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Hopewell, Leahy discuss issues at senate debate

June 20, 2014 | By G. Michael Dobbs

HOLYOKE – While the background and experiences of the two Democratic candidates for the Second Hampden & Hampshire Senate seat are different, most of their views on issues are similar as revealed at a debate at the Holyoke Public Library on June 16.
Patrick Leahy and Christopher Hopewell discussed a wide range of topics posed by a panel of local journalists at the forum moderated by Holyoke City Councilor Anthony Soto and sponsored by the Massachusetts Latino Caucus, Holyoke Democratic Committee and Westfield Democratic Committee.
The winner of the primary between the two Democrats will face state Sen. Donald Humason Jr. in the November election.
Hopewell is an Army veteran and a health professional whose experience includes being an emergency medical technician. He said he is “proud to call Holyoke my home,” where he said he served as a member of the Fire Commission. In his opening statement, he called for more treatment for opiate addicts and added that state government “needs get to get the big issues right the first time.”
In his introductory remarks, Leahy, who is a Holyoke police officer, said, “There is a disconnect between what is happening in our cities and town and what's happening in Boston.”
Both men stressed at various times during the debate their commitment to be responsive to the needs and concerns of the Latino community in the district.
When asked about whether or not they support a repeal of the casino legislation, Hopewell said he doesn’t believe in gambling and called casinos “predatory.”
Leahy said, “I do not support casinos and voted against it in Holyoke.” He added however, if elected and if the question to repeal is defeated, Leahy said he would “make sure that MGM is built and operated the right way.”
On the subject of the growing incidences nationally of school shootings, both candidates were asked what could be done to help make local schools safer. Leahy said as a police officer, he has helped teachers develop best practices for schools to deal with a potential village.
He explained, “There is a fine line between fortifying the schools and interfering a with the children's education.”
As a health professional, Hopewell has seen the effects of gun violence. He believes the root cause of the rash of gun violence in school is mental heath issues and he called for more mental health counseling early on.
The candidates were asked if they support new gun control legislation pending in the General Court. Leahy said, “It’s a very important question and I’m proud that Massachusetts leads the way in gun control. If rest of country followed Massachusetts’ lead we wouldn't have the problems we haven today.”
He added he believes, though that “everyone [should be] at the table to have a discussion.”
Hopewell explained that he seen a tremendous amount of gun violence. “We need less guns on the streets, but the gun that are out there are illegal guns,” he added.
Both candidates also reacted to the state’s takeover of the Morgan Elementary School. Leahy said it was “very, very troubling.” He believes the state funding formula for school must be revisited and that parents must be educated about the importance of homework.
Hopewell said he was “adamantly against an outside agency coming in and trying to fix the problems at the Morgan School.’ He added there must be a focus on public education and making sure every student graduates.
On the subject of medical marijuana, the two candidates disagreed. “It’s a joke. We need to legalize on federal level and tax it.  I can’t disagree with the system they put in place more,” Leahy said.
Hopewell countered, “I think we have our first disagreement Mr. Leahy. Medical marijuana can help people in pain lead better lives. Being a healthcare professional for a long time I see the benefits.”
On state aid to cities and towns, Leahy called for a change in the funding formula, while Hopewell believes examining the cost of healthcare – he noted that 43 percent of the state’s budget is spend on healthcare – could send money back to municipalities.
With the growth of opiate addiction, both men called for additional treatment resources.  Leahy said, “It has spread like wildfire.”
Hopewell serves on the Northwestern District Attorney’s Task Force on Opiate Addiction and said the state “needs a comprehensive plan.” He noted the most expensive place for treatment is jail.
Acknowledging that one of them will face Humason in November, Leahy noted, “Whoever advances is going to have a very tough fight.” He called for support from Democrats.
Hopewell said Humason “needs his record challenged” and that his positions on a woman’s rights to choose and marriage equality are “completely out of touch with this district.”

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