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In Massachusetts, What Will Sway The Voters?

With little air between them, and similar left-of-center positions and platforms, the three Democratic candidates vying for the Massachusetts AG’s office need to find other ways to differentiate themselves in the minds of voters. Bernie, Mira and Milton, who previously worked in the MA AG’s office, offer their theories on what will make the difference to Massachusetts primary voters on September 6.

PRODUCED IN COLLABORATION WITH:

Chris Allen, Member, Executive Producer

Hannah Cornett, Associate

Suzette Bradbury, Director of Practice Group Marketing (State AG Group)

Elisabeth Hill Hodish, Policy Analyst

Legal Internet Solutions Incorporated

Transcript

Bernie Nash:

State Attorneys General, once little known officials, have emerged as legal and political juggernauts across the country. They make headlines every single day and they continue to grow in power and influence. As their states’ chief legal officers, AGs wield broad authority to investigate virtually any business practice across every single industry. Every company, including yours, that hires employees, makes or markets a product or service, interfaces with consumers, or contracts with the government may be and likely will be subject to scrutiny by an AG. If your company fits into one of those categories, and everyone does, this podcast is definitely for you.

Lori Kalani:

Welcome to State AG Pulse presented by Cozen O’Connor’s State AG Group and proudly hosted by Bernie Nash.

Bernie Nash:

That’s me.

Lori Kalani:

And Lori Kalani, and that’s me. State AG Pulse is a limited series podcast that will leverage our decades of experience to help business leaders navigate the upcoming 2022 State AG elections and understand and manage the related opportunities and risks. So now let’s jump right into this week’s episode.

Bernie Nash:

Welcome everyone. It’s my pleasure to welcome you all to episode 12 of Cozen O’Connor’s State AG Pulse. My special guests today are two of my closest friends and partners, Mira Baylson and Milton Marquis. Both have been with us before. Welcome back, Mira. Welcome back, Milton.

Milton Marquis:

Thank you.

Mira Baylson:

Thanks Bernie. Great to be here.

Bernie Nash:

You’ll all recall that last week we had another partner of mine, Meghan Stoppel, former head of consumer protection from both Kansas and Nebraska, give us her inside knowledge about the Kansas race. I went out on a limb, which I don’t often do. I always try to pick safe races, but I took a lot of flack over the past week for my prediction, but I am standing with my prediction and we will find out next week if my prediction is correct. For today, we’ll be talking about the Massachusetts attorney general race and an open seat, and I will not be making a prediction regarding the winner of the Democratic primary, but I will say that the winner of the Democratic primary will be the next attorney general of the great Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the current attorney general, who is running for governor, will be the next governor of the Commonwealth. So having said that, perhaps, Mira, you can give us a rundown on the Democratic candidates as well, of course, as the sole Republican candidate running.

Mira Baylson:

Sure, Bernie. Again, thrilled to be here. Currently, there are three Democratic candidates in the field. The leading candidate, as far as a poll that was conducted at the end of June is concerned, is a woman named Andrea Campbell. She is very well known in Boston. She ran for the Boston mayor’s seat. She has been on City Council. The next most likely to win, let’s say, is a woman named Shannon Liss-Riordan. She has spent her entire career doing plaintiff side work, focusing on employment, employment lawsuits, I think with the majority of focus on what we’ll call gig economies, so companies like Grub Hub and the like. Then finally, there’s Quentin Palfrey, who is running third, but by a very, very tight margin with 65% of the voters undecided as of June 23rd. And Quentin is actually the only person who’s ever worked in an attorney general office and he was an assistant attorney general in Massachusetts before leaving to work for the federal government for a short period of time. All three of the candidates are extremely well credentialed, great law schools, great careers, lots of success for each of them. It really is a crowded field. I just want to pause briefly to mention that if you haven’t seen the background on Andrea Campbell, it is tremendous. Her life story reads like a Netflix movie. Her father was an associate of Whitey Bulger, the Irish mobster. Her mom died in a car accident on her way to see her father while he was in prison when Andrea was eight months old. Despite all this adversity, she went to Boston Latin, she went to Princeton, she went to UCLA. She’s really got a lot going on and has truly overcome a ton. Then I’ll say, briefly, that the sole Republican is a gentleman named Jay McMahon and he has a military background, law enforcement. He has run for attorney general previously back in 2018, losing to now Attorney General Maura Healey. He also ran for state Senate. It’s a tough state to be a Republican in, but that certainly hasn’t seemed to stop him. With that I’ll pause. I think that’s a pretty fair rundown of circumstances on the ground.

