By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE -- Presenting himself as the conservative alternative to GOP gubernatorial frontrunner Charlie Baker, Republican Mark Fisher on Monday said his party is wrong to think it has to nominate a centrist in order to compete in Massachusetts.
"I don't subscribe to the Big Tent theory of the Republican Party," Fisher said, calling himself a Tea Party member and proud "full platform Republican" who doesn't think he has to try to please every voter in order to appeal to them for their support.
Fisher, a little-known candidate from Shrewsbury, took part in the gubernatorial candidate series being sponsored by the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service at Suffolk University.
>>> For a photo gallery from Fisher's appearance, go to: http://www.statehousenews.com/gsp/default.aspx?aid=1951 <<<
Admitting that "voting and complaining" has been the extent of his political involvement until now, Fisher said he is trying to unite elements of what he described as a "fractured Republican Party" in Massachusetts whose members too often don't vote or "hold their nose" and vote for candidates that don't champion their beliefs.
The MassGOP is scheduled to hold its nominating convention later this month in Boston where Fisher will have to clear at least 15 percent of the delegates in order to qualify for the primary ballot against Baker, who is the favorite to win the party nomination. Fisher said he believes he can get to 15 percent, but has some concerns about his supporters who hail heavily from central and western Massachusetts making it to Boston for the convention.
Baker has not agreed to Fisher's call for a debate before the convention. The path to success for many statewide Republican candidates in the past has required broad appeal to both independents and conservative Democrats, but Fisher says there's another way and hopes his limited government views will resonate with voters.
Fisher opened the program at Suffolk by talking about three of his biggest priorities - eliminating fraud and abuse in the EBT welfare benefit and food stamp programs, making sure illegal immigrants are not rewarded with drivers' licenses or in-state tuition, and eliminating the tolls on the Turnpike.
"These programs are necessary and they're there for the needy who need them, not the greedy who abuse them," Fisher said about welfare programs.
He also said the free-market would be a preferable alternative to both Obamacare and Romneycare to control rising health care costs, and said the state has put too great a focus on higher education spending at the expense of training young people for blue collar jobs like welding or plumbing.
Asked about the children of illegal immigrants who may have come to this country by no choice of their own, Fisher said he resented parents using their children as an excuse to receive benefits that should be reserved for those here legally, like the two non-citizens on his payroll who have their green cards.
"They're not just cutting the line. They're breaking and entering and we do not reward that behavior," Fisher said, suggesting Massachusetts should let illegal immigrants move to New York and California to get benefits rather than stay here.
Fisher said he would not raise the minimum wage, and believes government should let the market determine wages, though he said he does want to eliminate the current wage floor as it stands in Massachusetts at $8 an hour.
Making frequent mention of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and his respect for what they have accomplished in Democratic states, Fisher said he personally opposes abortion and believes in the sanctity of traditional marriage, but does not believe government should get involved in people's lives at that level and would not try to impose his personal beliefs on the electorate as governor.
Asked about his views on climate change and strategy for meeting the state's carbon emission reduction goals, Fisher said he finds the science around climate change to be inconclusive and pledged to eliminate the state climatologist position that Patrick announced he would create in January.
"I love climate change," Fisher said. "I love New England. I live the winter and the spring and the summer and the fall. When we can all agree on what's going on here then I think we'll talk about solutions but the science has become so politicized," Fisher said.
In response to a question about state spending on higher education, Fisher said government spending on financial aid and student loans has enabled colleges to keep tuition costs high, and said government investment should be "ratcheted down to a level where carpenters, plumbers, electricians, welders, mechanics can benefit from it." "I don't think we have focused enough on those jobs that don't require a college education," he said.
Fisher recalled recently going to a Worcester trade school in hopes of finding six machinists to hire for his company, but found only one student enrolled in the program in the whole high school.
"Maybe we overburdened the market with college grads because we said success can only come with a college education and the debt that goes along with it," Fisher said.
After high school, Fisher did not go straight to college, but eventually enrolled in community college and earned his engineering and business degrees from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. After being unemployed several times when his employers shut down to move to other states, Fisher opened his own metal manufacturing company Merchant's Fabrication in Auburn.
Fisher said Massachusetts can be more economically competitive by aligning its corporate tax rates with competitor states, getting rid of "ticky-tack fouls" for business that bump against "burdensome regulation" and eliminating the $200 million inventory tax, without which he said Massachusetts could become a "haven for distribution centers."
In keeping with his limited government views, Fisher also told the audience that two of his seven employees do not have health insurance by choice, even though in Massachusetts they pay a penalty. "That's happiness for them," Fisher said.
Though he said Obamacare makes going back to a free market for health insurance unlikely, Fisher said he would ideally like to see people have the opportunity to purchase simple catastrophic coverage at significantly reduced premiums and then shop for preventative care services on their own. Though patients, under his idea, would have to pay for medical care out-of-pocket, he said it would encourage competition and drive down prices.
Fisher also opposes casinos and supports the ballot effort to repeal the state's expanded gambling law, and believes Massachusetts should wait to see how the experiment of legalizing and taxing marijuana in Colorado works before following that path here.
"I don't want to find ways to get people high, I want to keep them sober so they can work," Fisher said.