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Massachusetts Primary Picks

Tomorrow, Tuesday Sep 9th, is the Massachusetts primary election. Polls are open 7am-8pm, and you can find your polling place and a list of candidates on your ballot at WhereDoIVoteMA.com.

People keep asking me what I think of the Democratic primary candidates, and I promised a post...

You can read all of the statewide candidates' Progressive Mass questionnaire submissions for a lot more detail about their policy positions, experience, and statements about why they're running and what they believe. Progressive Mass members used these questionnaires, plus a series of candidate forums, to vote on endorsements.

  • Governor

    Don Berwick outshines the others by far. By plainly promoting strong progressive policies, he'd move the debate about a lot of things in Massachusetts and cause a sea change in the kinds of policies we actually get. Single payer health care, a progressive income tax, universal pre-K education, no more prison building, housing-first for homelessness, and more.

    Not only that, but Don Berwick has a long and solid background of evidence-based approaches to management and policy. Instead of deciding a-priori by ideology or political considerations how to do something or how to accomplish some goal, he looks at the actual outcomes of different approaches to see what the evidence says will likely be most effective. Berwick was endorsed by Progressive Mass after getting 70% of the vote in what was then a 4-candidate contest: Significantly more than twice as many votes as the three other candidates combined. I agree with the commenter who wrote, "I believe his candidacy represents our chance to substantially change the political landscape here in Massachusetts."

    Martha Coakley is clearly the worst of the three. As Attorney General, the core of her job has been the criminal justice system, yet that's the issue on which she's been the most awful. She spoke up in favor of the Patriot Act, defended counterterrorism "fusion centers" while brushing away privacy concerns, favors the war on drugs and opposed decriminalization, worked with a woefully underfunded public defense system and did not try to get it fixed*, and seems to have done nothing about the way we funnel so much of our population into prisons.

    * correction: I originally wrote that she "presided over" the public defense system, which is untrue. I'm still upset at her regarding this issue, because she prioritizes prosecution with little regard for defense, but that statement was sloppy.


    Coakley's nomination is also the most likely path to getting a Republican governor. We know she's a lousy campaigner from her embarassing loss to Scott Brown; she's probably gotten better and learned some since then, but chances are she's still bad at it and that'll give Charlie Baker an opening. Also, there are a lot of Massachusetts voters who are very suspicious of what they think of as Democratic "hacks", people who follow the path up the Democratic party in MA until they get nominated for Governor because it's basically their turn, not because they're really better. As a result, Democrats lost several times in a row after nominating an Attorney General for Governor. It was only after the Democratic Attorney General whose turn it was supposed to be finally lost a primary, in 2006, and Democrats nominated someone from outside the state party ranks (Deval Patrick), that a Democratic governor was elected.

    Also, there are a lot of Democratic-leaning independents and Democrats who will occasionally vote Republican, who hate Martha Coakley particularly because of her role in the Fells Acres case (where she went out of her way to make sure an obviously innocent person got kept in prison longer, for what many people feel were career-building political motives). These people will vote for Baker if Coakley is the Democratic nominee, even though they usually prefer Democrats.

    So here's the problem: Currently Coakley leads in the polls, Steve Grossman is second, and Don Berwick third. If your priority is defeating Coakley, you'd vote for Steve Grossman, who's a reasonable candidate, more likely to beat Coakley in the primary, and better able to win the general election. If your priority is supporting a far superior candidate, at risk of making it more likely that we'll get the worst (perhaps because you think she may not be that awful), then Don Berwick is the best choice.

    [Updated: Or, as some people point out, if you believe Coakley is going to win the primary regardless of who you vote for, then you might as well vote for the best candidate. That's Berwick.]

  • Attorney General

    Warren Tolman seems pretty good to me, but Maura Healey really stands out. She's a civil rights attorney who led the lawsuit that overturned a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act in the Supreme Court. She's already got lots of experience in the Massachusetts Attorney General's office, as former Assistant Attorney General. She'd be the first openly gay Attorney General in the US. She's been endorsed by Progressive Mass. I saw them both at a candidate forum and Q&A earlier this summer and came away liking both but having a much better impression of her. This one is, IMO, an easy choice.

  • Lt. Governor

    At a Progressive Mass candidate forum I saw all four candidates speak and answer questions - I asked them questions myself - and I took a bunch of notes. Then I lost all my notes :( Generally I liked all the candidates; Mike Lake and Leland Cheung both seemed better than Kerrigan, and after reflection I decided that Leland Cheung was the best choice. I'm also familiar with him since he's a Cambridge City Councilor and I think he's been one of the best we've had. Some people involved in MA politics whose opinions I value have picked Mike Lake, some have picked Leland Cheung. I'm worried that the progressive vote will split and Steve Kerrigan will win even though nobody I know thinks he's as good as the other two, and neither do I.

    I wish I still had my notes! But you can read the candidates' questionnaire submissions here.

  • Treasurer

    Same thing here: I went to that forum, asked them questions, took notes, and lost the notes, so I fell back on my memory of my impressions, plus their questionnaires. I remember feeling ambivalent about whether Deb Goldberg or Tom Conroy would be best, and I preferred both of them over Barry Finegold.

  • Auditor is uncontested in the primary. Secretary is uncontested in the primary, which is a shame, because Bill Galbin doesn't deserve it. He's better than having an overtly voter-suppressing Republican, but he's anti-Democratic when it comes to his own office, lagged far behind the times in modernizing and computerizing, and the fact that we still don't have election day registration in Massachusetts is a complete disgrace and largely his fault.

    [Update: Galvin will win for sure, since nobody is running against him, but that doesn't mean you should vote for him. I hope you don't.]


P.S. If you're in the Medford+Somerville district formerly represented by Carl Sciortino, who resigned this year, please vote for Christine Barber for state rep. Carl Sciortino was the best state rep in Massachusetts IMO, and getting someone that good to replace him is a challenge, but she may live up to that challenge.
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