Bernie Nash:

Well, it certainly is. I would say that Mr. McMahon has raised, to date, about $24,000 in contrast to Ms. Campbell, who’s raised about $1,100,000. When I say to date, I mean on the last reporting. Shannon Liss-Riordan is interesting. I’m not sure how much money is going to count in this, usually money does count, because she has made tons of money as a plaintiff’s attorney in the gig economy. She sued Uber, she sued Lyft, out of the gig economy, Starbucks, all unemployment matters. She’s raised about $700,000, but she’s committed to put in up to $12 million of her own money and that can buy a lot of time. So I just don’t know how much money’s going to count and I don’t know whether the candidate for governor, General Healey, is going to come out in the primary for anybody or not. So I think there’s a lot of unknowns in that race. Milton, you have previously served as an assistant AG in Virginia. You served in the federal government as special counsel to two assistant AGs who ran the Antitrust Division. And you were an assistant AG for Antitrust in Massachusetts. So give us some inside stuff about this campaign and maybe even tell us a little bit about the Massachusetts AG’s office, because they have so many different and unique divisions, which most states do not have.

Milton Marquis:

Well, that was a long time ago when I worked in the Massachusetts AGs Office. I would say maybe five or six attorneys general ago, but the structure of the office is pretty much the same as it was when I was there. They have a pretty robust consumer protection division, antitrust, public utilities, charities, but they also have a healthcare section. This was a long time ago and one of the first states to have a standalone healthcare section that dealt with various healthcare issues where there is access to consumer protection and the like. So it’s a very prestigious office. Of course, I’m being a bit self-serving in that highly qualified, highly skilled lawyers are attracted to working in that office. Boston’s a big city, lot of law schools, lot of lawyers, not as many lawyers as Washington, DC, but certainly per capita is probably a pretty high number. Lawyers who get elected AGs tend to be pretty high profile people, very pro-consumer type lawyers. Now if General Healey is elected governor, which, I agree with Bernie, I certainly expect that she would, that she’d be the first attorney general, maybe since Edward Brooke, if I’m not mistaken, now, you’re going back to the 1960s, if I’m not mistaken, first attorney general to be elected to a higher office after serving as attorney general of Massachusetts. I think a lot of it is just historical quirk and Massachusetts is a lot like Maryland in that it’s a blue state, but has a history of electing Republican governors: Charlie Baker, very popular; governors, Republican Mitt Romney, who people associate him with Utah now that he’s a Senator from Utah, but he was governor of Massachusetts, and Cellucci, and Bill Weld. So I would say out of the last 20 years, there’s probably been more Republican governors than Democratic governors so that might explain why Democratic attorneys general have not had a great record so far in being elected to higher office.

Bernie Nash:

I think the difference in this gubernatorial race, although we’re not here to talk about that is that Maura Healey is an extraordinarily popular AG.

Milton Marquis:

Yep.

Bernie Nash:

Very well known, highly well known. I don’t know what she’s done differently than her predecessor, Martha Coakley. By the way, you all know that Maura worked for Martha in that office. But somehow she’s gotten tremendous positive media. I think that’s going to be a difference. She has the high name ID already and it’s positive.

Milton Marquis:

I certainly would agree with that. This whole thing, I would add, about the candidates is that, as Mira indicated, Andrea Campbell, great life story, great background. She was elected to the Boston City Council, defeated an incumbent, I’m showing my age, who was on the council when I lived in Boston. Ms. Campbell certainly has the profile and running citywide, Boston’s by far the biggest city in Massachusetts. The television market dominates the state of Massachusetts and so I agree that it’s not a surprise that she’s the front runner in that poll, but like most attorney general races, while AGs are extremely important and certainly important to lawyers, the AG race being a down-ballot race tends not to have the same profile as say the governor’s race and people make up their mind pretty late in the race. So just to echo Bernie, what you said, if Ms. Liss-Riordan is willing to contribute, loan, $12 million of her own money, that could really make a difference at the last minute in a race where there’re a high number of undecideds.

Bernie Nash:

Yeah. That’s why I also think that whether Maura Healey decides to back one of the three could be quite critical. I don’t know how often a governor gets out of her lane to do that, but it will be critically important for the governor to have a very strong relationship with the AG. Even in the same party. As we all know the AGs who are in the same party as their governor tend to have more problems with the governor than if you’re in the opposite party. So to me, it’ll be quite interesting if Maura ventures into that race.

