Friday, December 28, 2012

#MaSen redux

by BlueberryT


From 1985-2009, Massachusetts was blessed to have two “liberal lions” of the Senate representing us, and we saw no turnover in our Senate seats.  MA voters first elected Ted Kennedy to the Senate in a special election for his brother Jack’s former seat in 1962. Ted was not old enough to be appointed Senator when Jack was elected President in 1960, so the Kennedy family made a deal with the Governor, who appointed Jack’s former Harvard roommate, Ben Smith, to fill the seat until Ted was old enough.  Ted defeated Republican George Cabot Lodge in 1962, ran again in 1964 for a full term and was reelected 7 times, becoming one of the longest-serving Senators in United States history; he served for 47 years until his death while in office in August 2009.  The seat had been held continuously by Democrats since JFK first won it in 1953. 

The other Mass Senate seat was held continuously by Republicans Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. (1937-44), Sinclair Weeks (1944-45), Leverett Saltonstall (1945-1967) and Edward Brooke (1967-1979; the first African-American Senator since Reconstruction) - in total, it was in Republican hands for 42 consecutive years, including much of the terms of Democratic Presidents FDR, Truman, local son JFK and LBJ.  I want to stress that the politics that these Republicans practiced bore little or no resemblance to the GOP politics today.  

Paul Tsongas, a former Peace Corps volunteer and strong progressive, finally captured the seat for the Democrats from Brooke in the post-Watergate 1978 election.  Tsongas would easily have won reelection in 1984, but he was battling non-Hodgkin lymphoma at the time and had to retire from the Senate.  (Tsongas’ widow, Niki, is now a Congresswoman.)  So it was that in 1984, Mike Dukakis's Lt. Governor, John Kerry, ran for and won the Senate seat that he has held ever since - for almost 28 years.  A newly interesting footnote to the 1984 Senate race is that Congressman Ed Markey ran in the Senate primary that year, but withdrew before the nomination.   

(Another interesting historical footnote is that both Kennedys and their brother Bobby, along with Mike Dukakis, Paul Tsongas, John Kerry and Mitt Romney all ran for President, but only Jack Kennedy won; Lodge ran for VP on Richard Nixon's 1960 ticket and lost.  Something about Massachusetts politicians and national office...) 

Twenty years later, when John Kerry ran for President in 2004, Mitt Romney was Governor.  At the time, the heavily-Democratic state legislature was concerned that Republican Governor Romney would appoint the Senator to finish his term if Kerry were elected President, so they changed state law to leave the seat vacant until a special election could be held to fill the seat for the remainder of the 6-year term.

This change in the law backfired big time, then and now.  Kerry lost, so the change in law proved unnecessary in the first place.  Then, with Ted Kennedy’s terminal illness in 2009, they changed the law again, but instead of reverting to a gubernatorial appointment, they gave the (now-Democratic) governor the power to appoint a replacement to serve for a few months, pending the results of a special election. Note we are now up to two law changes and the result is an interim appointment and  special election.  Of course, they thought the Democratic candidate would be a shoo-in.

This special election took place right after the holidays in 2010, following a tough Democratic primary in which Attorney General Martha Coakley had to spend a lot of time and money to win the nomination in a crowded field.  Thus, during the holidays, she had to focus on fundraising, and few people were paying attention to the fact that little-known then-state Senator Scott Brown was raking in money from outside interests (Koch Brothers, NRA, etc.).  Many Dems, myself included, felt that “Ted Kennedy’s seat” was secure, and we didn’t realize the changing dynamics until after the holidays, when it was too late.  Scott Brown ran and won, reclaiming the seat from the Kennedys/Democrats and becoming “#41” - the vote that allowed Republicans to break the Democratic super-majority and fililbuster.  They have used this tool with a vengeance

So, now where are we?  In 2012, we saw progressive Elizabeth Warren challenge Senator Brown in a very tough battle.  This was one of the most highly contested Senate races in the country, costing more than $68 million.  (I wrote about this race here  and here.)  

Many of us breathed a huge sigh of relief when Elizabeth Warren won, becoming Massachusetts' first woman Senator-elect.  Remarkably, Brown lost even though he held a 57% positive approval rating on election eve.

Now, I know this is a bit petty of me, but I am a bit bummed about Senator Kerry’s appointment as Secretary of State, not because he isn’t the right guy – he is! – but because it means we have to hold another friggin’ #masen election so soon. Apparently the legislature doesn’t have any inclination to change the law back to what it was in the first place.  PolitiFact rated the Massachusetts legislature’s actions as a “flip-flop.” I would just call it a colossal FLOP. 

To give Kerry his due:  he is highly qualified, having served for many years on, and for the past four years as Chairman of, the Foreign Relations Committee.  Those old enough will remember that he first rose to prominence when he testified before this very committee, when he was a leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.  This is when he asked his famous question, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”  (The entire testimony is worth re-reading; it is gripping.)

He is of course well-known throughout the country, having been the Democratic nominee for President in 2004.  Thus he has been extensively vetted, as well as subjected to the outrageous “Swift Boat” smear campaign that impugned his Vietnam War service.  His personal and family background, including experience living overseas, also helped prepare him for the job.  His wife, Teresa, provides an even greater international perspective, as she is from Mozambique and has family roots in Portugal, England, Switzerland, Italy, France and Egypt; she also worked as a UN translator prior to her marriage to Senator John Heinz. 

Kerry has signaled his intent to include global warming in the scope of his work as Secretary, which is much needed.  Kerry has strong environmental credentials, second only to Al Gore among recent Presidential contenders, and that bodes well for bringing greater urgency and attention to global warming.  Given how this issue is so closely inter-related to energy policy, I hope that we will see somewhat more progressive policies going forward. 

Kerry has also been very loyal to President Obama.  He fully deserves this honor, and his confirmation is a sure thing, especially after Republicans successfully maneuvered to scuttle the nomination of Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice.  That maneuver was ugly enough, but knowing that it was a ploy to allow for Kerry’s seat to open up for a potential comeback by Scott Brown is particularly galling.

But we in Massachusetts will just have to suck it up, because the Massachusetts legislature has “no taste” for changing the Senate succession law again; apparently, they think it might make them look craven (cough, cough) to change the law a third time (back to where it started). So, after two Senate races in the last 3 years, it looks like we will have another special election this year, and then another election for a full-term in 2014.  That is four Senate races in less than 5 years.  Oh, joy.  Thank you, Massachusetts General Court (aka state legislature).  

If Scott Brown runs – and he openly promoted Kerry’s SOS nomination and even in his farewell speech in the Senate signaled that he might be back - he will probably begin as the presumptive favorite.   He still enjoys a majority approval rating.  He would also have the advantage of not running amidst a national election with a charismatic Presidential candidate drawing people to the polls.  He lost this fall because his opponent is such an inspiring progressive voice that she brought a lot of excitement and money into the race, although, as I wrote here, he did himself no favors.  His support for Antonin Scalia as a “model” Supreme Court Justice will likely continue to haunt him.  The same generic argument that Warren used successfully against him – that he would enable further Republican obstructionism – is still perfectly valid, and I’m sure we’ll hear it again.  It's true.

There are a few other Republicans whose names have surfaced, if Brown decides not to run - former Governor William Weld, former state senator and 2010 Lt. Governor candidate Richard Tisei among them.  They would be real long-shots, in my opinion. 

Why wouldn’t Brown run?  Well, he just lost a very tough race, and this race is another temporary position, meaning he would have to run again in 2014.  So, it would put him in the position of running four times in 5 years to win a permanent Senate seat.  His record is 1 and 1 - he might lose again.  If he did, it would really damage him politically, more than the recent loss to Warren did.  Maybe running for Governor in 2014 is more appealing, especially since Mass voters have elected Republican governors often over the past two decades. 

But, if I had to bet today, I would say he’ll run for the Senate seat. 

If so, who will run against him?  I sincerely hope that the Democrats will avoid a protracted and costly primary battle, which helped to undo Martha Coakley’s candidacy.  (Here is an interesting article on that campaign, including some good insights about the candidates.)  Fortunately, a few of the potential candidates are beginning to take themselves out of the running.  We now know that Ted Kennedy Jr. and Ben Affleck – both with instant name recognition – will not run.  Martha Coakley, the state Attorney General who ran against Brown in the 2010 special election, has ruled out a run.  It sounds like Barney Frank won’t run, (“I’m tired”), although he might accept the interim appointment. Vicki Kennedy, Governor Patrick, former Governor Dukakis and others have also been mentioned as possible candidates, but all have disavowed interest in the position.

Who else might run?  Here are a few potential candidates, in no particular order:

Rachel Maddow  – She needs little introduction among our readers!  Maddow is the well-known host of her own program on MSNBC, a very progressive self-described “national security liberal” who holds an undergrad degree in Public Policy from Stanford and doctorate in Politics from Oxford University.  She is also the author of a well-regarded book, Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power which tackles questions about how America goes to war in the 21st Century.  Interestingly, Scott Brown previously claimed in fundraising appeals that she was likely to run against him in 2012; Maddow said she was not running and demanded that he retract his statement and apologize for using her as a fundraising ploy.  Building on excitement over Tammy Baldwin’s election as the first openly lesbian Senator and Warren as Massachusetts’ first woman Senator, Maddow would provide instant appeal to the gay community and women.  She is not without her detractors and attackers, of course, but she is by far the most media-savvy of the potential candidates, an expert debater, and would be one of the few people with the name recognition and support base who could mount a successful race against Scott Brown, IMO.  I think it's unlikely she will run, but OTOH, she’d be great.

