Thursday, August 02, 2007

Last Night's Progressive Forum

Last night, I attended the Fifth-District Congressional Debate sponsored by the Mass Alliance. While I thought that the debate was not very well attended, I talked to some DSC members afterwards who thought that turnout was in line with their expectations, particularly for a debate in Lawrence. Most of the attendees seemed to already be supporters of one of the candidates; I felt like I was the only one in the auditorium not already wearing someone's sticker -- and I can't even vote in this race. I spoke briefly with Mimi from Left in Lowell who confirmed that this was the case for nearly all of the other debates as well.

Outside the school where the debate was held, volunteers lined the street for all candidates except Rep. Jim Miceli. In both debates I've attended, Rep. Miceli has come alone and left alone. I'm sure he has supporters, but I'm starting to wonder if he's a serious candidate if he can't get them to show up anywhere or give him any money. Rep. Barry Finegold had the biggest signs and loudest supporters, but that shouldn't be much of a surprise given that Lawrence is his home turf, so to speak.

The format of the debate was fairly standard. The first round consisted of questions from three panelists -- Carl Nilsson of Neighbor to Neighbor Massachusetts, Cathy Dwyer of the American Federation of Teachers, Massachusetts and Angus McQuilken of Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund. The next was a lightning round conducted by Emily Rooney of WGBH, and following that the candidates were allowed to ask questions of two others. Frankly, I think the panel was wasted -- anyone could have been up there asking questions -- and perhaps we'd have been better served if the panel members could ask follow ups rather than move on to a completely different subject for a second question.

I'm a big fan of Emily Rooney's interviews on Greater Boston, but I'm not sure her style works in this format either. She forgot the opening statements, but she did, I think, keep the candidates honest when they strayed into talking points without answering the question -- at least in the second round.

The questions, as expected, ran the gamut of progressive issues. The candidates were asked about their opinions on the Bush Tax cuts (all are against), the war in Iraq (almost all want out as soon as possible), reproductive choice (one pro-life, four pro-choice), NAFTA (only Tsongas admitted that she would have voted for it at the time), Climate Change, the ERA, DOMA, Health Care and so on. The subjects seemed to be a natural fit for Rep. Jamie Eldridge, who is arguably the most progressive candidate in the race and was the only one of the five to have been endorsed by Mass Alliance in a previous race. It's hard to tell, however, who did well in this debate since most of the ground that was covered had been gone over in previous debates and the format prevented in-depth discussion of any single issue. I felt like I left the forum without having learned much.

There were a couple of interesting moments, though. Rep. Miceli grumped about how no one is paying attention to where the other candidates are getting their money during a question on campaign finance, and Rooney disagreed with him, offering to list the names of all the PACs that had contributed thus far. Miceli also spent his closing statement touting his experience and taking thinly veiled jabs at fellow candidate Niki Tsongas, saying how he couldn't believe someone could be elected to Congress without so much as even local-level experience. Eileen Donoghue also took some shots at Tsongas, pointing out how Tsongas promised ten years ago to bring a Performing Arts Center to Middlesex Community College, yet she couldn't deliver on that. In her defense, Tsongas offered up that the center was "too expensive" but still a possibility. Donoghue also took Rep. Finegold to task for voting in line with the wishes of some campaign contributers, but I feel that this lost a lot of its punch since Donoghue was forced to defend her own acceptance of PAC money earlier in the debate.

I have notes, but unless people are clamoring for a blow-by-blow account, I won't bother transcribing them. My laptop ran out of juice after about the second question and I have only my barely decipherable chicken scratchings to go on for the last hour and a half of the debate. Unfortunately, I could not get a wireless signal otherwise, I'd have live-blogged.

For more, see Marie's post at Dick Howe's blog.

Update: Here are the reports from The Boston Globe and the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune.