State Representative Sean Garballey, a 27-year-old Democrat seeking a third term, is being challenged by Republican Joseph J. Monju, a self-described “regular guy” who says the state needs two parties represented on Beacon Hill.
The two Arlington residents are seeking to represent the 23d Middlesex District, which covers most of their hometown and three precincts in West Medford.
Monju, 65, is a Town Meeting member in Arlington and member of the Republican Town Committee. He wasn’t always a member of the GOP, he said, having grown up in a family of Democrats. However, meeting a group of unemployed “hippies” during a trip to California in 1970 changed his political outlook, Monju said.
“They were really angry, mad at their governor for cutting their benefits,” Monju said. “And their governor was Ronald Reagan. I thought, why are these people relying on benefits? Why aren’t they working?”
Monju said he returned to his job, but never forgot the people he met.
“It took me 10 more years, but I realized, those people aren’t like me. It woke me up, and I’m glad it did,” Monju said. “I became conservative.”
Monju said the biggest problem on Beacon Hill is “single party rule.”
“I’m not happy with what I see going on,” he said. “We need fiscal sanity . . . we need more balance on Beacon Hill.”
Monju said he would be a strong voice for cutting excess from the budget, especially welfare fraud and abuse, and applauded the recent restrictions placed on how recipients can spend money through electronic benefit transfer cards.
“I certainly believe in welfare for people who need it, it provides a great opportunity to give people a chance, or a second chance,” he said. But, Monju said, welfare wasn’t meant for people to live on their whole lives.
“That hurts the people forced to pay for it, and it hurts the people who receive it,” he said.
While Monju is an advocate of “common sense spending,” which he describes as “don’t spend money you don’t have on things you don’t really need,” he sees education as a place where government shouldn’t scrimp.
The New Orleans native started out as an auto mechanic before earning a degree in technology and getting a job at Intel in Hudson.
“I went back to school and got an associate degree and I had an incredible sense of accomplishment,” he said. “That’s an opportunity everyone should have.”
He said he is in favor of making innovative improvements in the state’s education system, including taking a look at whether mandatory curriculum guides and testing is working, but not necessarily spending more money.
Monju said he wants to listen to educators to hear their ideas about ways to get students excited about learning.
“Somehow I want to inspire students and make them want to learn,” he said.
Garballey was elected as an Arlington Town Meeting member at age 18, then served on the School Committee two years later while a student at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
He points to several accomplishments since his election to the state House of Representatives in 2008, most recently the passage in August of a bill he authored requiring health insurance companies to pay for hearing aids for children.
“Before this law was passed insurance companies didn’t have to cover the cost of hearing aids,” he said, putting them financially out of reach for many families at a time in the child’s life when being hard of hearing can make academic achievement a challenge.
According to Garbally, hearing aids can cost as much as $2,500 per ear.
The new law requires that insurance companies cover the cost of new hearing aids for children every three years.
Calling himself “an independent voice who can work with Democrats and Republicans,” Garballey points to an accomplishment early in his career as a legislator when he helped to pass ethics provisions that put restrictions on lobbyists.
More recently, as chairman of the House’s Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Caucus, Garballey said, he was able to prevent severe service cuts that had been proposed for bus routes in his district. He said he has also been a leader in the fight to keep fares as low as possible, especially for the Ride, which provides door-to-door transportation for those who can not use mass public transportation.
In the next term, Garballey said, it is critical that legislators address the more than $5 billion in debt being carried by the MBTA.
“We need to get Democrats and Republicans from across the state to get together and find a solution that improves public transportation for the whole state,” Garballey said. “It’s a huge bridge to economic development and growth.”
Garballey said he will support a consensus solution to cut the MBTA debt that includes a statewide public transportation strategy.
Garballey called the state’s public colleges and universities “truly incredible places,” and pledged to continue working on keeping fees and tuitions low and add money to scholarship funds.
He said 82 percent of the students graduating from state colleges and universities stay in Massachusetts.
“The more we invest in our young people, our human capital, the more our young people will prosper,” he said.