From State House News Service
ON THE AGENDA
- Aide: Baker knew about alleged retribution earlier than he first said
- Democrat leaders mulling options amid ‘troubling pattern’
- Video: Polito joins governor to honor Bay State police for valor, bravery
- Baker considers ‘status quo’ as charter school expansion hangs in balance
- Warren-backed sheriff lays out bid for top state Dem post
TOP OF THE HILL
Aide: Baker knew of alleged retribution in June, not September
Gov. Charlie Baker told reporters on Thursday that he learned about an alleged retribution case within the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs about two weeks ago, but an aide later said the governor misspoke about the timeline.
“We were made aware of the allegations about 10 days ago and told EEA they needed to conduct an investigation with oversight and input from our legal office,” Baker said Sept. 22. “And the allegations are extremely troubling and we want to see what comes out of that investigation.”
The retaliation claim involves a staffer, Cynthia Lewis, who reportedly said she faced harassment and was told she would be transferred to a different office after her fiance, J.D. Parker O’Grady, a Democrat, launched a Senate campaign against Republican incumbent Sen. Donald Humason Jr. of Westfield.
According to a cease and desist letter quoted by the Boston Herald, which first reported the allegations, personnel officer Jared Valanzola, himself a failed Republican candidate for the House, suggested Lewis, who worked for the chief of environmental police, “break off her engagement” with Parker O’Grady.
Watch: Baker reacts to ‘unbelievably disturbing’ allegations
Baker and his legal office were made aware of initial allegations in June, and an internal investigation began about 10 days ago, after more detailed allegations surfaced in August, according to the aide, who asked not to be named. Before the information reached Baker, the incident was being handled by staffers, the aide said.
Matthew A. Beaton of Shrewsbury, a former area state representative, is the secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
— Katie Lannan
Dem party leader seeks legal counsel, sees ‘troubling pattern’ in retribution allegations
The Massachusetts Democratic Party is talking with legal counsel “about what appropriate actions would be” in response to allegations that a staffer in the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs faced retaliation over her fiance’s Senate bid, the party’s executive director said.
Baker said Thursday the energy secretariat is conducting an internal investigation into the claim. Massachusetts Democratic Party Executive Director Jay Cincotti said the party is trying to determine its “next steps.”
“We wouldn’t want to do anything that would impede any other kind of investigation,” he told State House News Service.
Cincotti said the suspension of two top Department of Conservation and Recreation officials — Commissioner Leo Roy and Deputy Commissioner Matthew Sisk — earlier this month for using state resources to plan and host a private party was “kind of troubling on its own,” and the alleged retaliation “kicks it up.”
“We sort of see this potential for a troubling pattern,” Cincotti said Thursday.
Gus Bickford, a candidate for the state Democratic Party’s chairmanship, issued a statement Thursday calling the internal investigation “woefully inadequate,” and saying that as party chairperson he would immediately request records related to the allegations and file an ethics complaint.
— Katie Lannan
VIDEO OF THE WEEK
Baker, Polito among officials to honor several Bay State police officers for bravery, valor
IN THE NEWS
‘Live with the status quo’ if charter expansion bid fails, Baker says
Gov. Charlie Baker acknowledged Thursday that if voters reject Question 2 in November, it will probably take the “wind out of the sails of charter school development.”
A major supporter of expanding access to charter schools who has campaigned for Question 2, Baker agreed to co-host Margery Eagan’s nautically themed construction during Thursday’s appearance on WGBH radio.
“Yeah, probably,” Baker said to Eagan’s question.
Question 2 would allow for up to 12 additional charter schools beyond existing caps, and if a majority of Massachusetts voters back it on Nov. 8 it will become law. The governor, a self-described “direct democracy guy,” said he would abide by the voters’ decision.
“If the people in Massachusetts vote against this, they’re making a statement about charter schools and about expansion, and that means we live with the status quo,” Baker said.
Issue advocates often pursue ballot proposals after one or both branches of the state Legislature have demonstrated a reluctance to address problems through the normal lawmaking process. Once voters have weighed in on an issue, they often have the final say.
A recent MassINC/WBUR poll showed the charter schools question garnering 48 percent against to 41 percent in favor, while a spokeswoman for the pro-charter campaign claimed “internal polling shows us with a healthy lead.” The pro-charter groups have already far outspent their opponents, according to campaign finance data.
Baker, who says his advocacy for charter schools stems from a desire to widen access to quality educational opportunities, wondered about a vote that splits cities and suburbs for and against the issue.
