Friday, October 21, 2016

Political Mistakes Happen Locally Too

GOUVEIA: Politics gets nasty here, too

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Posted: Thursday, October 20, 2016 10:12 pm | Updated: 10:59 pm, Thu Oct 20, 2016.

Political mistakes have been quite common this election season, particularly on the national scene. But recent political miscues at the local level deserve special mention.
Let’s start with state representative challenger Michael Toole and his ill-advised decision to decline an invitation to attend a candidate forum in his own hometown of Norton simply because it is sponsored by the Tri-Town Chamber of Commerce.

You know, that non-profit group comprised of local businesses, with the stated mission “to bring business people together to improve the economic well-being of their organizations and thereby improve the quality of life in our communities?” Right-leaning, no doubt, but hardly a bunch of radicals.
Toole is a Democrat and his Republican opponent, Rep. Jay Barrows of Mansfield, is a leader in the organization. Toole said he is willing to discuss issues in a fair and unbiased format, but feels Barrows has a conflict of interest because he is a member of the chamber’s board of directors.
Just a couple weeks ago, Barrows traveled to Norton for a debate against his Norton Democratic opponent. The moderator for that event (it was me) is a well-known Democrat from — you guessed it — Norton. But, the Republican from Mansfield still came and did the debate.
Yet, Toole believes speaking before local business people and answering their questions in a non-debate setting would somehow put him in an unfair situation? That clearly indicates he believes the chamber leadership and members to be incapable of running an unbiased event.
To be a legislator, you have to demonstrate the ability to work and function in all environments. Toole’s only stated reason for declining the invitation was that he doesn’t have faith in the sponsoring organization and its ability to be objective. That’s insulting and wrong.
As this heads to press, Rep. Betty Poirier, R-North Attleboro, has declined to debate her opponent on North TV because she just can’t find the time. However, she can find time to do an interview alone on the same cable operation. That is pathetic and a sad commentary on the veteran representative.
Same goes for Sen. Richard Ross, R-Wrentham, who also can’t be bothered debating his opponent. Shame on them both.
Elsewhere, North Attleboro’s RTM continued to demonstrate a complete disregard for the will of the voters. This week they passed on the opportunity to once and for all eliminate preliminary local elections in town, something voters have clearly indicated they would favor.
Despite having more than 20,000 registered voters, no preliminary election in North Attleboro history has ever attracted more than 1,800 citizens. Most have featured considerably fewer. The cost of running these unnecessary elections is about $12,000 each.
All these do is reduce the number of candidates running for office and discourage participation. Apparently, North voters can’t be trusted to choose properly from three candidates running for one seat. The current rules require a preliminary just to cut the field to two.
But RTM members simply refuse to recognize the obvious. Having such elections helps those currently in power, so once again the ruling body has solidified its grasp on the system and prevented any type of progressive change.
Part of the excuse given for defeating the elimination was that even the sponsor admitted the wording of the proposal might not meet state standards. The town’s attorney noted he had not had the chance to refine the language since it was a citizen’s petition and not sponsored by a town body.
Really? It has been known for some time this was coming. Could the motion itself not have been presented to the town’s attorney in time to be properly vetted, thus saving everyone valuable time?
Once again, officials in North Attleboro disregard both common sense and the expressed opinion of the electorate. Maybe this will resurface and eventually be passed. Or maybe they can put a non-binding referendum question on the ballot and see what voters really want, and then totally ignore it. That’s worked well in the past.
Maybe the nasty, bitter, seemingly endless presidential campaign has me politically exhausted these days. But I hate seeing this arrogance seep into the local political level.
Debate your opponents. Speak to all legitimate groups. Listen to your constituents. Doing otherwise makes you look foolish.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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