Tanisha M. Sullivan, a corporate attorney and president of the NAACP’s Boston branch, said Tuesday she is running for secretary of state, arguing the office needs a more vocal champion for expanded voting rights in both Massachusetts and nationally.
Sullivan, who is launching her first campaign for public office, is pitching a vision of an advocate secretary whose responsibilities go beyond the nuts-and-bolts administration of elections. Her announcement may be the start of a high-profile Democratic primary, and one highlighting the marquee position secretary of state races are taking nationwide as former president Donald Trump and his acolytes stoke false claims of widespread voter fraud during the 2020 election.
“In this moment, there is no more important [role] in our state government than the secretary of state’s office,” Sullivan, a Hyde Park Democrat, said in an interview. “For me, this is about a vision of more. It’s about a vision that speaks to the fullness of our democracy.”
Secretary of State William F. Galvin, the office’s seven-term incumbent, has not said whether he intends to seek reelection.
Four years ago, Galvin easily held off a Democratic challenge from then-Boston city councilor Josh Zakim, but only after a nasty primary that included name-calling, attacks on Galvin’s record in the Legislature from the 1980′s, and arguments from Zakim that the office needed a fresh, more progressive leader.
Should Galvin run and win this time, he would become the longest-serving secretary of state in Massachusetts history, and add to his four-plus decades on Beacon Hill.
Sullivan, 47, could also make history if elected. She would be both the first woman and first person of color to be secretary of the Commonwealth, who is also responsible for ensuring public agencies comply with Massachusetts public records law, enforcing the state’s securities law, and ensuring lobbyists comply with registration and disclosure laws.
A Brockton native, Sullivan has led the NAACP’s Boston branch as its volunteer president since 2017, and for two years, served as chief equity officer for Boston Public Schools. Sullivan said she worked as a volunteer for what’s now known as Lawyers for Civil Rights, helping conduct training sessions for small business owners navigating how to register their businesses.
For the past seven years, she’s served as an attorney for the drug giant, Sanofi Genzyme, rising to become its associate general counsel. Sullivan said Tuesday she will remain with the company as she launches her campaign.
“I respect the 40-plus years of public service that Bill Galvin has given to the Commonwealth and the 27 years he has given to the office,” Sullivan said. “That said, in this moment, I will bring to the office a fresh perspective, I will bring to the office my years of legal practice, working with companies. And I will bring to the office years of working in the community with grassroots organizations and community stakeholders who have the most to lose when our democracy is not working.”
Sullivan has been involved in voting rights issues in recent years, including helping champion an unsuccessful ballot initiative in 2020 to institute ranked-choice voting in Massachusetts. Last year, she promoted home rule petitions that would allow for same-day voter registration in Boston’s municipal elections and extend the option for no-excuse vote-by-mail.
They’re issues that Galvin, too, has pushed on a statewide level, and the Brighton Democrat has touted his office’s administration of the 2020 elections, during which record numbers of people voted, including casting ballots by mail.
Galvin has so far declined to declare whether he plans to run again, saying he wants to avoid putting a political tint on his push in the Legislature to make expanding voting-by-mail permanent and to change this fall’s primary election date to the day after Labor Day.
The Legislature took a step toward that Tuesday, when the House released a bill that would move the primary to Sept. 6. Sullivan said the date “is not ideal,” and suggested she’s open to discussions about moving the state primary from its traditional September slot, which often makes it one of, if not the, latest primary in the country.
Galvin has indicated he feels he’s far from done. He continued to raise money last year, pushing his campaign account to more than $1.9 million, and said in an interview last week he believes he “clearly [has] more work to do.”
He said Tuesday he’s proud of his record on administering elections, which he considers “the paramount issue.”
“It’s going to be up to her to decide what her record is,” Galvin said.
Similar to Galvin, Sullivan on Tuesday said she’d push to establish same-day voter registration in Massachusetts — which would need legislative approval — and called on lawmakers to make voting-by-mail available to all registered voters.
A pandemic-era law allowing the option in 2020 and most of 2021 expired in mid-December, and House Speaker Ronald Mariano has not said when the House would take up a bill the Senate passed making it permanent.
Sullivan, however, said a secretary of state’s bully pulpit should expand beyond the State House, vowing to work “arm in arm” with others elsewhere in the United States when voting rights are under attack.
“If we allow the dismantling of voting rights in any part of our country, there’s no telling what will happen to our democracy,” she said.
Rayla Campbell, a Whitman Republican who ran an unsuccessful write-in campaign challenging US Representative Ayanna Pressley last year, has filed paperwork with state regulators for a secretary of state campaign on the GOP ticket.
Matt Stout can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.