“It’s a curveball and I’m speculating at this point: What do we do if across the Commonwealth in every urban community this thing passes by a big number [and] fails in the suburbs?” Baker asked. “I’m going to feel sick about this if that’s where we end up.”
Charter school advocates, citing constitutional education rights, are also pursuing a lawsuit to lift the state’s cap on charter schools.
Baker defended his chairman of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, Paul Sagan, who has donated generously to pro-charter causes, including a $100,000 donation to the Campaign for Fair Access to Quality Public Schools, a group that backs the ballot question.
“There are people on those boards that have opinions, OK? And they’re interested in the issues. That’s kind of why they’re there in the first place,” Baker said.
— Andy Metzger
Warren-backed Tompkins, Suffolk sheriff, aims to be ‘new voice’ of state Dems
Casting himself as a fresh voice who could invigorate the Democratic Party, Suffolk County Sheriff Steven W. Tompkins on Thursday declared his intent to run for the party chairmanship.
A close political ally of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth A. Warren, Tompkins said last week he wanted to take the weekend to decide whether he would join former lieutenant governor nominee Stephen Kerrigan, and Democratic National Committee member David O’Brien, and Gus Bickford in seeking the position.
The sheriff, who said he only became involved in party politics earlier this year, said he would focus as chairman on attracting more people — particularly those of color and young people — to the party’s ranks, both as candidates and supporters.
“I want to get more folk of color involved in a real intimate way, where they want to be a part of the organization and work for the furtherance of the organization. And the millennials, too,” Tompkins said Thursday in an interview. “Not to say we don’t have some of the young folk or people of color, but I think we could have more.”
In an email announcing his candidacy Thursday, Tompkins said he will “make it my mission to engage an entirely new group of Democrats that are too often left out.” He said he would like to pursue that through “a comprehensive, statewide civics agenda.”
“There are so many people that are disconnected from the civic process, so they really don’t have a good understanding of how community and government work together,” he said. “But when you look at communities of color, at our urban cores, our urban centers, I think that message about civic engagement really needs to be pushed forward in a real way.”
As an African-American and someone who has not been ensconced in the party establishment, Tompkins said he could bring an outsider’s perspective and enthusiasm to the job of party chairman.
“As a person of color, I know that my message will resonate differently than if Steve or Gus or David said it, frankly,” he said. “I’m relatively new to the party and these gentlemen have been with the party for quite some time, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but I think I bring a new, fresh perspective, a new vitality to the party.”
Though the Democrats hold all 11 of the state’s seats in Congress, overwhelming majorities in the state House and Senate, and four of the state’s six constitutional offices, some Democrats have bemoaned that their party has given Republican Gov. Charlie Baker something of an extended honeymoon.
Since taking office in January 2015, Baker has enjoyed strong relationships with Democratic legislative leaders and has rarely criticized the majority party. In turn, they have infrequently lobbed attacks toward him, opting instead to act as bipartisan partners.
The party’s next chairman will likely lead the Democrats into a two-year window during which Warren will likely be on the ballot for re-election in 2018 and Baker will presumably be running for a second term. Democrats on Beacon Hill are also pressing to put a proposed surtax on incomes above $1 million on the 2018 ballot.
Tompkins said Thursday his top two concerns are making sure Warren wins re-election in 2018 and regaining Democrats’ control of the governor’s office.
“When you are in the controlling party for quite a long time, you can get very comfortable. Once you get really comfortable things can get away from you,” he said. “Once again, being a new voice to the party, I will come in and try to shake things up, so to speak … the party may have gotten a little relaxed, so I want to address that.”
Tompkins, who was appointed Suffolk County sheriff by former Gov. Deval Patrick in 2013 after more than a decade working in the department, worked as Warren’s senior political advisor during her 2012 U.S. Senate campaign.
The sheriff said he wants to focus on making sure the party’s messaging is uniform throughout the state and that the party has a strategic plan for how it intends to grow and maintain control of the Legislature.
Tompkins said he heard from “a number of” state committee members who are concerned that the party’s messaging “hasn’t been that clear and that clarified” and that the party’s leadership hasn’t been as accessible as they’d like.
“It’s my intention to go across the Commonwealth, from the western part all the way down to the South Coast, the middle of the state, and talk about what my vision is, but to also listen and learn,” Tompkins said. “Listen to the people I’m talking to so they can tell me, ‘These are the issues I want the chair of the party to champion.’ ”
Sen. Thomas McGee of Lynn, the current party chairman, announced earlier this month that he plans to step aside away from that post after the November elections. A new party leader is expected to be elected at a Nov. 14 party meeting.
— Colin A. Young