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Mass. Democrats back Sullivan over Galvin in secretary of state's race

Quentin Palfrey was endorsed for attorney general, Tanisha Sullivan was endorsed for secretary of state and Chris Dempsey was endorsed for state auditor, but every Democrat running for those offices this year secured enough support Saturday from delegates at the state Democratic Party convention to lock up a spot on the Sept. 6 primary ballot.

Candidates needed to win the backing of at least 15% of the delegates at the convention in Worcester to keep their campaigns alive over the summer, when they will be able to make their case to voters statewide. The 15% threshold was not too great of a hurdle for any of the seven Democrats running for attorney general, secretary of state or auditor.

The fields remain unchanged post-convention: Andrea Campbell (39.2%), Quentin Palfrey (38.8%) and Shannon Liss-Riordan (21.9%) for attorney general, Tanisha Sullivan (62.4% and party endorsement) and William Galvin (37.6%) for secretary of state, and Chris Dempsey (52.7% and party endorsement) and Diana DiZoglio (47.3 %) for state auditor.

The Democratic primary election will be held Tuesday, Sept. 6, and will also feature Maura Healey and Sonia Chang-Díaz for governor, and Kim Driscoll, Tami Gouveia and Eric Lesser for lieutenant governor. Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, who has no primary challenger, was endorsed for a third term Friday night.

Attorney general

All three candidates for attorney general cleared the 15% bar on the first ballot, but the party's endorsement was decided on a second ballot between only Campbell and Palfrey because none took a majority of the delegate vote in the first round. Palfrey, the party's 2018 lieutenant governor nominee, secured the party's official endorsement for attorney general with 54% on the second ballot.

"In this critical time, Massachusetts needs an attorney general who has the experience, progressive values and independence to take on the big challenges on day one," Palfrey, who once led the health care division in the attorney general's office and served as general counsel in the U.S. Commerce Department, said.

After touting his resume and highlighting some of the differences between candidates, he added, "I promise you, if I have the great honor to be your attorney general, I will stand up against special interests, I will fight for health care as a human right, urgent climate change, racial justice, public schools, and an economy that works for everyone."

Palfrey name-checked Campbell during his remarks, contrasting his opposition to charter school expansion to Campbell's views, but he did not call out Liss-Riordan in the same way. His remarks largely focused on climate change, the opioid epidemic, a carbon tax, fare-free public transit and defending voting rights.

Campbell, the first Black woman to serve as Boston City Council president and a former deputy legal counsel under Gov. Deval Patrick, ran for mayor of Boston in 2021 but turned her sights to the attorney general's office early this year hoping to make the position "an advocate for fundamental change and progress."

"The sense of urgency is crystal clear to me. To end the cycle of violence, poverty and divisiveness, we've got to unite to tackle our toughest problems together. Together we can bring about fundamental change and progress to the very systems that are holding us back. And we have an opportunity, an opportunity to build coalitions between communities of color in urban centers and poor rural communities — in different communities, of course, but they're facing similar issues. We have an opportunity to meaningfully bring together communities of different cultures, different religions, different ethnicities, beliefs, genders, sexual orientations, and backgrounds. And as attorney general, I'll seek to do just that."

Liss-Riordan, a labor attorney who began running in 2019 for U.S. Senate in what would have been a challenge to incumbent U.S. Sen. Ed Markey before backing out, is known primarily for the lawsuits she has brought against major corporations on behalf of workers, including Starbucks, FedEx, American Airlines, GrubHub, Doordash and others.

"We are in very troubled times facing crises on almost every front, from reproductive rights to gun safety, the opioid crisis, the housing crisis, economic justice, racial justice and climate change. I could go on, but you don't need somebody to tell you what the problems are. We need to figure out how to fix them together," Liss-Riordan said.

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She said after the results were in that she was "humbled" to be on the ballot and is looking forward to "moving past the 5,000 people who participated in this process and talking to all the voters across Massachusetts."

While Campbell and Palfrey were fighting it out on a second ballot for the party's endorsement, Liss-Riordan said she was looking forward to the opportunity to debate her two rivals for the office.

"I really hope Andrea Campbell will engage with us now about having debates for this race, because I think it's important for the voters of Massachusetts to have a robust discussion about who they want to be the next people's lawyer," she said.

Democrats, starting with former House Speaker Robert Quinn, have held the attorney general's office since 1969.

Secretary of state

Tanisha Sullivan, president of the Boston branch of the NAACP, attorney and life sciences executive, earned a resounding victory at the convention over the incumbent William Galvin. She was supported by more than 2,500 delegates while Galvin was backed by about 1,500 delegates.

Sullivan said she was compelled to run for the office at "an inflection point in our democracy. On Saturday, she pledged to expand voting rights and make public records more accessible in what she called "the least transparent state in the country." Her remarks Saturday focused on having "proactive leadership" in the secretary of state's office.

