State Senate candidate John Slattery talked government spending, budget priorities, undocumented workers, the Salem power plant, medical marijuana and more Thursday in a live chat with Danvers Patch readers.
klassysalem: I saw your comments on SATV the other day. Is there a relationship between your comment that government spending has been cut to the bone, with no waste, and the fact that you've been endorsed by so many public employee unions? What should those endorsements tell me, as someone who has to fund those public union salaries?
John Slattery: I don't think there is any question that the state legislature has worked for the past several years to eliminate waste and duplication from the budget. They have enacted reforms to the pension system, the transportation system and have undertaken the Herculean task of reforming our health care delivery system and our health care payment system. At the same time the income tax rate has reduced from 5.95 to 5.2 percent. So my answer on SATV was a recognition of the hard work that has already been made to cut unnecessary spending from the budget. On the other hand, I do believe government does have the obligation to provide a quality education for our children, public safety for our residents, affordable and accessible public transportation, which includes not only public transit, but safe roads and bridges. There is a need to balance these obligations and a need to ensure that the government spending is done responsibly.
The death penalty vote
Keith Lucy: One of the primary traits that voters look for in an elected official is consistency. Consistency helps voters understand and trust their elected officials. By flipping your position on the death penalty, a matter that is literally a life and death issue, you showed a lack of consistency, and voters no longer trust you to say what you mean and mean what you say. Regardless of where a person stands on the specific issue of the death penalty, the fact that you would change your vote over the course of nine days shows that you cannot be trusted. If we cannot trust you on the life and death issues, how do you expect us to trust you on lesser issues? How do you expect anyone to believe anything you say?
John Slattery: When I was first elected to the House of Representatives, about 17 years ago, I was young, and like most people who are young, thought I knew more than I did. I was never comfortable with a pro-death penalty position, but thought that if that was the prevailing position in the district, that I should reflect that position. As I learned more about the issue, it became apparent to me that the death penalty was applied in a discriminatory fashion. If you were a black, Hispanic, Latino or poor defendant, you were [more] likely to receive the death penalty than if you are white or have wealth. I learned that it costs the state about three times more money to go through the death penalty appeals process than it does to imprison a defendant for life. A report from the Death Penalty Institute was issued which demonstrated numerous cases of an innocent person having been placed on death row, including a case now well known here in Massachusetts, that of Bobby Joe Leaster. I believe sound thinking elected officials owe their constituents their best judgment. I think elected leaders should have the opportunity to and flexibility to continue to learn about an issue and, if they, in the best exercise of their judgment determine that his/her prior position was wrong, that they do the right thing and change their position. It has been 17 years since that vote and the death penalty has not been enacted. Public sentiment has moved away from the death penalty. People like Robert Curley who suffered a horrible loss, have changed their minds and are now against the death penalty. I am comfortable with my vote. It was the right vote for me, for the district and for the state of Massachusetts.
Concerned Parent: Since the decriminalization of marijuana in 2008, MA has seen a rise in youth marijuana use. I am concerned about access to youth with medical marijuana on the ballot. While I am empathetic to patients who find relief from treatment of life threatening illnesses using marijuana, it seems that in states that have passed this legislation, like CA, it’s out of control. I’ve read that you would be interested in strict controls, but the wording of the legislation seems to allow for misuse and abuse and undoubtedly increase youth use even more. Do you support medical marijuana in MA?
John Slattery: I do support the use of medical marijuana so long as it is tightly controlled and dispensed by the government. I do not support patients being able to grow their own marijuana. In my opinion, to qualify, you must have a chronic, debilitating illness which requires pain management and the marijuana must be prescribed by a licensed physician. We already allow physicians to prescribe oxycontin. I think tightly controlled and monitored, medical use marijuana is another option for those suffering chronic pain.
Ted Mavrogeorge: I am surprised that the unions who endorse you are okay with your support for the employment of illegal immigrants. How do you justify your position given today's news that Mass. jobless rates have risen to over 6 percent?
John Slattery: I am not in favor of undocumented workers taking jobs from legal residents. My position is that the way to address this issue is by stopping businesses from gaming the system, rather than demonizing a particular population. Some irresponsible companies look to hire undocumented workers to avoid paying the wages and benefits that must be paid to residents. Developers have sought to use undocumented workers to let them provide low bids for public jobs. These companies and developers should be penalized for hiring undocumented workers. They should be made to compete with law abiding responsible companies and developers on a level playing field. That is the appropriate way to address the issue.
The power plant
Larry: What do you think of the Salem power plant? What would you like to see go there. Do you think the plan is viable?
John Slattery: Salem clearly has a vested interest in Footprint succeeding. As the state senator for the 2nd Essex, I, too am in favor of Footprint succeeding. I was heartened to read today that Footprint has the funding in place to decommission the existing plant and remediate the site. That position is consistent with my opinion expressed in my letter to the editor in which I stated that giving Footprint a guaranteed market share at the expense of ratepayers was bad public policy, especially given that Footprint had earlier told members of the Salem Alliance for the Environment that they had the funding in place to decommission the plant and remediate the site. I would like to see the city of Salem partner with Footprint in charting the development of the 40 acres of the site which will not be used for the gas plant. Salem has a wonderful waterfront which can be used for a marina, for the docking of cruise ships and open space, all of which will benefit the public. Government can partner with Footprint through the use of tax credits, investment in public infrastructure and through brownfields financing.
Helping businesses grow
Independent Voter: How would you be supportive of business growth in Massachusetts?
John Slattery: I have been out knocking doors and meeting with small business owners for the past several months. What I have learned is that many of our small businesses actually have jobs in the technology end of their respective businesses but there does not seem to be enough qualified applicants. I believe we should dovetail our community colleges and workforce training programs to give local students the training, education and job skills that local businesses need in order to benefit both small businesses and the students entering the job market.
For a complete transcript of Thursday's chat, .