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Democrat ducks debate organized by Republican.

Byline: Karen Nugent

There will be no debate tonight between state representative candidates Jen Benson and Kurt Hayes.

Tom Alonzo, a spokesman for Ms. Benson, said that while the Lunenburg Democrat is willing to participate in forums with Mr. Hayes, a Boxboro Republican, she prefers they be set up by nonpartisan organizations.

Ms. Benson and Mr. Hayes are running in the Nov. 4 election for the state representative seat in the 37th Middlesex District, which comprises Boxboro, Harvard, Lunenburg, Shirley and parts of Acton and Lancaster. The seat is held by state Rep. James B. Eldridge, D-Acton, who is running for state Senate.

Mr. Hayes in June challenged Ms. Benson to a summer series of what he called town hall-style forums, the first of which was tentatively scheduled for tonight at the Shirley town library.

"For one month we have sought to cooperate with Jen Benson's team to coordinate these logistically lightweight forums for the voters," Dave Lunger, Mr. Hayes' campaign manager, said in a news release. "All that remains is for Jen Benson to commit to appear before the Shirley voters."

Mr. Alonzo said the first time the Benson campaign heard of the forum was on Monday when a telephone call came from a reporter from the Shirley Volunteer, a local newspaper.

Mr. Lunger said the newspaper was asked to sponsor the forum, along with the Shirley town moderator, who was scheduled to serve as host.

Mr. Alonzo said Ms. Benson is willing to participate in forums as long as they are set up and publicized by a nonpartisan group such as the League of Women Voters or a local chamber of commerce. He said the campaign is checking on dates and will commit to as many debates as possible, but Ms. Benson is focusing on canvassing voters, especially those in Boxboro.

"He (Mr. Hayes) issues a challenge in a press release - doesn't call us - and then issues another one saying we're not responding," Mr. Alonzo said. "It's not the responsibility of the campaigns to set up forums."

Mr. Lunger, who described the proposed setting as nonpartisan and independent, accused the Benson campaign of treating the forums "the way Beacon Hill insiders treat so many proposed bills: Send it to committee for study, where it dies of inaction."

He said Mr. Hayes still plans to be at the library tonight to answer voter questions.
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jul 31, 2008
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