State rep forum highlights similarities and differences among candidates

The three candidates for the 11th Suffolk District seat—incumbent Rep. Liz Malia, Charles Clemons Muhammad, and Ture Turnbull—all had similar stances on many topics discussed during a forum on June 5, but differed subtly on topics such as supportive housing at the Shattuck Hospital campus, extending state tax holidays, the effectiveness of the Plan: JP/Rox, and elected officials transparency.

Jamaica Plain Progressives (JP Progressives) held the forum on June 5 to hear from three candidates in order to help inform their decision on who to endorse. About 60 people attended the forum, which gave strict time limits and specific questions for candidates to respond to.

Malia’s main priorities have been and will be to finalize this year’s budget and expanding the work that she’s been working on for the last few years for the Mental Health, Substance Use, and Recovery Committee to create resources for substance users to address the opioid epidemic.

“The communities that need the most help are the communities of color at this time,” Malia said.

Muhammad, a former correctional officer and Boston police officer and current radio station owner, proposed ideas often with the tag question “why not?” Muhammad said that he would fight for housing, jobs, and for those who might be discriminated against. His experiences as correctional officer influenced his opinions on criminal justice. However, he admitted that he was not very familiar with the criminal justice reform bill.

Regarding the criminal justice reform bill this year, Turnbull appreciated raising the age of being criminally responsible from seven to twelve, and but thought the bill did not go far enough in solitary confinement and reducing mandatory minimum sentences. Malia said that weaknesses were lack of resources for people with mental health and substance abuse issues.

Turnbull, a 14-year Jamaica Plain resident, thinks that the state government is too conservative, and wants to serve as a progressive representative. He emphasized his beliefs in single-payer healthcare, smart zoning, and transparency in elected officials.

Turnbull has spent eight years working at the State House, and is currently the executive director of the statewide advocacy nonprofit, MassCare, which advocates for the creation of a single payer healthcare system.

The three candidates all agreed that the minimum wage should be raised to $15, tipped minimum wage should be the same as regular minimum wage, and rejected efforts to create a sub-minimum wage for teen workers. However, Muhammad and Turnbull said they would not oppose efforts to extend a state tax holiday, but Malia said she would oppose it. Malia’s rationale was because it would decrease revenue and therefore not provide services that are needed for the community.

Another topic that Malia differed from the other candidates was her stance on term limits for leadership in the MA legislature.

“Our elections are our term limits,” Malia said, adding that she did not believe in term limits and never had.

Muhammad said there was a problem with transparency, and felt that there needs to be more transparency.

“We’re not at the table and we should be at the table with any decision that affects us,” Muhammad said. “I believe in true transparency when it comes to our elected officials, and we should be discussing issues every month.”

Turnbull believed that committee polls should be public for each bill.

“I want to know where my representative stands at every point,” Turnbull said. “Transparency is needed for the health of a good democracy.”

Malia said that transparency is about how constituents communicate directly with their representatives and express themselves by direct communication. She highlighted how proud she was of being reachable and responsive.

On what their position was about supportive housing on the Shattuck Campus, Turnbull felt that there is a problem of transparency in the planning process for the supportive housing.

“We need to stop that process and end it to make sure that every voice is heard,” Turnbull said. Similarly, Muhammad said that “the people need to have a say” in what happens on the campus.

Malia said the state needs to “come to the table with a plan that will address the public housing need,” in the supportive housing proposal.

Candidates were asked how they would combat neighborhood opposition to affordable housing development. Turnbull said that he welcomed voices from everyone, but believed that there needs to be more affordability in the neighborhood to prevent displacement. Malia said that she would come to the community and remind them that there hasn’t been sufficient federal funding for housing, look for tax incentives, and support local Community Development Corporations (CDCs) to build affordable housing. She emphasized her support of JPNDC and Urban Edge because of their work to provide affordable housing stock. Muhammad believes in a one-third system where a third of housing should be low-income, a third should be moderate, and a third should be market rate. He also felt that CDCs are not being held accountable enough and blamed them for failing to hire appropriate quotas of local, minority, and women employees.

Turnbull believed that single-payer healthcare system is the only way to improve the quality and reduce the cost of healthcare. Malia felt that a single-payer healthcare should be explored and talked about, and look at ways to continue and expand access to care, including adding behavioral health services for state health insurance. She thinks it is worth fighting for affordable healthcare to protect the reputation of Massachusetts having the best healthcare system in the nation. Muhammad agreed that access needed to be improved, but that education needed to be improved to get information out and increase civic engagement.

Candidates were asked if they supported the Plan: JP/Rox. Muhammad said no because he felt like residents were not “at the table” or contributing in a real way to the plan.

“We need to be at the table, because if you’re not at the table, you’re on the table, and they eat you up every time,” Muhammad said.

Turnbull said that the plan was not real planning because it did not take into consideration what is happening across the rest of the city.

“We can’t look at things piecemeal,” Turnbull said. “Things are being zoned with no consideration of what’s up down, left, or right with it. Why aren’t we planning? Why aren’t we doing smart growth? I think we can do much better.”

Malia said that JP/Rox has been “an excellent starting point.” She said that not a lot of people understand how they can be involved, and that it’s important to provide opportunities for people to get involved.

JP Progressives organizes and lobbies to support a progressive agenda in local, state, and national politics. The group votes to endorse candidates. In 2018, they have already endorsed Senator Elizabeth Warren, Attorney General Maura Healey, City Councilor Josh Zakim for Secretary of State, and Katherine Forde for Suffolk County Register of Deeds, and may endorse candidates from six other races around the state. The group is supporting legislation for automatic voter registration, Safe Communities Act, paid family medical leave, and increasing the minimum wage to $15.

Information about the group can be found at Primary election day is Tuesday, Sept. 4 this year.

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