AUBURN — Several Republican candidates for elected office in Massachusetts, including gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl, denounced vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions, critical race theory and a comprehensive sex education curriculum deemed pornographic by its opponents at a town hall event Thursday night.
The event at J. Anthony’s Italian Grill on Southbridge Street featured Diehl and U.S. congressional candidate Jeffrey Sossa-Paquette of Shrewsbury, who is challenging Democratic incumbent James P. McGovern in the 2nd District, Worcester.
Also on hand was Julie Hall, who is running to unseat Democratic state Rep. Jake Auchincloss in the 4th District; state senate candidate Kari MacRae, running in the Plymouth and Barnstable District; and Massachusetts secretary of state candidate Rayla Campbell.
The event was organized by several Central Massachusetts groups, including Opt-Out, Millbury Residents Stand Up and the Central Mass. Freedom Assembly.
Moderator Carroll-Sue Cassela Rehm, who has been pushing for changes to Dudley-Charlton Regional School District, introduced the event by saying that parents can now no longer celebrate the first day of school because of an array of concerns.
“We don’t do that anymore because we’re afraid of what’s going on there,” Cassela Rehm said. “We’re going to hear about mandates. We’re going to hear about choice. You’re going to hear about sexualizing our children.”
CRT, sex-ed in schools
The candidates addressed an almost entirely unmasked crowd who cheered at denunciations of supposed critical race theory in schools, opposition to vaccine mandates and calls for “parental consent” on matters of transgender children.
At one point, Diehl asked the crowd if anyone was an Independent or a Democrat, with a few raising their hands.
Placed at the event hall were signs deeming the content of the Rights, Respect and Responsibility sex-ed curriculum inappropriate for children and a sign denunciating critical race theory.
Critical race theory became a political flashpoint in education last year, with parents and politicians denouncing it as a Marxist theory to teach students to view white people as inherent oppressors.
Rights, Respect and Responsibility
Several Central Massachusetts education leaders have said that critical race theory, a college-level field of study exploring the effects of racism on America’s legal system, is not taught in grade school and that schools teach racial relations through history based on state standards.
One question suggested comedian and “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah’s autobiography, “Born a Crime,” is an example of critical race theory in schools.
Implementation of the Rights, Respect and Responsibility sex-ed curriculum has been controversial in Worcester.
The city’s School Committee approved the curriculum last year with the support of public health officials, saying education is necessary with the city’s high rate of teen pregnancy.
Parent groups have criticized the program, saying it exposes students to concepts they are too young for — 2,970 students have opted out as of last October.
Sossa-Paquette gave an opening speech where he called for more local control of education.
‘Take back the power’
“It’s time that we take back the power from the federal government that has been taken from us not as Americans or as citizens of Massachusetts, but as parents,” Sossa-Paquette said. “By rolling back federal regulations to return power to local and state levels, we can begin to have our voices be heard and drown out the divisiveness that consumes much of politics today.”
In introducing Diehl, Rehm, compared the gubernatorial candidate to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has become a rising star in the Republican Party for his resistance to COVID-19 measures.
Diehl, who is running for governor with the support of former President Donald Trump and seen as a frontrunner for the nomination following Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito’s decision not to run, spoke with a message that more closely resembled the politics of the GOP activist base than the moderate tone of Baker.
Conservatives not being heard
Diehl said conservatives are not being listened to on Beacon Hill, where Democrats have supermajorities in both chambers.
“If you think your voices are being heard, unfortunately it’s not being heard. And sometimes we have to take the fight outside of the legislator,” Diehl said.
Diehl praised the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Thursday to strike the Biden Administration’s mandate that businesses with over 100 employees have a vaccine-or-test mandate, but decried state courts for upholding Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s vaccine mandate for entering certain establishments.
Next, Campbell decried Massachusetts Secretary of State William F. Galvin, who claimed that his office thwarted her efforts to get on the ballot in here 2020 attempt to unseat U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley.
Campbell, who is Black and has mixed-race children, gave a fiery denunciation of critical race theory, and called for voter ID in Massachusetts and to purge the state’s voter rolls.
“I have fought at (the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s) front door and been silenced,” Campbell said. “You’re not going to teach my kids that they are half-racist.”
Sutton’s Fattman unable to attend
State Sen. Ryan Fattman of the 18th Worcester District, a representative said, could not attend the event because he had close contact with someone who tested positive to COVID-19, so a prepared statement was read.
Fattman’s statement criticized public health measures by the federal and state government in response to the pandemic, calling them government overreach and mentioned a bill he was co-sponsoring prohibiting “discrimination based on vaccination status.”
“When my grandparents came to Massachusetts, they often saw signs that said ‘Irish need not apply,’ it’s why they became Democrats and ardent Kennedy supporters,” Fattman’s statement read.
The candidates took several questions from the audience.
Diehl responded to a question on sex education saying that Rights, Respect and Responsibility was inappropriate for children, but did not call for filing 51A reports alleging child abuse by school committees that implemented the curriculum. He instead called for committee members to be unseated in recall elections.
Diehl also said it may not be appropriate for former teachers to sit on school committees because they may echo the sentiments of teachers’ unions and reiterated his opposition to government overreach. Diehl also said that vaccines are no longer protective from new variants and that masks are not necessary in schools.
“This is not a partisan issue anymore. This is about ‘we the people versus government’ that is trying to encroach more and more on our lives. They got control of our education. They’ve got total control of our health care. They’re taking control of our businesses,” he said.
Mail-in voting panned
When asked about whether he thought he could win in the face of alleged voter fraud carried out by Democrats, Diehl called for an audit of the 2020 presidential election, where President Joe Biden won Massachusetts by over 30%.
Additionally, Diehl said mail-in ballots should be stopped.
When asked about the matter of “parental consent” over whether schools should disclose to parents that a student has indicated they may be transgender or have begun transitioning at school, Sossa-Paquette said parents have a right to know and that schools that do not disclose it, would be responsible if that student harms themself.
“With the amount of depression and anxiety and suicide happening in our young teenagers, whose to blame if one of those two children commit suicide? Is it the parents because they didn’t know what was going on with their child or is it the school board or the teachers that did not tell their parents and now they have a dead child?” Sossa-Paquette said.