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Eagle-Tribune - Politics with Passion

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Location: Methuen, MA

Tsongas, Golnik outline differences before rowdy crowd

By Brian Messenger

A raucous crowd packed Mann Orchards last night to watch 5th District frontrunners Niki Tsongas and Jon Golnik go head-to-head on everything from illegal immigration and the economy to the future of Social Security.

The debate, cosponsored by the Eagle-Tribune, marked the first one-on-one forum featuring the candidates, both of whom agreed their differences couldn't be greater.

"There is a clear choice that lies ahead of us," said Tsongas, an incumbent Democrat, before turning to Golnik. "I support Wall Street reform. You do not. I want to make sure we never privatize Social Security. It's a fundamental safety net."

Golnik, a Republican, in turn criticized Tsongas for voting in lockstep with the Democratic party and failing to listen to her constituents.

"I agree with Rep. Tsongas that the choices are clear," said Golnik. "If you believe that you don't have a voice ... then I say come with me. I will listen. There is no one that will work harder for this district than I will."

Tsongas has served as congresswoman in the 5th District since October 2007. She will face Golnik in the Nov. 2 general election along with independent candidates Dale Brown of Chelmsford and Bob Clark of Berlin

Roughly 200 people attended last night's debate.

Nearly a dozen in attendance questioned the candidates directly, while many others cheered and booed in response to what Tsongas and Golnik offered for answers.

Golnik said Tsongas has distorted his stance on Social Security throughout her re-election campaign. Golnik said he supports allowing those entering workforce to place a portion of their Social Security contributions into private investment accounts.

"I do not believe in privatizing Social Security," said Golnik. "That is not privatizing. That is choice."

Tsongas said such a change would be detrimental to the current system that she said so many older citizens rely on for income.

"As you create a choice ... you are basically undermining the Social Security system as we know it," said Tsongas.

Tsongas drew the brunt of the crowd's hostility. When asked where she would draw the line on government regulation, the Democrat triggered boos when she said the recent economic downturn was caused by Wall Street and Washington's failure to regulate it.

"That's a lie!" yelled one man in the standing-room-only crowd.

But Tsongas continued.

"I will never let that happen again," said Tsongas.

In addition to pushing for financial reform, Tsongas said she supports stronger regulations in the oil industry, which she blamed for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

"That's the kind of regulation the American people need," said Tsongas.

Golnik said he sees the need for limited financial regulation.

"I am no laissez-faire capitalist," said Golnik. "(But) regulation does one thing. It increases the cost of doing business. It is passed down onto the backs of the working men and women of this country."

Golnik said he will push to lower the corporate tax rate and extend the Bush tax cuts in their entirety, including to the top 2 percent of American income earners -- many of whom Golnik said are small business owners.

"These people are the engines of job creation," said Golnik. "We need to expand those tax cuts across the board."

Tsongas said she has vowed to return to Washington and extend tax cuts to the middle class.

Golnik went on to criticize health care reform, which Tsongas supported.

"It hasn't lowered costs at all," said Golnik. "It is also a job killer. Make no mistake about it. ... It's wrong and it's a bad bill."

Tsongas said the reforms will better protect consumers from having their insurance company drop their coverage and increase coverage to children with disabilities.

"It is achieving remarkable reforms for the American people," said Tsongas. "A number of reforms people would like a chance to work."

Asked why she hasn't offered more public support of her vote to pass health care reform, including in her televised campaign advertisements, Tsongas answered by discussing her "fundamental obligation" as a congresswoman to work on behalf of veterans, which has been the predominant theme in her first two TV ads.

"I think the answer is clear," said Golnik in response. "She's not advertising her votes because they were bad votes."

When asked about illegal immigration, Tsongas said she has voted to send National Guard troops to assist border patrols and believes the government must hold employers accountable who hire illegal immigrants and "create an underground economy" in the process.

"I think we need in place a comprehensive immigration reform," said Tsongas.

Golnik said he does not support amnesty for illegal immigrants. He was also skeptical of Tsongas' wishes for immigration reform.

"To me reform is just a code word for expanded government," said Golnik.

After facing questions from a panel and audience members, each candidate was given one question to ask their opponent.

Tsongas asked Golnik if he would be a "rubber stamp" supporter of big business.

"Rep. Tsongas is trying to scare people," Golnik said in response.

Golnik asked Tsongas to clarify her recent remarks in a newspaper article that she has worked in a bipartisan manner, noting that she has voted in conjunction with House Speaker and California Democrat Nancy Pelosi 98 percent of the time.

"It's a Republican talking point that is being used in every single campaign," said Tsongas, before being cut off by a loud mix of boos and applause.

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