Your weekly look at politics, policy, and elections in Massachusetts.
THE HORSE RACE: Steve Koczela, host; Jennifer Smith, host; Stephanie Murray, host; Libby Gormley, producer; Maureen McInerney, graphic designer.
Episode 154: Election Daze
10/22/20--With the 2020 election just days away, Jenn, Steve, and Stephanie have a lot to discuss. And that starts with a much needed recap of this week's cringe-inducing episode of The Bachelorette.
In even more unsettling news, the Trump administration has been administering an onslaught of attacks upon Dr. Fauci, the CDC, and the media. "It just doesn't make any sense, does it?" Steve asks.
Jenn thinks that while it doesn’t make sense to undermine health authorities’ guidance during a pandemic, the rhetoric makes sense for this administration whose stance has been consistent since the pandemic began, and the newest statements are “sadly predictable.” The administration attempting to discredit health experts is especially worrying now, as we are already experiencing national surges in cases, and the upcoming fall and winter might bring the highest number of cases yet.
A statewide ban on evictions and foreclosures came to an end this Saturday, the fallout of which Jennifer Smith has been keeping a close eye on. As housing courts open up, Jenn says what government officials have been trying to remind everyone of is that the end of the moratorium "does not mean people can immediately kick you out of the house."
Still, it's an open question whether housing courts will be able to handle eviction cases if in fact a swell of them begins to appear, and “whether measures gov will put in place will be enough to stem that tide," Jenn says.
“We just don’t know how bad it’s going to be right now.”
Early voting is in full swing in states across the country including Massachusetts. And MassINC Polling Group Research Director Rich Parr has been following data on early voting as it comes in from around the state. His first impressions are that, first of all, a lot of people are voting early. As of Tuesday, over a million people have returned their ballots and thus officially voted early for this election.
“If you compare it to 2016, overall it’s almost 30% of all the ballots cast in the 2016 election have already been cast in 2020.” Much like Rich’s findings in early voting data for the primary election this year, early voting is strongly concentrated in “a lot of the wealthier suburbs, kind of in the metro west part of the Boston area.”
Rich names Lexington, Concord, Lincoln, Sudbury, Natick and Wellesley, for example, or “well-off” towns with high levels of education as measured by the percentage of people who have a bachelor’s degree in the town.
With weeks to go before Election Day, Jenn points out, “People who are voting multiple weeks before election day are kind of voting on a slightly different race, theoretically.” Rich notes that while late-breaking news stories shifted polling percentages around quite a bit in the weeks leading up to Election Day in 2016, 2020 has been a different story. Biden’s maintained a rough average of an 8 to 10-point national lead over Trump for a while. “The character of this race has been much more stable than what we saw in 2016," he says.
Episode 153: Bach in the Saddle
10/14/20-- While Stephanie Murray could not make it on The Horse Race this week, she did not fail to bring us the content that really matters. By this of course we mean her Bachelorette recap complete with a #MApoli connection. The bachelor Stephanie had her eye on was, "Certified Harvard Guy" Bennet Jordan. She ran his name through the FEC database and nothing came up, but because he’s 36 - 37 years old, it means he likely crossed paths with a number of familiar #MApoli faces who were at Harvard University the same time as him. Can you figure out who they were?
And in *actual* #MApoli news, state budget season is a few months late this year due to COVID-19. Governor Charlie Baker submitted his annual budget in which he pulled from the emergency fund to cover the anticipated loss of revenue for this year. Jenn Smith notes, “There might be some interesting implications / kind of agonizing, frustrating implications if you start thinking a year out. What do you do if we have another year of this kind of loss in revenue?” Of course, Baker's proposal has yet to undergo a probably lengthy process of workshopping by the legislature before it is finalized.
Also happening this week are Senate hearings of Supreme Court Justice nominee Amy Coney Barrett. So far, Jenn says, the process has been "interesting but predictable." Senate Democrats are pushing Barrett for answers on how she might rule on Roe v. Wade, the Affordable Care Act, and whether she'll recuse herself in the event of an election result dispute. Barrett has mostly refused to come down one way or another on any of these topics, taking the conventional route of vowing not to enter the Supreme Court with an agenda, and rather stick to the rule of law and decide cases as they come.
A new Suffolk University / Boston Globe poll shows Joe Biden with a 10-point lead on Donald Trump in New Hampshire. This is notable for a couple reasons, one of which brings us back to 2016. During that election season, a conspiracy theory claiming hordes of Massachusetts voters illegally cast votes in New Hampshire for Hillary Clinton gained an outsize amount of attention. The theory was perpetuated by the president who claimed he would've secured the popular vote if not for the "voter fraud" in New Hampshire. The theory was unsurprisingly debunked, but, as Steve points out, with a much wider margin being shown so far in 2020, such conspiracy theories likely won't be given as much weight. Instead, Steve says, they'll be called out for what they are -- "quackery."
