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Lieutenant governor hopefuls argue for MBTA fixes, tax cap law in GBH debate

From left to right: Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, state Senator Eric Lesser, and state Representative Tami Gouveia at the state's Democratic party convention in June.AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

The three Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor participated in a televised debate Tuesday night, pitching themselves as the best person to take on the relatively obscure role.

Longmeadow state Senator Eric Lesser, an alum of the Obama administration, said he is the only candidate who brings the perspective of representing Western Massachusetts. Mayor Kim Driscoll of Salem has the “on-the-ground” experience of leading a city through a recession and a pandemic, she said. Acton state Representative Tami Gouveia, a former social worker, said she wants to elevate the issues of both the people she’s served and others she’s met during her campaign .

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Driscoll, who won the Massachusetts Democratic Party’s endorsement at its June convention, cited her more than 16 years as a municipal leader.

“It’s different to talk about things as a policy leader to rail against or criticize what might be happening when you actually have to do the work on the ground,” the fifth-term mayor said, alluding to her opponents, who both serve in the state Legislature.

Lesser pushed back on her claim, saying lawmakers have “done quite a lot that has had real impact on people’s lives on a daily basis at a massive scale.”

He attempted to distinguish himself from his competitors in the Sept. 6 primary by being the first candidate to say that he would be the best to serve alongside Attorney General Maura Healey who, without an active primary opponent, is the presumed Democratic nominee for governor.

“The question voters are going to be asking is . . . ‘Who is going to be the right partner for Maura?’” Lesser said.

Gouveia said the job goes beyond just heeding the governor’s demands, but also involves having the governor’s ear to communicate concerns of constituents.

“It’s not just about being the person at the front of the room, or the ultimate decision maker,” she said.

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Healey has not endorsed a candidate in the race.

The candidates aligned around what to do after a nearly 40-year-old tax cap law upended negotiations earlier this week over a $1 billion tax relief proposal lawmakers spent months developing. They all want to keep the 1986 law, which seeks to limit state tax revenue growth to the growth of total wages and salaries in the state.

But all are interested in seeing lawmakers address the fact that the tax relief part of a larger economic development bill was completely undone in the early hours of Monday morning.

Gouveia said she wouldn’t vote to repeal the 1986 law, but would work to pass other economic development legislation. Lesser, who didn’t acknowledge that he was one of six negotiators who worked on the failed proposal, said the law complicates efforts to get relief back to taxpayers, and that they need to “step back” before fashioning a response.

Driscoll said the state needs to follow the law, which has only been triggered once before in 1987.

The candidates were also in alignment on questions about what to do about the embattled MBTA, though only Driscoll and Gouveia see the recent safety failures as partially a funding issue.

Driscoll agreed with moderator Jim Braude in describing the recent issues as “a total mess.” Gouveia said the T is “crashing and burning almost every single week.”

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Lesser, who participated in a recent oversight hearing, said the Legislature has funded every request it’s received regarding the MBTA, and that the issues stem from poor leadership and transparency.

The debate aired on 89.7 FM and on GBH Tuesday night. It can be viewed on GBH’s YouTube channel.

Unlike the fiery debate on GBH Monday night among candidates for attorney general, the candidates Tuesday largely kept their comments positive.

The job only has two constitutional mandates: to serve on the relatively obscure Governor’s Council and to step in if the governor is unable to serve.

Braude stumped the candidates when he asked if they could name the members of the Governor’s Council and also asked if they’d ever been to a meeting.

Driscoll said she attended once to support a candidate, Lesser and Gouveia both said “no.”

Lesser continues to lead in fund-raising, according to data for June released by the Office of Campaign and Political Finance. He has about $1 million in his war chest , compared to $276,000 for Driscoll and $196,000 for Gouveia.


Samantha J. Gross can be reached at samantha.gross@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @samanthajgross.