[Editor’s Note: This week during a half-hour session, The Dedham Times spoke with State Representative Paul McMurtry, Democrat of Dedham, about a wide range of issues. Major excerpts of the discussion are reprinted below.]
Dedham Times: So far what has been most enjoyable about your position?
Rep. Paul McMurtry: Generally speaking when folks ask me if I like it, those who can read people well get a sense that I do like it. I tell them that not only do I like it, I actually love it. For me being a public officer and state representative has exceeded expectations. The biggest factor or reason why is the opportunity to help people, that there are resources available at the state level, and the State House, locally, and with our partners at the federal level that can help sometimes frustrated individuals that need some assistance. We're here to open those doors that may have been closed and get people help. Some may be simple and others more complex but the biggest satisfaction for me comes from helping people in need. It may sound like political rhetoric... I know the people that I surround myself with are sincere and genuine, and it’s very gratifying.
DT: What has been the biggest challenge?
PM: I think the most difficult part or challenge is the preconceived cynicism that people have of politicians, of public service. so I have to combat that on a daily or weekly basis. If you allow one journalist who has motives or intentions that are ill conceived or laced with hatred to form your opinion of public service, that is obviously going to be a negative result. I ask people, if they are interested, to let me share with them firsthand from the examples that I have on a daily basis being at the State House and working with people that I think are generally caring, compassionate individuals that want to try to make a difference. The biggest challenge is trying to work through those who have been, and many times justifiably so, tainted because of actions of a few - trying to work through those challenges to let them see that there's a greater good to all of this.
DT: A few months ago you voted yes to make it a crime to assault medical workers. Did recent experiences in the news or personal experience that you've had make you want to support the bill?
PM: No, that was (based on) being part of committee hearings and speaking to colleagues. Some of my colleagues happen to be practicing nurses and some of the circumstances that they face and the hazards of the job - there was a need to expand the boundaries of their safety and that’s why I supported that piece of legislation.
DT: Back in April you voted no on a liability insurance bill for restaurant employees and bars. You were in the minority 145-4, so can you explain your reasoning?
PM: I was in the minority because as a small businessman it troubles me when we in the legislature continually enact laws - I understand the concern and the need for public safety - but this law I thought didn’t take into account the current economic situation that we're in. This was saying most communities, myself included having a liquor-serving license, has this liquor liability insurance coverage. Some communities far out west, their towns don’t require it. So the state was mandating that every city and town require this of a small business. I felt during this economic crisis that we're in, a small business doesn’t need an additional $1,500 on average annual insurance cost added to their overhead. So I took a stand and was one of four voting against it for the pure point that if we had done something that was proactive that helped a small business sustain itself and then enacted this I would have been more comfortable with it, but this to me was just another obstacle put in the success of a small business person... So it’s a win for insurance companies, but I do understand it in a broad sense. I had many conversations with the chairman that authored this bill that it was for safety and some of those concerns that arise when you have liquor.
DT: On aid to cities and towns what can this district expect in the near future?
PM: We're all aware that we have many challenges. So what this district can continually as they’ve done locally - and all three of the towns that I represent are very conservative with their administration and conservative with their spending - there was just a round of cuts, and we can probably expect in the next fiscal year another round of cuts. We're not out of the woods yet with the economy, so we have to continue to manage our government both locally and the state in the most efficient manner possible. As far as the towns I represent, they are doing a great job managing that. If we can continue to keep our local economy stimulated through restaurants and commercial entities that we have we'll probably be able to lessen that pain that other communities in the commonwealth are feeling.
DT: What was your vote and reasoning on the state sales tax hike that was enacted last year?
