6:45: Fifteen minutes until start time and the auditorium is pretty empty...probably because every Knuuttila and Flanagan supporter has lined the streets of the college holding signs.
7:00: President Antonucci kicks it off, starting with a moment of silence for victims of 9/11.
About 3/4 of the seats full so far, including all of the Fitchburg city council, a few wearing Knuuttilla t-shirts.
7:05: Opening statement from candidates
Flanagan- Talks about being from Leominster, and going to FSC. "I have been invested in my community for as long as I can remember" She feels blessed to have done so much at a young age and wants to do more. "This region is very very delicate." Gang violence, transportation needs, health care needs. "I have worked from the ground up, I have made myself available."
"I am in this for the long haul, I will continue to work for you" She said she is criticized for being a one city candidate, but said it is not her fault she only represents one community, but has always worked for the region. "I felt I represented my city well." Abilities she has shown in the house thinks will work in the senate. Already has experience collaborating with the senate.
Knuuttila- Took a few minutes to mention his cousin, Doug, on plane that hit the south tower on 9/11.
He and his cousin went to school here in Fitchburg. Spent 5 years on active duty in Marines.
In charge of 67 individuals at that time. Was police officer, patrolled FSC. Worked at various police departments in the area. Was also a firefighter, and got his law degree. "There is nothing like defending or making 45 bail arguments to keep someone out of jail so they can be at home with their family." He said he is the true regional candidate. Currently Worcester County Sheriffs general counsel. "My experience in public safety continues to this day."
Encouraged people to get out in vote.
7:15: Would you pledge to serve full term? Why consider getting out of race?
Knuuttila: left during 5th term, 5th. Glodis approached him, needed general counsel. Had inmate lawasuits hanging around the neck, needed accredidation. Like everything else, timing is everything. Told Glodis wanted to provide with staff and constituency until next state rep. was elected.
Other issue, we were told my opponent would raise as much as $200,000, but then found out wasnt true. political science 101 move .
7:20: Voted against giving $150 million from states rainy day account to cities and towns. regret that?
Flanagan: I voted that way because time and time again in our budgets, the budgets are piecemeal. I thought the money was going to go to re-occuring expenses. My vision is to make sure our cities and towns are taken care of, but have to be responsible with that.
No one wants to cut public safety. But difficult times you make difficult decisions. The truth of the matter is, we have peoples lives in our hands. Take the votes that are necessary.
7:25: If voters repeal state income tax what will you do?
Knuuttila: I would have voted for $150 million on stabilization account. Make no mistake, question 1 is extremely dangerous. Look back to similar ballot initiative in 2001. People upset income tax wasnt rolled back to 5 percent by legislature.
A loss of 7 billion. It is going to be devasting. Stands a good chance of passing because of inaction of legislature. I am firmly against it (question 1).
7:25: No reform to CORI, some say it is a barrier. Do you support reformation?
Flanagan: Been a major issue on beacon hill this past session. CORI reform needs to happen. Commonwealth puts a lot of money into rehabilitating criminals in jail. Once they come out of jail they are shut off. Shut off housing, jobs. Had a man come into her office, hand her a resume, and asked what qualified for. He had a dismissed manslaughter charge from 12 years ago, and still cant get job or housing. I absolutely support CORI reform would do again if came up in leg. next year.
7:30: Would you support repeal of gas tax or wind turbine?
Knuuttila: Would support any renewable or green energy source. But alt. to repealing gas tax. In 2005, we created a law that gave $800 in tax deducation for fuel assistance in winter months. Also took initiative for $600 tax credit if taking energy efficiency steps.
During FY08 budget process amendment to have that law extended, and my opponent voted against it. It is not just one solution, a number of things you can do, and this is one of the tools in the shed my opponent took away. This is catastrophic people cant pay $5 a gallon.
7:35: Do you think your vote to keep gay marriage off of state ballot was in line with district?
Flanagan: That vote wasnt about the Democratic stance. The people of my district at the time had said to me, its their life. I'm catholic, i believe people ought to get marry. I know churches have a right to not marry people. I was very comfortable taking that vote. It is a right people have and a right we need to honor.
7:35: What would you do to reverse fact only state spending less on education
Knuuttila: Funding for education is quite frankly the most imp thing we can do as legislators. I was involved in increasing education funding. Antonioni brought more money for education. A lot more needs to be done. Leominster high school has more buckets than books. Fault in SBA for letting buildings become what they are today.
