Ahead of the Tuesday, September 4 primary, which will be the deciding election for the 11th Bristol District, the candidates debated Monday on WBSM's Barry Richard Show.

Incumbent Robert Koczera has held the seat since being elected in 1988. His challenger, Chris Hendricks, is a New bedford attorney. Both are Democrats.

In opening remarks, Hendricks accused Kozcera of not being available to the public and rarely holding town meetings. Kozera replied that his challenger has little experience and has not done anything to serve the local community.

On the topic of commuter rail service, Hendricks said he has witnessed nothing being done to accomplish rail service from New Bedford since Koczera took office in 1989. He promised that if elected, he would fight to get the project completed. Representative Koczera said that Hendricks underestimates what is needed to be done for the $1 billion dollar project and that he has been making progress on for years.

The two candidates also touched on casino gambling in southeastern Massachusetts. Koczera said there have been roadblocks due to former Governor Deval Patrick and the courts. The representative said he hopes the gaming commission will reconsider opening the region to bid once again.

Barry Richard asked Koczera why more money is not being spent on the area's vocational schools. The state representative said it's currently a matter of resources and money, and the state doesn't have a handle yet on costs concerning the healthcare and special needs for public and vocational schools. He added that the legislature is acting responsible and working to be able to meet the needs.

Candidate Hendricks said we need to get students interested in vocational school at a young age, and then invest in those who do not want to go to college and teaching them a trade, where they will make a good living after graduating from high school.

On the topic of charter schools, Koczera said the state has made strides in the funding of the schools. Hendricks said that 12 percent of the funding for public schools goes to charter schools, while only four percent of students attend those schools. He added that the reimbursement plan is a bad one, and it's up to the state legislature to fix it.

In closing statements, Hendricks said that the state reps in Boston are not in touch with the people they represent. He joked that he didn't even know that Representative Koczera had a mustache until recently. Hendricks said that while 2,000 people died last year due to opioids, the Legislature was giving themselves a pay raise. He said there is far too little focus on addiction issues in this state.

When it became Koczera's turn to give a summary, he said he will continue to fight for issues that affect the people of New Bedford and Acushnet. He also quoted a statement from his opponent made last October, saying that Koczera is a competent and effective legislator.

The primary is Tuesday, September 4. Since there is no Republican challenger for the seat, the winner of the primary will also be the winner of the general election.

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