Andrea Campbell, in visit to West Medford, says she’ll push for open government

Andrea Campbell. Photo (cc) 2022 by Dan Kennedy.

Andrea Campbell said Tuesday that she would work to strengthen the state’s notoriously weak open-meeting and public-records laws if she is elected attorney general this November.

“I’m on the record in supporting legislation that would expand it to include other bodies of government,” she told about two dozen supporters at a meet-and-greet in West Medford. “In order for folks to be meaningful participants in their government, to be civically engaged where it matters, you have to know what’s going on.”

Campbell, a former Boston City Council president and an unsuccessful candidate for mayor in 2021, is one of three Democrats seeking to succeed the incumbent, Maura Healey, who’s running for governor. The other Democrats are Shannon Liss-Riordan, a labor attorney, and Quentin Palfrey, a former Obama administration official. The winner of the Sept. 6 primary will face Republican lawyer Jay McMahon in November.

Liss-Riordan and Palfrey also support reforming the open-meeting and public-records laws, according to their campaign websites.

Readers of Media Nation know that I’m not out there covering the state election campaigns. But the Campbell event was hosted by our neighbors Gary Klein and Betsy Schreuer, who live less than a minute’s walk from our house, so it seemed like a good opportunity to meet one of the candidates. Besides, we no longer have a news outlet in Medford.

Despite the state’s progressive reputation, Massachusetts ranks near the bottom nationally when it comes to government transparency. Back in 2020, Northeastern journalism students asked every candidate for the state Legislature whether they would support extending the open-records law to the Legislature, which is currently exempt — as is the governor’s office. Although most of those who responded said they favored reform, only 71 of the 257 candidates provided answers despite our students’ repeated attempts. Their findings were published in The Scope, a School of Journalism vertical that covers social-justice issues.

Although it’s not the attorney general’s role to propose legislation, that official can nevertheless serve as a visible leader for open government. The AG also has a crucial role in enforcing the laws, which cover the executive branch of state government as well as local and county offices. Campbell said Healey (who has endorsed her) has done “a decent job” of enforcing the current laws, but added she would emphasize greater enforcement. Campbell cited a lawsuit filed by the ACLU after the Plymouth County district attorney’s office demanded $1.2 million in fees to produce public records, as reported by Wheeler Cowperthwaite in The Patriot Ledger. “How does an AG, working with the secretary of state and others, work in partnership so that doesn’t happen?” she asked.

According to a recent poll by the MassINC Polling Group, the Democratic attorney general’s race is wide open. Campbell led with 24%, followed by Liss-Riordan at 16% and Palfrey at 4%. But 50% were undecided or refused to answer. Without naming her, Campbell and several others made several references Tuesday evening to the vast sums of personal money Liss-Riordan is dumping into her campaign — a total that could reach $12 million, according to Lisa Kashinsky of Politico.

Campbell was introduced by Klein, a lawyer and consultant who at one time worked for Attorney General Healey, and by former Attorney General Martha Coakley, who also lives in West Medford. Other Medford political figures on hand were state Rep. Paul Donato, school committee member Melanie McLaughlin and Neil Osborne, the city’s chief people officer.

Most of Campbell’s brief remarks were what you would expect at such an event — an upbeat speech along with calls to vote and make a campaign donation. She also got personal, telling those on hand about the death of her mother, who was killed in a car accident while on her way visit her father, who was incarcerated. Her twin brother died at the age of 29 while in pre-trial detention.

“And yet, every single day,” she said, “I make an intentional choice to turn that pain into purpose.”

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