An outrageous order of secrecy

Keep an eye on this one. Earlier this week, a clerk-magistrate in Suffolk Superior Court ruled that the details of criminal charges against former probation commissioner John O’Brien and Scott Campbell, who was a high-ranking aide to former state treasurer Tim Cahill, should be kept secret.

It was an outrage, done at the request of Campbell’s lawyer, and the office of Attorney General Martha Coakley has decided not to contest it. As Globe editor Marty Baron, whose paper is contesting the order, puts it:

If anything should be fully open to the public, it’s a court case involving allegations of malfeasance by a high-level public official. We feel an obligation to do our part to make sure the public gets the information it needs and deserves.

The Globe editorializes about the matter here.

Tim Cahill’s wacky yet serious lawsuit

Tim Cahill

Tim Cahill’s lawsuit against his former political consultants is the craziest Massachusetts political story since — oh, since U.S. Rep. John Tierney’s wife pled guilty to federal tax-fraud charges involving her rambling, gambling brother who’s holed up in Antigua. Since Suzanne Bump thought she had two principal residences. Since —

Well, you get the idea. It’s been a nutty week. And the temptation is to make fun of Cahill, the state treasurer who’s mounting a hopeless independent campaign for governor. It’s as though he’s trying to outlaw politics as usual.

But let’s let this play out a bit, shall we? There are two competing explanations for what’s behind the suit, and I’m not sure we can say which is more credible at this point. Cahill is claiming dirty tricks on Republican candidate Charlie Baker’s behalf by people who were on his payroll. Cahill wants to stop the turncoats from giving confidential campaign documents to Baker, which is reasonable, even if it adds to his reputation as a figure of fun.

The Republicans, meanwhile, argue that Cahill is trying to stop the disclosure of possible wrongdoing such as the use of state employees on his campaign.

Well, now. Couldn’t both be true? If the ex-Cahill folks have proprietary knowledge of such wrongdoing, they have no business bringing it to Baker. If they think it was actually illegal, then they should take their information to prosecutors. Otherwise, they cashed their checks and they should shut up.

At times like these, I turn to one of my favorite political pundits, the Outraged Liberal, who observes: “The only winner in this bizarre but entertaining tale of political intrigue is Deval Patrick, which is obvious in the silence out of his campaign.”

Indeed, Patrick has proved to be incredibly resilient during this campaign. An unpopular incumbent in a bad year for Democrats, Patrick has run slightly ahead of Baker, long seen as the Republicans’ best hope, all year.

I still think it’s going to be difficult for Patrick actually to win re-election. But he has been surprisingly lucky in his opposition.

Even Republicans are offended by Loscocco

Benedict Arnold

Given the low standards that pass for acceptable political behavior, I’m not entirely sure why I was so offended by Paul Loscocco’s decision to bow out as independent gubernatorial candidate Tim Cahill’s running mate.

But according today’s Boston Herald, I’m not alone. “What a snake! What a betrayal!” said erstwhile gubernatorial candidate Christy Mihos. Added WRKO talk-show host Charley Manning: “In all the years I’ve followed politics, I’ve never seen someone leave a ticket like Paul Loscocco did.”

Jon Keller calls it the “final blow” to Cahill’s gubernatorial campaign. But Cahill never had a shot, and unless Loscocco is delusional, he knew that the day he joined the ticket. This race was always going to come down to Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick and Republican challenger Charlie Baker. That’s what makes Loscocco’s act of betrayal so loathsome.

Nor can you compare this to high-profile consultant John Weaver’s recent resignation from the Cahill campaign, followed by his endorsement of Baker. Consultants come and go. Loscocco is a candidate for a statewide constitutional office, joined at the hip to Cahill. The only honorable path before him was to stick it out until the end.

Perhaps the most laughable aspect is that Loscocco hasn’t ruled out accepting a job in a Baker administration, the Boston Globe reports. Well, maybe Baker will throw some sort of bone to Loscocco if he’s elected governor. But I think Baker would want to be very careful about letting a backstabbing weasel like Loscocco get too far inside the tent.

Where was Jill Stein?

I don’t understand why WTKK hosts Jim Braude and Margery Eagan would moderate a gubernatorial debate that featured only three of the four candidates. If it was their call, they were wrong. If it was management’s call, they should have refused to have anything to do with it.

