From football to politics, the winds of generational change are blowing through Massachusetts. Can longtime Secretary of State Bill Galvin withstand the gusts and win a historic eighth term?
Galvin, 71, has about $2 million in his campaign account, the name recognition that goes with over 40 years in politics, and a record that includes modernization of the office and a list of election reforms. Still, his primary challenger would also make history: Tanisha Sullivan, 47, a corporate lawyer and president of the NAACP’s Boston branch, would be the first woman and first person of color to be elected secretary of the Commonwealth. When she announced her candidacy, Sullivan also pitched herself as a fresh voice who can bring new energy to the cause of expanded voting rights in Massachusetts and nationally.
Galvin easily defeated his last primary challenger, then-Boston City Councilor Josh Zakim. But this time, Galvin has problems. When the House of Representatives, which is dominated by Democrats, recently voted to pass a package of election reforms, it rejected a change — dear to progressive hearts — that would allow election day voter registration. Instead, the House bill calls for the secretary of state to weigh in on that proposal with a “study.” Galvin, who supports election day registration, said there’s no need for any study. “This is a parliamentary device to prevent a vote on the merits,” he told me. And, so it is. Since a Senate version of the bill contains the election day registration provision, it’s now up to a legislative conference committee to hammer out the differences. As that inside baseball plays out, Galvin disputes any suggestion that it makes him look less effective as a change agent. “I’ve demonstrated my ability time and time again,” he said.
So did Tom Brady. Yet before Brady took matters into his own hands and took off for Tampa Bay, there was a feeling, even about the greatest quarterback of all time, that it was time to pass the torch. In this election cycle, Galvin could be up against a similar sentiment, as the old guard retires and a younger, more diverse crowd takes over. Representative Ayanna Pressley and Mayor Michelle Wu have both transformed the lens of political leadership in Boston and, Governor Charlie Baker’s decision not to seek a third term guarantees change at the top of state government as well. Attorney General Maura Healey’s run for governor shakes up that office too.
First elected to the House in the 1970s, Galvin has been secretary of state since 1995. Despite Zakim’s efforts to portray him as “a barnacle-encrusted relic from another era,” as the Globe wrote in its 2018 endorsement of the incumbent, Galvin’s reform stats are impressive. He pushed for and implemented a central voter registry that facilitates online registration and mail-in registration. Through his advocacy, the state has an automatic voter registration law, which enrolls voters (with an opt-out option) after transactions with the Registry of Motor Vehicles and MassHealth. Under Galvin, the state expanded mail-in voting during the coronavirus pandemic, without controversy. The voting rights package that awaits action on Beacon Hill expands, among other things, voting for the incarcerated.
Elsewhere in the country, states are taking steps to restrict voting, not expand it; and, as The New York Times reports, allies of Donald Trump are running for secretary of state, potentially as a way to weaponize the office and subvert the election process. Here, the voting rights battle is between progressives and centrist Democrats, who, some critics say, are worried about losing if new voters can register on election day. Galvin agrees that’s why incumbent lawmakers are against the election day registration proposal. “They don’t want anything that puts their seats at risk,” he said. As for himself, he said, “I’m not afraid of the people.”
This election “is about me,” Galvin said. “It’s about my performance. “
After last year’s Super Bowl win with the Buccaneers, followed by a season in which he led the NFL in both passing yards and touchdown passes, Brady gets to retire on his own terms. For Galvin, the judgment on performance will be up to the voters.
Joan Vennochi is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @joan_vennochi.