In AG debate, Dems play their hands 

SHANNON LISS-RIORDAN is the only practicing lawyer who has won settlements for working people. Andrea Campbell brings a “lived experience” to the issues that her rivals don’t and now has the backing of outgoing AG and gubernatorial front-runner Maura Healey. Quentin Palfrey is the endorsed candidate of the Democratic Party and stands on the progressive side of a list of issues that separate him from Campbell.

If you weren’t familiar with those top-line pitches from the three Democrats vying for attorney general, you knew it by the end of a fast-paced 25-minute debate Monday night on GBH. Each candidate came with a message, and seemed primed with the knowledge that repetition is often key to getting something to sink in with voters. 

Liss-Riordan, who has made a name as a lawyer winning huge class-action settlements for workers in the gig economy and other low-wage sectors, emphasized that the office needs a leader who has been in the legal trenches, something she said neither of her rivals can claim. 

“This is a very important job, leading hundreds of lawyers. It requires a seasoned attorney,” she said. “I have spent more than 20 years fighting and winning for working people.” When she pointed out that some states even require an attorney general to have 10 years of experience practicing law, something that Liss-Riordan said would leave her alone in the Democratic race if it were true of Massachusetts, Palfrey had heard enough.

The 2018 Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor questioned why Liss-Riordan seemed to dismiss the experience of assistant attorneys general – a role he previously held – who would form her legal team if elected. “When you say that we’re not practicing lawyers, you undermine the work that the office does,” Palfrey said. 

He and Campbell also both pounced on the millions of dollars Liss-Riordan has reaped from litigation, saying a judge in one case ordered her to reduce her fees – a claim Liss-Riordan disputed. 

Campbell, as she did in her Boston mayoral race last year, cited her twin brother’s death as a pretrial detainee in state custody as a driving factor behind her quest to reform the criminal justice system and part of the “lived experience” that puts her closer than her rivals to the issues the office deals with. 

That said, when asked about the recent debate over extending the charges for which defendants could be held without bail based on their “dangerousness,” Campbell offered a more balanced take than Palfrey or Liss-Riordan, who both said they opposed Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposal. “You need to couple both conversations,” she said of the need for bail reform and to “keep people who are indeed dangerous from harming people.” 

Palfrey sought to distinguish himself from Campbell on everything from charter schools to safe injection sites, pointing to her support for the former and opposition to the latter as issues where there are clear differences in the race. He also tagged her for support an independent super PAC provided to her mayoral run. That group has not been active in the AG’s race, but Campbell has been supported by a super PAC affiliated with the Environmental League of Massachusetts. 

With five weeks to go until the September 6 Democratic primary, the candidates are trying to draw attention to a race where lots of voters have not made up their minds. In a late June poll by the University of Massachusetts and WCVB-TV, 65 percent of Democratic primary voters said they were undecided in the AG’s race. Of those with a preference, Campbell led with 17 percent, followed by Liss-Riordan with 9 percent, and Palfrey with 8 percent. 

“Down ballot races are very hard for voters to decide,” Raymond La Raja, a UMass political science professor and associate director of the poll, said at the time. “This is where endorsements from well-known politicians in the weeks leading up to the election could make a big difference.”

Which explains why Campbell made sure to mention several times Healey’s endorsement of her candidacy, a nod the outgoing AG announced just hours before the debate.  




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