Massachusetts voters have some brow-furrowing choices for the September 16th primary. In multiple races, they have to smudge the oval for one progressive or leftist candidate instead another.
In one contest, two progressives may give the socially conservative incumbent a better chance by splitting the vote. In another, a long-tenured state senator has a great voting record for GLBT and Black issues, but is plagued by scandal.
Such options may seem like whining in places where there are few if any viable progressive candidates. An optimist may hope that such trends toward progressives might indicate a state-level political shift in November. This would certainly be a more positive trend than eight and four years ago seeing dozens of states rushing through one-man/one-woman laws and amendments in anticipation of or reaction to marriage equality.
Some of the 2008 Massachusetts races include:
- U.S. Sen. John Kerry having his first Democratic challenger in his 24-year tenure, Ed O'Reilly. The consensus is that Kerry will defeat O'Reilly and do the same in the general to yet another conservative Republican, Jeff Beatty. Yet, many see O'Reilly as more progressive, favoring marriage equality, quick action on universal health care, and accelerated withdraw of troops from Iraq.
- In the 35th House District, Pat McCabe and Jim Caralis are in the primary against pretty regressive incumbent Rep. Paul Donato. This is the race where some fear that the challengers may knock each other out, leaving the out-of-sync lawmaker in for another term.
- The toughest race to watch or handicap is state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson against progressive reformer Sonia Chang-Díaz. The incumbent has a strong record for gay-rights, marriage equality and larger civil rights. She is the only black woman and only black at all in the state Senate.
For the Kerry race, competition seems to have inspired the senator. He has shown a flurry of legislation and other initiatives. He has expressed annoyance at O'Reilly, agreed to only one forum-style quasi-debate, and conducted a strong, advertising-based counter campaign against the challenger.
Far more divisive though has been the Wilkerson/Chang-Díaz race. Its ripples extend far beyond the two candidates. Various GLBT groups, their representatives and publications have taken sides. Moreover, the 8-term (16-year) Rep. Wilkerson has called in her markers for her support on issues and bills others have pushed. She got endorsements from labor unions, women's rights, marriage-equality and other groups, as well as the governor, Senate president and Boston's mayor. In fact, Gov. Deval Patrick and Mayor Thomas Menino agreed to record automated voter calls for her (and numerous other candidates in various races).
Yet, Mass Equality and other Wilkerson supporters go up against many voters in the district, but not because of her politics. Instead, her personal failings have muddled her effectiveness and culpability. She pleaded guilty to multiple instances of income-tax evasion and campaign finance laws. She paid numerous fines, was under house arrest and had her law license suspended. She was also under suspicion of perjury in a criminal trial of a relative.
She was an early and vocal advocate for same-sex marriage, which was courageous in the predominately Black areas of her district. She spent a lot of time explaining her position to anti-gay ministers.
We end up in the unenviable position of reinforcing or rejecting someone who votes the right way, but seems incapable of or unwilling to obey the same laws the rest of us must. In addition, she has never apologized to the voters or taken responsibility in any way except for cutting her plea bargain with the Attorney General. In fact, she continues to refer to writing many thousands of dollars of bad checks to her condo association and not filing her taxes as "accounting errors."
Thus, we have the Wilkerson confusion and turmoil in the GLBT and left-wing communities. It seems for everyone who says re-elect her because she has been there for us, another voter replies that Chang-Díaz has the same or better positions while also calling for transparent and honest government. The she's-our-woman v. time-for-a-change camps seem irreconcilable.
We don't know how this primary will go. Wilkerson is infamous for acting only when she must. However, after seeing that Chang-Díaz had more money on hand in August and early September, Wilkerson went on a fund-raising tear. Also, after Chang-Díaz announced that her commissioned voter poll showed her well ahead, Wilkerson gathered up as many endorsements as possible and redoubled her mailings to voters.
As for local media, Wilkerson had the endorsement from Boston's major Black paper, the Bay State Banner. However, Chang-Díaz then got those from the two major dailies, the Globe and the Herald, as well as the largest GLBT paper and long-term Wilkerson supporter, Bay Window. It may have been wrenching for BW, but those papers shared the view that voters should not have to choose between good politics and an honest politician. The particular twist here is more with the Banner, which normally carries socially conservative and moralistic editorials urging readers to be honorable and honest.
For many in the progressive and GLBT voter sets, this is a tough call. It is a choice they would rather not make. While Chang-Díaz is very sharp, extremely focused and a bit to the left of Wilkerson, she surely would not have come close to beating the incumbent two years ago in a sticker campaign and be where she is without the scandals and denial. Most of us, maybe even Chang-Díaz, would probably rather not face this choice.
Disclaimer: On the Marry in Massachusetts blog and Left Ahead! podcast blog, I have followed and reported on this race. I endorsed Chang-Díaz in 2006, had her on for a podcast earlier this year, and tried to get Wilkerson to come on as well. She agreed and then canceled.