Stay up to date on all the latest news from Boston.com
In their first debate on Wednesday, Republican gubernatorial primary candidates Geoff Diehl, a former state representative, and Chris Doughty, a businessman, quibbled over what their respective resumes would mean for the corner office and punctuated their squabbles with attacks questioning Diehl’s electability in Massachusetts and jabs at Doughty’s business’s run-ins with state environmental regulators.
But moments of common ground shone through, with both candidates expressing an urgent concern for the Bay State’s ability to maintain a competitive edge in attracting and retaining businesses and to provide an affordable economy for families, lest their differing opinions in how to tackle those issues.
Indeed, the hour-long segment on “The Howie Carr Show,” the conservative talk-radio program, moderated by the show’s namesake, brought into view just how much the race exhibits rivaling factions of the state party and, by extension, the climate of the national party in the age of Trump politics.
Diehl, who scooped up an endorsement from former President Donald Trump last fall, positioned himself as a dedicated conservative who will support law enforcement and take on culture-war battles, including through making sure “inappropriate material for young kids is no longer in the classrooms.”
Like Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, Diehl said he wants to make the state government more efficient “but also with a strong hand, which I thought President Trump had, which was unafraid to take on the powers that be.
“Whether it was the Democrats or whether it was the media, he absolutely put America first, and I’m gonna make sure we put Massachusetts first,” Diehl said.
Meanwhile, Doughty, president of metal gear manufacturer Capstan Atlantic and a first-time candidate who voted for Hilary Clinton in 2016, said Diehl’s candidacy itself was among the reasons he entered the race.
Diehl is “running a campaign that’s targeted to Alabama voters and here we are in Massachusetts,” he said.
Doughty offered that Diehl, if victorious in the Sept. 6 primary, would certainly be unable to eke out a victory over Democrat Maura Healey, the presumed Democratic nominee.
“He’s going to lose. I know it. We all know he is going to lose,” Doughty said. “We need someone like myself because … we are on the cusp of going to a single-party state and the disaster that will create.
“We’re already getting the feelings of it … we’ve got to have a governor that can go in, hold the line, put a break on it, and begin rebuilding our party,” Doughty continued. “It does no good to select a candidate that is going to get creamed in the election.”
Here’s what the candidate said on three key topics:
From the first seconds of his opening statement, Doughty said his 30 years of creating local jobs have given him the expertise of what it takes to ensure Massachusetts has a “booming economy … across all sectors” and make the state more affordable.
He vowed to “reduce bureaucracy and wasteful regulation” to help free up more tax dollars to cities and towns to fund essential services.
“It’ll allow us to begin to introduce a more competitive tax policy in Massachusetts,” Doughty said. “We cannot afford to lose more businesses like Raytheon.”
Raytheon Technologies, the aerospace and defense giant currently headquartered in Waltham, announced last month the company will build a global headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.
The company has said, however, it will maintain its presence in Massachusetts. A press release announcing the new project also said it did not accept or seek any financial incentives from Virginia or Arlington for the new headquarters.
But the emphasis on Virginia over Massachusetts follows news last year that firearms manufacturer Smith & Wesson will leave behind its Springfield headquarters after operating for nearly 170 years in the commonwealth due, in part, to a state bill seeking to ban assault rifle production.
“We need to make sure that you’ve got someone (in the governor’s office) who has a track record of trying to make sure the money comes back to the district and also lowers taxes so that we reduce the burden, increase the job growth, and make sure that businesses aren’t leaving — not just Raytheon, but Smith and Wesson out in Western Massachusetts,” Diehl said. “We need to make sure they are there.”
Doughty underscored his executive position in his company as proof he knows how to manage in a competitive industry, while Diehl pointed to his previous stint crafting the state budget on the Ways and Means Committee as well as the small business he owns with his wife and his job as director of business development for TRQ Auto Parts in Pepperell.
“The work I’ve been doing as a manufacturer’s rep. takes me out of state, takes me around the country working with partnerships, and of course I would like to take those businesses to Massachusetts to replace what we’re losing,” Diehl said.
Doughty said he worries that without action, Massachusetts could see residents slip away because of affordability woes and, in turn, damage the state’s economy.
“I worry that states like Virginia and Tennessee, New Hampshire and Florida are becoming more and more competitive against us, and because of that, we’re losing citizens and population,” he said.
Though neither candidate mentioned the controversial critical race theory that has become a flashpoint of national political debate, both Diehl and Doughty expressed appetites for providing pathways to make the state’s education system — and what its teaching students — more accessible to parents and families.
Diehl said the next governor needs to ensure parents have a say in what is taught in classrooms.
He also voiced opposition to COVID-19 measures such as masks and vaccine mandates in schools. (The state’s mask requirement lifted in February, though some school districts opted to keep the policy in place past that point. Students are not required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend schools.)
“We can’t have the masks keeping kids out of schools. We can’t have the vaccines being forced on kids,” Diehl said. “We’re seeing an increase in homeschooling — an 11 percent increase in Massachusetts — you’re seeing parochial schools, Catholic schools, getting massive enrollments because parents are tired of the baloney that’s going on in the (public) schools.”
