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Economy a key issue in Merrimack Valley state Senate race

Kathleen O'Connor Ives.

Kathleen O'Connor Ives.

How to spur more job growth in the Merrimack Valley and the state is a major focus of debate as a wide-open race for a vacant state Senate seat speeds to the finish line.

Newburyport Democrat Kathleen O’Connor Ives, Haverhill Republican Shaun P. Toohey, and unenrolled candidates James Kelcourse of Amesbury and Paul A. Magliocchetti of Haverhill are vying in the Nov. 6 election to succeed Methuen Democrat Steven Baddour, who resigned last April.  

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All four candidates have promised to make the economy a key concern in representing the First Essex District, comprising Amesbury, Haverhill, Merrimac, Methuen, Newburyport, Salisbury, and part of North Andover.

“The economy is the number one priority, because you can’t address other issues unless you have a strong economy,” said Magliocchetti, a first-term Haverhill School Committee member. “That’s why I’ve put together a comprehensive plan.”

Shaun P. Toohey

The plan’s components include consolidating the state’s economic development agencies; making business tax laws more competitive with other states; and reducing the sales tax to 2 percent for border communities and 4 percent for communities that border them. Several communities in the district border New Hampshire.

“We want to be able to attract and maintain talent and innovation in the Merrimack Valley, and an important way to do that is to make sure that the training and educational options that are affordable stay that way, especially where we have a strong community college [Northern Essex] in the district,” said Ives, a three-term Newburyport city councilor. She said building public-private partnerships would be a key to that effort.

Ives said she also would work to remove the “fees and bureaucracy that only serve to hinder small business growth.”

Paul A. Magliocchetti.

Toohey, a three-term Haverhill School Committee member, said, “My job would be to provide an economic climate that is conducive for people to do business in these border communities” and to bring back manufacturing.

He said that would include working to reduce both the state’s 6.25 percent sales and 5.3 percent income taxes to 5 percent, and to lower health care costs.

A two-term Amesbury city councilor, Kelcourse said “getting people back to work” is his top priority, a goal he said also would help save money by reducing the number of people needing public benefits.

Kelcourse supports the Patrick administration’s initiative to modify or eliminate some state regulations in order to stimulate business growth. He also would push to expand the number of sales tax holidays and explore increasing the current $2,500 cap on items exempted from the tax on those days.

The race has taken on special interest because it marks the district’s first open contest for the seat in a decade and because Republicans view it as a possible pickup for the GOP.

Ives and Toohey earned added visibility and the backing of their parties in successful primary campaigns. Ives also has been endorsed by Baddour and such key area officials as mayors Donna D. Holaday of Newburyport, Thatcher W. Kezer III of Amesbury, and Steven N. Zanni of Methuen.

James Kelcourse.

The party affiliation that would best enable the candidates to serve the district is a subject of contention.

Ives said that as a member of the Legislature’s majority party, “I’m the only candidate in a position to continue this district’s tradition of strong Senate leadership.”

Toohey said he could help restore a two-party balance to the Senate, which now has just four Republicans among its 40 members.

“Even Democrats and independents are saying that having 36 Democrats and four Republicans is not good government,” he said.

But Kelcourse said because he is unenrolled, “I’m not beholden to anyone but the people. I’m really looking to make the right decisions, not the politically expedient ones.”

Magliocchetti, who plans to caucus with Democrats if elected, said “electing an independent that can convey a conservative point of view to the Democrats in a caucus is the most effective way to bring more balance in the state Legislature.”

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.
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