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Too many trivial questions in debate

Martha Coakley’s contrast between Charlie Baker’s focus on helping businesses navigate regulations and delays and her invest-more-in-people approach was instructive.Steven Senne/Associated Press

It was hard to make a confident call about Tuesday’s gubernatorial debate because it’s hard to know how Charlie Baker’s “Cry Me an Acushnet River” moment will go over with the TV audience.

Sincere? Contrived?

Here’s my take: Baker wasn’t acting — but he certainly mists up easily. I hope, if he’s elected governor and is someday confronted with the choice of raising some new revenue or imposing budget cuts that could hurt truly vulnerable people, he’ll be able to summon up some of that emotion for their plight.

In fact, that’s the kind of question I’d have like to have seen asked. (Instead, when the issue came to revenues, the media panel seemed to want to measure how strong the candidates’ disinclination ever to raises taxes or fees was.)


I’d have been more interested in hearing the two answer that than talk about their signature dish or what they watched on late night TV or what costume their opponent should wear for Halloween.

This debate focused too much on 1) trivial pursuits and 2) gotcha moments. Partly because of the panel’s questions and partly because of the candidates’ queries, viewers got to hear, yet again, the two rivals probe each other’s embarrassments or weaknesses and defend their own.

I suspect most people have made up their minds about how significant those matters are. Myself, I don’t think anything that has come up should disqualify either one.

So how did I score it? Coakley was better at making her anti-Baker points and driving her themes. But some of those points – like the possible out-sourcing of 200 jobs by Perot Systems when under contract with Harvard Pilgrim – were awfully puny potatoes.

In those fleeting moments devoted to policy substance, Baker had the edge. Indeed, his best answer was his first one, when he explained at some length the hows and whys of his economic plan. Coakley didn’t reach his level of detail, but the contrast between his focus on helping businesses navigate regulations and delays and her invest-more-in-people approach was instructive.


If only there had been more such moments.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GlobeScotLehigh.