Coakley: A Record As Bold And Decisive, Not Cautious04:00

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Just an hour before President Obama announced that he'll commit 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, the Democratic candidates for Massachusetts open U.S. Senate seat were asked for their positions on the issue. All but one opposed sending more troops.

"I am in disagreement with the president that sending 30,000 more troops will be able to accomplish the goals that he laid out in the next 18 months," Attorney General Martha Coakley told WBUR when asked to explain her opposition after a televised debate Tuesday night between the candidates.

With six days before the primary election next Tuesday, Coakley is leading in the polls. But endorsements in recent days have gone to her Democratic opponents. The Boston Globe is backing Alan Khazei while the Boston Herald, former Gov. Michael Dukakis and Congressmen Ed Markey, Barney Frank and Stephen Lynch are all behind Rep. Michael Capuano.

We spoke with Coakley this week and started by asking if she is disappointed she didn't get those endorsements.

Martha Coakley: As far as the congressmen go, I think it's somewhat expected that they would endorse their colleague in this race. But, you know, the race ultimately is about what the voters say on Dec. 8, and I think voters increasingly are more independent on what they do.

Bob Oakes: I've been collecting words and phrases describing you in the last few weeks and here are some of them: "shrewd," "smart," "very good lawyer," but also "cautious," "calculating" and "not bold." I'm wondering if you'd respond to that.

You know, I've been bold in going after predatory lenders and Goldman Sachs — the only attorney general in the country who's taken on Wall Street. I've been bold in looking at the health care issues here — going after big pharmaceutical companies and holding them accountable. I've been bold in jumping into this race — not worrying about who else was going to run, but being convinced that I could take my message to the voters.

I've always been able to take a stand on an issue, whether it's popular or not, explain it to people, and I think that's what people want: decisiveness, someone who's going to stand up for what she believes in.

For a lot of people, it doesn't feel like Martha Coakley has been out front a lot during her career. I'm glad we're talking about the word "bold" because bold clearly describes Sen. Kennedy. Massachusetts enjoyed a leader with a bold style, one who truly was bold in a legislative body where people want to stand out and often can't because the personalities are so huge.

From WBUR listeners, I sometimes get questions about that regarding you. The question goes like: What's Martha Coakley like and what kind of senator are we getting if Coakley gets in?


You know, Sen. Kennedy forged an incredible reputation over 47 years. He earned that reputation and no one will fill his shoes, there's no question about it. But I am very confident: Going forward in this campaign, I am the bold, effective leader. I am the one who pitches in, rolls up my sleeves, gets to work and gets a result.

I'm the one who was invited down by President Obama when he announced his new consumer protection agency that would focus on financial consumer protection, which Washington hasn't done. I am very confident that voters see and will also on Dec. 8 come to the polls for someone who is a bold, effective leader. Sometimes people want drama, they want the 30-second soundbite or the pounding of tables — that's not what good government's about.

Good government is bold, it's effective — it's bold — and it's clear, my record is the sign of someone who really cares about leveling the playing field and I'll stand on that record and I think voters see that.

But in your record, as was pointed out in a recent Boston magazine profile of you, you allowed federal prosecutors to pursue the recent indictments against former Massachusetts House Speaker Sal DiMasi and former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, and there's some suggestion that not moving on those issues was political, knowing that going after popular State House leaders causes political problems during campaigns because supporters of those leaders would be less likely to support you.

Boston College law professor Bob Bloom says in that Boston magazine article: "I found Martha to be a less than courageous prosecutor." Respond to that.

The federal government has a huge budget, they can target cases, they have grand jury tools and investigatory tools that the state does not. And they also have the ability to have statutes that have penalties that are nowhere near what we have on the state level.

They have the FBI, they have folks who will focus on, you know, turning a witness, etc. We don't have those tools. And maybe the legislature for whatever reason doesn't want an attorney general to have the tools. But if you want the kinds of results that the federal government gets, you have to give someone the tools. No one understands that better than I.

Let's move on to a couple of issues if we can. The president convenes a jobs forum this week — unemployment is soaring in America, millions of people are out of work. Has the president failed in his effort to create jobs and put Americans back to work?

I think the president's done a good job and a good first start, but this mess was created over eight years by lack of self regulation on Wall Street, by lack of regulation in Washington, and no one expected — nor should we --  President Obama to turn it around on his own.

Should there be tax credits to encourage businesses to hire more workers?

That is a good idea. That's part of a proposal that we have included. If you are going to get the economic engine moving again, you do it with a combination of carrots — you know, tax credits that will inspire people, give incentive to people to start hiring — that's really the only way as part of a plan that we're going to get the economy turned around.

On the subject of taxes, some U.S. senators — and even one of your Democratic opponents, Alan Khazei — have suggested some sort of a tax to pay for war so that we're not completely deficit spending in order to fund war efforts. Khazei even called it "the war tax." Would you support that?

Well, first of all, I don't support increasing troops in Afghanistan. How we pay for everything in this country has to be prioritized.

What do you want to make sure voters know about you when they make that final decision, if they haven't made it already, in terms of who they're going to vote for on Tuesday?

My record is of understanding what the issues are — around the economy, around health care, around energy, around  environment, around keeping people safe — and getting results — bringing people to the table, working across the aisle and accomplishing results for Massachusetts.

That's the kind of leadership that I think the new U.S. senator should bring, that's what I think voters are looking for and I believe when voters look at my record and listen to me talking about that, they will understand that I'm a different kind of leader who will accomplish results.

So, you're the front-runner. Is Martha Coakley going to win on Tuesday?

Um, I won't know until we count those votes on Tuesday night. We're not overconfident; we're confident we have a good message, we hope we've been able to run a good campaign, I think we've done a good job, I'm keeping my fingers crossed but we're working every minute from now until the polls close at 8 o'clock, and then we'll know.

Attorney general, Senate candidate, Martha Coakley thank you very much.

Always my pleasure. Thank you, Bob.

This program aired on December 2, 2009.

Bob Oakes Twitter Host, Morning Edition
Bob Oakes has been WBUR's Morning Edition anchor since 1992.