GBH News Reporter Paul Singer stops by The Horse Race to discuss his recent coverage of Boston's failure to comply with ordinances on hiring diversity. As of 2017, most large public and private construction projects in the city are mandated to employ 51% Boston residents, 40% people of color and 12% women. Time and again, however, builders have not met these standards.
Singer explains that some subcontractors have shown "terrible performance" on hiring residents, people of color, and women. But, he says, "None of them ever get punished for it, and they still get rehired for the next job, so there’s no real consequence for blowing it off.”
New measures to improve police accountability and transparency are in the works in Boston. Mayor Marty Walsh and Police Commissioner William Gross said Tuesday they plan to implement all recommendations from the city’s police reform task force that includes replacing the city’s community oversight panel with an independent office with expanded powers.
Sarah Betancourt of CommonWealth Magazine reported on this and joins The Horse Race hosts to talk about it. Along with the new independent oversight office, Walsh and Gross committed to adopting an expansion of the body cam program, greater enforcement of use of force policies, improving data collection, a new diversity u
Episode 152: Musical Chairmen
10/8/20--Only a week has passed since Steve, Jenn, and Stephanie gathered in the virtual pod studio, but so much has changed.
Of course, President Trump's positive COVID-19 test rocked the country and world, and the administration's ever-changing reports on the timeline of Trump's infection have left Americans wondering when he was officially infected and who else (besides the at least 34 staffers who've been identified as COVID-positive) might have the contagion.
This fate is not entirely surprising, as Trump and his administration have repeatedly flouted guidance put forth by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the CDC, and the WHO, often refusing to wear masks and social distance. As Steve puts it, "It comes down to the contempt that they showed for the science behind it, contempt for truth, contempt for verifiable, scientific facts, the things that we all know about how to avoid the virus.”
It seems to Steve that the White House mentality has almost become "an article of faith," that the thinking goes something like, "'We have to pretend that this thing isn’t happening. We have to pretend that it doesn’t exist. And, what’s more, if you think it does and you’re going to wear a mask and act responsibly, then there’s something defective about you.’”
Republican candidate for U.S. Senate stops by The Horse Race to talk about why he's running against incumbent Ed Markey. He says he is "concerned about the tone of our politics," and feels that Markey is more focused on "polarization and posturing than getting things done for the American people."
In a state made up of voters who, for the most part, oppose Donald Trump, O'Connor says he wants to remain upfront about who he's voting for, and that's Trump. “I’m not wearing a MAGA hat, but I’m voting for the president," for reasons that he describes as economics, community safety, and foreign policy.
"The economic growth that we’ve experienced as of the end of 2019 was great. It was historic in that it extended to the bottom 20% of earners for the first time in about 40 years," O'Connor says.
O'Connor also believes that if Amy Coney-Barrett is approved as a Supreme Court justice, the Senate should move ahead with her confirmation. "I don't like what happened with Merrick Garland," he says, referring to 2016 when Republican senators in February blocked the Obama-nominated Garland from being confirmed before the 2016 election in November. O'Connor would like to set up a mandatory retirement age for justices to prevent unforeseen events that can't be planned for.
Finally, we look ahead to 2022 with news of an upcoming challenge to Gus Bickford, chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party. BIckford, a white man, will be contending with Bob Massie who has officially announced his candidacy, and likely with Mike Lake, who has not yet officially announced. Unless another candidate jumps in, the race will consist of three white men. Steve points to data collected exclusively at The Horse Race Data Analytics Headquarters showing that if either challenger were to win, they would be the second Michael or second Robert to hold this position.
“The leader at the top of the party doesn’t exactly reflect the changing makeup of the Democratic party," Stephanie says. Recent wins for the Democratic party in Massachusetts have largely been made by women and people of color.
Episode 151: For Better or Worcester
10/1/20-- After the most chaotic and uncomfortable presidential debate the country has ever seen, Jennifer, Steve, and Stephanie gather in the virtual bunker to share their thoughts and reflect on the reactions of #mapoli members.
Jennifer said, “The president gave a lot of troubling answers on a lot of topics that are extremely consequential and dodged a lot of important questions.” Perhaps the most egregious was his refusal to openly condemn white supremacy.
Trump launched into “an uninterrupted rambling attack on the integrity of mail-in voting.” But, like Jenn says, it didn’t end there. “He wasn’t just attacking mail-in voting but one thing that a lot of people, I think reasonably, read into his comments about asking his supporters to watch people at the polls for fraud is that that also seems like an effort to get people to intimidate voters.”