"Despite record voter turnout in 2020, hear me on this, voters from some of our most vulnerable communities still saw the lowest voter turnout across Massachusetts, leaving behind far too many voices. I'm talking about the voices of Black, Indigenous, Latinx and AAPI folks. I'm talking about our working families, our disability and immigrant communities. I'm talking about our seniors. I'm talking about residents experiencing poverty. These are our neighbors who have been left out because we've had reactive leadership. It is time for proactive leadership that understands that voting is not a privilege, it's a right," Sullivan, who took the microphone in her hand and energized delegates by delivering the climax of her speech while pacing the stage of the DCU Center. "Simply put, Massachusetts needs a secretary of state who fights on the ground with us every day, fighting for the democracy we deserve."

Galvin is seeking his eighth four-year term as the secretary of state, having served since 1995. The Brighton Democrat who was elected to eight terms in the Massachusetts House beginning in 1975 could surpass former Secretary Frederic Cook's record 28-year tenure in the constitutional post if he wins this September and November.

Galvin has lost at the party convention but then prevailed in the party primary three times previously: in 1990 when he ran for treasurer; in 1994 when he first ran for secretary of state; and in 2018 when the upstart campaign of Josh Zakim won the party's endorsement before being crushed by Galvin when the contest extended beyond the most hardcore party insiders.

As delegates were voting, Galvin told reporters that he was "optimistic" about getting the convention's backing but also pointed out that he has repeatedly won statewide even when the party insiders don't give him their blessing at the convention.

"I've actually not been the endorsee of the convention on three different occasions and I've won by more every single time. So I guess I have a mixed opinion," Galvin told reporters. "I think the difference between now and four years ago is I think, more than ever before, people recognize the importance of secretary of state, not just here but everywhere in the country."

Sullivan, speaking to reporters, said much of the same when asked why this year could be different from the previous years that Galvin lost at the convention to later win re-election.

"2020, in many respects, was a turning point for folks across the country and our understanding about just how important the office of secretary of state is," she said. She added, "More people understand the critical role that this office has to play. And I believe that that's going to make a difference. People are paying attention."

Galvin told the delegates that he delivered on his promises from his 2018 reelection to oversee a fair count of Massachusetts residents through the 2020 Census, to ensure that the 2020 presidential election here was conducted securely and to protect voting rights, and said that he will use his seniority and experience to promote the party's values and policies around voting rights at the national level if he is elected to an eighth term.

"Make no mistake about it, we confront a huge challenge this year, but especially in 2024. With the shift in the electoral college that's occurred, with the changes that the Republicans have relentlessly brought about in other states, we are up against it. I am now the senior Democratic election official in the United States and I intend to use that role to make sure that we're able to make sure that citizens throughout our country have the opportunity to vote. I intend to speak to my colleagues, as I have in the past, encouraging them in best practices and things to do. But I need your help. I want to continue our mission."

The secretary said he has been accurate, competent, honest, "and I have delivered ... I want to continue doing that for us."

A statewide post, the secretary of state's office oversees a broad suite of functions, ranging from elections and voting to corporations and securities, public records, lobbyists, the decennial census, and historical commission and state archives.

State auditor

Chris Dempsey, a public transportation advocate who helped lead the grassroots movement to prevent the Olympics from coming to Boston in 2024, narrowly edged out Sen. Diana DiZoglio for the party's endorsement as auditor. He announced his campaign for auditor last year saying that the office "must stand up to special interests to protect the public interest." He has the backing of outgoing Auditor Suzanne Bump.

In her remarks introducing Dempsey, Bump said he is the only candidate in the race who has "the skill set, mindset and value set to be the next auditor."

A former assistant secretary of transportation during Gov. Deval Patrick's administration, Bain & Company consultant and director of Transportation for Massachusetts, Dempsey has shown his willingness — especially during the push to prevent the Olympics from being awarded to Boston — to tangle with the powerful and has pitched that willingness as a good quality for a state auditor. On Saturday, he also cited his work inside government.

"I'm running to be your next chief accountability officer and I have the background and the experience and the track record of independence to do that job for you," he said. "As assistant secretary of transportation for Gov. Patrick, I made Massachusetts the first state on the East Coast to make smartphone apps available to track your bus or train. I've made government work better for all of us and I've stood up to protect the public interest."

DiZoglio served three terms in the House before winning election to the Senate in 2018. In the last year, she has criticized lawmakers for not offering more pandemic relief to restaurants and other small businesses, clashed with Democratic leadership about how much time lawmakers receive to review legislation, and argued that low legislative pay has "priced diversity and equity" out of Beacon Hill.

The second-term senator has long been a vocal advocate for restricting the use of non-disclosure agreements on Beacon Hill. As a member of the House in March 2018, DiZoglio used a floor speech to break the NDA she'd signed when fired from a job as a House aide years earlier. She said Saturday she had signed the agreement "under duress" and that she was fired because of discredited rumors about inappropriate behavior.

"But I didn't let them get rid of me or keep me quiet and I didn't leave state government like they told me to do, friends," DiZoglio said. "When I got elected, I knew it was my responsibility to fight like hell for working families like ours who have been dismissed, ignored or disenfranchised from a system in our state government that is still not working for all residents the way that it could and the way that it should. But not everyone on Beacon Hill appreciates these calls for transparency, accountability and equity and unfortunately, those who want to protect the status quo continue to dismiss our calls to audit the Legislature."

State House News Service's Matt Murphy contributed to this report.

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