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The Patriot Ledger (Quincy, MA) October 10, 2002

All 5 square off for 1st time
Minor parties present, but O'Brien, Romney focus on each other By Tom Benner BOSTON - The war of words between Democrat Shannon P. O'Brien and Republican W. Mitt Romney continued last night, despite the presence of three other candidates in the first five-way gubernatorial debate. O'Brien and Romney picked up where they left off after two previous one-on-one debates, while minor-party candidates Carla Howell, Barbara C. Johnson and Jill E. Stein pressed their points to voters. Romney went on the offensive early in the debate, using a question about the Proposition 2 1/2 cap on local tax hikes to assert that O'Brien will raise taxes if elected governor. "My opponent, Shannon O'Brien, has consistently raised taxes," Romney said during the debate, which was televised by WLVI-TV, Channel 56. "She's raised the sales tax, the income tax, the excise tax on automobiles, the gasoline tax. That's what she'd done in the past, that's what she's going to do in the future if she's elected governor." Romney also reiterated his pledge to roll back the state income tax to 5 percent. O'Brien shot back that Romney is the only gubernatorial hopeful calling for a tax hike by proposing higher excise taxes on fuel-inefficient vehicles such as SUVs. "Again, we're seeing once again Mitt Romney is attacking my record," O'Brien said. "I think if you're going to say one thing and do another, I think you need to be very clear with the people of Massachusetts." Romney took immediate offense to the charge that he was attacking O'Brien. "The idea that you would say that I'm attacking you, after going across the commonwealth over the last six months, you and (running mate) Chris Gabrieli attacking my record and attacking everything about me, it's a bit of stretch," Romney said. Romney added, "Your record of raising taxes $2.6 billion worth is something we just can't afford, particularly in tough times." O'Brien again complained later in the debate that Romney has run a negative campaign. "You made a pledge that you were going to talk about yourself and the issues that you

care about," O'Brien said. "You've broken a number of pledges in this campaign. How can the people of Massachusetts trust you?" Romney responded by telling O'Brien, "It's time for people to hear the truth about your record. Politics is not a place for whining, this is a place for us to talk about our views." Howell, the Libertarian Party candidate, took a shot at Romney for not supporting a ballot question that calls for the repeal of the state income tax. If passed, the ballot question would remove $9 billion from the $23 billion state budget. "As governor I will veto any budget over $14 billion,' Howell told Romney. "But you oppose ballot Question 1. You are a big government, high tax, Republican politician, just like your predecessors." Stein, the Green Party candidate, took a shot at both major party candidates by saying Beacon Hill is too entrenched with special interests. "The same big-money forces that were in charge of the Legislature are still very much alive and well on Beacon Hill in both political parties," she said. Independent candidate Johnson complained that the discussion lacked specifics about budget cuts. "Not one of these people have said what they would cut if the income tax was rolled back, what they would merge, what programs would be merged," Johnson said. When O'Brien, who is state treasurer, pledged to cut duplication in state government, Romney shot back: "This is great, the treasurer is getting religion, I love it." He added: "I wish that when she was in the Legislature, instead of voting for the sales tax increase and the income tax increase and the excise tax increase and a higher gas tax, that she'd have taken those issues to heart." After Romney pledged to cut at least $1 billion in state spending, O'Brien said: "The problem is that in the last debate the numbers that you put on the table weren't real numbers, they were numbers that were pulled out of the air. And that's the difference between being someone who is a CEO or someone who has not been in public service, the numbers have to add up." One additional debate with all five candidates is scheduled for Oct. 21, but only O'Brien and Romney are expected for a final debate on Oct. 29. The gubernatorial election is Nov. 5.