Gubernatorial Candidates Present Views on Immigration, Justice and Equality at Forum at Bunker Hill Community College

Coakley, Falchuk and McCormick agree on many controversial policies, differ in views of role of government and the political establishmentoctforumweb

October 16, 2014 BOSTON —An energetic crowd packed an auditorium at Bunker Hill Tuesday
night for the non-partisan Gubernatorial Candidates Forum on Immigration, Justice andEquality. The event marked the second gubernatorial-candidate gathering at Bunker Hill sponsored by a group of non-profits and higher education institutions: The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, Bunker Hill Community College, the Elma Lewis Center at Emerson College, MassVOTE, the Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers, and the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.  The audience reflected the diversity of the sponsors, with a wide range of ages and ethnicities represented,  including students, families, union members, local leaders, and representatives of Massachusetts’ diverse immigrant communities (Spanish and American Sign Language interpretation were also provided).

The forum featured Martha Coakley (D), Evan Falchuk (Ind.) and Jeff McCormick (Ind.) in a lively discussion of the issues moderated by Boston Globe editorial and op-ed writer Marcela Garcia.

The evening was kicked off by Eva Millona, MIRA Executive Director, who challenged the candidates to consider their responsibilities in leading a state with the seventh largest immigrant population in the country—half of them citizens, and many new voters as well—and in maintaining the Bay State’s leadership in the social, civic and economic integration of immigrants and the fight for civil rights. Ms. Millona introduced Dr. Pam Eddinger, the President of Bunker Hill Community College, who welcomed the diverse crowd and the candidates to “democracy’s college” where everyone could find a place.

During the forum, each candidate in turn had 90 seconds to answer eight non-partisan questions prepared by the forum organizers and circulated in advance to the candidates. The questions addressed a wide range of issues impacting the rights and opportunities both of immigrants and all residents of Massachusetts, including bilingual education; racial bias in policing;  immigrant access to higher education; a new federal program encouraging Muslim community members to report “extremist” views in their midst; the need for warrants before searching phone and internet records; visions for the social, civic and economic integration of immigrants in Massachusetts; a statewide “trust act” to limit the impact of the federal Secure Communities program; and allowing all state residents regardless of immigration status to apply for drivers’ licenses.

The three candidates in fact found large areas of agreement on many of these questions, starting with the importance of fixing the K-12 system to improve opportunity for English language learner students. The candidate’s differed though on what the solution should look like, with Coakley stressing the need for the state to be a good partner with schools, and the independents Falchuk and McCormick arguing the system was broken and needed a new kind of leadership. The tension between the Democratic candidate and the two independents in this respect characterized their responses to other questions as well, such as in-state tuition and financial aid for undocumented students. All three candidates answered a firm “Yes” in support of in-state tuition, and the importance of an educated workforce for the Commonwealth’s future — but Falchuk also questioned the will of the political establishment in achieving this long-fought-for goal, proposing an ambitious plan of two years free community college tuition for all state residents.

Coakley, Falchuk and MckCormick found measured agreement as well on a number of more controversial issues, including the need for a statewide “trust act” and driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants,” which all argued was a clear safety issue. Noting that she had changed her views on the “safe driving” bill, Coakley insisted she was committed to finding a solution, looking at what other states had done.  Discussing the call for statewide legislation to bar immigration detainers under “Secure Communities,” McCormick echoed a view of all three candidates in noting it had made communities more insecure.

Questions about civil rights provoked some of the most emotional moments in the forum, especially a federal program to counter violent extremism to training and funding community members to report on each other to law enforcement. All three candidates spoke in strong, personal language against such a plan, recalling anti-Muslim bias after 9/11.

Falchuk drew an outburst of applause from the audience when he said, “Sixty years ago we had witch hunts looking for communists, now we say you have to report someone who grows a beard because he practices his religion. Not again, not here.”

All the candidates agreed on the need to continue to collect and analyze evidence of police bias against minorities, with Falchuk and McCormick supporting the use of body-mounted cameras, and Coakley stressing the importance of a more diverse and better-qualified police force.

McCormick earned applause in his response to a question about the candidate’s views on supporting immigrant integration, from early education to job training. Voicing his support for universal pre-K, he lamented that “one of the great failings of government is people tend to think in two and four year election cycles. We need to be investing in our future every day.” Coakley and Falchuk also called for wide-ranging investments the future of the state’s immigrant communities, and the state’s future job creators, with Coakley calling for the federal government to act on immigration reform, including increasing the number of H1B visas, and praising Governor Patrick’s “Entrepreneurs in Residence” program.

In their closing remarks, the candidates highlighted both their similarities and their differences. McCormick, a venture capitalist, stressed the need for investment in creative new companies and technologies, as well as business zones, to pull people up and give them opportunities. Coakley called attention to her eight year track record in state government and the need to create a fair and inclusive system, where inclusion means you have opportunity to get on the economic ladder. Falchuk, the last candidate to address the audience Tuesday night, spoke of the need for everyone’s civil rights to be protected, but also challenged a political establishment that had excluded him and McCormick from other gubernatorial debates.