By Alan Burke
---- — Editor’s note: The following is the last in a series of articles profiling Peabody’s state representative candidates.
PEABODY — In this city, Republicans are significantly outnumbered. Their March primary for state representative drew a small vote. But Leah Cole’s victory, in her first political race, over a candidate favored by the establishment, raised eyebrows.
Cole is now challenging Democrat Beverley Ann Griffin Dunne and the unenrolled Dave Gravel in the April 2 special election meant to fill the seat vacated by the untimely death of Joyce Spiliotis in November.
Part of Cole’s success can be traced to out-of-town residents who worked and donated to her effort. Campaign manager Ryan Chamberland, for example, earned a payment financed by the Marlborough Republican City Committee. Meanwhile, several of her supporters saluted Cole’s devotion to libertarian ideals.
These days, says Cole, 24, she’s enjoying increasing support as Peabody residents warm to her message.
“Going door to door, the reception has been great,” she says.
As to libertarianism, she will pay tribute to one of the philosophy’s leading disciples, saying, “I think (former presidential candidate) Ron Paul has some good ideas. I embrace some of the ideas of liberty. And personal responsibility. ... But I’m not running on libertarian ideas.”
She’s quick to separate herself from what some consider the extreme end of libertarian thought, which eschews the idea of the government imposing restrictions on personal behavior.
Gambling? “Everything needs some regulation.” Drugs? “A lot of people are very polarized. I think we do need some laws.”
For Cole, the biggest issue in this campaign is taxes. She states flatly that she will vote down a nearly $2 billion increase proposed by Gov. Deval Patrick to finance things like high-speed rail.
“We already have some of the highest taxes in the country,” Cole says. “The sales tax and income tax should be lowered.”
Revenues already cover the state’s needs, she believes. But if cuts have to be made, she offers a ready list.
“The governor has an office in Washington, D.C.” Its purpose is to promote federal aid. “We already have federal representatives (congressmen and senators) for that.”
The Department of Transitional Assistance could continue without its new public relations person, she adds.
Moreover, she believes the state is “mismanaged” and could make significant savings by attacking wasteful spending. She posits that 55,000 illegal immigrants in Massachusetts are obtaining welfare benefits costing $650 million.
Cole cannot quickly cite a source for this information. She later points to the Center for Immigration Studies, a group seeking to end illegal immigration.
“The welfare is the big thing,” Cole says. “To see where that is going.” Likewise, she is eager to know what the MBTA is doing with the large sums it consumes. “The taxpayers deserve full disclosure.”
Should she win, Cole faces long odds as a Republican. Her party is a minority in both houses of the Legislature. But she is not daunted. “It’s a lot easier for Republicans to get things done because they don’t have to step in line with what the speaker wants them to do.”
Since Republicans increased their numbers in the 2010 election, she believes their input has been a spur to increased local aid.
Cole’s role model would be another newcomer to politics, Shaunna O’Connell of Taunton, a Republican who narrowly defeated nine-term Rep. James Fagin in 2010 after he went on a tirade in the House, promising that the passage of minimum sentences for child molesters would require him, as a defense lawyer, to rip the victims apart “and make sure the rest of their life is ruined.”
Noting O’Connell’s subsequent work on EBT card abuse (welfare payments via debit card), she says, “Republicans can get a lot done.” Some legitimately need the help, she says, “but EBT cards are definitely being abused.” People cash them at ATMs, she explains, then use the money to buy alcohol or drugs.
Money saved could be a boon to Peabody, she says, which will need funding for projects like the new Higgins Middle School and the vocational school under construction in Danvers. “The flooding is always an issue. I’ve seen the frustration in that.”
Cole grew up in Lynn, but maintained ties with her grandparents in Peabody before moving in with them and her parents after graduation. She studied to become a licensed practical nurse, which is her occupation now. At 24, she expects questions about her youth and points to others who advanced to Beacon Hill at a young age, including GOP Sen. Bruce Tarr of Gloucester.
“My age is a plus. I have the energy and the passion to go up and fight for these things. ... I don’t have experience wasting taxpayers’ money. ... The last three speakers of the House all had experience, and they were indicted. ... It’s one of the reasons I’m running. I’m tired of the corruption.”
Most of her ideas, Cole says, have come from listening to “different commentators” rather than reading.
“The more informed you become, the more it angers you,” she says.
While she doesn’t belong to a church, she counts herself a believer in God. “I’d say I have Christian values.” She adds, “I just want to be able to help people live their lives. Everyone should be able to have the freedom to live in the way they feel is best for them.”
Cole is not too young to include former President Ronald Reagan as a personal hero. “I was just a baby then. ... He knew that people are better than government at solving their own problems.”
She offers a favorite Reagan quote, “Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.”