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Meet the Candidates: Shaunna O'Connell and Sherry Costa Hanlon

The candidates are running for the 3rd Bristol District State Rep seat, which represents Precinct 6 in Easton.

Easton Patch recently sent candidates for the 3rd Bristol District a list of questions regarding their background and certain issues affecting the district.

The district represents the 6th precinct in Easton and parts of Taunton.

Incumbent Shaunna O'Connell (R-Taunton) is defending her seat against Democratic Challenger Sherry Costa-Hanlon.

Here is a look at the answers they sent back:

1. Why are you running for State Representative?

O'Connell:

As a lifelong resident of the district, I truly care about the people.  My goal is to create a better economic climate so we can grow jobs and provide economic security to families and seniors once again. 

In Massachusetts, the small business community creates 3 out of every 4 new jobs. As your State Representative, I established the first ever Small Business Caucus. This group has successfully fought for reforms which help lower the burden of regulations and mandates on these job creators.  I plan to continue to fight for more common sense reforms so small businesses can create more jobs.

As a mother and wife, I know how household budgets can be stretched thin.  That’s why I took the No New Taxes pledge.  Unlike my opponent, I want to lower your tax burden, not increase it.

Costa Hanlon:

I am running for State Representative because I am a moderate, independent person. Like the rest of the residents of the  3rd Bristol District, I want a representative who reflects my values and is not simply a partisan politician.  The people of the 3rd Bristol are not right wingers or left wingers we are moderate, independent minded and we should have a state representative who reflects our values.

2. Why do you feel you are qualified to represent the people of Easton and the rest of the district?

O'Connell:

In my first term as State Representative, I have not only kept my promises, but I have also delivered for the residents of the district and the taxpayers.  My EBT card reforms are going to save the taxpayers millions of dollars.  I have been able to send more money back to the district in the form of local aid.  Most importantly, I have worked hard to improve our economic climate.  I established the first ever Small Business Caucus to help promote job creation issues in a bipartisan manner.

Moreover, my priorities are not divided.  I am  a full time State Representative who is always available. 

Costa Hanlon:

I have owned my business in downtown Taunton for almost 15 years.  I know what it means to meet a payroll and I know what it means to support a family from my business.  When the economy was better I had a staff of two full time and two part time employees. The pay check my employees earned helped support their families and other contractors and business owners. We need to move our economy forward for small businesses and business owners like me.

I have had the privilege and honor of representing the citizens of Taunton  for over ten years, four as a City Councilor and  over six years as a Conservation Commissioner.  I have first-hand knowledge of how regulation and the state budget affect our cities and towns.  I will use that knowledge to ensure that local aid is maintained and unfunded mandates do not crush municipal budgets. It’s critical to have experience as a local official.

3. What are the biggest issues representing the district right now?

O'Connell:

When I have door knocked in the district, people tell me that they are concerned about the economy and the threat of raising taxes.  Many residents also thank me for standing up to the status quo in the fight to stop the abuse of EBT cards.

If I have the honor to be elected to a second term, I have an aggressive agenda for fighting to improve the business climate, create more transparency at the State House, require more fiscal accountability of our tax dollars and reduce our tax burden.

Costa Hanlon:

Jobs, the commuter rail and the destination casino

I have outlined my positions on all three of these critical issues in the  following answers

4. What is your stance on the South Coast Rail?

O'Connell:

Since getting elected in 2010, I have been supportive of South Coast Rail.  However, I am sensitive to the concerns and needs of Easton.  I’ve reached out to transportation officials to express the importance of mitigation for Easton with regard to the commuter rail.  We need to make sure the needs of Easton are addressed.  Other areas of Massachusetts have found ways to make the rail projects work for both communities.  I am determined to help both Easton and Taunton to find a workable solution. 

I’ll be a full-time representative and work for the best interest of the district.

Costa Hanlon:

The concerns regarding the commuter rail I have heard from Easton residents primarily rest with the environmental impacts on Hockomock Swamp and other areas of critical environmental concern.  I share those concerns.  Prior to becoming an attorney, I worked as an environmental scientist for private engineering firms and governmental agencies. I have also served as  Conservation Commissioner in Taunton and South Hadley. I will not be overwhelmed by the details or satisfied with “future” mitigation. If elected, I would use my knowledge and experience in science and law to ensure that any commuter rail expansion is done right, not just for the residents of Easton, but for the taxpayers of the Commonwealth.

