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Joe Kennedy agrees to Senate debate focused on climate change

Senator Edward Markey and challenger Joseph Kennedy III, a congressman. Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The debate over debates continues in the Massachusetts Democratic Senate primary.

Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III agreed Friday to participate in a debate focused on climate change, but his campaign wants the forum to take place early next year “to ensure maximum voter impact and participation,” as opposed to next month, as Senator Edward J. Markey originally proposed. But Markey still wants to debate next month.

Team Kennedy also said they wanted to see the climate debate happen as part of a series of six debates held across the state, proposing that the other five forums be “issue-inclusive,” rather than limited to a single topic.

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“Given the timing of impeachment proceedings and the winter holidays, we believe these debates should start in early 2020 to ensure maximum voter impact and participation. To try and rush debates at a moment when voters’ attention is elsewhere is a backhanded way to limit participation in these essential forums,” Kennedy campaign manager Nick Clemons said in a statement.

Markey first pitched the idea of holding a climate-only debate in November. He floated that plan the same morning Kennedy officially launched his campaign. The move was widely read as a gambit by Markey to capitalize on his profile as a leading warrior in the fight against global warming, and giving Markey a cudgel, stamped with his signature issue, to hold over Kennedy’s head.

The other two Democratic candidates, labor lawyer Shannon Liss-Riordan and businessman Steve Pemberton, quickly agreed to the debate, a fact that Markey’s campaign used to needle Kennedy. The Environmental League of Massachusetts offered to host, which Markey and the other two candidates accepted.

Markey’s campaign has ties with the group. The head of the league’s political arm is Clare Kelly, who was executive director of the Massachusetts Democratic Party when Markey’s top campaign strategist John E. Walsh served as the party’s chairman.

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Kennedy’s campaign said the climate debate should take place “on the ground” in a Massachusetts community already experiencing the harsh effects of unaddressed climate change.

“We are committed to working with the other campaigns to find an appropriate host and location,” Clemons said, rejecting the notion of having the Environmental League of Massachusetts be the host, as Markey wanted.

On Friday afternoon, Markey, Liss-Riordan, and Pemberton released a joint statement. It said: “The threat climate change poses to our planet, every aspect of our lives, and our very survival must be met with urgency. The voters of Massachusetts, who show us every day how concerned they are about fighting climate change, deserve a chance to hear where all the U.S. Senate candidates stand on this issue.”

They added that they “have agreed to participate in a climate change debate on November 10th, and we are still hopeful that Congressman Kennedy will join us.”


Victoria McGrane can be reached at victoria.mcgrane@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @vgmac.