The district is new but the names on the ballot should be familiar to Merrimack Valley voters.
After five years representing the region in the 5th Congressional District, U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas has assembled a record she proudly stands behind. The Lowell Democrat is running for re-election in the newly-formed 3rd District against Republican Jon Golnik of Carlisle.
The race is a rematch of 2010, when Tsongas beat Golnik by a margin of 55 to 42 percent. A first-time candidate, Golnik earned 94,646 votes to Tsongas’ 122,858 in what was the best showing in the Valley from a Republican congressional hopeful since 1992.
Two years later, Golnik still believes Tsongas is part of the problem in Washington, D.C. The candidates disagree on a long list of issues, including the state of the economy four years after the 2008 financial crisis.
Each has enlisted dueling statistics to prove their respective points on the campaign trail.
Tsongas says America lost 800,000 jobs in December 2008, the final month of the Bush administration. Since then, 5 million jobs were created and the country has enjoyed 31 consecutive months of public-sector job growth, including 103,000 new jobs last month.
Additionally, Tsongas said the stock market has recovered and the foreclosure rate is 16 percent lower than one year ago.
“The economy is in a much better place,” said Tsongas. “But we’ve got much more to do.”
Golnik cites 44 consecutive months of national unemployment at 8 percent or higher and a rising state unemployment rate in recent months as proof the economy is not where it should be. He has also continually attacked Tsongas for her comment at a recent debate that people are “absolutely” better off now than they were two years ago.
“I’m running because this country is currently on the wrong path,” said Golnik. “The middle class is struggling.”
Tsongas was first elected to Congress in October 2007. She beat Republican Jim Ogonowski in a special election and succeeded Marty Meehan, who resigned after eight terms to become chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
Tsongas’ win over Golnik in 2010 was her first contested re-election bid.
Like the 5th District, the new 3rd District includes Lowell, Lawrence, Haverhill, Methuen and Andover. All together, the new district is home to six cities and 31 towns in Essex, Middlesex and Worcester counties — 26 of them retained from the current 5th District.
The winner in the Nov. 6 election will represent the 3rd District beginning in January.
Here’s where Tsongas and Golnik stand on the issues:
Economic Recovery & Job Creation
Tsongas stands by her votes in favor of the 2009 economic stimulus and bailouts of the automotive and financial industries, claiming they were necessary to curb the impact of the crisis.
“I think it was critically important to stop the extraordinary freefall in our economy,” said Tsongas.
Golnik, by contrast, believes the stimulus and bailouts represent a failed federal “spending spree.”
“It’s too expensive,” said Golnik. “And it hasn’t worked.”
Golnik believes private sector job creation will lead to a sustainable economic recovery. In order to get businesses hiring again, he supports dropping the corporate tax rate from 35 to 25 percent.
Like Tsongas, Golnik believes the tax code must be updated to discourage the outsourcing of jobs overseas.
But while Tsongas is a strong backer of President Barack Obama’s health care reform, Golnik believes Obamacare should be repealed and replaced with a series of cost-cutting reforms. These changes will increase business confidence and spur job growth, he said.
“It’s time for a new direction and a new path,” said Golnik. “We need to get this economy growing.”
Tsongas said she’s worked consistently in Congress as an advocate for small businesses in her district.
This fall, she collaborated with city leaders in Methuen to help ensure manufacturer Century Box expanded its facility rather than relocate out of state. The $4.5 million expansion project is expected to create 89 new full-time jobs.
Tsongas said she will offer continued support to the Merrimack Valley’s manufacturing base and other small businesses by ensuring the availability of job training programs and research and development opportunities.
She said strong support for education in science, technology, engineering and math is also vital to the region’s economy.
“We have a lot more to do and I think the future is dependent on the continued growth of small-growth companies,” said Tsongas. “Obviously, we still have to focus on job creation.”
Taxes & Deficit Reduction
Tsongas believes the Bush-era tax cuts must end for America’s wealthiest 2 percent. Such a change would only impact annual income above $200,000 for individuals and above $250,000 for a family of four. Those who make less would not see a change.