PM: I voted against it. All of the research, all of the conversations and discussions, all of the studies that I have read and had an opportunity to look at indicate that in a down economy an increasing sales tax has a negative effect. I would have been one of the members, a small minority of members, who would have voted to reduce the sales tax, to stimulate retail sales and restaurants, to increase business, which then feed back into the local economy. So I voted against it... (but) the sales tax increased, and then Dedham adopted a local option three-quarter percent tax as well, so it went from five to seven percent for items here in Dedham on meals. I voted against it because, again, being a small businessman, knowing it has a negative impact, to me that wasn't the way to fix this economy. My mantra is to operate a more efficient, less costly government which I know we're capable of doing. There are a lot of good people in government that do a good job and we all have to step up to the plate and give a hundred percent so we can maximize efficiency.
DT: How often would you say that you vote with the majority?
PM: It’s a case-by-case basis and it’s a balance. Of course leadership and the speaker have initiatives that are very very important to them and agendas that they want to see accomplished, like any of us do. They have them on a greater scale for the entire commonwealth. I feel that my job is to represent the best interests of my district. If there's a borderline vote that doesn’t have a negative impact then I will vote with the majority but first and foremost is the constituents of the Eleventh Norfolk District and their opinion, so that’s what I base my votes on.
DT: Tell me a bit about your various committee assignments.
PM: One of my proudest is the Veterans and Federal Affairs. Under a previous speaker I was put on that committee in my first term and maintained that into my second term and under this current speaker I have maintained that position. Never having the opportunity to serve in the military because I was self-employed at a young age, I always had this eternal desire to respect and honor Veterans and I had this perfect opportunity for me to do that. (It) oversees any legislation that impacts Veterans that have served our country, or members of the armed forces that are currently serving, and their families. So I’m proud of that. I also serve on the Labor and Workforce Development Committee which is very timely and appropriate with the current economic situation we are in and the job crisis, with more than ten percent unemployment. So there's been lots of committee meetings and hearings, trying to help Massachusetts rebound from this through creating jobs. The third committee I serve on is Personnel and Administration, which last year just came off of major ethics reform legislation that that committee oversees, applying to House members and their staff.
DT: In our April 16 newspaper, we published a story stying you supported gaming legislation - what were the main reasons for your vote on that issue?
PM: It seemed to me that it was the inevitable. I had an opportunity to listen to the desires of constituents who want to see resort destination casinos come to Massachusetts. I felt it was almost the inevitable because our current governor and candidates for governor all support resort gaming destination casinos. I decided that there were lots of negatives of course and the vote didn’t come easy but I decided that the positive aspects of it far outweighed the negative aspects. I have an opportunity being in the State House to have firsthand conversations with the folks who authored these bills. I had a lengthy conversation with the chairman of the Economic Development Committee, who put this 170-plus page bill together. I said, 'Reassure me that you're confident this is one of the most comprehensive pieces of gaming legislation in the country, that will address all those concerns.' He said, 'I can promise you that.' Lots of the concerns that people had, of negative social aspects of having gaming establishments - it's a very very small percentage. An overwhelming majority of people willingly, voluntarily support it, want to support it, want to stay within the confines of the Massachusetts border. The biggest component of why I voted in support of resort destination casinos is that the over $1.1 billion of Massachusetts money is spent in just the Connecticut casinos on an annual basis. So we have an opportunity to recapture some of that money, and let some of that money go to the needs of the citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
DT: About ten days ago, I read that the Senate passed its own version of the gaming bill, that doesn't include as much support for the slot machines. Do you know what the final bill will include?
PM: The Senate came up with a distinctly different version. It's in conference committee as we sit here today, with three members of the House of Representatives and three members of the Senate. The Speaker of the House, who resides in Winthrop, has some racetracks in his area, already established gaming facilities. He feels that it's a gesture to continue to offer jobs and employment to those people that have worked there for decades. The slot machines - a very minimal amount, 750 slot machines at each of these four racetracks - is a gesture for maintaining jobs. The governor, I know, is an opponent of that, as is the Senate President. The House version of the bill had two resort destination-style casinos, the Senate version has three. So we will vote once it comes out of conference committee.
[Note: When asked, Rep. McMurtry said he is supporting the following candidates in the upcoming elections: Congressman Stephen Lynch for re-election, Mike Rush for State Senate, and Joe Driscoll for District Attorney.]