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Area Democrats talk domestic surveillance in first major campaign event

By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer

Candidates stand on the stage shortly after entering for the Feb. 6 forum. (Photo by/Dakota Antelman)

Hudson – Democratic candidates to replace retiring US Representative Niki Tsongas focused on domestic surveillance among other issues in a forum at Hudson’s Portuguese Club Feb. 6. The event was the first this election season to gather all 13 Democratic candidates in the same room.

Sponsored by the Hudson, Marlborough, and Maynard Democratic Committees, the forum lasted roughly two hours. It attracted several hundred constituents from Massachusetts’ Third Congressional District, which runs along the border with New Hampshire from Haverhill to Winchendon and south to Marlborough.

“It is important that the Democratic voters in the district have the opportunity to see and hear from the candidates hoping to become the next member of Congress from their district,” said Jane Chertoff, chair of the Hudson Democratic Town Committee in a press release before the event.

With experience in both the public and private sectors, the list of candidates in attendance included Alexandra Chandler, Abhijit “Beej” Das, Rufus Gifford, Steve Kerrigan, Dan Koh, Barbara L’Italien, Patrick Littlefield, Bopha Malone, Leonard Golder, Juana Matias, Terry Ryan, Keith St. John, and Lori Trahan. Newly declared candidate Jeff Ballenger also attended but did not participate in the forum as he began his campaign too late to be included.

Discussing topics ranging from the electoral college to health care, candidates repeatedly weighed in on issues surrounding surveillance of American citizens. In doing so, they offered their thoughts on the Patriot Act, which then president George W Bush signed following the September 11 attacks to loosen restrictions on domestic surveillance.

Das, who said he opposed any form of government surveillance in his youth, said the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing changed his mind about the issue.

“I thought, ‘Gosh, nothing is worth losing a limb for,’” he said. “So I would authorize a modified version of the Patriot Act. I do think today’s threats are more powerful than yesterday’s threats.”

While the majority of candidates aligned with Das in emphasizing their mixed feelings about the Patriot Act, Alexandra Chandler took a slightly different approach. In still saying the act needs revision, Chandler cautioned that “we need to apply a scalpel” when amending the Patriot Act. Prior to running for congress, Chandler worked in the intelligence community, a career she took up after witnessing the September 11 attacks from New York City.

She argued that the US can, notably, close the controversial prison at Guantanamo Bay, and eliminate torture “without overturning everything under the Patriot Act.”

Though their other key policy issues were often similar, candidates did differ in the tone and frequency of their references to President Trump. Koh was one of several candidates who frequently mentioned Trump in his responses. Others, like Gifford, spoke less frequently of the president.

The night also included scattered mentions of the representative candidates are racing to replace — Tsongas.

Tsongas first won her seat in 2007 and announced in Aug. 2017 her plans to retire at the end of her current term. The news caught political insiders by surprise, suddenly putting in play an office solidly under Tsongas’ control since she first won it.

Despite losing every US Representative election in Massachusetts since 1994, Republicans were optimistic that scattered blocks of blue collar conservative workers within the district could help them swing the seat.

Democrats, meanwhile, were confident they could hold it, leading to the crowded field of candidates at the Feb. 5 forum seven months before the party’s primary on Sept. 4.

Though candidates have already raised more than $4 million for their campaigns, the Feb. 6 candidates forum was a first for a diverse field. Having sponsored that unofficial start to the campaign season, organizers were happy with what their forum accomplished.

“It was difficult,” Jane Chertoff said. “We didn’t quite know how effective it would be, but, in fact, I think that people did get a good sense of who the candidates are.”

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