Forum draws local candidates to Cape Codder in Hyannis Thursday

Candidates briefly discuss everything from tourism to wastewater at Cape Cod Chamber sponsored forum


   Left to right: Incumbent Congressman William Keating and his oppononents, Republican Christopher Sheldon and Independent Dan Botelho. Photo by Matilda Brown.

by Matilda Brown

Candidates for the offices of County Commissioner (Eric Steinhilber - R, Sheila Lyons - D, and Mary Pat Flynn - D), State Senate (Therese Murray - D and Tom Keyes , State Representative (Randy Hunt - R  and Patrick Ellis - D, and Congressman (William Keating - D, Dan Botelho - I, and Christopher Sheldon - R, gathered at the Cape Codder Resort yesterday for a broad discussion on some of the issues facing Cape Codders in the upcoming election.

Also present to speak were Representative-elect Brian Mannal - D and Senator Dan Wolf - D, both of whom are running unopposed.

The discussion was moderated by Matt Pitta of  Quantum Communications station WXTK.

The three candidates for the US House of Representatives (Keating, Botelho, and Sheldon) briefly touched upon issues that they feel affect the Cape.

Keating, in his opening address, said, "the term representative is not a unilateral term; it’s about building relationships", something that he feels he has done in his many years in government.

Keating said that he has worked hard for small businesses, particularly in regards to H2B visa issues, saying that he has championed the cause of getting workers back year after year who have already gone through training. Keating mentioned that he has also been a strong proponent of Small Business Innovation Research grants for small businesses.

He mentioned that another issue he would like to address is getting commuter rails into Hyannis, a subject touched upon by other candidates in the forum as well.

"We need to show the world that Massachusetts is open for business." - Tom KeyesKeating was asked what he would do to make health insurance more affordable for small businesses in Massachusetts. He responded that he wants to work within the existing health care system, citing his work to get funds for an expansion of Outer Cape Health Services' Provincetown facility.

Dan Botelho mentioned that a driving force behind him in running for office was his family’s experience running a garment business. Botelho said that he has "seen what it takes to employ over 300 people".

Botelho said that his plans for the Cape would include trying to get the Army Corps of Engineers to examine the bridges, saying that the aging infrastructure needs to be updated, floating the idea of creating more lanes of traffic on the bridges and perhaps making another flyover where the Bourne rotary currently is.

Christopher Sheldon opened his remarks with a story about how he understands the balance of work and family because of his father’s past experiences. He said that he is upset by accusations from people like Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren that say his father did not build his business on his own, and said that he would like to change that perception.

Sheldon said about his opponent (Keating), "Bill has been an elected official longer than I’ve been alive" and mentioned that he feels that it’s time for a new face in Congress.

Sheldon said that for him, the issue of ever increasing housing insurance rates on the Cape is something that needs to be addressed through better modeling. He said that the science behind the models needs to be exact and that the data needs to be agreed upon.

Current Senate President Therese Murray and her challenger, Tom Keyes, also spoke briefly.

Keyes said that he felt the forum went too quickly. "They sent us the questions in advance," said Keyes. He said that he feels the upcoming debates in Plymouth and Sandwich, as well as one to be held on WATD, will be more effective than the forum where the candidates were given only one question a piece and limited time to speak.

Keyes said that he is running again this year because his race against Murray in 2010 was the closest race in the state, with Keyes receiving 48% of the vote. He said that he feels he’s got a good understanding of the district and is encouraged by last year’s numbers, citing that he only spent $46,000 while Murray spent around half a million, and despite his lack of resources, his message still got him 48% of the vote.

Keyes said there are several key components to his message. He said that if he is elected, he will work on getting more state aid to the Cape. He said that the Cape is quite underrepresented in the numbers and that has been putting a strain on public resources. While Keyes said he feels that we do a good job of funding our public schools despite receiving less state aid than other districts, he said that the funding takes away from public safety departments, something that Keyes feels is irresponsible with the opiate problem on the Cape.

Another part of Keyes message is his proposal of a small business bill of rights, which would include putting a moratorium on constant regulation changes for small businesses. He said this would help to address the areas unemployment and underemployment problems. "We need to show the Nation and small businesses that we are a partner in the economy," Keyes said.

He mentioned the flight of companies such as Fidelity to nearby states such as Rhode Island and New Hampshire and said "we need to show the world that Massachusetts is open for business."

Keyes said that while a lot of money is being invested into trying to attract companies, the approach should be changed to valuing the companies that already do business in the state.

