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PHOTOS: State Rep. Candidates Debate

State Rep. Jason Lewis and challenger George Georgountzos debated this week at Stoneham Town Hall.

The Winchester League of Women Voters hosted a State Rep. debate between incumbent Jason Lewis and challenger George Georgountzos Monday night at Stoneham Town Hall.

The State Rep. candidates fielded nearly a dozen questions that were submitted prior to the "Day at the Races" Candidate Forum held Oct. 22 in the Town Hall Auditorium. About 80 people were in attendance to hear the candidates speak on a variety of topics, ranging from Chapter 70 funding to the MBTA budget.

Each candidate gave brief opening remarks, followed by the question-and-answer portion of the forum before offering closing statements. Candidates were also given time for rebuttals following each question, if needed.

Top Priorities

When asked what their three top priorities were if elected as the State Rep. for Stoneham and Winchester, here is what they candidates tabbed as their top areas of concern:

Georgountzos:

1. Economic development

2. Improving Chapter 70 funding

3. Making sure towns well served by good communication between Beacon Hill and the communities he'd represent

Lewis:

1. Local economic development

2. Education

3. Affordable healthcare

Ensuring Educational Funding

Lewis discussed how he has worked to increase Chapter 70 educational funding for both Winchester and Stoneham, as the state is now at a "record level of $4 billion," according to the State Rep. He also noted how he is working to change the outdated Chapter 70 formula to improve funding to both communities, as well as all communities in the state.

Georgountzos called the issue of educational funding the "most vital" of the issues facing both communities. "Towns that have strong schools have high property values...and towns with good schools attract businesses to come into them," he said. He called the current Chapter 70 formula "bad for Stoneham and bad for Winchester" and said it needs to be fixed to provide "adequate, fair funding" to both towns.

When the question was asked how they would fix the Chapter 70 funding mechanism, Lewis reiterated how he is the lead sponsor for submitting legislation seeking to revamp the way Chapter 70 funding is calculated. Georgountzos countered, saying a 2-3 year study costing roughly $200,000 to $300,000 won't help solve the problem, and that all communities need to be funded at the 17.5 percent rate.

Stimulating the Economy

For Georgountzos, he'd like to see the return of the tax rate to five percent, as "it would stimulate businesses...and the revenue that would come in from that kind of growth would more than offset the loss of taxes from the 6.25 percent..." He also would like to see the "Big Brother" mentality of government in Massachusetts changed to one that supports businesses in the state.

Meanwhile, Lewis said the legislature under Gov. Deval Patrick is working with mayors and communities to improve the economy through three initiatives: investing in education, infrastructure and innovation because those are the areas that "make an economy great."

Citizens United Decision: Good or Bad?

Georgountzos said he agrees with the Supreme Court's ruling in favor of Citizens United, stating that while corporations may not be people, "corporations are made up of people." He said the laws related to Citizens United are fair and strict. However, Lewis strongly disagreed with Georgountzos, calling the Supreme Court's ruling "one of the worst decisions in the last 100 years." Lewis said there is too much money in campaigns now, adding that there has been a significant rise in Super PACs. He said that the amount of money flowing into political campaigns is "a very serious threat to people. Corporations aren’t people." 

Illegal Immigration

While both candidates said they support full enforcement of illegal immigration laws, they also had differing perspectives related to the issue.

Georgountzos said: "People are being rewarded for breaking the rules. And what does that do? It's costing all of us in lost jobs...costs in health care for people going to our emergency rooms" as well as in automotive insurance rates because illegal immigrants involved in accidents are driving without insurance coverage.

Lewis scoffed at the notion of "self deportation" raised by Georgountzos, saying he'd like to see how that would be enforced. Lewis said that it's "a fallacy" that social service programs are made easily accessible to illegal immigrants, adding that there are "strict eligibility guidelines" in place in Massachusetts. During Georgountzos' rebuttal, he claimed that there aren't strict enough guidelines in place and that services are provided to illegal immigrants who don't show proof of residency. He said that's a problem that should be able to be fixed immediately.

Charter Schools

Georgountzos said he is a strong supporter of charter schools, citing the successes of the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School. However, Lewis isn't quite sold on charter schools, saying that not many students go to charter schools despite some "producing tremendous results." While he supports charter schools in so far as they help close achievement gaps, Lewis said it would be a challenge funding charter schools.

Common Ground

While both candidates had differing opinions on some of the topics debated Monday night, they did find themselves agreeing on a few subjects, including raising awareness about single-stream recycling programs in both communities and improving educational funding to ensure the towns receive their fair share from the state.

Both candidates understand the MBTA's economic woes, stemming largely from the debts incurred by the Big Dig project that is looming over the transportation service provider. They both discussed the mismanagment of the Big Dig and other projects that have put the MBTA in its current situation.

On another subject, if Roe versus Wade was overturned, neither candidate said they would support additional restrictions on abortions. Neither Lewis or Georgountzos foresee Roe versus Wade being overturned anytime soon, and they also agreed that more of an emphasis should be placed on what the legislature can do to reduce unintended pregnancies mentioned by Lewis.

