The four candidates running for Massachusetts' 5th Congressional District answered questions posed by Concord League of Women Voters representatives and a full house at Alcott School in Concord, but did not quiz each other.
It was a tame and informative affair as Rep. Niki Tsongas (D) talked about her voting record; Jon Golnik (R), a Carlisle businessman, criticized her for voting with the administration most of the time when the district is largely independent; and two Independents, Bob Clark and Dale Brown, answered alike on many topics and urged the audience to send an independent-thinking and voting person to Congress.
"I am very independent," said Brown. "This election is all about liberty."
He said not jobs, not taxes, but liberty is "the big issue."
"How is liberty going in America," he wondered. "I hope anyone here would be willing to lay down their life for this country." Brown is a Vietnam-era veteran.
Tsongas said the most important issue facing voters is jobs and reforming Wall Street. She said if she wins reelection, she will open an office in Acton; support family farms; and work to bring jobs to the district.
She reviewed her achievements in keeping some 800 jobs at Devens and supporting better body armor for the troops, she said. Tsongas favors tax breaks for small businesses that create jobs.
Golnik railed against the "arrogance coming from Washington."
"Niki has voted 98 percent of the time with the leadership in a district with 55 percent unenrolled," said Golnik.
Clark said he saw few differences between the two major parties. He decried "voting as a team" as he sees Congress now, as a "poor way to represent the district."
"As an Independent, I will not vote as a party or a team. I vote for the people." He said he would change his vote if the district asked him to.
Unemployment and the economy
Regarding unemployment, Tsongas said the current high percentage was "many years in the making."
"We have had two wars, squandered the surplus and now we have no national nest egg," she said. She would "focus on small businesses," which she called "masters of innovation."
She favors research and development tax credits and "predictability," as well as stringent reforms on Wall Street.
"I am proud to support Wall Street reforms and stop off-shoring jobs," said Tsongas.
Golnik said we are in the midst of a "jobs crisis." He does not feel the federal stimulus worked, he is against cap and trade, and he is patently against the health care reform law, which he pointed out Tsongas supported.
"We need to repeal and replace the health care reform bill," said Golnik, and he favors cutting the corporate tax rate.
Clark also dissed the stimulus spending.
"The U.S. government is flat broke," he said. "It isn't government spending, it's government taking." He favors job training programs that encourage hiring.
Brown agreed with Clark.
"Stop the Obama tax hikes," said Brown. He agreed that tax credits for hiring for manufacturing jobs is laudable.
Golnik said he does not want consumers to pay for new technologies to combat global warming that have not been tested and proven.
Clark said he favored encouraging companies to reduce their carbon footprint, not "punish them like cap and trade."
However, Brown said the planet warms and cools in natural order. "The impact is not that much," said Brown.
Tsongas said the district is rich with companies that specialize in combatting global warming.
"I support clean energy legislation," she said. "We need to address our dependence on fossil fuels and foreign supplies. It's an opportunity to create jobs. She praised the local businesses that are engaged in new fuel cell technology, new light technologies, new transportation systems and new energy storage systems.
"It's a generational issue, a jobs issue and a national security issue," said Tsongas of global warming.
Regarding immigration reform, Tsongas said the 5th districgt has three "gateway cities," Lowell, Lawrence and Haverhill.
"It is a remarkable legacy, but the system is broken," she said.
On that, all four candidates agreed. Brown said he would bring the 101st Airborne division back from Afghanistan to secure the border with Mexico. He favors allowing immigrants to work for two years and then apply for a green card, and after a five year trial period, they can apply for citizenship.
Tsongas said she would bolster the Mexican border with national guard troops, and use new technologies to assist law enforcement.
Golnik said he is "practical."
"Amnesty doesn't work," he said. "We have to secure the borders. We should double the number of patrol agents, require employer verification and clamp down on those who overstay their visas.
Golnik said the health care "bill," as he called it, is bad.
"We need to open access to health care," said Golnik. He disagreed with Tsongas that the law should be given a chance to work. He favors increasing competition among providers to control costs.
Tsongas said health care "is now a reality" after so many months of wrangling in Congress.
"People want to give it some time to work," she said. She acknowledged that there is a need to reform malpractice insurance and she and Golnik support selling insurance across state lines.
Social security reform
Golnik said although he is not in favor of privatizing social security, he would vote to allow people the choice to put a small percent into private accounts.
Tsongas is flatly against privatizing social security.
"I oppose efforts to destabilize or privatize social security," said Tsongas. "It is so important to seniors for whom it is the only source of stability."
The election is Nov. 2.