GOP’s Ross refusing to debate his opponent

It’s a script nearly every challenger in an election follows: Throw the gauntlet down for the incumbent to agree to a series of debates and then try to hold their feet to the fire for as many encounters as you can force to get attention and recognition.

It’s a pattern very familiar to Republicans in Massachusetts because of the dominance of Democrats in nearly every office save governor and lieutenant governor. State Sen. Richard Ross, however, seems to be taking the lesson to heart. The Republican incumbent from Wrentham is refusing to debate his Democratic challenger, Becca Rausch of Needham, despite at least seven attempts at arranging the face-off by the League of Women Voters.

“When candidates refuse to participate in opportunities to help their future constituents learn more about them, this is a loss for voters,” representatives from several of the local League of Women Voters chapters wrote in an email to the two campaigns after failing to hear from Ross or his aides.

Because Ross is returning no one’s calls, it’s hard to divine what his thought process is. The calculus for incumbents in reasonably safe seats is to limit the exposure of your opponents as a way to not give them legitimacy.

“The thinking goes, if you’re up by so much, why bother?” said University of Massachusetts Boston political science professor Erin O’Brien. “Consultants will tell their clients a debate can only hurt you. I think it’s bad advice. But the political lore is, why raise their profile by standing next to them? It’s a risk-averse strategy by an incumbent not to debate.”

The Ross-Rausch non-debate appears to be the outlier as most races have had debates or the candidates have attended the more sedate “candidates’ forums,” where there is less of a confrontational structure and audience members often ask the questions. Next door in the Second Plymouth and Bristol District, however, Sen. Michael Brady of Brockton appears not to have met his low-key opponent Republican Scott Hall in any debate or forum.

We say “appears” because there is little coverage of the race in the local media. Hall doesn’t appear to pushing too hard, with no social media presence to speak of and his campaign website a single landing page with a three-sentence declaration that he will “persevere to research the needs” of the district. For Brady, who was arrested for his second drunken driving charge this past spring, it keeps him away from questions about the incident and he doesn’t have to pay a price for refusing debates.

Out in the western part of the state, Andrea Harrington, who defeated incumbent Berkshire District Attorney Paul Caccaviello in the September Democratic primary, has declined to engage Caccaviello in any debates as he mounts a write-in campaign. But for Harrington, it is some payback for the man who was handed the job to give him an electoral leg up. Harrington pointed out there were eight debates or forums leading up to the primary but Caccaviello skipped most of them.

“The acting District Attorney didn’t think it was worth his while to attend every forum, and now he wants to sponsor his own debate,” she said in a statement to the Berkshire Eagle. “It doesn’t work that way. The people of Berkshire County benefited from the open and fair debates we have already had, and I think engaging in staged political theater will undermine what has already been a great public process.” Zing.

O’Brien says while debates are an essential part of the fabric of democracy and those paying attention are put off by candidates who decline to engage, voters overall aren’t swayed one way or the other by the encounters or the lack of them. Ross, she says, is unlikely to feel the repercussions of his refusal to debate.

“They’re not on the radar of most voters,” she said. “Voters definitely do not like it, but they don’t make candidates pay at the ballot box.”

But Attleboro Sun-Chronicle columnist and Norton Town Moderator Bill Gouveia said Ross’s refusal is endemic to the poisoned atmosphere that passes as politics these days, where serving is secondary to winning. He said a public tsk-tsking over the lack of debates should be followed up with recriminations in the voting booth.

“If voters and citizens don’t put their weight — and votes — behind it, it becomes meaningless,” he wrote. “If the public continues to elect and re-elect candidates who hide in plain sight and place their political fate above our right to judge them in a formal setting — then we all deserve the government we get. So let’s wait for Sen. Ross’s explanation. I’m sure it is coming soon. Let’s hope it is reasonable, rational, and not just another political dodge by an entrenched politician.”

JACK SULLIVAN


BEACON HILL

House lawmakers revive a bill to pressure National Grid into taking back the workers it locked out in a contract dispute. (State House News)

State Auditor Suzanne Bump prods the Baker administration on reporting of elderly abuse and neglect. (CommonWealth)

Former Suffolk County sheriff and state public safety secretary Andrea Cabral, who sits on the state’s Cannabis Advisory Board, which makes recommendations to the Cannabis Control Commission on regulations and taxation of the state’s new pot industry, is also running a company looking to open the biggest retail marijuana store in the country. (Boston Herald)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A Superior Court judge dismissed two counts in a suit by a former Hingham public works employee against town officials but allowed his claim that he was the target of retaliation in violation of the whistleblower policy to move forward. (Patriot Ledger)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Investigators have turned their attention to Florida in the search for who sent a series of explosive devices to critics of President Trump. (New York Times)

ELECTIONS

When it comes to the MBTA, whose plight is front and center in the governor’s race, Gov. Charlie Baker’s promises of action and riders’ daily experiences don’t always line up. (Boston Globe)

The Globe endorses Democrat Lori Trahan in the Third Congressional District race.