If ‘TKK’s aim was to have a debate between the two major-party candidates, Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick and Republican challenger Charlie Baker, I would have fewer objections — though still some. September is too soon to start excluding anyone.

But there was no logical reason to include independent candidate Tim Cahill, who has no chance of winning, and exclude Green-Rainbow candidate Jill Stein, who also has no chance.

Not only was it unfair to Stein, it was unfair to Baker. Every time Cahill is given oxygen, he hurts Baker with the conservative base Baker needs to secure if he is to defeat Patrick this November. At the same time, nearly all of Stein’s support comes from people who might otherwise be persuaded to vote for Patrick.

She also happens to be as thoughtful and substantive as any of them, but I suppose that’s beside the point.

Free the candidates from the media consortium

Jill Stein

The media consortium that is sponsoring two gubernatorial debates may exclude Green-Rainbow candidate Jill Stein because she hasn’t raised enough money, according to the Boston Globe, which is a member of the consortium, and the Boston Herald, which isn’t.

That raises a question: What are debates for?

Let’s start with the obvious. Only one of two things can plausibly occur on Election Day this November. Either Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick will be re-elected or his Republican opponent, Charlie Baker, will beat him. Neither Stein nor independent candidate Tim Cahill is going to win.

Given that, it’s ludicrous to believe that Cahill should be invited because he’s met the fundraising threshold while Stein should stay home. We should hear from both of them — or neither.

My own preference is that everyone be invited, at least when it’s early in the campaign. Give the longshots a chance to make their pitch and force the major-party candidates to react to their ideas. As we get closer to the wire, I think it’s legitimate to use polling in order to exclude candidates with no chance. I’d like to see Baker and Patrick debate one on one, but not yet.

Last Tuesday’s non-consortium debate, expertly moderated by WBZ-TV (Channel 4) political analyst and friend of Media Nation Jon Keller, showed it’s possible to let Baker and Patrick go at it while still giving Stein and Cahill a chance to have their say.

The biggest problem, I think, is the very existence of the consortium, which comprises the Globe, WCVB-TV (Channel 5), WHDH-TV (Channel 7), NECN, WGBH (Channel 2 and 89.7 FM) and WBUR Radio (90.9 FM).

The consortium was formed in 1994 to pressure U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy to debate his Republican rival, Mitt Romney. The gambit worked — and the fumble-mouthed Kennedy’s unexpectedly strong performances were a key to his re-election that year.

These days, though, there is never a shortage of debates. So, rather than a consortium, why not have media and civic organizations put together debates as they please, as Keller and WBZ did? You could have some debates featuring all four and others with just the two major-party candidates. You could even have a Cahill-Stein debate, which would be pretty interesting.

Let each group that wants to sponsor a debate set its own rules. The candidates can decide whether they want to participate, and the public can decide whether it wants to pay attention. But by all means, lets put an end to the media consortium and its attempts to control the political conversation.

Photo from JillStein.org.

An undercovered gubernatorial debate

Old friend Mark Leccese has an interesting blog post at Boston.com about the first televised gubernatorial debate, hosted Tuesday evening by another old friend, WBZ-TV (Channel 4) political analyst Jon Keller.

Leccese — God bless him — took in all of the local television coverage to determine how much attention the debate got. And he concludes that the debate was all but ignored, with the exception of NECN and, of course, WBZ.

The city’s two dailies, Leccese adds, gave it plenty of coverage.

Leccese wonders whether the lack of coverage was due to television executives’ wanting “to play down the story of the debate because it was on a rival station” — or if, instead, “local TV newscasts don’t find debates among the four people from whom the voters will choose the most powerful person in state government particularly newsworthy.”

My suspicion is that it’s a little bit of both.

If you missed the debate, you can still watch it online here. It’s also being broadcast in Spanish.

I caught about two-thirds of it in my car, and then watched the last 20 minutes. With the exception of a weird question about President Obama’s aunt, dropped in toward the end, I thought Keller turned in his usual fine job. He got out of the way and let Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick and Republican challenger Charlie Baker really mix it up, while still giving Green-Rainbow Party candidate Jill Stein and independent Tim Cahill a chance to make their case.

The debate was a ratings hit, too, writes the Herald’s Jessica Heslam — it came in third during the 7 p.m. time slot, not far behind the Red Sox and “Chronicle.”

