Dems’ aversion to debates becoming campaign issue

THE NOVEMBER ELECTION in Massachusetts is having a meta moment: Emerging as a major issue in the campaign is the reluctance of some candidates to engage with their opponents over the major issues in the campaign. 

Debates, which have long been practically a given in major races, are suddenly anything but a sure thing this year. 

In the race for governor, Democratic nominee Maura Healey has agreed to one debate with Republican Geoff Diehl, but is fuzzy on whether she’ll agree to further encounters. State Sen. Diana DiZoglio, the Democratic nominee for state auditor, said she’ll debate her Republican opponent, Anthony Amore – but only as long as three minor-party candidates who will also appear on the ballot are included. 

The attorney general’s race is where the debating divide is most stark. Republican Jay McMahon said recently he’d like to have seven debates with Democratic nominee Andrea Campbell, one each week leading up to the November 8 election. While that seems excessive, maybe he’s hoping they’ll compromise on a number somewhere in the middle, since Campbell so far has agreed to zero face-offs. 

“We’ll see” has become her stock reply to the question of whether she’ll debate McMahon, an answer that doesn’t draw headlines by shutting the door to the idea, but looks a lot like an effort to run down the clock on the question. 

The secretary of state’s race, where seven-term incumbent Democrat Bill Galvin faces Republican Rayla Campbell, who, to put it mildly, has advanced some unorthodox ideas, is one where voters may not miss out on a substantive exchange of views if debates don’t happen. 

“First and foremost, front-runners aren’t really interested in debates,” said Tatishe Nteta, political science professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and director of the UMass Poll. But “it’s really not a positive for our democracy when you don’t have these kinds of debates.”

Nteta said there seems to be a decline nationally in debates, something he attributes to heightened political polarization. “I think the decreasing number of debates, the decreasing saliency of debates is a function of the increased partisan polarization and strife we see,” he said. “People are just relying on their partisan identity rather than seeing if a candidate connects with them and seeing what issues they are campaigning on.” 

In blue-state Massachusetts, Democrats’ sudden aversion to debates has GBH’s Jim Braude seeing red. 

Braude called out the candidates who are skirting debates on Monday’s episode of “Greater Boston,” sarcastically showing scenes from debates he and Margery Eagan moderated four years ago and describing them as strange phenomena that voters today might not recognize. 

The auditor’s race, which many think may be Republicans’ only chance, with Amore the one GOP statewide candidate endorsed by outgoing Gov. Charlie Baker, has a strange debate twist to it. Despite its low-profile place among statewide offices, five candidates have made the ballot for auditor in the November election – Amore and DiZoglio, as well as candidates from the Green-Rainbow, Libertarian, and Workers parties. DiZoglio has told GBH and other outlets that she’ll agree to debates – as long as all five candidates are included. 

“Trust me, this isn’t about fairness to all,” Braude said on Monday night. “It’s about ensuring her Republican opponent, Anthony Amore, has as little air time to make his case as possible.”

Nteta said debates often don’t sway many voters, often serving more to “reinforce their preferences.” The big exception, he said, is when a candidate commits a major gaffe, which helps explain front-runners’ aversion to debating. 

All of that said, UMass Boston political science professor Erin O’Brien sees it as a bad sign for democracy that we’re debating whether to have debates. 

“Even when debates fall short, it’s still way better than not having them,” she said. “We should have debates. That should not be controversial.” 

MICHAEL JONAS

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Electricity prices skyrocket: National Grid said the price of electricity it supplies to customers in Massachusetts this winter is going to skyrocket to record levels because the cost of natural gas, the primary fuel used to generate power in New England, is soaring.

– The utility said the cost of electricity provided under its basic service plan will more than double on November 1, rising from 14.8 cents a kilowatt hour last winter to 33.9 cents this winter, the highest level ever.

– The cost of electricity is only one element of a customer’s bill. Overall, a typical customer using 600 kilowatt hours a month is expected to see his monthly bill rise from $179 to $293, an increase of 64 percent. Read more.

Mass. breakdown: The White House estimates 813,000 student loan borrowers in Massachusetts are eligible for President Biden’s debt-relief plan, and nearly half of them are recipients of Pell Grants, which typically go to poor people of color.

– US Rep. Ayanna Pressley said the student loan forgiveness plan “starts to get at the racial justice component” of student debt, while critics of the plan are calling it a plan for income redistribution. Read more.

Behind-the-scenes players: Campaign finance filings flesh out who is leading the ballot question fight over legislation authorizing driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, with unions backing the new law and the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance leading the effort to overturn it. Read more.

Unfinished business: Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, the House budget chief, is uncertain whether an economic development bill will get done this year. But he is content to let the Baker administration return $2.94 billion to taxpayers under the a tax cap law, even though he believes the law should be tweaked down the road to make it more equitable. Read more.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

BEACON HILL

The committee tasked with developing a new state seal and motto has some early ideas but no firm decisions. (Associated Press)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said some of the street changes made to accommodate buses and bikes during the Orange Line shutdown will be made permanent. Not everyone is happy about it. (Boston Herald

Cambridge is considering doing away with any required off-street parking in connection with housing development projects. (Boston Globe

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Massachusetts has the third-highest rates in the country for the percentage of Black and Hispanic residents who are fully vaccinated. (Eagle-Tribune)

Worcester gets a $1.2 million reimbursement from FEMA for operating a COVID hospital at the DCU Center. (Telegram & Gazette)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Immigrant-rights advocates filed suit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and others alleging they undertook a “premeditated, fraudulent, and illegal scheme” in flying about 50 migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard last week. (Boston Globe)  Rep. Dylan Fernandes, who represents part of the Cape and islands, says he’s received death threats over his support of the migrants. (GBH)

ELECTIONS

The Greater Boston Chamber Commerce has come out against Question 1, saying the millionaires tax would be an “unprecedented and unnecessary financial hit” to small businesses in the state. (Boston Herald

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Since the start of COVID, banks in Massachusetts have shut down 23 branches, a quarter of them in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. (WBUR)

Walgreens is planning to buy the remaining chunk of Shields Health Solutions in Stoughton that it doesn’t own for $1.4 billion. (Associated Press)

Massachusetts has over $3.4 billion in unclaimed property after the treasurer’s office adds 51,000 new properties to its unclaimed property list. (MassLIve)

EDUCATION

The state education board voted unanimously to mandate literacy screening of students starting in kindergarten. Most districts already have some form of screening in place. (Boston Globe

The Department of Justice reaches a settlement with New Bedford requiring the school district to offer better language support to Indiginous Maya students who speak K’iche. (Standard-Times)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Five climate protesters are arrested after attempting to walk onto I-93 Wednesday morning as part of an organized effort to disrupt traffic. (MassLive)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Attorney General Maura Healey sues a Haverhill car dealership for charging Black and Hispanic customers more. (Eagle-Tribune)

PASSINGS

Former Worcester City Councilor and activist Barbara Haller dies at 73. (Telegram & Gazette)