Check out images from the debate in our photo gallery.

linita October 27, 2012 at 03:28 PM
Why were there not more questions on the issues affecting us at the local level? Roe vs wade? Illegal immigration? Ridiculous! In terms of personality, Mr Lewis came across as arrogant and dismissive.
Phil Mentes October 27, 2012 at 09:42 PM
The questions all came from the public so it was whatever people chose to ask. State legislators don't just deal with local issues, they also have to vote on state level issues which certainly could include illegal immigration, women's health, campaign finance reform, and other issues that came up in the debate. I thought Lewis came across as much more knowledgeable and well informed. George seemed flustered at times and not well prepared, especially his closing statement.
George Georgountzos October 28, 2012 at 12:20 AM
What closing statement? I ditched my closing statement when it became evident that the selected questions did not include the timely and important issues I've been raising from the start of the campaign like Lewis' indefensible vote against EBT reforms, photo IDs at the polls, community policing, and other knee jerk progressive stances my opponent regularly and predictably takes. If you heard or watched the debate you should have heard that I opted to forego the closing argument to raise these issues. Along those lines that is why I called for more than one debate with Mr. Lewis. Questions selected by a committee (even if they came from the public) meant that penchant and controversial topics could be passed over. That would not happen in a town hall format.
JT October 28, 2012 at 03:23 AM
It is disappointing that Lewis did not agree to at least one additional debate to allow the audience to ask questions of candidates directly. There were many that went unasked & therefore unanswered. Although this debate addressed a few state level issues, important ones like Melissa's Law, Secure Communities, and Voter ID were never brought up. Given that Lewis did not support either of the last two, it would have been informative for the public to hear his explanation of why, as well as to hear Gerogountzos' view on them. Recent EBT card reform to clean up millions of dollars worth of fraud of taxpayers hard-earned money should also have been discussed but it wasn't--until Georgountzos opted to address it instead of giving his "closing." Only then were we were able to learn that he supported the legislated reforms to clean up the system, but Lewis had voted against them. Another striking difference between the candidates was Georgountzos' stated commitment to listening to residents & boards of each town to consider all sides of issues & find the best possible solutions for all concerned; whereas during the years Lewis has represented this district, his votes have shown obvious partisan bias in favor of a progressive/socialist ideology that even others in his own party have sometimes shunned because it did not serve their constituents well. It would seem the best way to represent constituents would be to listen to them & work with them regardless of any party agenda.
BAV October 28, 2012 at 01:42 PM
Playing the Socialism card, again! No one with a brain falls for that tired schtick. But keep trying, there are some mindless people who might fall for it, but they are already converted to your way of thinking. Sadly up till then I was with you. Would love to give every candidate an explanation why they support or oppose legislation. More often than not, the legislation is given a tag line like "Secure Communities" where the outcome is anything but a secure community. Or a law like "Voter ID" which is unconstitutional whether we might support it or not. I too would like to hear such a debate.
George Georgountzos October 28, 2012 at 03:05 PM
BAV, if Massachusetts adopted "secure communities" legislation, that kid who was dragged to his death by an undocumented immigrant would have long been deported. Secure community laws simply allow local police to coordinate with federal databases to adequately protect us. If secure community laws are such bad ideas, why does the Massachusetts Police Chiefs organization and law enforcement want it? Rep. Lewis and Gov. Patrick don't, because they apparently want to give rights to those who don't constitutionally have them. And, as for the socialist moniker, Lewis has indeed been endorsed by the American Socialist Union, so let's call a spade a spade.
BAV October 28, 2012 at 04:59 PM
Mr. Georgountzos - I was addressing JT, but had no idea that you were stooping to throw around the socialist stuff too. It is a sad and comical scare tactic worthy of the 1950's. Thanks for helping to reaffirm that I will be voting for Mr. Lewis, if there was any doubt. I'll be doubling my efforts to get out the vote now.
linita October 28, 2012 at 08:28 PM
Lewis is a vote the party dem who hasn't had an original idea to date. EBT abuse is rampant and yet he voted against reform. Add the fact that he is a hot head when he doesn't get his way, and he is not the representative of choice.
gosachems October 31, 2012 at 11:05 PM
If linita bothered to actually research the EBT issue rather than simply parrot George's accusations, she would know that Rep. Lewis voted against the original EBT bill in the House because rather than focus on combatting fraud it just created a huge long list of products and services that EBT recipients would be barred from purchasing. This would be impractical to enforce and costly for small businesses to comply with (aren't the Republicans always saying they want to make life easier for small businesses?). Thanks to cooler heads prevailing in the state Senate, the final bill that emerged from a House/Senate conference committee was much more sensible and enforceable and Rep. Lewis voted for this version of the bill. This seems to me to be exactly the kind of thoughtful, common sense leadership that we want from our elected officials.

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