Who won? I thought Patrick came off as by far the most personable of the four, and Baker scored some points on substance. As Michael Levenson reported in the Globe on Thursday, Patrick was wrong in claiming that Harvard Pilgrim Health Care was bailed out with “state aid” when Baker was its chief executive, an overreach that could come back to haunt the governor.

Perhaps the key was that Cahill, the state treasurer, proved to be a more effective debater than the substantive but sound-bite-challenged Stein. Since the conventional wisdom is that Cahill takes away votes from Baker and Stein from Patrick, perhaps Patrick (who really overdid it in sucking up to Cahill) was the winner by default.

Photo from wbztv.com.

Three for Monday

I’m up to my neck in other work, so three quick observations for a Monday morning:

1. The Boston Globe’s Spotlight series on the state’s patronage-riddled Probation Department should be the last nail in the coffin for state treasurer Tim Cahill’s independent gubernatorial campaign. The clueless Cahill doesn’t help matters today. While Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick and Republican challenger Charlie Baker squabble over how best to disinfect the agency, Cahill — a key player in the patronage game — criticizes Baker’s campaign for trying “to politicize issues for their own benefit without having a full understanding of the matters at hand.”

2. The New York Times’ Brian Stelter reports that news organizations are cutting back on covering presidential trips, citing an “exorbitant” cost in 2009 of $18 million. Frankly, I don’t think the shrinkage is a big deal. How many reporters need to follow the president around the world? But given that Katie Couric’s $15 million salary comes to almost the entire annual cost, it’s hard to take this lament seriously.

3. Make sure you read Charles Pierce’s excellent profile of Terry Francona, the greatest baseball manager in the known universe. It appeared Sunday in the Boston Globe Magazine.

Could the anti-incumbent fever be breaking?

It depends on how seriously you regard polls taken six months before the November election. But there’s some intriguing news on several fronts today:

  • Gov. Deval Patrick’s standing in his re-election battle has jumped 10 points in a month, according to Rasmussen. He now leads Republican Charlie Baker by a margin of 45 percent to 31 percent, with independent Tim Cahill bringing up the rear at 14 percent. It appears that the Republican Party’s relentlessly negative anti-Cahill ads have damaged Cahill without doing much for Baker.
  • Public Policy Polling reports that President Obama’s approval/disapproval rating is now 50 percent/46 percent, his best standing since last October.
  • Even Harry Reid is looking less like a goner than he has in many months.

Who knows what will happen over the next few months? These things generally come down to the economy, and the recovery has been slow and unsteady. At the very least, though, it seems that the throw-them-all-out story line has been called into question.

Getting more than he’s betting on

Writing in the Boston Globe, Paul McMorrow raises an important point about Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s quest to build two casinos and install slot machines at four racetracks.

Right now, the Mashpee Wampanoag bid to build a casino in Middleborough is being stymied mainly because casino gambling is illegal in Massachusetts. Once it’s legalized, the door is open not just for the Middleborough location, but for other tribal casinos as well. McMorrow writes:

In DeLeo’s rush to appease the building trades and carve out some action for the two racetracks in his district, the speaker of the House is setting the table for a gambling expansion in Massachusetts that has the potential to be far broader than anything he’s pitching. He’s opening the door to new gambling halls on Martha’s Vineyard and the Cape, in Middleborough and Fall River. It’s also something neither he, nor anyone else on Beacon Hill, can control.

And though McMorrow doesn’t say it, you can be sure that officials in New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut won’t stand pat if casinos are built in Massachusetts.

It is sad that none of the major candidates for governor — not Gov. Deval Patrick, Republican Charlie Baker nor independent Tim Cahill — opposes this financial and social boondoggle-in-the-making.

The friends of Tim Cahill

Congratulations to students in Walter Robinson’s investigative-reporting class at Northeastern University for their detailed, unflattering look at State Treasurer Tim Cahill’s campaign contributions, a story that led the Boston Globe on Sunday.

Cahill, an independent candidate for governor, has, according to their reporting, benefited mightily from his official position, raking in tens of thousands of dollars from firms with which his office does business.

Today, Republican gubernatorial candidates Charlie Baker and Christy Mihos pounce, while Gov. Deval Patrick remains silent.