Leah Cole may not have prior political experience for the job, but she’s hoping that’s actually a large point in her favor.
Cole, a 24-year-old Republican and licensed nurse, says she doesn’t want to be a career politician; she just wants to go to Beacon Hill to represent other working class families in Peabody like hers.
She hopes to be the same voice for Peabody that Joyce Spiliotis was, of whom Cole has only heard “great things about.”
Cole grew up on the other side of Brown’s Pond – in Lynn – but her grandparents bought a home nearby on Lynnfield Street and when Cole was 16, her parents purchased the home and everyone moved to South Peabody.
She graduated from a technical high school in Lynn and went to Fitchburg State, but then returned home and worked as a TSA agent at Logan Airport for a while before realizing she’d rather “help people than harass them.”
Cole enrolled in nursing school, got her degree and now works as Licensed Practical Nurse at the Liberty Tree Medical Building in Danvers.
She said she’s never run for any other political office because, again, she never aspired to become a politician.
'They are taxing us to death'
Cole’s campaign platform for State Representative consists of pushing back on tax increases proposed by Gov. Deval Patrick and cutting rampant waste in state government.
“I think they are taxing us to death,” she said. By “us” she means residents and local businesses. She said the gas tax hike “would be devastating to the working class” and that instead, state officials need to keep a tight rein on the budget.
“What really…made me want to run was the governor’s proposal to increase taxes by $1.9 billion and…we already have some of the highest taxes in the country. I don’t think that people on fixed incomes, young families, working families, people going to school – we just can’t afford another income tax increase,” Cole said.
It’s not a unique platform for a Republican to run on (certainly in Massachusetts), but Cole say that as she knocks on doors across Peabody, many voters are concerned at the prospect of their taxes going up yet again. It’s also worth noting the majority of Peabody voters are unaffiliated with a political party.
'Slash wasteful spending'
Cole says the way forward is to “slash wasteful spending” on Beacon Hill and/or restructure inefficient agencies to free up more money to return to cities and towns for local aid, which would further reduce the burden on taxpayers. She also wants to see less “red tape” for businesses in order to spur growth.
Cole argues millions are being wasted each year on welfare benefits due to rampant abuse and fraud – a recent state report showed $30 million was distributed to families who couldn’t actually be tracked or identified.
She agrees the problem is lack of oversight, but argues that doing away with EBT cards, for instance, would be a step toward eliminating fraud. She said the state should impose restrictions on benefits such that they can only be used to pay for basic food items, clothing, etc, not lobsters or SUVs.
In terms of inefficiencies, she targets the Department of Public Health. Cole says the DPH creates a lot of needless regulations that affect the day-to-day jobs of doctors and nurses, but seemingly can’t properly oversee chemical compounding labs in the state.
“I don’t know 100 percent where we can cut everything; it’s something I have to look into,” she said. “We have to look into how these agencies are operating and then we can see where cuts can be made... If we cut one thing, we can fund something else better.”
Another area ripe for change is the state Department of Transportation, which is saddled with billions in debt from the MBTA. Cole said she opposes raising fares for commuters as well.
Her solution would be to privatize the transit system.
“I think that private companies will run a lot more efficiently than the state does. I think it can be fixed, I think we just have to go in and see where we’re falling short, where we’re falling behind and work on solutions,” she said. “Not every solution has to be to raise the price or raise taxes.”
Businesses are 'strangled' by regulations and taxes
As for that red tape: “Money goes where it’s welcomed,” Cole said. She argues Bay State businesses are being “strangled” by long wait times for permits, regulations, fees and high corporate tax rates, and that could push them to relocate to a friendlier business environment, such as New Hampshire.
She said it also translates into lost revenue, and inevitably more of a burden on taxpayers.
“I think that the whole process needs to be streamlined; it has to be much easier,” Cole said, adding that new businesses are often delayed for months awaiting the next round of approvals.
She said the new business liaison position in Peabody is “great,” but indicative of the environment Massachusetts creates for businesses – another salaried public job just to walk them through the regulation and red tape.
“I know there are other states that do it better,” she said, adding she would seek to maintain strong connections with local business owners.
Education, healthcare and working together
On education, Cole didn’t have an answer for whether it’s being funded properly, but she is positive more state mandates just create hurdles for school districts. She said she’d sit with school board members to listen to their concerns, learn what the local issues are and the obstacles that frustrate progress and take all that back to the State House.
When it comes to healthcare, Cole sees too many regulations on doctors now that cause them to spend more time on paperwork than with their patients. She also wants to ensure health insurance providers cover important prescription medications for their clients, whether they are generic drugs or not.
She said that despite a doctor’s prescription for certain drugs, patients still are faced with high co-pays at times because their insurance won’t fully cover brand name medications. Her solution would be to write legislation to prevent this from happening.
“The system is just a difficult one. On the one hand you want it to be a free market, and then on the other hand you don’t like to see people get denied coverage for drugs that they need,” she said.
On the overall cost of healthcare, Cole still believes in the market.
“I believe in the free market and I think the demand will dictate the prices. I think the less control the state has over things, it’s healthier for the market and prices,” she said.
“If you believe in something strongly, you’re not going to waver on that, but it doesn’t mean you can’t work across the aisle,” Cole said on the prospect of serving in a mostly Democratic legislature.
“You have to take each issue as it comes. If something is going to work, then you can’t say, ‘No, I’m not going to support that just because it was proposed by a Democrat.’”