Mira Baylson:

To trade in gossip, and none of this is verified or anything I heard from anyone official, but when I was at the most recent DAGA conference, I heard rumblings that AG Healey was leaning more towards Campbell than the other candidates. Now, again, these are all unsubstantiated undercurrents, but people in the know in Massachusetts could be reading those and making decisions accordingly. So I guess we’ll see if that becomes more pronounced as we get closer to the primary. I have a quick question for you guys and I’d love to hear both of your takes on this. The candidates, doing some background for this podcast, the candidates spoke at the Boston College Law School in May of this year and spoke a little bit about why they were the right person for this job. Quentin Palfrey, I think, made it a strong case that to be a good attorney general, it very much helps to have been in the office, to know how it works, to understand both the limitations and the strengths, and that’s something obviously that AG Healey knows very well and used to her advantage. Then, Liss-Riordan said, “I’ve been a private attorney general for the past 20 years so I know more than anyone how to use that power.” I thought that was a very interesting statement, particularly in our line of work, when we deal with plaintiffs’ attorneys who are engaged by the attorney general’s office or work in tandem with them. I was curious about your perspective on whether or not those past experiences are going to be valuable to voters and whether or not that’s going to resonate, with the people of Massachusetts, but really anyone who’s not as focused on the AG space as we are.

Bernie Nash:

If you have AG office experience as a deputy, you do have a head start. Definitely have a head start. You know what you want to do, who’s there. So you have an advantage, a significant advantage for maybe three months. But a smart winner of an AG race who has not been in the office quickly surrounds himself or herself with the prior AGs from that office or prior chief deputies from that office, or even chief deputies from another office. Not necessarily to bring them in, but to help with the transition during the two month period between the election and the swearing in, that AG gets pretty much up to speed and a good transition team helps the AG select really good people. I’ve done that once. Just the last year, our partner, Jerry Kilgore, the former AG of Virginia was head of transition for the newly elected Republican AG in Virginia. Bottom line is I think you get a head start if you know the office, but someone out of office catches up very, very quickly. Milton, you’ve been in offices. What do you think?

Milton Marquis:

Well, I agree with that. I don’t think that voters perceive an advantage. I think when someone goes in their voting booth and is deciding who to vote for in an AGs race it’s someone that they feel reflects their values and to use a political phrase, ready to fight for me, fight for things that I care about. I think all three of the Democratic candidates would certainly fit the bill. So while Ms. Campbell may not have served in the attorney general’s office, I looked at her website, she’s pointing to her experience as a legal services lawyer for the Edlaw Project. Education is very important everywhere, but certainly important in a city like Boston. I think you mentioned she went to Boston Latin school. Having lived in Boston, Boston Latin is one of the top high schools in the United States. I think it’s more important to what someone says they’re going to do, as opposed to what they’ve done, serving in the office. While lawyers may think that’s beneficial, I don’t think voters care at all that someone served in the AG’s Office or not.

Mira Baylson:

It’s almost like splitting hairs to find the space in between the three of them. I can’t be the only one who’s sitting here looking at their perspectives on different things and thinking the thing that sets them apart is their previous history, as opposed to what they’re promising, because they’re all part of what I’ll call a left portion of the Democratic party more or less, as I think you would expect in Massachusetts, and so I’m finding it hard to find the air in between them and I imagine voters are too.

Bernie Nash:

Well, General Healey was very, very strong, in my perception, with respect to workers’ rights and employee rights. She made a national name for herself in that regard and she got a lot of media in Massachusetts in that regard. She was also very, very strong for the environment and she got great press on that. She also was very, very strong on civil rights and I think a lot of the voters see her in that way. I think that a candidate who can emulate those positions, or somehow get a campaign slogan going around that, might have an edge over others. That’s why I think money could count because you have to get the message out. You could have the best message in the world but nobody hears it, it’s not going to get you that many votes. So leaving aside who can achieve that, Milton, given who the candidates are, do you have any opinions about how different the AG’s office might be under candidate Campbell versus Liss-Riordan versus Quentin Palfrey?

