For GOP candidates, no news apparently good news
Gov. and LG hopefuls shun forums where they can make their case
IT SEEMS LIKE an odd strategy for a party that claims only 9 percent of the state’s registered voters and is a decided underdog in polling match-ups looking ahead to the November election. A week after the two Republican candidates for governor, Geoff Diehl and Chris Doughty, shunned a WBUR forum on climate change, their unofficial running mates who are vying for the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor did the same this week with a forum on human services issues.
WBUR, which held the climate forum last Wednesday with only the Democratic gubernatorial candidates taking part, reported that Diehl “declined and businessman Chris Doughty did not respond to several requests to join.” Maura Healey and Sonia Chang-Diaz had the stage to themselves as they engaged with host Tiziana Dearing before a live and virtual audience at the station’s CitySpace auditorium.
Meanwhile, on Monday, the Providers’ Council, an organization representing the human services sector in the state, held a forum in Worcester for candidates for lieutenant governor. All five Democratic hopefuls attended, but neither Leah Allen Cole, who is teaming up with Diehl, nor Kate Campanale, who is forming an unofficial ticket with Doughty, attended.
Organizers said they never heard back from Cole after twice emailing an invitation to take part. They said Campanale had confirmed in early March, but then canceled last Friday, citing a scheduling conflict.
Erin O’Brien, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, said it’s a reflection of national trends. “I think it has to do with the Tump takeover of the GOP,” she said. In that world, she said, “the mainstream media isn’t to be trusted.”
The candidates’ absence from the events also may have had something to do with the particular focus of the two forums and the sponsors. “They don’t view environmentalism and these sort of human service issues as in the GOP wheelhouse,” said O’Brien. “They don’t see an advantage of being on the record on those issues because those are not issues that they prioritize.”
The Providers’ Council forum focused largely on candidates’ ideas for getting more money into the system, where critics have long complained that direct care human service workers in the state are underpaid. Meanwhile, the WBUR climate change forum was cosponsored by the Environmental League of Massachusetts, an advocacy group that supports aggressive policies to tackle the issue.
Lyons said he doesn’t agree with everything the environmental group says, but the Republicans should have gotten in the ring. “If you think they’re being extreme, just go and say so – in a nice way – and tell them what you think,” he said. “They’ve given up on engagement.”
A dozen years ago, then GOP gubernatorial challenger Charlie Baker and incumbent Democrat Deval Patrick took part in a debate cosponsored by MassINC, the publisher of CommonWealth, and WBUR on environmental issues and the controversial Cape Wind proposal.None of the four GOP candidates responded to messages left yesterday asking about their decisions not to take part in the two forums.
Lyons said he questions whether the candidates looking to head the party ticket today are actually even gunning for victory in November. “It’s a very strange thing to say,” he said. The disconnect, he said, is driven by the party’s hard-core base in Massachusetts taking its cues from the strength of the Trump brand nationally and ignoring how deadly it is for candidates here.