The Codcast: Disagreeing agreeably

“Politics, Ideas & Civic Life in Massachusetts” has been the tagline describing the focus of CommonWealth’s coverage since the magazine was launched 22 years ago. We didn’t say it explicitly, but the goal also was to promote a civil civic life here. A robust exchange of views and ideas, argued vigorously but respectfully, seemed then like an essential ingredient to maintaining a healthy body politic — and it still does today.

With today’s episode of The Codcast, two smart voices — from either side of the partisan divide — are joining that effort. Jennifer Nassour, the former chair of the Massachusetts Republican Party, and Jesse Mermell, who served as communications director to Gov. Deval Patrick, plan to host regular installments of The Codcast, exploring issues, interviewing guests, and debating each other. Nassour is also a member of the board of MassINC, the corporate parent of CommonWealth.

The two women are particularly mindful of the challenge of engaging in civil discourse in what Nassour calls “this crazy political climate of 2018.” The goal of the podcasts, they say, is to “disagree agreeably.”

It’s made easier by the friendship they have struck up in the course of “sparring,” in Mermell’s phrasing, as analysts over the last several years on various media outlets. “We discovered that we actually like each other as people,” says Mermell.

That “does not mean the gloves won’t come off,” she says.

“I think Jesse is pretty much wrong about everything,” says Nassour. “And I feel the same way about you,” Mermell responds in their inaugural installment.

The obvious focus for the episode was last Tuesday’s primary election, which both of them had a direct role in. Nassour was finance chair for Beth Lindstrom’s losing bid for the Republican nomination for US Senate. Mermell had no official role in Ayanna Pressley’s winning campaign against US Rep. Michael Capuano, but Pressley is her closest friend in Boston, and she spent plenty of time offering counsel and advice.

Nassour’s take on Lindstrom’s loss and the strong showing by Senate primary winner Geoff Diehl, a strong Trump backer: “Primaries bring out people on the fringes.” (Separately, Gov. Charlie Baker stirred controversy last week by backing Diehl and the rest of the state’s GOP ticket in November.)

Nassour said she hopes the 100,000 votes for far-right gubernatorial candidate Scott Lively aren’t a sign that more Trump-aligned candidates will be emerging. “It’s not a winning strategy here in Massachusetts,” says Nassour.

She also lamented the fact that the GOP hasn’t been the most supportive place for women candidates — or party leaders. “I do think there definitely is a more misogynistic view on our candidates within the Republican Party,” she says. “Quite honestly, I got it as party chair. I can’t tell you how many people would come up to me at state committee meetings and ask, ‘Who’s watching your kids tonight?’”

Nassour says the party needs to get more voters who are not registered under any party label but lean toward the GOP — “closet Republicans,” she calls them — to vote in primaries.

As for the key to Pressley’s stunning victory over a 20-year incumbent, Mermell says it starts with the candidate herself. “She is talented in a way that no political consultant could ever teach a candidate to be,” she says. “That’s a natural thing that you have or you don’t.”

There were lots of other important elements to the victory, she says, including a talented campaign staff made up of lots of people who were not regulars in the constellation of political operatives, and some outside-the-box thinking, including a media strategy that included no traditional English language television advertising.

While candidates are often advised to stay away from issues that might look like problems from their past, Mermell says, Pressley chose to talk about things like the eviction notices pasted to her door as a child, her experience as a victim of sexual abuse, and her father’s incarceration. “She put it out there front and center,” Mermell says. It gave Pressley a degree of “relatability” that connected with voters that Capuano did not have.

With several incumbent Boston legislators sent packing, and an outsider candidate winning over the law enforcement community’s choice in the race for Suffolk County district attorney, Mermell says Pressley’s win was part of a bigger wave.

“There was a whole lot of appetite last Tuesday to buck the establishment,” she says.



Steve Tolman, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, reportedly called House Speaker Robert DeLeo no friend of labor at a Chicopee breakfast on Friday. (MassLive)


A $700 refund more than 50 years ago from the federal government to the city of New Bedford for a land purchase could derail plans to carve off 114 acres from the municipal golf course to build a business park that would generate an estimated $2 million in taxes and create hundreds of jobs. (Standard-Times)

Brockton Mayor Bill Carpenter said the planned city-owned garage that has been delayed since 2016 will move forward even though the project, with $10 million in state money and $2 million from the city, is now facing a projected $5 million shortfall. The shortfall is due mainly to the federal tariffs on imported steel, the mayor said. (The Enterprise)

Swansea water district officials have shut off one well and warned residents of potential E-coli contamination that was found during testing by the Environmental Protection Agency. (Herald News)