Ed MarkeyCongressman, Mass 7th District; the “Dean” of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation, having served since 1976.  Markey is a very smart, very solid progressive, strong on energy policy, also knowledgeable about telecommunications, internet privacy, the pharmaceutical industry and many key issues.  He is also strong on environmental issues and has repeatedly challenged "big oil." I take some small pride in having written to him several times (when he was my Congressman, early in his career) about nuclear power, because he subsequently became one of the most outspoken critics of the nuclear industry.  He declined to run for Senate in 2009, at which time he was the Chairman of a key House committee; however, with the GOP’s House majority seemingly set for years, there is some speculation that he may consider a run.  He is very popular in his District, and relatively well-known statewide.  He would be a great Senator, IMO. 
BREAKING NEWS (THURSDAY NIGHT): Congressman Markey has announced that he will run for Senator Kerry's seat.  More here and his new campaign website is here.  This HuffPo article has the text of his statement announcing the run.  If the Dems unite around Markey quickly, it would make sense for Governor Patrick to appoint him as the interim Senator; this would open up his House seat, of course.  Here is WaPo on this story.
BREAKING NEWS (FRIDAY):  Senator Kerry, along with Vicki Kennedy and the DSCC, have come out in support of Ed Markey as the Democratic candidate for Senate.  

Mike Capuano – Congressman, MA 8th District.  This is the same district once represented by Jack Kennedy, Tip O’Neill and Bobby Kennedy’s son, Joe Kennedy II.  Capuano is the former mayor of Somerville, MA, part of the Boston metropolitan area.  He is a strong progressive with solid credentials in the House, and has the reputation as a scrappy fighter, but in all honesty, I don’t think he has the statewide profile needed to win against Brown (if indeed that is his opponent).  He ran for the Senate seat in the primary against Coakley, but lost.  Thursday night: I doubt he will run, now that Markey has announced.  

Setti Warren –  Mayor of Newton, MA (an affluent suburb of Boston which is largely white; Warren, who is African-American, grew up there) and, jokingly, Elizabeth Warren’s “cousin.”  Setti Warren is a rising star in the Massachusetts Democratic Party, and served in several roles in Bill Clinton’s White House and John Kerry’s campaign and staff.  He was also the New England regional director of FEMA and is a veteran who served in Iraq.  He ran in the Democratic primary for the Senate seat but dropped out early (in September 2011), once the idea of an Elizabeth Warren campaign began to gain momentum.  He later worked on Warren’s campaign and is taking on new leadership roles and speaking out as part of the coalition of Mayors Against Gun Violence.  He seems like a really bright and personable guy, and an up-and-comer.  Still, his candidacy would be a long-shot, and he would not want to lose a bid for the same position twice.  

Benjamin Downing – Downing has expressed interest in the seat.  He is a young, well-liked state senator from Western Massachusetts who previously worked for Congressmen Delahunt, Neal and Olver.  As I understand it, he is a guy who wears a barn jacket and drives a pickup truck in real life, and might peel away some of Brown’s male supporters.  OTOH, he would be a real long shot.  While he is popular in his part of the state, he is an unknown elsewhere and Western Mass has a lot less people than the eastern half of the state.

I sincerely hope that some others mentioned as possible candidates, like Congressman Stephen Lynch or former AG Scott Harshbarger, will decline to run, as in my opinion they would not stand a chance.  I feel the same way about Alan Khazei, the former head of City Year and CEO of Be the Change, who is a good guy but who ran in the primary unsuccessfully twice; the same goes for Marisa deFranco, who ran a spirited campaign against Elizabeth Warren in the primary, but got crushed.  

I personally believe that the candidate needs to already have a strong "identity" and name recognition with the electorate.  There is simply not time to establish that from scratch.  Of course, Scott Brown did not have that when he ran in 2009-10, so I could be proven wrong – if the right mix of circumstances came together.  The Governor could make a big difference with a strategic interim appointment.  Whatever happens, if the legislature will not address the idiocy and expense of having 4 Senate elections in 5 years, I hope the Dems will be "in it to win it," as we were with the Warren campaign.  

No comments:

Post a Comment