As noted below, former State Senator Ben Downing is running for Governor. I think I saw this coming, and I’m pretty pleased that he’s taking the plunge. I hope other rank-and-file Democrats can allow themselves to get interested and even a little bit excited about this candidacy. (I sent his campaign a few bucks.)
Firstly for me: Downing is an environment/climate/energy person. He’s now a Vice-President at Nexamp, a community-solar company which allows people to buy in to solar projects that are not on their own roofs. When he was a State Senator he worked to pass a “green collar” jobs program (Pathways Out of Poverty) and became known as the Senate’s clean energy point-person, evolving Massachusetts’ solar net-metering regime.
Governor Baker has only fitfully and intermittently led on climate and energy, in spite of his “back seat to no one” rhetoric; the best and boldest ideas mostly seem to come from the legislature. I do applaud his advocacy for the Transportation Climate Initiative, which is brave, politically-constrained, and unfortunately thankless; I support his initiative on transit-oriented development; there is much to support in the 2050 Decarbonization plan. But we need to have public transit. In spite of much action and attention — and no shortage of great and bold ideas within his own administration and the public sphere — Baker will leave the MBTA (for example) in effectively worse condition in 2022 than when he started in 2014. That’s not just COVID’s fault — it’s Baker’s lack of vision and attention, for which this NY Times editorial specifically called him out: “small-minded and short-sighted”. Baker’s own 2050 decarbonization plan envisions precious little emissions savings from public transit – no, we’ll all be driving electric cars to nowhere, still stuck in traffic.
Why should we not be surprised at Downing’s run? Downing has kept his voice active in the public sphere. He has not been shy about taking on the failures of the Baker administration, even as our entire political establishment has seemed charmed and intoxicated by the Governor’s managerial mystique and aura. Downing’s refrain in this years-long Twitter thread is “Focus on the record”: The trooper scandal; the deadly RMV scandal with proof of corner office interference; hospice care for the MBTA instead of a thriving system; his greasing the skids for state approval of the Weymouth compressor; and on and on. Baker’s feet of clay have never been so apparent as in the botched vaccination rollout, which is merely the continuation of a tepid, vaccillating response with a disdain for transparency. Again, Downing is taking notes: “It’s not working.”
Even after leaving office, Downing has continued to publish his blunt-but-eloquent reflections on public policy on WAMC (the Albany NY NPR affiliate, which reaches much of Western Mass and covers Massachusetts matters). Read this commentary, nominally on the Transportation Climate Initiative but moving on and encompassing much more. He’s held forth on immigration, poverty, and foster care. You’ll see big-picture, impatient-visionary thinking — “necessary but not sufficient”, connecting the dots. He admits a strong influence of Bobby Kennedy’s humane vision. Like RFK, you don’t feel pandered-to; there is an element of moral challenge evident in his writings.
In addition, Downing is from Pittsfield. Western Mass. deserves greater attention, and has greater potential, than our Boston-centric political culture imagines. It’s a different economy between I-91 and Pittsfield, but it doesn’t have to be. (Let’s get that train and send it through Pittsfield to Albany.)
The 2022 election is 21 months away. As a Republican who is indeed nothing at all like Donald Trump, Baker has enjoyed unaccountably high, Stockholm-Syndrome approval ratings — even from Democrats. But he’s getting stale. With some unexpected bright spots on the legislative scene, we’re actually on the brink of becoming awesome.
Give Ben Downing a good long look.