Last week’s statewide election in Massachusetts brought some big changes to the state’s legislative landscape. Joined by GBH News legal analyst and Northwestern law professor Daniel Medwed Morning Edition Paris Alston and Jeremy Siegel host to talk about them. This article has been slightly edited.
Paris Alston: Daniel, the influence of Donald Trump has not been a problem in the election here in Massachusetts, although it is very visible on the national stage. But do you think some of the results on the public stage reflect or listen to the Trump issue, the impact it will have on some of these people locally and nationally?
Daniel Medved: I will do it. I think on a micro level, the Bristol County Sheriff’s race reflects some of those macro feelings about the waning influence of Trumpism. Here’s why: The speaker in Bristol, Tom Hodgson, is a staunch supporter of Trump and a polarizing figure, to say the least. He has been charged with inciting inhumane behavior in the Bristol County Jail. Many other controversies have arisen during his watch. And despite Bristol’s strong influence and distinct political nature – this is a county that voted 43% for Trump in 2020, the highest rate of any county in the Commonwealth. Despite those advantages, Hodgson was defeated. Yes, it was a nail-biter, but he still lost to the Democratic challenger, Paul Heroux, for sheriff. So I think that if a nation in the Commonwealth is going to reflect that bigger picture, it’s probably going to be that.
Jeremy Siegel: Well, let’s move on to the country races next week. There is little concern about some of the major elections, such as attorney general, governor, lieutenant governor. But what about some of the under-the-radar contests, all the things that interest you in terms of how they might affect future legal issues in the Commonwealth?
Mail: Well, the state senator’s race is really interesting, and that’s not what I was talking about a couple of weeks ago. The Democrat, Diana DiZoglio, just got off a moderate Republican, Anthony Amore, who I think is the only candidate that Governor Charlie Baker has endorsed this cycle. And I think this tribe is very popular for two reasons. First, although the former office is very dormant, it is the office of the federal commissioner, which is supposed to oversee government departments and ensure that public funds are allocated and used properly. , DiZoglio has big designs for the office, a very ambitious, progressive project.
He wants to raise public awareness and conduct a safety audit of the MBTA, which I’m sure you, Paris and Jeremy, will enjoy. He also wants to delve deeper into the legal and regulatory issues surrounding the distribution of recreational drug business licenses, which are also critical issues.
Second, the circumstances surrounding the race, the kind of last-minute changes, I think are amazing. Several people received a flurry of last-minute text messages from an anonymous source claiming that DiZoglio was hostile to the LGBTQ community, that he supported decriminalization, a highly controversial measure and scorn that says gay people can be converted to straight. Then I got one of those messages. I don’t know if you guys got it, but it made me dive deeper into this race than I thought I would.
Alston: Yes, Daniel, I also received one of those messages. I was like, Who is this calling my phone? I don’t know what to do.
Siegel: Well, I didn’t get that specific, but there are tons of articles about this specific race and nothing else. It’s weird.
Alston: Right at the last minute there. So to go with that, can the person or the entity that posted those documents, or is it necessary for those documents to be, say, malicious to DiZoglio?
Mail: You know, in theory, Paris, it might look bad, a tort lawsuit in the Commonwealth. And there are two types of bad news. Defamation is a written statement that is false or damaging to another person’s reputation. That’s the way to talk about it. In Massachusetts, it takes three years after a citation to file a defamation lawsuit. So DiZoglio won’t make a decision today.
He had two years to figure this out. On the one hand, it looks like he has a legitimate claim here, because these text messages are a complete misrepresentation of his position. At one point he joined an evangelical church that espoused the controversial idea of conversion therapy. But he has long distanced himself from that church and denied those beliefs. On the other hand, because he is a famous person, and we have a lot to say about public figures, this is a very high level to prove defamation in this context. It must show that there is serious harm on the part of the entity or person behind these text messages. And that may be a very big hurdle to overcome.
Siegel: I want to talk a little about the election questions, in particular, Question 1, the tax called the millionaire tax, passed by several percentage points. That’s important for a number of reasons, not least of which is that similar efforts have failed in the past. Why was it so difficult for supporters to get this on the ballot in the first place?
Mail: The concept of flat tax is enshrined in our constitution. That is why we are taxed at the same rate, 5%, regardless of income level. Most states, and typically the federal government, have an income tax that has or has been passed. But here in the Commonwealth, it’s a tax. And because it is part of the federal constitution, there is no easy fix. You can’t just break the law.
So in the past, the advocates of the millionaire’s tax dropped a special way designed to amend the Constitution. It’s called the Citizen Petition Initiative Path, where you collect citizen signatures, get the attorney general’s office to approve the petition, gather a little legislative support, and you’ll get a ballot initiative based on the election.
The problem with this approach is that you are subject to what is known as Article 48 of the federal constitution, which states that ballot questions cannot include special questions. There are concerns about voter confusion if the ballot question has too many parts. So in 2018, the SJC cited Chapter 48 to say, hey, there are too many difficult questions in the millionaire tax: first, should there be a millionaire tax; second, how to distribute the proceeds from that tax. That’s why it failed before.
May our heads reach you.