BOSTON -- From her opposition to expanded access to high-quality schools in Lawrence, to her inability to stand up for taxpayers, Democrat state Senator Barbara L'Italien is out of step with the voters of her district. In an Andover Townsman article today, GOP Senate candidate Susan Laplante "ticked off a series of issues that [show] L'Italien isn’t in step with her constituents on a number of issues."
Laplante says incumbent state senator 'out of touch' with district
By Bill Kirk
It’s not exactly a David-and-Goliath battle.
Susan Laplante, 53, a Republican from Lawrence, is running for state Senate against first-term incumbent Barbara L’Italien, 55, a Democrat from Andover.
L’Italien has the backing of the state’s biggest unions - and the money in her campaign coffers to show for it. She has been involved in politics for much of her adult life, including an 8-year stint as state representative, followed by a high-ranking position at the state treasurer’s office, and more recently as an Andover school committee member. She raised nearly $65.000 between January and August of this year, and still has about $50,000 in the bank.
Laplante, a part-time state employee who works as a clerk for the UMass Extension office in Lawrence, has run for office once — as a Republican state committeewoman earlier this year — a race she lost.
She is known in Lawrence for her work with the city’s charter schools and in her neighborhood with the neighborhood association. She also is known because her husband — Marc Laplante — has been a Lawrence city councilor for the past dozen years or so
But Laplante’s name recognition in Lawrence, combined with the fact that she’s a Republican, leads her supporters to think she may have a chance at unseating L’Italien, says her campaign adviser, Wendy Wakeman.
Wakeman, a North Andover resident who worked for Andover Republican state Rep. Gary Coon about 20 years ago, noted that L’Italien’s last opponent, Republican Alex Vispoli, an Andover selectman, won three out of the four communities that make up the district. But he lost in Lawrence — which has the highest number of voters — so he lost the election.
If the vote totals in Dracut, Andover and Tewksbury are repeated this fall, and Laplante picks up more votes in Lawrence than Vispoli did by virtue of her connections to the Immigrant City, she could eke out a win, the reasoning goes.
Retiree health insurance
During an interview earlier this summer in the Townsman office, Wakeman and Laplante ticked off a series of issues that they say show L’Italien isn’t in step with her constituents on a number of issues.
“I’m a firm supporter of local control,” said the candidate, noting that she supports efforts by the Andover Board of Selectmen and other town officials to rein in costs associated with municipal retiree health insurance. “Very smart people in Andover have done the hard work of reform to try to solve a financial problem of unfunded liabilities. And Barbara is pushing it down the road another two years.”
She noted that L’Italien co-sponsored an amendment to the state budget that would extend a current ban on increasing premiums for retired municipal workers, essentially overturning a vote by the Board of Selectmen - and nearly two years worth of work by two, separate advisory panels - to increase the premiums as a way cut costs to taxpayers.
“It’s not my position to overrule them,” Laplante said, referring to town officials. “Andover is the leader in the state in addressing this issue. It’s one of the issues that needs to be looked at statewide.”
The Legislature overrode the governor’s veto.However, the matter continues as selectmen are ignoring the Legislature’s veto while being sued by town workers.
Laplante said she also differs with L’Italien on her approach to taxes, such as the proposed tax on paint. She said that because of a bill supported by L’Italien, paint stores in Massachusetts may have to add $4 onto the cost of every can of paint they sell. The money is slated to go into a fund to recycle toxics.
“As a district on the border of New Hampshire, we don’t need to give people another reason to go north to New Hampshire to do their shopping,” Laplante said, noting that small retailers like White Street Paint in Lawrence stand to lose money and possibly jobs as a result of the new tax. “We keep creating new ways to create revenue that hurts people.”
Laplante also faulted L’Italien for her positions on transparency and accountability in government. Through a number of votes, Laplante said, L’Italien voted against making government more open and accessible to voters.
She said L’Italien voted for a public records law that applies to everyone but the Legislature, which can still meet in secret whenever it wants to and doesn’t have to abide by the same kinds of public records and open meeting rules that state agencies or local boards and commissions are required to comply with.
“We need to have sunshine and they exempted themselves from the new open meeting law,” she said. “How can you create a special group of people like that?”
Laplante said she and L’Italien differ on another, fundamental question facing voters this fall on whether there should be more charter schools. A ballot question expanding the number of charter schools will be on the ballot. Laplante is for it; L’Italien is against it.
Laplante recounted her personal experience with getting her children into a Lawrence charter school. She said their education has been better as a result.
“Charter schools are the only option for middle class families,” she said. “It’s the only option for a quality education.”
L’Italien, Laplante noted, “thinks we have enough charter schools.”
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