Milton Marquis:

The Attorney General’s Office has a very strong culture. Many of the people who work in that office have worked in that office for most of their careers. I would equate it to say, for example, the Department of Justice or Bernie, you and the Securities and Exchange Commission, that there’s just such a very strong culture of being pro-enforcement, pro-consumer, that I don’t believe that any of the three leading, or the three Democratic, candidates would change the focus of that office. I think there’s just a core set of values among Democratic party thought-leaders that are pretty consistent across the board. Then as Mira indicated, I think it’s more a matter of who resonates better with the electorate. And I think that going back to the current office holder and likely future governor, it really comes down to who can connect. That’s where she’s really talented as an office holder and I think as a candidate. General Healey is someone who comes across as a regular person, great personality, very smart, very committed. I think one of the three candidates who can hit those tones, because I don’t think there’s any daylight between the three candidates in their worldview or their platforms, it’s all about, “Who do I think will do the best job in advancing my interest?” if I were a Massachusetts voter. So I don’t see any material change in the focus and the direction of the Attorney General’s Office. We often talk about who’s the leading attorney general, kind of in the modern history of an office and Frank Bellotti, who certainly was kind of the bedrock. I don’t think the office has really changed much in terms of focus and quality since General Bellotti was the attorney general, and that’s going back to the late 70s and the early 80s. Now, I did not serve under Frank Bellotti, I just want to make it clear, I’m not that old, but his legacy was still in place. No doubt about that.

Bernie Nash:

Well, I’ve got a few years on you, Milton. I will not acknowledge on this podcast how many years, but I do remember Frank Bellotti very, very fondly. Not only was he a giant among his peers, but he was very, very unique. He loved to cook and he whipped up some of the best Italian meals I ever had. He loved to work out. He went to the gym on a daily basis and he loved the deep tan. In the wintertime, there’s not much sun in Massachusetts. If there’s sun, it’s still zero degrees temperature. He constantly, year round, had a deep tan from a tanning salon before tanning salons were that prevalent. So he was a very, very unique individual.

Mira Baylson:

Milton, just to push back a little bit and maybe I’m too cynical here, so please you two, tell me to lower my guard here, but I can’t imagine that if Liss-Riordan comes into office, that there wouldn’t be a slight shift, at least somewhat in her focus on companies that many consider to be emblematic of the gig economy. Not that they’re not in the bullseye already with AG Healey. Obviously we know Massachusetts, the office is an aggressive litigator and they’re very focused on protecting the rights of workers in Massachusetts. But, she just, it seems that she would gravitate even more that way simply just based on her experience and her platform. I assume that would mean she’d have to take resources from somewhere else, but again, I would defer to your experience actually inside the AG’s office.

Milton Marquis:

Well, one bureau that I neglected to mention when I was listing the bureaus that were around when I was there and that are still pretty active, would be the Labor Bureau. So they have a labor division. It’s just under the Public Protection Bureau unless they changed the name, which I’m sure is the case. So there has been a focus on employment issues and the type of issues that have been litigated are pretty much the same as General Coakley and other AGs have litigated over the years and that is: How do you classify people who participate in the so-called gig economy? Do you treat them as employees or independent contractors? That issue has been teed up in Massachusetts for many years now. So I said maybe around the margin, maybe there’ll be additional resources, but that’s an issue that’s already been joined by several Mass AGs in the past and currently.

Mira Baylson:

So in other words, for businesses that are operating in and around Massachusetts, it will essentially be business as usual. Not meaning no interaction with the AG’s office, but probably not at increased scrutiny or a change in tone.

Bernie Nash:

Well, I’m not sure about that because, although General Healey was pretty aggressive and kind of passionate on her issues, she did have an open door policy. She did listen. You had the ability to dialogue. You had the ability to negotiate fairly, and you don’t have that in every state. I’m not sure where Shannon Liss-Riordan would be because her background as plaintiffs’ lawyer’s just kind of suing, suing, suing. I’m not saying she was wrong in all those suits, but there’s a mentality of right and wrong, good and evil. I think that might be hard to have that same dialogue, that same discussion. So I think it would make it more difficult for the business community. Certainly Massachusetts is part of the very strong pro-consumer group of AGs, Connecticut and New York and California and Vermont. They may go down a peg, they may go up a peg, but in the real world, when you’re representing a client, it’s not going to matter that much. Well, I think this was very, very illuminating as it always is. I love having Milton and Mira here. Lori will be with us next week when we do our wrap-up and our final podcast before the election. We’ll be back after the election to talk about where we were right, where we were wrong and what the races really mean. But I hope you will join us next week where we will do a wrap-up and give you our latest views about the pending races. So thank you again for joining us. You have been listening to the State AG Pulse, brought to you by Cozen O’Connor’s State AG Group. Research for the podcast is provided by four of our crack associates, who I need to recognize for their hard work: Ryan Bottegal, Hannah Cornett, Gianna Puccinelli, and Keturah Taylor and of course our policy analyst and travelogue guru, Elizabeth Hill Hodish. If you enjoyed this week’s episode, please leave a five star rating and review. Please tune in again next week and until then, bye-bye.

 

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