Partly due to the dominance of the Democratic Party, Massachusetts has a remarkable stability in political representation. When people do move on from their seats, it’s usually to take another job, or because of some scandal that leaves the official hopelessly weakened. A resignation followed by an open primary is more common.
But the problem is that MA also is bulging at the seams with young, qualified, ambitious public servants looking for a promotion. And we can’t just export them to Ohio.
But isn’t it good to have choices? Just because someone is, well, incumbent, and pretty good, doesn’t mean they should inhabit the job for as long as they like.
On the other hand, there’s a danger that rather minor policy or character differences get magnified by the campaigns in an attempt to create distinction and advantage. That can be needlessly divisive, a turn-off; and can tend towards cult-of-personality inwardness among the camps.
We have two primaries that will represent a referendum on the challengers, perhaps less so the incumbent: Ayanna Pressley is taking on Mike Capuano for Congress; and relative newcomer Sam Hammar of Melrose is taking on State Senator Jason Lewis. And the bar is high: The challenger has to prove to be so overwhelmingly wonderful that people will value that higher than the accomplishments and relationships that an incumbent naturally enjoys.
A lot of seasoned politicos have expressed some bafflement to me about Pressley’s decision, which will alienate her from the local and national Democratic establishment—which up to now has generally adored her—in hopes of a long-shot upset.
There is no room to run to the left of solidly liberal Capuano, they say. The district, although designed to be majority-minority, in practice leans toward the Capuano-strong Somerville-Chelsea-Everett side. She’ll have trouble getting the money, staff, endorsements, and foot soldiers she needs—and that she would be able to count on if she wasn’t taking on an incumbent political powerhouse.
I haven’t heard much but general satisfaction with Capuano from his district. He’s progressive, knowledgable, and has seniority on his committees, which would indeed matter if the Dems take the House again in the next few years. He’s not particularly scandal-plagued; years ago when he was considering running for Senate, there were a few questions about a few earmarks, but truly that was very small potatoes, particularly compared to the current, rampantly corrupt GOP Congress and Presidency. (And, he’s been seen in an Eagles helmet lately.)
So what does Pressley have to bring to a campaign? What’s the selling point? The status of the first woman of color to be a US Rep from Massachusetts is an inherent finger-in-the-eye to Trump. Is she sure she wants to be in the US House, of all places? Doesn’t she have a better chance of actually implementing progressive policies in MA, on the City Council or in the State Senate (eg)? In any event, she’s well-funded, well-liked, and credible; voters are well-served by having a choice.
As for Hammar, I’m also not aware of general dissatisfaction with Jason Lewis. He’s been notably cool to pot legalization; I don’t have a sense of how that plays in his district. Her issues page is quite generic; what’s she going for?
More traditional, and frankly welcome, is Dracut School Committee member Sabrina Heisey challenging conservative-Dem State Rep. Colleen Garry – recipient of an “F” in ProgressiveMass’s scorecard. (Her parents won’t be happy when she brings that home for them to sign.)
Heisey, a Democrat, told The Sun she plans on pulling papers next week. She said there are many people who have reached out to her who feel she runs a strong campaign, represents the right values, and who are grateful to have someone who is pro-union, pro-public education, and pro-choice.
… [Says Garry:] “(Heisey’s) very, very progressive, very liberal … I’m a JFK kind of Democrat. I’m a conservative Democrat, and that’s what this district is.”
Well, let’s find out.
- Brianna Wu challenging Steve Lynch in MA-8. To be honest, I don’t know how seriously Wu is taking this race. I don’t hear a lot of coalition-building in the district, a credible campaign coming together, organizational outreach, money and people, etc. Always happy to be proven wrong, but I’m not feeling this one. Lynch, the Health Care Hamlet, is an unreliable progressive vote, most recently having voted for the House budget without holding out for DACA. His organization is formidable, but if Pressley jumped into that one …
- Springfield civil rights lawyer Tahirah Amatul-Wadud taking on Richard Neal. Neal has been considered an unreliable vote for reproductive rights, even as he holds the line on social safety net programs.
On the other hand … you shouldn’t really need a justification for running for higher office, challenging an incumbent, than that you’re good and qualified and smart and you want a shot. Massachusetts actually has a very deep, young, charismatic, smart and talented bench right now. What are we going to do with, say: Maura Healey, Ayanna Pressley, Annissa Essaibi-George, Seth Moulton, Joe Kennedy III, Lydia Edwards, Michelle Wu, Setti Warren, Ben Downing … I know, I’m missing your favorite pol. That’s my point. It would also be great to win the governorship, much less the Presidency, so that we can give some of these people consequential agency jobs.
In the meantime, choices are good. Bring on the primaries. What am I missing?