DEMOCRATIC VOTERS in the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District aren’t just choosing among four candidates for state Senate Tuesday; they’re also deciding among distinct visions of how government should operate. The district, which now includes Belmont, Watertown, parts of west Cambridge, Brighton, and the Fenway, came open when Steven Tolman resigned to take over the state AFL-CIO. The best choice to replace him, state Representative Will Brownsberger of Belmont, has a progressive record on social and environmental matters — but also a history of creative thinking about making government more effective, honest, and transparent.
Brownsberger, a lawyer, has served in the House since 2007 and was a Belmont town selectman for nine years before that. He’s acutely aware of the need to make the most of limited resources. Brownsberger challenged House leadership over a lack of openness on spending. He’s also proposed ways to reform public pensions. Brownsberger has been quick to recognize the obstacles that 21st-century workers encounter: He’s led efforts to reform non-compete agreements, which can limit laid-off workers’ ability to find new jobs. With his appetite for digging into complicated problems, Brownsberger should make a big impact in the Senate.
Two of his rivals offer a more traditional brand of Democratic politics. Lawyer Tim Schofield, who put himself through school on the GI Bill, makes an earnest plea for empathy in government. Robert McCarthy, the former head of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, vows to use his relationships with Beacon Hill to benefit constituents. Yet neither Schofield nor McCarthy grapples realistically with the challenges facing local governments and private-sector workers. Both have criticized recent efforts to help cities and towns save on spiraling employee health costs. Digging in to defend unsustainable costs shouldn’t be mistaken for progressive government; if anything, it leads to more layoffs of public workers and worse services for citizens.
A more intriguing choice is Jonathan Hecht, a state representative from Watertown who shares Brownsberger’s emphasis on open, efficient government. Hecht, also a lawyer, has a varied resume that includes both a history of activism on human rights in China and service on the Watertown Town Council. He and Brownsberger have voted in similar ways. But Brownsberger has taken a more intense, imaginative approach — and has a stronger legislative record because of it.