He added “sexual preference material from ages kindergarten through third (grade) is totally wrong.”
Diehl didn’t provide specific context for the comment, but he made a similar remark in May after talking to parents in Billerica who were concerned about “very inappropriate” books allowed in elementary schools.
A handful of states have prohibited or limited how and when teachers can cover gender identity and sexual orientation, particularly with young students, with more states considering following suit. Florida, for example, passed a law in March banning teachers from covering those subjects from kindergarten through grade 3 “in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
“I have two daughters. I was not going to talk sex ed with them — that was my wife’s role,” Diehl said during Wednesday’s debate. ” … There is no way a teacher, someone outside the family, should be talking to our kids about sexual preference, especially at that young an age.”
Diehl said he would appoint a Department and Elementary and Secondary Education commissioner who shares that view.
He also expressed a desire to make sure local school committees are “more representative” of parents.
“A lot of the times they have teachers on there, former administrators — they have people who have ties to the school itself, the administration,” he said. “It should be parents for the most part. I want to support those people getting on the boards and then being able to speak up. They’ve been shut down.”
Doughty, though, noted there are limitations to what a governor can do.
But, one of the things the state’s top executive does have the power to do is select a secretary of education who is “focused on education, not activism,” Doughty said.
“It’s an important part of hiring,” he said. “I’ve been hiring people for 30 years. I’m very good at picking out who are the right candidates. I’ll give them the right mission, the right objective. I’ll measure them as I would one of my employees — are we performing the way parents expect from us?”
Doughty said he would also establish a phone hotline “parents can call when they feel like their child is being taught something that is inappropriate.”
“I would like to commend all the teachers. I have been absolutely amazed by the quality of our teaching and our administrators,” he said. “But I think there are cases where there (should be) a line you can call when you feel like your child is being taught something that is inappropriate.”
Lastly, Doughty vowed to roll out a “gap analysis” to take the pulse of the state’s public education system.
“On day one, I’m going to start a 100-day gap analysis of our schools to make sure parents are satisfied (and) know what we’re doing,” he said.
At times during Wednesday’s debate, Doughty sought to cast Diehl as incapable of giving Republicans a fighting chance at beating Healey in November.
Doughty noted his opponent lost a bid for state Senate in 2015, three years before his subsequent and unsuccessful run for U.S. Senate against Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a statewide election Diehl lost by over 20 percentage points.
“Geoff won’t win the general election … It’s already over,” Doughty said in his closing statement. “A vote for Geoff Diehl is a vote for Maura Healey. You can love him, embrace him. But when you go to the voting box, you and I know, we vote for Geoff, he’s going to get killed in the general and we end up with the disaster known as Maura Healey.”
Diehl fired back: “There’s your loyal Republican coming in out of the blue and running for governor.
“And when you lose,” he said to Doughty, “you’re going to be gone — I’m sure — again.”
Earlier in the debate, Diehl noted Baker didn’t win the first time he ran for governor, but did so the second time.
“I can tell you this though: A vote for Chris Doughty is going to be a vote for the next Democrat,” Diehl said in his closing remarks, before turning his remarks to Doughty specifically. “I mean, Hilary Clinton is thinking about running again for president. In ’16 you voted for her, maybe she’ll get your support if you’re governor, right?”
Diehl’s attacks on Doughty, meanwhile, centered on Doughty’s claim that, if elected, he would run the state like he runs his business.
Diehl pointed to over a dozen environmental violations allegedly committed by Doughty’s company, Capstan Atlantic, and claimed the company has 18 out-of-court settlements with employees.
As governor, “you need to be someone who you can trust in government to make sure that you are looking out for workers,” Diehl said.
In April, The Sun Chronicle reported the company, in February, entered an administrative consent order with the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to agree to correct the issues and pay a penalty of $1,380.
A company representative told the newspaper at the time Capstan Atlantic was speaking with state officials to resolve other problems, but that the violations were “minor” in nature.
Doughty, in his response to Diehl, said he runs a large and complicated business, which boasts 300 employees.
“There are issues that come up with the state all the time,” he said. “This is why I’m running. This is why the state of Massachusetts needs me because we are not business friendly.”
Diehl rebutted: “I’m glad you want to help out your business and make sure you have more legal loopholes so you don’t have these environmental violations. That’s a great goal.”
It was unclear Thursday whether the two will meet again before Sept. 6.
Doughty said Diehl has not agreed to another debate.
The Diehl campaign earlier this month, in the face of another debate challenge from Doughty, however, affirmed it has only committed to two radio debates: one on Carr’s show and another on Jeff Kuhner’s “The Kuhner Report” on WRKO.
Kuhner, notably, has supported Diehl before, having, at least, appeared with Diehl for a campaign fundraiser during Diehl’s unsuccessful U.S. Senate run and having endorsed him in 2020 for the Republican State Committee.
Stay up to date on all the latest news from Boston.com
Stay up to date with everything Boston. Receive the latest news and breaking updates, straight from our newsroom to your inbox.