7:40: Do you think health insurance program has been successful?
Flanagan: Mass has undertaken one of most complex issues, proud to be part of this. Proud to insure over 1/2 million people. Bugs to be worked out, but that is what happens when first in nation. Found more poeple are now obtaining health care in the right why, not in piece meal way. I think we need to continue on track of health care reform, and affordable plans are offered. All about a partnership. State, employers, employees. I think we have done a great job in Mass, and need to continue. Will see benefits later in life, healthier people.
Now candidates ask each other a question:
Knuuttila: Voted against amendment for extra $15 million for schools. Extra $15 per pupil for materials. How do you explain this vote.
Flanagan: not an anti education vote. need to make sure there is funding for cities and towns, but where is money coming from? to allocate an additional set of money when we didnt know where the money would be coming from. there are tough votes on beacon hill. i work in the classroom as a junior acheiver volunteer. cities and towns are also responsible, contributing to what students need. if we continue to increase at every turn, not being responsible, not providing for their future, providing for their today. we do things in ways we can get it done.
Knuuttila: But this would have helped a little bit more, and you voted against it. It wont happen in a lump sum, it is a brick in the wall, and this would have been one more brick in the wall. the though vote, the tough vote, rep. would have been the money to the cities and towns.
(loud cheering for Knuuttila)
Flanagan: What is your proposal for funding dedicated revenue stream (for health care reform)?
Knuuttila: Even though it is the first in the nation, it is broken. Penalizing employers and employees for not having or offering appropriate health care. Cant piece meal stuff like this. This is an excellent example of this overextension. When I take office in Jan. revise this program, to find the funds where they can be found.
Flanagan: Talk about Leg. taking steps without knowing where money is coming from. That is just what you said to me with education question. There is no one way to get this done alone (health care reform). Sometimes it takes a tax break, sometimes people dont pay attention until there is a consequence.
Knuuttila: Flanagan was given a 38 rating for voting on bills by AIM. Miserable voting record, has driven out good paying jobs. What will you do?
Flanagan: If big companies have problems that is fine. I have family members with small businesses. It is not always about catering to big business. We have obligations too. I am not to worried about my aim report card, worried about my people here.
Knuuttila: What are you talking about? I worry about the people in my district all the time. AIM report card is just that. Tells who is keeping good paying jobs in Mass. Will you give those people a little extra?
Flanagan: What do you plan to cut to fund fuel assistance?
Knuuttila: We had a tool in the shed. The point I made a few minutes ago, is that you voted against it. It was in existence, and now it is gone. We need it this winter. Much more needs to be done, but this is a good example of what the leg. can do to help people with their high home heating costs this winter. So here is an example of what you can do, or i intend to do when i am the next state senator.
Flanagan: It doesnt answer the question of what programs will be cut. If the leg. is so bad in what we are doing, why do you want to come back.
Knuuttila: Because you need my help.
(Cheering match between the two camps)
Knuuttila: Another mailing sent out, said we need someone with exp. to help public safety. He listed all of his previous public safety posts he held. What is your experience, your public safety experience if any?
Flanagan: Well it is not having five former careers. My experience has been in this district. Writing grants with cheif Cronin. working on comm. policing. or working with north county worcester drug task force. it is not always about holding the career. i am criticized about my age and experience. quite frankly i am part of the generation coming up. we are the ones that are trying to do it now. public safety comes in all shapes and sizes. people come to me day in and day out with problems. to try to chastize that is getting a little ridiculous.
Knuuttila: You may be able to empathize but I can relate. At the end of the day I worked also, I worked also on these grants. Those have been in place for awhile. These things dont give you pub. safety experience.
Flanagan: We appreciate your public safety career. But you have advocated for pay raises for court appointed lawyers. You advocate for a lot of people, including human service providers. These are the people I have been advocating for since day one. Would you continue your quest to get more money for lawyers, or for human services?
Knuuttila: Do you know what my undergraduate degree was, human services. I am the one that make sure the services are adequate and provided to people in jail. We are taking about the Constitution of the US when we keep these people out of jail. They (court appt lawyers) hadnt gotten a pay raise in 23-24 years. But i know human service workers deserve a raise because i was in the field.
Flanagan: I commend the corrections officers. My concern are for the people working in residential programs or the people who cant go home because their is no home to go to. These people are making $28,000 to fight it out with these kids. And the turnover rate is so high. The only reason people leave is because they dont have enough money. I am going to continue to fight for human service workers just as we did when we passed senate 65 last year.
