State Rep. George Ross and challenger Paul Heroux showed no love for each other in an election debate Thursday night at Attleboro High School. The atmosphere was disagreeable and at times hostile as the two stated their cases for why they should be in the state House representing the 2nd Bristol District, which includes most of Attleboro.
Ross, a Republican who was elected to the House seat in 2010 after serving seven terms on the City Council, touted his accomplishments, which he said included banning the dangerous drug known as bath salts, naming a bridge after a local couple killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and delivering local aid as well as state surplus money to Attleboro.
Heroux, an administration and policy consultant with several academic degrees, said Ross was "not an effective legislator" and had failed on his 2010 campaign pledge to bring jobs to Attleboro. The first-time candidate said he would offer a fresh perspective to government because he was not a career politician. Heroux also talked about some of his ideas, including a requirement for performance measures to be attached to all spending bills to determine whether programs are running effectively and efficiently.
During the first portion of the debate, candidates answered questions from representatives of The Sun Chronicle and the United Regional Chamber of Commerce, which co-hosted the event. In the next portion, candidates asked each other questions, and that's when the room temperature spiked.
Ross asked Heroux about his testimony at a 2011 council meeting regarding a measure to prohibit high-level sex offenders from entering city-owned buildings and other properties. Heroux neither favored nor opposed the measure, but criticized it.
Heroux said at the debate that the measure was "useless" because it ignored how sex offenders find their victims. He said the offenders know the victims through family or school and violate a trust to commit the crime.
"Parents are the first, best line of defense against sexual predation, not some feel-good measure the City Council passed," said Heroux, who added that he heard the councilors did no significant research before considering and finally approving the measure.
Ross responded, "I can't believe, Paul, that you don't think our City Council did a good job … Even if it saved one kid from being molested, it was worth it."
Heroux cited Ross' 2010 campaign promise to bring jobs to Attleboro. He asked Ross how many jobs he has brought since his term began. The incumbent was unable to provide a number.
"I can't tell you how many jobs I brought," Ross said. "I didn't keep track of it. All I know is the unemployment rate went down in the last two years in Attleboro, not by much, it can come a lot better, but it did come down."
He added that his proposal for Attleboro to become a Gateway City, which would have allowed the city to collect increased funding for education and economic development, would have been a job creator. The measure was approved by both houses of the legislature, but vetoed by Gov. Patrick.
"That vetoing, with that one stroke of the pen, eliminated what could have been thousands of jobs," said Ross, who said he would continue with the effort during his next term.
Heroux said of Ross, "He campaigned on bringing jobs to Attleboro. He did not bring any jobs to Attleboro. He's not an effective legislator."
A moment that received the biggest crowd reaction came during a question from Ross about Heroux's voting record. Attleboro Patch revealed earlier this month that Heroux has not participated in most elections since becoming an eligible voter nearly two decades ago. Ross quoted Heroux's statement from the article that he did not vote between 2004 and 2008 because no race "piqued" his interest. Ross called the statement "flippant and irresponsible."
"You should be ashamed of yourself," Ross said. "What about all the thousands of veterans that you insulted in this city that laid down their lives and put their lives in jeopardy so you could have that opportunity, and you cast it off with some flippant remark? I think you owe every veteran in this city an apology."
This statement was met with a mixture of cheers and jeers. Apparently some of the people who dissented were veterans, based on what Ross said next.
"And if veterans don't understand that, there's something wrong with you because we all took a pledge to support and serve this country as members of the Armed Services," said Ross, as he looked into the audience. "You can go ahead and boo, but the people who are booing really don't care about this country."
This statement triggered another round of boos.
Regarding his spotty voting record, Heroux said, "Am I a perfect voter? No. Am I a regular voter? Yes. And I think the average person can probably identify with that."