Keyes said the other essential part of his message was to create more transparency on Beacon Hill. "The Senate has exempted themselves from the Open Meeting Law as well as the Freedom of Information Act," said Keyes, adding "I am absolutely going to propose a change." Keyes said that in his past work with government, he has been subject to the Open Meeting Law and doesn’t feel that it hinders government progress. Keyes cited scandals from the past few years involving elected officials as a reason to make the Senate subject to the Open Meeting Law.

Senate President Therese Murray’s spokeswoman, Samantha Dallaire, said that Murray is a proponent of the tourism industry on Cape Cod. Murray spoke about the job opportunities in Massachusetts, as well as how the unemployment rate is 2% below the national average, and how she wants businesses to set up shop in the state.

Murray’s question was about her involvement with Open Cape, a project that will bring greater broadband access to the area. Murray helped to secure $5 million to get the project off the ground.

Dallaire said that Murray has also worked with community colleges to try and retool their curriculums to the manufacturing opportunities that are coming to the State.

In response to Keyes’ statement about repealing the exemption from the Open Meeting Law for the Senate, Dallaire said that all the Senate’s formal sessions are broadcast over the web and that the exemption is good for keeping certain sensitive information private.

"The biggest and most crucial problem facing us is the wastewater issue…we need to deal with the wastewater issue to create a stable economy here on the Cape." - Sheila Lyons

The County Commissioner candidates are vying for two open seats, with incumbents Sheila Lyons and Mary Pat Flynn trying to stay in office, while Eric Steinhilber is trying to unseat one of them.

Steinhilber is the development director for the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, as well as a realtor. Steinhilber said, "I want to change the approach to wastewater and sewer systems. I’m in real estate and there are regulations on the books that deal with it and I want those solutions." Steinhilber is opposed to the creating a Massachusetts Wastewater Resources Authority type approach to sewering on the Cape, with signs that say "No MWRA".

Wastewater treatment is one of the main issues under review right now by the Commissioner’s office with town’s trying to balance development with the safety of the aquifer.

Steinhilber added that another issue he wants to find a resolution to is the unfunded pension liability in the County. He added, "we need leadership for families and business development," elaborating on that by saying that if a difficult business environment is perceived, it is easier to deal with than if it is a reality, which is harder to change.

Steinhilber addressed the question of how to attract young families to the aging Cape. He said that the biggest hurdle is the lack of decent paying jobs on the Cape. He said that the partnership of Cape Cod Community College with other area schools that has helped many students get four year degrees is a good start to keeping young people on the Cape.

Steinhilber said that another way to get more families is to address the drug problem so that our communities are safer.

Lastly, Steinhilber floated the idea of creating a type of resort channel for the Cape for tourists, or perhaps even a smartphone app that would allow tourists to know what is going on in the area.

Lyons defended her seat by saying that she wants to balance protecting the environment with attracting businesses. She said that Open Cape is a great example of a community development project that was facilitated by the Commissioner’s office.

Lyons said, "the biggest and most crucial problem facing us is the wastewater issue…we need to deal with the wastewater issue to create a stable economy here on the Cape."

"Cape Cod is an ATM for the state in terms of tourism…more money is sent to Beacon Hill than we receive back." - Randy HuntAs to the role of the Commissioner’s office when it comes to dealing with such issues, she said, "We are here to respond to the needs of the region and people." Lyons said that the Commissioner’s office doesn’t have taxing authority and can’t tell towns what to do. The role of the Commissioner’s office, according to Lyons, is to lead discussions and disseminate information to the towns.

Mary Pat Flynn said that an important service offered by the Commissioner’s office is water sampling. She added, "We live on an aquifer and we need to keep contaminants from going into the ground," adding that wastewater management is a significant issue. To address that issue, Flynn said the County and the Cape Cod Commission will work on providing regional solutions to the towns.

Flynn also mentioned that the County helped to secure the building to be used for Open Cape and that the Commissioner’s office also worked to get $500,000 from the state for e-permitting, something that Flynn said will change the way people work in the town halls.

Randy Hunt, the incumbent for State Representative, spoke about his introduction of legislation to help lower health insurance costs for small businesses by reducing the number of employees who have to be covered.

Hunt also spoke about how "it’s a great idea to put money into funding tourism." He added that "Cape Cod is an ATM for the state in terms of tourism…more money is sent to Beacon Hill than we receive back."

Patrick Ellis, Hunt’s opponent, said that he sees accessibility as a big issue for the Cape. Ellis said that he would like to establish light rail for the Cape and develop better bus routes and bike trails, as well as improve the rest areas on the highways.

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