October Surprises in Massachusetts

>Here in Massachusetts, in the absence of any wild and crazy Tea Party candidates, gazillionare CEOs with 9 figure campaign budgets, or even creepy, outré political ads, the 2010 campaign season was relatively tame, until October surprised us. On the first of the month, Paul Loscocco, running mate of long shot independent gubernatorial candidate (and current state treasurer) Tim Cahill abruptly defected and joined forces with the Republican candidate, Charlie Baker, a Beacon Hill veteran who served under two former Republican governors. (Baker is in a tight race against incumbent Democrat Deval Patrick, whom I support).

Loscocco's unprecedented, last minute abandonment of his bid for lieutenant governor was newsworthy enough, especially when it generated considerable sympathy for Cahill, to the apparent surprise of the Baker campaign. Then, one week later, Cahill sued four of his former campaign strategists (who had also belatedly abandoned him), including John Weaver, a former McCain adviser, alleging that they had orchestrated Loscocco's defection while they were on Cahill's payroll and conspired to provide the Baker campaign with confidential information about Cahill's plans in the final weeks of the campaign.

What's the basis for Cahill's allegations? Incriminating emails, of course. Some people can't seem to stop recording their embarrassing, wrongful, and even illegal behaviors in emails, (and other digitalia) despite the criminal prosecutions, civil lawsuits, and scandals they enable. (I sort of understand, having sent my share of indiscreet emails, but before hitting "send," I usually ask myself if my indiscretions are defensible, and, in any case, I have no job or election to lose). Cahill won a temporary restraining order barring the release of any confidential information, at least until October 13, when the court holds a full hearing on the allegations.

How did the Baker campaign respond? By going on offense, of course. A campaign spokeswoman characterized Cahill's lawsuit as an effort to cover up allegedly improper use of state workers in his campaign. One of the defendants in Cahill's suit, his former campaign manager, characterized himself as a good faith whistleblower, preparing to turn over evidence of illegality to state law enforcement agents (a characterization not exactly supported by the email trail).

The boldness with which people condemn as witch-hunts or cover-ups any efforts to hold them accountable for unethical or criminal behavior, or simple hypocrisy, is one of the hallmarks of contemporary political theater. At its worst, this tactic has helped immunize from prosecution agents of torture and other war crimes. But it's employed often and reflexively in more routine partisan battles these days, as the Cahill lawsuit shows.

Take the sorry case of Jeff Perry, running for an open congressional seat in the 10th district of Massachusetts (covering the Cape and the Islands.) As the Boston Globe has repeatedly reported, (and I noted here) Perry, a former police officer, was implicated in the abusive strip searches of two teenage girls by an officer under his supervision and in an attempted cover-up. He was characterized in a sworn deposition by his former boss, local police chief Thomas Joyce, as a dishonest cop and one who had intentionally tripped red lights in order to nab innocent drivers ("the old red light game"). Joyce also said that he had been warned by one of Perry's former bosses not to trust him with a gun. That was then. Now Joyce has recorded an ad for Perry describing him "as a good cop ... always committed to protecting the public."

Was Joyce lying then or is he lying now? His credibility is not hard to attack: according to the Globe, Joyce "resigned abruptly last year" amid an audit, and a jury in a 1995 civil lawsuit found that that the department he led had "a policy or custom of deliberate indifference to the commission of constitutional violations by police officers.''
But I digress. What's most striking is the defense of the Perry campaign to reminders of Perry's sordid, thuggish past. "Bill Keating (Perry's opponent) ought to be ashamed of himself," Joyce declares. "His ugly attacks on Jeff Perry go way over the line." What's worse than standing by while your partner sexually abuses a couple of teenage girls and then participating in an apparent cover-up of the abuse? Reminding voters that you've done so. Even in Massachusetts, some politics are national.