BOSTON (CBS) — All five candidates running for governor of Massachusetts met in their first debate televised in Boston Tuesday night at the WBZ-TV studios.
Republican Charlie Baker, Democrat Martha Coakley and independent candidates Evan Falchuk, Scott Lively, and Jeff McCormick faced off in a wide ranging discussion moderated by WBZ-TV political analyst Jon Keller.
The candidates started off by sparring over what went wrong in the current Patrick administration and how they plan to fix it.
Gallery: Photos From The Debate
Baker and Coakley, who are locked in a dead heat according to the latest WBZ-TV-UMass Amherst poll, argued over the failures of the Department of Children and Families and the botched state Health Connector web site.
An ad by a pro-Baker super PAC that claimed Coakley opposed DCF reforms came up in the debate as well, but Falchuk jumped in criticizing them for having an argument over super PACs and not focusing enough on protecting children.
Many voters would not be sure what they're talking about, Falchuk said, leaving the public "in the weeds."
Baker then stated the next governor should be a "weed wacker" who gets into the fine details and finds out what's going on in state agencies.
The debate then moved to a long discussion on exploding health care costs in the state.
HEALTH CARE COSTS
Baker, the former head of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, called for full transparency between price and performance to keep costs down, by making every hospital "post their prices" for procedures.
Coakley shot back saying that Baker was part of the problem, allowing Partners HealthCare to take over several hospitals in Massachusetts, primarily in the Boston area.
"Partners is fresh out of hospitals in eastern Massachusetts to buy," Falchuk said. "They'll head west and the problems will continue."
Coakley then criticized Baker for nearly tripling his salary at Harvard Pilgrim from more than $600,000 a year to $1.7 million, as costs and health insurance premiums went up.
Baker said his salary was set by the company's board of directors and was "completely consistent with market salaries overall."
When Keller turned the discussion to what each candidate would do if the Affordable Health Care Law is repealed after the 2016 presidential election, the failures of the Health Connector web site came up again.
"There is only one of us here who could have done something about the broken website that interrupted the care for thousands of people," Baker said, taking a shot at Coakley, who had an appointee on the connector board.
Coakley said she would "stand up" for her appointees.
Keller asked the candidates how they would react as governor to voter decisions that end up being overturned by the state Legislature, referring to Beacon Hill's refusal to roll back the state income tax to five-percent in 2003.
Next month, voters will decide whether or not to repeal a new law linking future hikes in the gas tax to the rate of inflation. They'll also get a say in whether the casino law should be repealed.
McCormick said "we can't legislate by referendum constantly" and then directed the discussion to the front-runners, Baker and Coakley, saying, "Frankly Charlie and Martha, I have no idea why you think you have the moral authority to trump the voters if they, in fact, do repeal casinos."
Baker and Coakley have said they would re-visit the casino issue if it's repealed. Both are in favor of a casino in Springfield.
"I'm going to vote against the casino repeal," Baker said, "not because I love casinos, I think Massachusetts should have one."
"If the voters choose to reject casinos completely, I will want to have a debate about the Springfield site and we'll see what happens."
"I agree with Charlie that as the voters in Springfield voted for a casino, if it can be part of a larger economic plan, I'll support that, if they still want it," Coakley said. "Let's wait until the vote in November."
As for the gas tax, Coakley said "we need that indexing" to pay for infrastructure repairs across the state.
"If the Legislature wants to raise the gas tax, the Legislature should vote to raise the gas tax and be held accountable at the ballot box for raising the gas tax," Baker said, saying the indexing is "setting a bad precedent."
'COCOON OF HORROR'
There was a brief, lighthearted moment late in the debate where Baker said "As long as no one ends up in the 'cocoon of horror'," as Keller moved the discussion along onto another topic.
Most viewers were not aware of the reference, which came in Keller's pre-debate meeting with all five candidates, warning them if they disobey his instructions as moderator, "you'll enter my cocoon of horror."
So when Baker mentioned it during the broadcast, Keller simply responded "You don't want to go there," and moved on.
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