In 2010, Tsongas said she voted to extend the tax cuts for all Americans in order to ensure unemployment benefits and payroll tax cuts were also extended. By letting the cuts expire for the wealthy, she believes the resulting $800 billion over the next decade can serve as a major building block for a “fair, balanced and sustainable” deficit-reduction plan that also includes budget cuts and closing tax loopholes for large oil and gas companies.
Golnik wants the Bush tax cuts extended for all Americans. He said many individuals making over $200,000 are small business owners.
“You can’t be raising taxes on the very people who need to be creating jobs,” said Golnik.
Golnik said money is better left in people’s hands than with the federal government.
He believes lower taxes for all will in turn boost the economy. Golnik is also an advocate for smaller government. He has taken conservative activist Grover Norquist’s anti-tax-hike pledge, along with more than 40 U.S. Senators and 230 members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Tsongas said that paints Golnik into a corner.
“You can’t go to Washington to solve problems if you’re taking pledges that shut out all sorts of solutions,” said Tsongas. “The only pledge I’ve ever taken is the Pledge of Allegiance.”
Social Security, Medicare & Entitlement Reform
Golnik has criticized Tsongas for failing to discuss long-term solutions for Social Security and Medicare.
He believes people entering the workforce should be given the option of investing a small percentage of their Social Security contributions into private savings accounts.
Tsongas has said she will always stand against privatizing Social Security or diverting funds to private retirement accounts. She believes such changes stand to compromise the program.
Both candidates are against Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s plan for Medicare, in which seniors would be given government vouchers to purchase private health insurance.
Tsongas and Golnik predict the cost of health insurance is destined to eclipse the value of the vouchers, leaving seniors to pay more.
Golnik believes Congress should tackle health care costs by allowing Americans to purchase insurance across state lines, by allowing individuals and small businesses to pool together and lobby for lower rates, and by enacting tort reform to prevent the practice of defensive medicine.
Tsongas said Obama’s health care reform is equipped with a host of cost-cutting measures, which in turn will reduce the cost of Medicare over the long term. Among them: enhanced insurance coverage for preventative care and the expanded use electronic medical record keeping.
Energy, Women’s Issues & Bipartisanship
A stark difference on energy policy emerged between Tsongas and Golnik at a debate last week in Haverhill.
Casting doubt on the economic viability of the green energy industry, Golnik said he supports increased domestic oil drilling and would vote to approve the expansion of the Keystone pipeline, which delivers oil from Canada to America’s midwest.
Tsongas countered by promising continued support for the region’s many green energy businesses, which she said have succeeded in recent years thanks in part to successful federal and state partnerships.
Women’s issues quickly emerged as a major theme of the 2012 election and this race was no different.
In September, shortly before the state primary election, Tsongas sent a campaign email claiming “any one of my Republican opponents will be just another vote for the Ryan ideological agenda. Another rubber-stamp for an agenda that discriminates against women.”
When Golnik declared victory in the primary, he stood with his mother, wife and daughter by his side. His wife Phyllis Golnik also dismissed the so-called “war on women” as “absurd.” Golnik later responded to Tsongas in an email of his own.
“She continues to send out deceptive attack messages,” wrote Golnik. “She knows I’m not against women — but she also knows what sells.”
As in 2010, Golnik has called out Tsongas for voting over 90 percent of the time with the Democratic party.
“The rhetoric doesn’t match the record,” said Golnik. “We have a representative who simply isn’t bipartisan.”
Tsongas said challengers across the country are using that same line against incumbents from both parties.
As for reaching across the aisle, she cited her support of the Budget Control Act in 2011 — which ended the debt-ceiling crisis and outlined billions in cuts over the next decade — and her efforts to provide safer and lighter body armor for U.S. troops and greater protections for military sexual assault victims.
“I think I’ve demonstrated my willingness to think through every bill,” said Tsongas. “I do my homework. I make a decision based on what I think is in the best interest of my district and have proven to be an independent voice.”