Statehouse dome

The Massachusetts Statehouse. (AP file photo)

ATTLEBORO — A sleepy special election for an empty state representative post suddenly woke up Tuesday with the candidates taking aim with their top issues.

Republican Julie Hall and Democrat Jim Hawkins have mostly avoided speaking about one other. Now, however, the candidates are challenging each other on such topics as opioid addiction and school funding.

Hall, a city councilor, also declined to say if she would resign from the council if elected to the Legislature.

She said she doesn’t know if she is going to win the state representative race against Hawkins, so she cannot say if she would continue on the council.

“I won’t presume any outcome,” she said. “I can say two other individuals have held both seats in the past, so it’s been done. Should I win, the decision will be based on what is best for this city.”

Former state representatives Bill Bowles and George Ross both stayed on the council for a few months after being elected to the Legislature, but did not seek re-election to the council.

Hall, who still has 21 months left on her council term, would not say if she would run for re-election to the council or which direction she is leaning toward.

“It will all work out in time,” she said.

Meanwhile, she called on Hawkins to join her in supporting Gov. Charlie Baker on opioid addiction, an issue she said she cares deeply about.

“As a state representative, I will strongly back Gov. Baker’s commonsense approach, which has compassion for the victims of this crisis, but also gets tough on criminals trafficking dangerous drugs into our communities. Given that this issue cuts across our entire population, I hope that my opponent will join me in backing these sensible ideas,” she said.

Baker has called for measures such as stronger regulation of the powerful pain-killer Fentanyl, which is often mixed with heroin by addicts.

Hawkins responded that he favors more treatment services for addicts. Baker’s approach, he said, is more punitive than productive.

While Hall was talking opioid addiction, Hawkins was emphasizing education.

A retired teacher, Hawkins faulted Hall for not supporting the so-called millionaires tax to raise state money for education and transportation.

“While we both support building a new high school for the community, I am the only candidate in the race with a concrete plan to invest in and support our public schools and other key systems our community depends on, including public transportation and infrastructure,” Hawkins said.

Called the Fair Share Act, the measure, which is going before voters in November, would place a surtax on income above $1 million to raise $2 billion for state aid to education and transportation improvements.

Hall said she supports more aid to education and has made suggestions to help Attleboro schools, but she questioned the constitutionality of the millionaires tax.

The special election is being held April 3 to fill the seat Paul Heroux left when he became mayor.

Jim Hand may be reached at 508-236-0399 or jhand@thesunchronicle.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TSCpolitics.

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