“No man who calls himself a progressive should be running against any qualified woman for Senate seats in Massachusetts, period.”
–Jennifer Taub, Vermont Law School professor
Granted, the district includes Northampton and Amherst, but the race to replace Senator Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst) is shaping up to be a weird one.
The weirdness began with the timing of Rosenberg’s resignation, which came too late for candidates to make the ballot if they had not taken out papers already. The result was only one of the six declared candidates running will appear the ballot: Chelsea Kline, the only Democrat to actually challenge the embattled senate president before his resignation.
Five other candidates have emerged as write-in’s: 1) Jo Comerford, former campaign director for MoveOn.org, 2) Steven Connor, Central Hampshire Veterans’ Services director, 3) David Morin, a graduate assistant with the faculty senate at UMass Amherst, where he is pursuing his master’s of English, 4) David Murphy, a Newton attorney who worked as a legislative assistant to Senator Ted Kennedy and legislative director for Deval Patrick, and 5) Ryan O’Donnell, president of the Northampton City Council.
When a long-time legislator retires, it’s not uncommon for a lot candidates to come out of the woodwork. Democrats who know and have worked with a sitting senator don’t want to run against that senator. It’s good intra-party manners, though that’s not to say that Kline was wrong to run against Rosenberg in the primary. When Ellen Story (D-Amherst) retired, six people entered the primary. They ranged from political neophytes, present and former municipal and state officials to activists. The candidates were all from Amherst. Representative Solomon Goldstein-Rose (
D I-Amherst), a 23 year-old Brown University student ended up with a decisive victory.
The Hampshire-Franklin District race has the same number of candidates with a similar range of experience, yet it quickly turned awkward. In a clumsy #MeToo moment, Chelsea Kline accused one of her male opponents (without naming him) of sexism and/or creepiness. Unfortunately, there were four men in the race, and she didn’t make clear which was opponent in question.
one of her competitors, at a political event, told her she looked “stunning” and “even more beautiful” than photos of her in news stories about her candidacy. Kline said the opponent “didn’t know a thing about me or my candidacy.”
In an interview with The Republican/MassLive.com, she said the man made her uncomfortable by being overly touchy and continuing to steer the conversation back to her appearance.
To make a long story short, the two candidates spoke, he apologized, and she accepted. (The candidate in question was Dave Murphy, but there are so few details reported it’s hard to hold the allegations actions against him. He’s more likely to be held back by the fact that he lives in Newton).
The weirdness, however, didn’t end with this episode. In fact, the #MeToo moment may not have been a campaign bug, but a feature. At what would have been an otherwise kind of cool, campaign kickoff at a local winery (music by Dinosaur Jr. front man Jay Mascis), Kline was introduced by Jennifer Taub, a law school professor with the impolitic words , “No man who calls himself a progressive should be running against any qualified woman for Senate seats in Massachusetts, period.” Not exactly the best way to win friends and influence undecided male voters, unless there’s a faulty political strategy behind it.
Aside from being rhetorically self-defeating, the statement has some unfortunate, anti-democratic implications. For Kline, having no opponents would be very convenient, particularly since no Republican is running. Is it advantageous for voters to not have a choice of candidates? Primaries exist to provide voters with a choice of candidates. Presumably, Kline herself decided to run because she wanted to provide voters with a choice. Yet Taub believes that voters in the district should have no alternative to a qualified woman. Is an election for voters or for candidates?
If only Taub were criticizing men for running for Rosenberg’s seat, it would be easier to pass her sentiments off as the fruit of a political inelegance. However, a handful of other people also expressed similar opinions in The Valley Advocate:
Rachel Gordon, a Greenfield resident who is campaign manager for 1st Franklin House district candidate Francia Wisnewski, said she is dismayed at the number of write-in candidates.
“For a lot of people, among them many feminists, there was a lot of frustration at what seemed to be a wave of men jumping in to take out the woman the minute they thought they had an opportunity,” Gordon said, adding that her views are her own and not associated with Wisnewski’s campaign.
I’ve never heard of a male Democratic candidate who decided to run for an office because they want to beat up a girl, but I suppose it happens. In the real world, however, experienced people tend to run for seats that fit their ambitions, chances, and talents, not to snatch victory from a woman.
In the same article, Joe Kopera of Montague suggested would have stepped aside if he were running against a qualified woman (“If you are committed to this progressive cause, just step aside”) and imputed that the late comers to the race were just lazy.
“Why can’t western Mass. Democrats rally behind the only candidate who did their homework and did the work to run against an incumbent?” he said.
In the interests of space, I’ve left out the comments of Sarah Buttenweiser, a fourth person, who shared the similar opinion in the article.
Lightning might occasionally strike twice in the same place, but doesn’t do it four or five times without a reason. It isn’t clear how the Valley Advocate reporter came up with four people (apparently unconnected to the Kline campaign) who offer the same opinion delegitimizing progressive men as the person who introduced Kline at her fundraiser.
We have a strong tradition of women serving in elected office in our neck of the woods, and the future looks bright for more to do so. Emerge and LIPPI, two organizations recruiting, training, and organizing women to run for office, are doing great work. We need more women in office. We also need other perspectives that aren’t like mine–white, middle-aged, middle-class, albeit progressive. What we don’t need, however, is a campaign that delegimitizes good people for playing by the rules and running for office. Voters should decide who replaces Stan Rosenberg, not the candidates.