By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE -- Saying she switched her position on a "three strikes" criminal sentencing law, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steven Grossman accused frontrunner Martha Coakley Thursday of holding "squishy" positions on important issues.
In a nine-page research document, Grossman, the state treasurer, accused Coakley, the attorney general, of policy shifts on the habitual offender law and the death penalty.
"Especially in a race as important as governor, Democratic voters should not--and need not--settle for a candidate whose stances on core progressive values and issues are as squishy as Martha Coakley's," said Grossman, in a statement. "Again and again, as this campaign unfolds, she continues to abandon the positions she has championed for years."
Throughout the legislative process, supporters and opponents of a core provision of a 2012 law that required maximum penalties for certain habitual offenders referred to the proposal as "three strikes" legislation, though Coakley's spokesman disputed that characterization.
"Steve Grossman is just wrong on this issue. The facts are clear on this - Martha does not support a three strikes law like those that have been passed in other states like California and Texas where the third conviction for even minor offenses could result in a life sentence. In fact, she did not support legislation in Massachusetts that would have implemented similar laws here," said Coakley spokesman Kyle Sullivan in a statement. "Martha does support Melissa's Law, which updated the existing habitual offender law."
Sullivan said Coakley would not be available for an interview.
In the early February debate, all five Democratic candidates for governor - Coakley, Grossman, Don Berwick, Juliette Kayyem, Joe Avellone - said they opposed the death penalty for accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Grossman's campaign cited a Boston Globe story from 1998 when Coakley was running for Middlesex district attorney and reportedly favored the death penalty for cases when the accused has killed a law enforcement officer or kills while serving a life sentence.
Coakley spoke out against the death penalty without reservations during the Democratic primary in her run for U.S. Senate, when she said, "I have been convinced that the issue of a mistake or prosecutorial misconduct, even though it may be small, is enough of a factor that there are no circumstances under which we should permit a death penalty," according to the Globe.
During a debate with then state Sen. Scott Brown after winning the Democratic primary, Coakley said she agreed accused Sept. 11 terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed should face the death penalty because "that's what federal law says right now."
Challenged by Brown, who went on to win the special election before being bounced from office two years later by Elizabeth Warren, Coakley said she would support the law of the land even though she disagrees with it.
"I've said I don't support it personally. I think it has its limitations. I'm not in favor it," Coakley said, according to a transcript provided by the Grossman campaign. She said, "If he's found guilty, and I believe he will be - he is facing all kinds of charges, he's not going to be walking down the streets of Manhattan, he will face the death penalty. That's what the law of the land is and I would support the law of the land, even though I disagree with it."
Coakley has changed her stance on providing in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrant children, supporting it now after opposing it in 2010. While running for treasurer against Karyn Polito - now Republican frontrunner Charlie Baker's lieutenant governor candidate - Grossman said he did not support using public money on undocumented workers.
"I think we have rules in this state that govern how we use public expenditures, at least at the state level, and we just don't, and don't believe we should, in this environment use state resources - taxpayers' resources - to support or to be there for undocumented workers," Grossman said during an appearance on Nightside after WBZ host Dan Rea asked if he would support in-state tuition for the children of undocumented immigrants. During the same radio interview, Grossman said health care is a "different story" and said, "I would not deny emergency health care services for undocumented people."
This year, Grossman said he has supported in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants since 2006 and he had been responding to assertions that the program would cost money and displace citizens, claims he denies.
"I'll acknowledge that I might not have been as clear in articulating my position, but bottom line is my position has been absolutely consistent in support of this policy from 2006 all the way to the present," Grossman told the News Service in January.
After attempting to add more judicial discretion, in 2012 Gov. Deval Patrick signed the sentencing reform bill - which also reduced mandatory sentences for non-violent drug offenses.
"This bill is an emotional issue for people on all sides. I understand the concerns of those who worry we have taken judgment out of the justice system and the pain and frustration of the families of victims of violent crime," Patrick said in July 2012, calling the bill a "good start."
Sullivan knocked Grossman for the treasurer's volley.
"Melissa's Law was pass[ed] overwhelmingly by the Legislature and signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick. It's unfortunate that Steve Grossman doesn't understand this or chooses to ignore these facts and instead launches baseless political attacks," Sullivan said.