With the primary election fast approaching, the two Republican candidates for lieutenant governor faced off in a debate Monday, in which they agreed on issues like tax relief but clashed on Governor Charlie Baker’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and whether an endorsement from former president Donald Trump is a blessing or a curse.
Leah Allen and Kate Campanale, both former state representatives, underscored their differences with each other and Democrats on Beacon Hill in the debate.
Allen, a registered nurse, is running alongside former Whitman state lawmaker and gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl. She pitched herself as part of a team that will “protect your wallet, protect your freedoms, and protect your children.”
Campanale, the declared running mate for Wrentham businessman and gubernatorial hopeful Chris Doughty, said her legislative experience and Doughty’s executive experience makes them “the only balanced ticket” that could bring a layered perspective to the corner office.
Allen got into the race after the pandemic inspired her to fight for individual freedoms, and says she was fired from her nursing job at Beverly Hospital after refusing a COVID-19 vaccine.
During the debate, she called vaccine requirements a “form of segregation” and government overreach.
Allen, whose running mate was endorsed by Trump, said the endorsement helps, not hurts, their campaign in Massachusetts, despite the small number of registered Republicans in the state. She said the campaign is based on Trump-aligned platforms, like border security and low unemployment, and have been received well as the pair crisscrosses the state.
“The policies we had under the former president are what we are running on,” she said. “It hasn’t hurt us so far.”
Campanale said a Trump endorsement means “a guaranteed loss in November,” and slammed both Diehl and presumptive Democratic nominee Maura Healey’s campaigns for focusing on the former president. Under Healey, the attorney general’s office sued the Trump administration nearly 100 times.
“Our opponents on the right and the left are so focused on this one man,” she said. “One wants to be like him and the other wants to sue him.”
She said her campaign is focused on affordability and funding for cities and town, and said they are focusing on “people who are exhausted with party politics.” She said Baker handled the pandemic well “with the information he had,” and praised her running mate for educating his employees about the availability of the vaccine but not mandating that they receive one.
Both candidates, however, slammed the governor’s vaccine mandate for executive department employees, including transit employees and the Massachusetts State Police.
“The government should not be involved in your health care decisions,” Allen said. “To me, that’s a red flag for government overreach.”
Campanale — whose husband, state Representative Peter Durant, publicly opposed a vaccine mandate for elected officials last winter — said as lieutenant governor, her administration would “provide leadership but allow people to make their own health decisions.”
Baker, who is not running for a third term, has not endorsed a candidate to be his successor.
The job of lieutenant governor has few formal responsibilities, including chairing the relatively obscure Governor’s Council, which vets judicial nominees.
Campanale said she has streamed “several” Governor’s Council meetings. Allen said she attended one when she was a state lawmaker.
Allen said the lieutenant governor’s duty should also be to bring an ideological balance to the eight-member Governor’s Council, so that judges and parole members “represent the people of Massachusetts.”
She also said she would fashion the lieutenant governor’s portfolio to include being a “liaison for parents” who may be concerned with what their children are being taught in schools.
She praised current Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito for her work with domestic violence survivors, and her advocacy on bills that would outlaw so-called “revenge porn” and would expand the list of crimes for which someone could be held before trial.
Campanale said beyond the statutory requirements, which include becoming acting governor if the governor leaves the state or dies, she sees the lieutenant governor as being a “point person” for local governments and a salesperson for the state’s tourism industry. She also praised the way Polito has handled the role, and said the Baker-Polito administration was better for the state than the Democrat alternative.
“Chris and I don’t always agree with Charlie Baker and Karyn Polito, but we do know that they made a much better team than Martha Coakley ever would,” she said, referring to the former attorney general who unsuccessfully ran against Baker in 2014.
The debate, held about three weeks before the Sept. 6 primary, was hosted by WBUR in partnership with WCVB Channel 5 and The Boston Globe. It was moderated by WBUR’s Steve Brown and Darryl C. Murphy, and WCVB’s Sharman Sacchetti.
Material from the State House News Service was used in this report.