It’s great to live in Massachusetts.
Those of us still partial to voting rights, free speech, and actual facts are watching with horror as attacks on all three continue to pile up around the country. This midterm election year is heavy with dread as we watch to see if Democrats will prevail nationally in their fight to preserve what is left of our democracy, or if the GOP will gain the power to kill it properly.
But around here, democracy is still very much alive, and it is gorgeous.
This year, Massachusetts is looking at its most interesting and wide-open political season in a long time. There are many more open seats than usual, from the state’s highest office to its most obscure, and that means a mass of bottled-up political ambition now has somewhere to go.
Start with the top job: It’s likely that the next governor of Massachusetts will be a Democrat, and if that happens, a woman, finally bringing our state into the 20th century. Attorney General Maura Healey, the front-runner; Harvard professor Danielle Allen; and state Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz are all brilliant and gifted candidates, offering different perspectives, skills, and, yes, imperfections. Allen and Chang-Diaz are risk-takers, Healey more cautious and moderate. Their contest promises to be substantive, and fun to watch.
The folks vying to be that governor’s number two are also pretty impressive — more so, it must be said, than the power vacuum of a job they seek. The prospect of a partnership between fellow no-nonsense ballers Healey, as governor, and Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, as her number 2, will be irresistible for some (The campaign ads write themselves.) And Driscoll is just one of a strong group of hopefuls.
Folks trying to move up means more vacancies: Among those angling for Healey’s job as attorney general are Andrea Campbell, the thoughtful and pragmatic former Boston city councilor and mayoral candidate whose remarkable life story, from a deeply troubled family to Princeton and UCLA Law, would give us the kind of representation we’ve never had in the state’s top law enforcement job; and skilled labor attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan, who has taken on powerful corporations on behalf of workers.
We’re also looking at a wide-open landscape for district attorney races: Suffolk County, Essex County, and the Cape and Islands are up for grabs this year. For several years, the ACLU has led a campaign to show the public how important those jobs are: Charging people for low-level offenses, or deciding not to, can make or break lives. Rahsaan Hall, the former head of the civil rights division at the ACLU, led that campaign in Massachusetts. Now Hall — thoughtful, compassionate, and with an acute sense of how the justice system works — is trying to replace Republican Timothy Cruz as Plymouth DA.
District attorney races that might have been a down-ballot afterthought years ago are a much bigger deal now. The race to replace former Suffolk DA Rachael Rollins, now the state’s US attorney, will be especially interesting, drawing Boston City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, a former public defender, and, probably, attorney Kevin Hayden, the former head of the state’s sex offender registry board, tapped by Governor Charlie Baker to serve out the rest of Rollins’s term. Expect debates across the Commonwealth over what our justice system should look like.
But when it comes to making voters care about offices that barely registered before, no race matches this year’s open contest for state auditor. Stay with me here. Fairly or not, the auditor’s job has long been seen as a boring bean-counter’s berth. But Democratic candidate Chris Dempsey — running against Methuen state Senator Diana DiZoglio, a crusader for victims of workplace harassment — is trying to turn it into something far more exciting. Dempsey, a transportation advocate who led the fight against Boston’s ill-fated Olympics bid, has offered some fascinating proposals. To start, he wants to use the office to make sure state government meets its climate emissions goals and to help reform the scandal-plagued State Police department.
This may be my panic over creeping autocracy talking, but such expansive visions give me something I don’t feel much these days: optimism.
Then again, the way this country is headed, it’s exciting to have free and fair elections at all.