Now questions from Pres. Antonucci from the audience.
Now representing more than one town. Any opinion on what could be done for regionalization of services?
Flanagan: Leg has given money to Econ. dev. council to market our region. Busses, unfortunate didnt do it, but another way we could regionalize. Public safety too.
Need to look at services each town has. it is possible to become more regional. but unfortunately people look with geographical boundaries. i am looking to be the state senator to represent the region. i have already worked with mayor wong, d.a. early, and sen. antonioni.
What do you think you could do to speed up process of better transportation to this area
Knuuttila: Helped work on Fitch rail line when rep. house vice chair of joint comm. on transportation. some of the things my opponent talks about, were dev. by sen. antonioni, rep. goguen, rep. knuuttila. some of the initiatives we have started, i will make sure as the next state sen are brought to fruition. i took a train to gardner to find the house i live in today (in 80's).that rail was disconnected. make no mistake, i will pick up where i left off.
Do you think earmarks are a good idea?
Knuuttila: earmarks are a good idea in the state budget. shows a leg. is concerned enough about an issue to have it earmarked in a budget. these earmarks that leg. fight for that now dont exist, really quite frankly undercuts leg. ability to fight for its constituency. i would go beyond that, pepole and constituency of district are undercut as a result.
Flanagan; earmarks is a necessary part of the budget. esp. for people out here, outside of 495. it is a way for leg. to tell agencies this is what we want. we are telling people where we want it to go. it is crucial that we have earmarks. it gets the funding to the programs. i continue to support earmarks.
Knuuttila: God bless you for coming out on such a solemn day. I have a few things. I am proud of my service to my country and my Commonwealth. When you were getting the blizzard of 78 i was in a monsoon trying to get a letter written with a felt tip pen before it washed away. It is an experience like non other. I am proud to call myself a veteran. Proud of the fact that i fought a fire on the inside while a gardner firefighter. there is nothing closer to combat than fighting a fire on the inside. i am proud of these experiences because i can understand what apublic safety and officials go through. but most proud of fact have a son, and sseven grandchildren and a daughter. make no mistake i am making a $30,000 a year pay cut to do this. that is the level of commitment i have. i intend to be bold when i go to the senate. i intend to rep. my constituency to the fullest. i learned what to do during my 5 terms in senate, and more imp. i learned what not to do. i never left feeling i compromised my integrity. most of my checks were $15 from grassroots those are the people that believe in this candidate. i intend to represent the peoplel that contributed to my campaign. it is imperative you vote on sept 16. sempre fidelis.
(about 40 people standing ovation)
Flanagan: I appreciate that we can take about 75 mill for commuter rail. appreciate the $1.8 million in more grants in leominster. i have delivered for my district. and i have experience. no one can take away the 13 years i spent on beacon hill working for the poeple of my community. no one can take away the fact tha ti care about the poeple the support me, the nurses, the teachers, the people who are protecting our citizens. i am proud of everything i have received for poeplel and eveything i have worked for. those are everyday people who just like you will elect someone to go to boston. what is such a special interest that is fighting those fires and going out on police calls. those are special interests, those are the people of our community. those are the people that i am giong to rep. on beacon hill. sometimes it seems like the mail boxes are cluttered and poeple are talking about issues, that is important, we are talking about issues. 11 cities and towns. it is imp that someone who has exp that has worked frm the ground up continues to go there and gets the work done that needs to be done. when the day is over and this district has received money, it is because the leg. did it. it is imp. we have someone who truly cares about what is going on in boston. i ask you for your vote on sept. 16 because i care about everyone in this district donation or not.
(about 30 people standing ovation)
The debate is over, and each candidate is now being swarmed and given the thumbs up from supporters.
Both candidates were well prepared and didn't falter on any questions. They both showed passion for their district, although at times, I couldn't tell if Flanagan was being passionate or defensive. She defintely is very defensive about people criticizing her age and experience outside of Beacon Hill. She stands behind the 13 years of experience she has on the hill though, and is proud of advocating for children and the social service fields especially.
Knuuttilla was a lot calmer. He is def. proud of his service to the country as a Marine, and service to the Commonwealth as a police officer, fire fighter and court appointed lawyer.
Knuuttila believes his experience in multiple careers is an asset to being able to represent people.
Winner, by a slight margin, I would have to give it to Knuuttila.