On Monday, a GBH debate between Democratic primary candidates for Massachusetts attorney general saw candidates clash over issues including campaign finance, legal experience and support for progressive policies.
The 30-minute debate was moderated by ‘Greater Boston’ host Jim Braude and featured former Boston city councilwoman Andrea Campbell, former prosecutor Quentin Palfrey and class action lawyer Shannon Liss-Riordan.
Earlier in the day, current Attorney General Maura Healey, who is the frontrunner in the gubernatorial race, endorsed Campbell for the attorney general job.
Here are the main takeaways from the debate:
Palfrey isn’t afraid to criticize the Massachusetts Legislature
Braude started the debate by asking what the candidates thought of the Legislature passing last-minute bills and leaving other legislative priorities in the cold last night as she prepared to take a five-month hiatus .
While Campbell said she wanted to focus on how the attorney general’s office can help voters address issues like inflation and the housing crisis, Liss-Riordan said she would have liked to see more bills passed, but was eager to work with the Legislative Assembly.
But Palfrey was unequivocal in criticizing the legislature for not doing more to help Massachusetts residents and for lacking transparency in its dealings.
“Our democracy is not working well. At the national level, our democracy is literally under attack. But our democracy doesn’t work here in Beacon Hill,” he said.
“The $250 taxpayer rebates passed by the Legislative Assembly]excluded people [making] less than $38,000 per year. But then, when there was an amendment to try to include the people who needed that help the most, it was just a voice vote, and so the people of Massachusetts didn’t know how their representatives voted. We need a democracy that is more transparent and where people can be held accountable for their vote.
Candidates each cite something different when asked what sets them apart
Campbell said her real-life experience dealing with issues like losing her brother and parents gives her an edge.
‘I have experienced the very challenges residents are facing right now, and I will do everything in my power to ensure the Attorney General’s office reaches out to those with a sense of urgency’ , she said.
In turn, Palfrey stressed he doesn’t take money from “special interests” and said he and Campbell disagree on many political issues, citing his support for Medicare for All, safe injection sites and a cap on charter schools.
Liss-Riordan in turn highlighted her legacy as a class action lawyer.
“This is a very important job leading hundreds of lawyers and requires an experienced lawyer. I am widely known as one of the most successful lawyers in the country. I spent more than 20 years fighting and winning for workers,” she said.
The three candidates have different funding models
Campbell and Palfrey sued each other and Liss-Riordan about their funding during the debate.
Palfrey began by accusing Campbell of taking money from Super PACs, but Campbell countered by saying that she only took money from one, the Environmental League of Massachusetts Action Fund, from which she is proud to have the support that Palfrey and Liss-Riordan have been trying to get.
Campbell also pointed out that she significantly outperformed the other two candidates overall and among Massachusetts residents.
Still, Palfrey went unanswered when he asked Campbell why she wouldn’t sign the “people’s pledge,” which is a formal campaign finance agreement meant to reduce the influence of Super PACs in an election. .
Campbell ended by pointing out that she does not receive campaign funding from the state, like Palfrey, or use millions of her own funds, like Liss-Riordan.
Candidates have different anti-racism goals
When asked how each would combat systemic racism as attorney general, each candidate had a different goal.
Palfrey began by saying he would work to end racial disparities in health care access and quality.
In turn, Liss-Riordan said the attorney general should take on as many civil rights cases as possible and cited her record as a civil rights attorney.
“I attacked the state for its discriminatory use of civil service exams and, based on my work, I hired black and brown firefighters and police officers throughout Massachusetts. I attacked Uber for its discriminatory practices, for its customer rating system which impacts black and brown drivers disparately. This is the type of work I will do as Attorney General,” she said.
Campbell clarified that as attorney general she would be particularly focused on just prison and penal reform, but also said she would address all aspects of the attorney general’s job with an eye on racial justice.
“As someone who sits in this gender and skin, I don’t have the luxury of not coming to terms with racial disparities,” she said. “Anything the office would do would be with a racial equity lens… That’s the standard of what the office should do every day.”
Liss-Riordan wants to portray Palfrey and Campbell as having insufficient legal experience, but they’re not afraid to push back
Several times during the debate, Liss-Riordan pointed to her record as a class action lawyer and suggested that the other two candidates lacked experience.
“In some states, to be an attorney general, you have to have at least 10 years of experience practicing law, and if that was the law in Massachusetts, I’d be the only one on the scene,” she said. declared. “I’m the only practicing attorney in this race, and I’m the only one running a law firm.”
Palfrey later hit back, saying she was misrepresenting the situation.
“I’ve been a practicing lawyer for 20 years, and being an assistant attorney general is very different from being a class action lawyer,” he said. “… Do you believe that assistant attorneys general are not practicing lawyers? Because when you say we’re not practicing lawyers, you undermine the work that [Attorney General’s] The office does.
Liss-Riordan then framed her claim that she is the only candidate to be a “practicing lawyer” in the fact that she is the only one with malpractice insurance, which is necessary to practice law in the Massachusetts.
Campbell then responded to Liss-Riordan’s claims, saying her mentions showed that other lawyers thought Campbell was qualified.
“We all have a unique and distinct legal background. And if, for example, I didn’t have enough experience, Maura Healey wouldn’t have supported me in this race,” she said.
Liss-Riordan’s opponents also tried to counter her narrative of being the people’s advocate by referencing a 2016 decision by a federal judge to throw out her plea deal with Uber because he believed the 100 million dollars it was asking Uber to pay nearly 400,000 drivers was just 0.01% of the potential value of the full verdict in the case.
There are many issues that all candidates agree on, but Campbell is more moderate
Despite the three candidates’ efforts to differentiate themselves, they seemed to agree on a number of issues, including investing more money in infrastructure, speeding up the process of overturning wrongful convictions and compensation, and standing up against companies accused of polluting around the state.
But there were also a number of issues on which Palfrey and Liss-Riordan took clear positions where Campbell gave a more measured response.
First, Palfrey and Liss-Riordan said they oppose Gov. Charlie Baker’s bill to expand dangerousness hearings to more crimes, while Campbell said she “wouldn’t have pushed for it”.
Then, when the candidates were asked if they agreed with Baker’s suggestion that taxpayers could receive more than $2.5 billion because of a 1986 law, Liss-Riordan and Palfrey said said the money should be used for transport and education, while Campbell said she ‘I want more information from voters before deciding.
Later, when Palfrey reiterated her support for Medicare for All, Campbell said she supported single-payer health care, but saw it as a national issue that she could not promise to voters.
Finally, when asked about rent control, Palfrey and Liss-Riordan said they support him while Campbell said she “wouldn’t stand in the way” of communities passing him on to the attorney general job. She gave the same answer to the question of communities creating safe injection sites.
GBH will hold its next debate Tuesday at 6:30 p.m., this time between the candidates for lieutenant governor. You can watch it live on their YouTube channel.
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