no longer protective from new variants and that masks are not necessary in schools.
"This is not a partisan issue anymore, this is about we the people versus government that is trying to encroach more and more on our lives, they got control of our education, they've got total control of our health care, they're taking control of our businesses," Diehl said.
When asked about whether he thought he could win in the face of alleged voter fraud carried out by Democrats, Diehl called for an audit of the 2020 presidential election, where President Joe Biden won Massachusetts by over 30%. Diehl also said mail-in ballots should be stopped.
When asked about the matter of "parental consent" over whether schools should disclose to parents that a student has indicated they may be transgender or have begun transitioning at school, Sossa-Paquette said parents have a right to know and that schools that do not disclose should take responsibility if that student commits suicide, referring to a school district that is not disclosing that two high school students have said they are transgender to parents.
"With the amount of depression and anxiety and suicide happening in our young teenagers, whose to blame if one of those two children commit suicide? Is it the parents because they didn't know what was going on with their child or is it the school board or the teachers that did not tell their parents and now they have a dead child," Sossa-Paquette said.
This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Mass. GOP gubernatorial hopefuls rap critical race theory in Auburn