By Matt Murphy

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

LOWELL -- Independent gubernatorial candidate Evan Falchuk went straight after fellow non-party candidate Jeffrey McCormick in a debate Thursday, accusing the venture capitalist and his campaign of pandering to voters by using issues like immigration to get "likes" on Facebook and score political points.

Falchuk, an executive with Best Doctors, Inc. in Boston, and McCormick debated for an hour at Middlesex Community College in Lowell in a forum sponsored and moderate by editors and reporters at the The Sun, of Lowell, and the Sentinel and Enterprise, of Fitchburg.

McCormick said he opposed Gov. Deval Patrick's offer to the federal government to temporarily house in a state military base undocumented children crossing the U.S. border illegally this summer to relieve space pressures on existing shelters because of the potential risk that they could overburden local resources.

Falchuk responded by noting that the federal government had agreed to pay for shelters, though the Obama administration ultimately decided against locating any children in Massachusetts.

"You willfully chose not to be aware of what was going on with this policy," Falchuk said. "The whole situation is bigoted. I'm not saying you're a bigot, but you're using it for political gain when you post it on Facebook, Facebook, Facebook and talk about how many likes it got.


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McCormick, a founding partner in the Boston venture capital firm Saturn Partners, pitched himself as a problem solver, while Falchuk, who is trying to create a new United Independent political party, called for the reexamination of priorities and values on Beacon Hill.

"The past independent candidates haven't been the strongest candidates. The reason why I'm running as an independent is to do a job. I want to be free of the special interests," McCormick said, later adding, "It is time for someone who knows how to solve problems to get into office, get into the details and actually fix things."

Falchuk, noting that a majority of voters in Massachusetts are unenrolled, said the political parties are too indebted to campaign contributors and worried about raising money and getting fellow Democrats or Republicans elected to adequately represent the people.

"There are people who will tell you that an independent is 'taking votes' from one party or another. Well I don't buy into that and voters shouldn't either," Falchuk said.

Both men called for more resources to be invested in mental treatment, and Falchuk said lawmakers should no longer use as an excuse that's it "too hard" to revise the Chapter 70 education formula so that public schools are adequately funded.

Falchuk said the public school system could use an infusion of $1 billion to bring education "to where it needs to be," noting the coincidence that lawmakers recently approved a $1 billion expansion of the Boston Convention and Exposition Center that he opposes.

McCormick said Gateway Cities like could also use more than the $16 million the House and Senate tucked into development fund for job creation at the end of the session, suggesting more money could be found by reforming incarceration policies and being smarter about energy policy.

Asked to grade Gov. Patrick's performance in handling the Market Basket standoff between employees and management that has crippled the popular grocery chain, McCormick said he would have stepped in immediately. "My rationale was this is a very important company. It's not just two guys with huge egos and a lot of money," he said.

Falchuk gave the governor a "C" grade for waiting to offer his help to resolve the ownership struggle between feuding cousins, and said he should have disclosed earlier the ties between his wife's law firm Ropes and Gray and the Market Basket board of directors. 

Both candidates said they opposed Kinder Morgan's plan for a natural gas pipeline from New York to Dracut, but McCormick said he does believe gas is a necessary bridge as the state moves away from fossil fuel toward renewable energy sources. He said the volume of wind and solar energy available is "just not there yet."

"You can't forget about cost. That's the one thing. It would be great to be 100 percent renewable but if costs went up 10 fold that probably would not be good for Massachusetts," he said.

Falchuk said Massachusetts is already "over reliant" on natural gas. "I'm against the pipeline," he said. "I don't think natural gas production is our future."

While McCormick said he supports casino repeal and thinks casinos will net a net job killer in Massachusetts, Falchuk said he favors keeping the existing law in place and worries about the political climate nationwide where opposing sides can't agree to move forward together after major decisions are made. In addition to casinos in Massachusetts, Falchuk cited the Republican efforts in Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act as an example.

While Falchuk cited tax incentive for big companies like Intel as the number one waste of taxpayer money in Massachusetts, McCormick said the bureaucracy in state government needs to be trimmed.

McCormick has called for 5,000 state job to be eliminated over the next four years through attrition, a pledge Falchuk pounced on as another "political stunt."

"So which jobs? When you look at these things, they just don't add up," Falchuk said, referring to a list departments in his hand that have experienced job cuts such as the Department of Children and Families that he said can ill afford to be reduced further.

McCormick would not pinpoint a department he planned to cut, but said his plan never insinuated that needed positions would not be filled in critical departments and agencies. "I think you need a right sized government," he said.

Both McCormick and Falchuk will be on the Nov. 4 general election ballot. A third independent in the race - Scott Lively - was not invited to the Thursday debate, but he told the News Service he has turned in enough signatures to qualify for the ballot as well.