Gov. Charlie Baker came under fire from Democratic rival Jay Gonzalez for supporting the entire GOP ticket in Massachusetts, including two strong supporters (US Senate candidate Geoff Diehl and attorney general candidate Jay McMahon) of President Trump. (State House News) It wasn’t just Gonzalez who was whacking Baker, as US Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Democratic darling Ayanna Pressley took aim at him. (Boston Herald) Diehl’s campaign against Warren is likely to get nasty, and Warren calls her opponent Trump’s candidate. (Gloucester Times)

Democrats rallied yesterday in Cambridge, with Warren pronouncing the Republicans’ era of influence in Washington near its end with the midterm election less than two months off. (Boston Globe)

Globe columnist Adrian Walker says last week may have been the worst one of the Walsh administration, between the string of losses suffered by candidates the mayor backed to the decision by federal prosecutors to seek revive a corruption case against two mayoral aides that was dismissed in March.

Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera has three years left in office, but the list of potential candidates seeking to replace him is potentially very long. (Eagle-Tribune)

Former President Barack Obama is coming off the sidelines to campaign for Democrats around the country and criticize President Trump directly. (New York Times)

A Lowell Sun editorial condemns the Supreme Judicial Court for upholding the ban on corporate contributions to political candidates.

Alan Solomont says the health of our democracy depends on motivating young people to vote and stake a claim in the system. (Boston Globe)


Playboy Enterprises is planning on opening a new Playboy Club in Manhattan more than a dozen years after closing its last one in Las Vegas. Many are asking: why? (National Review)

Legal scholars across the political spectrum are alarmed at the Trump administration idea of going after companies like Facebook and Google over allegations of bias in their presentation of news or because they ban controversial voices. Antitrust action against the companies, say experts, may be on firmer ground. (Boston Globe)


U.S. News & World Report releases its annual college rankings, placing Harvard second behind Princeton and MIT tied for third with three other schools in a sort of Lake Wobegon class.

Hopkinton schools saw an unexpected spike in enrollment of nearly 200 students so far this year, six years sooner than the projected increase, prompting the district to hire more teachers and staff to handle the influx. (MetroWest Daily News)


More doctors are choosing less aggressive forms of treatment for some types of cancer acknowledging not all cancers require drastic measures that can harm the human system as well. (Washington Post)


More than half of MBTA stations and parking facilities are in need of significant repairs, according to an inventory the agency has begun compiling. (Boston Globe) Jim Aloisi of TransitMatters says the Blue Line, generally considered the best of the subway lines, is in need of urgent attention in terms of resiliency, state-of-good-repair, and connectivity. (CommonWealth)

The company that operates ferries for Boston Harbor cruises said a Peabody man fell overboard near Hull and drowned Saturday night during “horseplay” with other passengers. (Patriot Ledger)


Hydro-Quebec and Central Maine Power say their critics — specifically the Sierra Club and the Natural Resource Council of Maine — are wrong about the value of power from Canada and accuse them of siding with the fossil fuel industry. (CommonWealth)


A Globe editorial criticizes the makeup of a group appointed by Cardinal Sean O’Malley to investigate allegations of sexual harassment at St. John’s Seminary, saying it’s “stacked with St. John’s board members” and lacks the sort of independence needed to do the job.


The federal Interior Department ruled the land in trust decision for the Mashpee Wampanoag is against the law, dealing a fatal blow to the tribe’s plans to build a casino in Taunton unless Congress comes to the rescue. (Cape Cod Times) Meanwhile, Brockton Mayor Bill Carpenter, who has been lobbying against the bill to grant the Mashpee Wampanoag recognition, will push state officials to revisit their decision to reject a casino in Brockton. (The Enterprise)

Good Chemistry, the Worcester company whose Bellingham marijuana cultivation facility is under investigation for the use of pesticides, insists all of its ingredients are organic. (Telegram & Gazette)


Howie Carr — who admits to a soft spot for liberal Suffolk DA candidate Rachael Rollins (mostly because her parents listen to his show) — says proposals on the campaign website of the victor in last week’s five-way Democratic primary not to prosecute a series of lower-level crimes “are just plain crazy.” (Boston Herald) A Herald editorial says trying to keep young people from getting saddled with a criminal record is a laudable goal, but it maintains Rollins should rethink her position.


Who is Reade Brower, who has acquired six of Maine’s seven daily newspapers and 21 of its 30 weeklies? (Columbia Journalism Review)

Les Moonves, CEO of CBS who had been negotiating his exit, stepped down Sunday after new allegations of sexual harassment against the longtime network executive emerged. (Wall Street Journal)