Like most residents of the 3rd Bristol District, I will support a well developed and properly funded South Coast Rail project

5. What is your stance on a possible casino in the area?

O'Connell:

The voters of Taunton have overwhelmingly supported the casino.  However, as the project moves forward, we must ensure that the needs of Easton are addressed.  I have already reached out to listen to the concerns of residents.  If the Governor does renegotiate the compact, I will work hard to make sure Easton is well represented. 

Costa Hanlon:

The concerns of Easton residents regarding the destination resort are actually the same as Taunton residents.  We need to ensure that cities and towns are able to accurately evaluate the impact a destination casino will have on our public safety, infrastructure, traffic and schools. We need to ensure surrounding communities like Easton receive mitigation funds to address those needs now and into the future. I have been through the process of negotiating for mitigation at the local level.  If elected, I will use the lessons learned during the negotiating process to ensure any rules or regulations enacted by the Gaming Commission reflect the needs and concerns of Easton.

I supported the resort casino proposed in Taunton as a city councilor.  If elected as state Representative, I would still support the resort/casino project as proposed and fight for the mitigation Easton deserves.

6. What would you do to improve education in the district?

O'Connell:

As a mother of two school-aged daughters and a product of our local schools, I know how important it is to provide each child with a quality education.  We must ensure that our children are prepared in the new global economy.  I believe that this is accomplished by creating greater accountability within our schools and emphasizing the core subjects such as reading, writing, history and arithmetic. 

As State Representative I’ve successfully fought for more local aid.  I support smaller classroom sizes, full day kindergarten, charter schools and MCAS standards.  I’m opposed to lowering state academic standards to the federal level. 

Costa Hanlon:

I would ensure each educational standard mandated be cost evaluated and the proper funding provided.

I would work to ensure every public school in the district has the same level of parental involvement as private and/or charter schools. Parental involvement is the key to improving education in our district. 

I would meet regularly with the parents of students, members of the School Committees, Superintendents and employees of the Taunton and Easton schools.  They are the experts in education and I trust their knowledge and judgment. I would ensure their ideas to improve education in the district are  heard and acted upon on Beacon Hill.

7. Do you have a plan to expedite job growth and/or boost the economy?

O'Connell:

One of my first acts as a legislator was to establish a Small Business Caucus. These businesses create 3 out of every 4 new jobs in Massachusetts. I am determined to put people back to work. 

Yes, I have a plan.  The initiatives I will push for include:

  • Amend the laws governing freelancers and independent contractors so we can encourage entrepreneurship through self-employment
  • Require the state to do a cost/benefit analysis of regulations every 5 years
  • Pass a 3-year moratorium on new health care mandates
  • End the inventory tax
  • Allow more options in health care insurance products
  • Allow businesses to appeal labor judgments against

These reforms will give the business community the certainty they need to create jobs once again.

Costa Hanlon:

I would work for immediate implementation of the recommendations found in the Jobs Creation Commission report. Our region is in desperate need of good paying jobs.

The recommendations in the final commission report include consolidating some regulatory agencies, increasing funding for and refining the scope of state agencies involved in economic development, and making capital available to small businesses and entrepreneurs.  We need to move on this now.

I would work with the Department of Asset Management to restructure current regulations to allow mid and small size contractors to more easily bid on public projects.  This would give contractors in Easton and Taunton the opportunity to bid on projects and employ local residents.

8. You would be representing a diverse district with different communities and different needs. How do you plan on meeting the needs of the entire district?

O'Connell:

I’ve spoken to Easton officials and residents about their concerns and will hold office hours so Easton residents have direct access to me. It's important to be involved in the community. I’ve been going door-to-door meeting people and attending local community events. Most recently I've been to Lions Club and Easton Women of Today events, Easton Harvest Fair and ran in the road race to benefit the DJ DreamFund.

Many of the needs are the same as Taunton, such as local aid increases, quality education for our children, and a better economic climate.  Residents of both communities also desire more accountability of their tax dollars, a lower tax burden and transparency at the State House.  I am the only candidate with a positive record of working on these issues and delivering.

Costa Hanlon:

The best way to serve any community is to listen and understand the concerns of the people, consult with the local officials, and be proactive to find solutions to meet the needs of the community. I have had the opportunity to discuss the issues of importance to the citizens of Easton and Taunton such as equal access to public project bids, the destination casino and the commuter rail with the residents of Easton and Taunton as I go door to door in the district. I believe my  experience as a small business owner and local official makes me uniquely qualified to meet the needs of the entire district.

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