A new national poll says the controversy over Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s DNA test results may be the least of her problems as the survey shows her favorability ratings among working class and middle-income voters as well as women — groups whose causes she champions — are lower than in higher income brackets and among men. (Keller@Large)

Bristol District Attorney Thomas Quinn, a Democrat with no opponent in the upcoming election, has endorsed Gov. Charlie Baker, who appointed Quinn to the post in 2015 when then-district attorney Sam Sutter resigned after being elected mayor of Fall River. (Herald News)

In dueling op-eds, Donna Kelly-Williams and Judith Shindul-Rothschild argue for a “yes” vote on Question 1, while Nancy Gaden argues for a “no” vote on the measure to mandate minimum nurse staffing levels in Massachusetts hospitals. (Boston Globe)

For all the hullabaloo that high-profile ballot question campaigns draw, we do a lousy job in Massachusetts of follow-up to see if dire warnings from the side that ends up losing had merit, writes Evan Horowitz. (Boston Globe)

Peter Lucas praises Gov. Charlie Baker’s smarts for criticizing Donald Trump while going easy on those in Massachusetts who support him like Geoff Diehl — notwithstanding the fact that Baker actually stumbled badly on the issue. Lucas also gets Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential vote in Massachusetts wrong by more half a million a votes. (Boston Herald)

Voters in House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s Winthrop and Revere district will be asked to weigh in on a non-binding ballot question asking whether the “state representative from this district” should vote to repeal last year’s $45,000 pay raise for speaker, ban elected officials and their staff from lobbying for five years after leaving office, and reinstitute term limits on the speaker’s post. (DeLeo pushed to get rid of term limits in order to extend his reign, and his longtime top aide quit last year to start lobbying.) (Boston Globe)

A New Hampshire ballot question would amend the state constitution to say “an individual’s right to live free from governmental intrusion in private or personal information is natural, essential, and inherent.” (Governing)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A new report says the gender wage gap has barely budged, with woman still only earning on average 80 cents for every dollar earned by a man. California ranks first in closing the gap, according to the report, with Massachusetts ranked 13th. (U.S. News & World Report)

A survey by the Better Business Bureau finds that just one in five people “highly trust” charities, with religious organizations earning the most trust while national and larger charities aren’t as trusted as small, local nonprofits. (Chronicle of Philanthropy)

EDUCATION

The killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul is bringing renewed criticism of the millions of dollars Saudi Arabia has pumped into Harvard and MIT. (Boston Globe)

A study projects that American manufacturing will have 2 million unfilled jobs by 2025, prompting high schools to introduce teaching manufacturing skills into the curriculum to find and train workers. (U.S. News & World Report)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

President Trump said he will allow Medicare to negotiate directly with drug companies and proposed basing prices on what other countries pay (which is often less) in an effort to bring drug costs under control. (Washington Post)

Bourne health officials raised the age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21 beginning December 28, preempting a new state law that phases in an age hike statewide starting at 19 three days later. (Cape Cod Times)

Mercy Medical Center in Springfield says it will have to do some layoffs and shut down some departments. (MassLive)

Should homeless people in the Merrimack Valley be allowed to use some of the (empty) housing provided by Columbia Gas?

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Utility groups criticize the regional power grid operator, ISO New England, as being too protective of electricity generators. (CommonWealth)

The Bourne Board of Health has declared that four wind turbines next door in Plymouth are negatively affecting public health and are a nuisance, but the vote carries little weight because a judge has ruled the turbines are out of the town’s jurisdiction. (Cape Cod Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A group of active and retired law enforcement officials says the announced reforms at the State Police don’t go far enough and call for formation of an outside review panel. (Boston Globe)

A Brockton police SUV collided with a State Police cruiser in Concord following a 30-mile high-speed car chase and the driver of the vehicle being pursued called for an Uber after the crash and fled the area. (The Enterprise)

MEDIA

Megyn Kelly and NBC have begun negotiations for her exit from the network following a firestorm over comments she made defending the use of blackface as a part of a costume. (Wall Street Journal)

Breitbart threatens to sue Mark Rivitz and Sleeping Giants, which alerted companies that their ads were ending up on the conservative website. As a result, Breitbart lost as much as 90 percent of its advertising. (Columbia Journalism Review)