Stephanie wasn’t surprised by this performance, saying, “If you’ve paid attention to his style over the past four years, a lot of this was pretty predictable.” The tone of the debate did not match the gravity of the situation we’re living in.
“It was frustrating to me that the organization in the debate was just these three men all interrupting each other and laughing nervously when things are just going so wrong.”
As the Commission on Presidential Debates announced they would put in place stronger regulations for the next Presidential debate to limit candidates running away with their responses and ignoring set guidelines, Steve wonders, what actually can be done? Well, hopefully something. Anything. “Yesterday was shameful all around, and it should not happen again,” Steve said.
Journalist Bill Shaner, author of the Worcester Sucks and I Love It blog stopped by The Horse Race to give the lowdown on what's happening in Central Massachusetts. An organization called Defund WPD is asking the Worcester City Council and and the Worcester City Manage to create a public database of police conduct records.
Bill explains, the group initially formed to put pressure on Worcester to lower the police department's budget. "They lost that battle really hard," he says. "Worcester City Council and City Manager sort of callously dismissed them.” Now, the group is still putting on pressure on the police department and the city.
New polling out of UMass Lowell shows how voters in three swing states are leaning five weeks before the presidential election. In New Hampshire, Biden's got a comfortable lead over Trump, while the candidates are locked in a dead heat in North Carolina, and Trump is ahead of Biden in Texas by a three-point margin.
Episode 150: Yes We Campbell
9/24/20-- This month has proven to be a sad one for the courts both here in Massachusetts and nationally, with the passing of Justice Ralph Gants, and more recently, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Jenn, Steve, and Stephanie discuss the commonality between Governor Charlie Baker and President Donald Trump -- appointing a significant number of justices.
In Boston news, city councilor Andrea Campbell put an end to speculation today when she made the announcement that she is in fact running for mayor. That makes two female candidates running for the position. Mayor Marty Walsh has not yet declared whether he'll run for re-election. Dorchester expert Jenn Smith gives her take on how Campbell will likely position herself in the race if Walsh is to seek re-election.
As Americans wonder what will happen to the vacant Supreme Court Justice seat, many are concerned if a conservative justice is confirmed before the election, reproductive rights may be in jeopardy. Rebecca Hart Holder, executive director of NARAL Pro Choice Massachusetts joins the show to talk about what's at stake for Massachusetts if Roe v. Wade is overturned, and she explains the renewed push by pro-choice activists around passing the ROE Act.
Episode 149: Ready Mayor One
9/17/20-- This week brought news that Ralph Gants, the Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court died suddenly at the age of 65. Gants was an advocate for racial justice, whose call for Harvard to explore racial inequities in the Massachusetts criminal justice system resulted in the publication of a report just last week.
As Stephanie and Jenn note, Governor Baker will appoint two justices to the bench this year, as Justice Barbara Lenk plans to retire in December. Once the appointments have been made, Baker will have been responsible for putting up every justice on the Supreme Court bench. The Boston Globe reports that the only other governor to have appointed an entire slate of justices was John Hancock, the first and third governor of Massachusetts.
In municipal news, Michelle Wu has officially announced her run for Boston Mayor, and Steve is armed with polling numbers illustrating Wu's favorability stacked against sitting Mayor Marty Walsh. Wu's popularity is lower than Walsh's, but Steve predicts younger voters could be extremely influential in this election, and their role could take shape in a similar fashion that unfolded in Ayanna Pressley's 2018 bid for Congress against incumbent Mike Capuano. Steve explains, younger people learned about Ayanna Pressley, became likely voters, and ultimately became her supporters.
Meanwhile on Beacon Hill, the legislative session continues beyond its traditional July 31st end date after legislators moved to extend it through the end of 2020. Even with extra time dedicated passing major legislation on health care, transportation, housing and more, lawmakers have yet to make notable progress just yet. BFF of the pod and State House News Service reporter Katie Lannan stops by the show and explains that even though major developments haven't been made yet, because the legislative session continues, "the hope is still alive" on several of these big-name bills.
Over in Western Massachusetts, Springfield City Councilors are making moves to the State House. Councilors Orlando Ramos and Adam Gomez are headed to the State House of Representatives and Senate, respectively, after winning their Democratic primary elections. Matt Szafranski, editor-in-chief of the Western Massachusetts Politics and Insight blog, says Springfield City Council is "now a viable political launchpad." Plus, Matt provides insight into the 2nd Hampden-Hampshire district, where a rematch is underway between sitting state Senator John Velis and challenger Republican John Cain.