fb-pixel Skip to main content

Even when Democrats win, they lose

The Democrats should be dancing in the streets. Instead, they’re fighting each other for the soul of the party.

Holyoke Mayor Alex B. Morse, left, and US Rep. Richard E. Neal, right.Don Treeger/Associated Press

What’s with the Democrats? Even when they win they lose.

On the national stage, they got rid of Trump, but not before the GOAT (Grossest Of All Time) amassed some 70 million votes, second in history only to Joe Biden, who got 5 million more. Trump even increased his support among Black people and Latinos.


The Democrats also managed to lose seats in the House and are likely to remain the Senate minority.

Some blue wave.

Closer to home, the Democrats picked up seats in the Massachusetts Legislature where they have long held a super majority, but, again, were up against a Republican state apparatus led by Trumpers who seem determined to drag the state back into the 1950s. The Massachusetts GOP are the Washington Generals to the Democrats Harlem Globetrotters.


And, still, in a divisive squabble that mirrors a national rift between progressives and moderates, Massachusetts Democrats are fighting with each other.

Some, especially progressives, wanted to dump state party chairman Gus Bickford, but he easily won reelection Thursday night. The putsch against Bickford gained momentum last week when an internal party investigation found he violated party rules by involving himself in the heated primary in which progressive upstart Alex Morse, the mayor of Holyoke, unsuccessfully tried to oust House Ways and Means chairman Richie Neal, the longtime congressman in Western Massachusetts.

The investigation focused on how and why complaints about Morse pursuing sexual relationships with college students while he was teaching a class on politics at UMass Amherst were made public. The probe was carried out by Cheryl Jacques, who served six terms in the state Senate.

Some 70 members of the state party complained in a letter that because Jacques was so entrenched in party politics and had previously taught in the same department at UMass as Morse she could “in no way conduct an independent investigation into our Party.”


Those members argued the party should follow the lead of UMass, which has hired an independent counsel, Natashia Tidwell, a partner at a Boston law firm, to oversee its own internal investigation.

Jacques’s report focused on whether Bickford and others improperly interfered in the Morse-Neal race, but did not address whether it was appropriate for Morse to pursue sexual relationships with students while he was a college lecturer.

Morse and his defenders insist the relationships with students were consensual and involved adults. They also claim the criticism of his private life was deeply rooted in homophobia and aimed at costing him votes.

To me, this was not about Morse’s sexuality. Or votes. It was about power dynamics and judgment.

The UMass policy on consensual relationships between faculty and students is vague. In part it reads, “Dating or sexual relationships between faculty and students or post-docs are also inherently problematic because of the unequal power dynamic between the parties to the relationship, the responsibility of faculty for evaluating students' work, the possibility that other faculty and students may be adversely affected, and because such relationships diminish the trust and respect that ordinarily characterize the faculty-student relationship and are therefore inconsistent with the education mission of the University."

Morse and his supporters maintain that because the students he had relationships with were not in his class, and he didn’t evaluate their work, he did nothing wrong. But that ignores the rest of the policy’s clear intent. And what about students who might have wanted to take his class in the future? Or looked at him as a potential mentor?


Just down Route 116 from Amherst, Mount Holyoke College is much less ambiguous. The rules there expressly prohibit sexual relationships between students and college employees.

It’s clear as a bell, for all the right reasons. UMass would do well to read it and amend their own policy. Teachers shouldn’t have sexual relationships with students. Any students. Full stop.

It wasn’t in Cheryl Jacques’s remit to weigh in on the policy. Natashia Tidwell, whose report is still pending, will have to address it head on.

As for the Democrats, the fight for the soul of the party goes on.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at kevin.cullen@globe.com.