A month away from the September 6 primary, races for some of the top jobs in Massachusetts are heating up. The Democratic contenders for Massachusetts lieutenant governorand attorney general have been sparring in debates here on GBH. Jim Braude of GBH's Boston Public Radio and Greater Boston joined Morning Edition host Jeremy Siegel to talk about the political landscape and moderating debates. This transcript has been lightly edited.
Jeremy Siegel: Let's start with lieutenant governor. This is, on paper, kind of the number two job in the state, after governor. But it's also kind of obscure, right? The first question you asked [during the debate] was "Why do you want this job with no specific functions other than chairing this obscure body, which is the governor's council?" So before we get into their answers and everything they said at this debate, what exactly does the lieutenant governor do?
More Local News
Jim Braude: Whatever the governor tells him or her to do? I mean, there are two constitutional functions — you fill in for the governor when he or she is unable to do the job for whatever reason: physical, they're out of town, that sort of thing. And the second thing is they chair something that nobody ever heard of, which is the governor's council, which is actually quite important, as obscure as it is. It confirms or doesn't confirm judges, [it gives] those pardons, commutations. And I thought it was interesting last night. That's the only specific function of lieutenant governor. I asked the three of them if any of them had ever been to a governor's council meeting. Two of them said no. One of them said once.
Siegel: That is so surprising. So let's talk about these three candidates, State Representative Tami Gouveia, State Senator Eric Lesser and Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll. They tried to explain what this job does. They tried to differentiate themselves from each other. What did we learn about them?
Braude: The most difficult task is the one, in my opinion, is what you identified: not whether they are qualified or the best choice for the job, which obviously is part of what they have to do in a campaign, but why voters should even care about the job. They're essentially, and I don't mean this in a disparaging way, but in a real way — they're the highest-level assistant to the governor.
For the last couple of governors, they've been the liaison to cities and towns. That's what the primary function has been. The [candidates'] primary difference is one has been an executive. Kim Driscoll has been the mayor of Salem for a long time. Two have been legislators who have taken the lead on a whole lot of issues. The issue for them, for the two legislators, is that they're going to be weighed down by what I think is a bit of disenchantment with how this legislature has performed, despite the fact that they did a few good things at the last minute the other day [the end of the legislative session on July 31].
Siegel: So given how important being number two to the governor is, do you think a lot of this is going to come down to who is most complimentary to the frontrunner in the governor's race, being Maura Healey?
Braude: I worry about it a lot. I mean, by the way, this didn't come up last night. I was really surprised. Kim Driscoll actually endorsed Maura Healey, which is not that big a deal in light of the fact she's the only Democrat running at the moment. But it was a strategic move. I worry that because nobody really is clear as to what the function is, and the primaries are the day after Labor Day — which is an abomination as far as I'm concerned, laws should be changed in the state but won't be changed this year — that it's going to be a function of who has enough money to get on television.
Television advertising is going to matter a lot. I hope a debate matters somewhat, too, but I'm not naive enough to suggest that it's going to turn a race around.
Siegel: Well, one thing that matters to a lot of people is the MBTA, as I hear you all the time on your show talking about it. "Total mess" is something I hear you saying all the time. And I mean, this morning, that's being put into sharp perspective, with the potential shutting down of the Orange Line for 30 days straight. Did you ask the candidates about the T?
Braude: Yes, as a matter of fact, I mentioned that the day that that woman had to jump into the Mystic River to escape a burning train was the day Governor Baker was last in our studio. I said "It's a total mess, right?" And he recoiled. He was not crazy, just disagreed with that characterization.
The candidates last night did not. I have to say the most substantive responses were last night. I'm not sure there's a huge distinction, but it clearly indicates to me that that's going to be a major issue come the fall between Maura Healey and whoever the Republican is. Because obviously, I assume Healey is going to try to tar the Republican with the misfeasance, for lack of a better expression, of the Baker administration vis a vis the T.
Siegel: Let's talk a little bit about the state attorney general. You also hosted a debate for this. This job is a bit more clear, I think, to most people. Top lawyer in the state representing the people. There are three Democratic candidates in this race too. What did you hear from them?
Braude: Well, I don't think what I heard from them was nearly as important as what I heard seven hours earlier. We had Maura Healey, the current attorney general, in our studio on the radio for the monthly Ask the Attorney General segment. And I asked her what I thought was a throwaway question: Who are you going to endorse in the race for attorney general? Obviously, the expected answer is I'm going to stay out of it, there are three fine candidates. That was not the answer. Her answer, which would shock both me and Margery Eagan, I think, was "I plan to be voting for Andrea Campbell. They're all good candidates, but I'm voting for Campbell."
Having the endorsement of the sitting, very popular attorney general, which Andrea Campbell mentioned more than once during the debate, probably over-shadowed the debate itself, even though, once again, there are three really talented people with three really strong resumes.
One, Quentin Palfrey, was the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor not too long ago and worked in Washington under [then-Vice President] Biden and [then-President] Obama. Shannon Liss-Riordan has done as good a set of work as a lawyer representing workers against huge corporations: the Ubers, the Lyfts, the Googles. And Andrea Campbell is probably the frontrunner, has the endorsement of virtually every living prior attorney general, ran for Boston mayor, came in third, but ran a pretty good campaign. Those are three high profile candidates.
But again, the most important moment of the debate I don't think was in the debate, even though I hope people will watch it if they haven't seen it already. It was the endorsement from the AG.
Siegel: It's amazing to hear about the shock of that because I think a lot of people assume that candidates are coordinating with the shows they're on, like "They're going to go on, they're going to make this announcement." But it's amazing to hear about the surprise in that moment. Before I let you go, you're hosting a series of other debates for GBH. First off, what are the other races that you're going to be keeping an eye on? And also, are there any primary debates that we're not doing here?
Braude: As a matter of fact, the auditor debate is on Monday, and next Wednesday is secretary of state. The only debate we will not be doing is probably the only debate in my quarter-century media career where a primary candidate in Massachusetts for constitutional office said no. Geoff Diehl, running for the Republican nomination, said he would not participate in a debate. He has done debates [hosted by] Howie Carr, the conservative radio talk show host.
His opponent Chris Doughty has said, yes, I think it is a huge loss for both the two Republicans running and not very respectful of the voters. I was surprised. We've known Geoff Diehl, Margery and I, for a long time. I thought had a very respectful relationship. But he has said no to any debate except on Howie Carr's radio show.
Siegel: I don't want to ask you to speculate, but why do you think that is?
Braude: He was the Trump campaign co-chair [for Mass.] in 2016. This is not an easy state to defend a relationship with Donald Trump. He's going to have to defend it if he's the nominee come the morning of September 7. But I guess he didn't want to do it in a debate with anybody other than Howie Carr, who I think we all know is a Trump sycophant. I don't even mean that in a pejorative way. He is a big, big Trump fan and supporter.