Open seats give voters chance to reshape Beacon Hill
While focused largely on presidential and congressional races, Massachusetts voters also face some important choices close to home that will affect the quality of their schools, business districts, and transportation networks. With about two-thirds of the seats in the state Legislature uncontested, much of the action centers on seats without incumbents. These are the races that give voters the best shot at reshaping Beacon Hill, at least over time.
SENATE: In a four-candidate race in the First Essex district, local observers predict it will come down to a battle between Democrat Kathleen O’Connor Ives of Newburyport and Republican Shaun Toohey of Haverhill. But most of the energy in this race comes courtesy of independent candidate Paul Magliocchetti, a Haverhill attorney with a background in manufacturing. Magliocchetti brims with ideas for reducing red tape for small business and advocates for more flexibility for cost-conscious municipalities seeking to use civilian flagmen at construction projects. The Senate would benefit from an infusion of independence.
In the Second Essex district, Republican candidate Richard Jolitz of Beverly has been literally absent from the race. But that hasn’t stopped hardworking Salem city councilor Joan Lovely, a Democrat, from maintaining a full campaign schedule. Lovely has helped to keep down the costs of municipal health care, revive downtown Salem by supporting the expansion of the Peabody Essex Museum, and ease property tax burdens by supporting a modest local option tax on meals.
In the Third Middlesex district, stretching from Chelmsford to Weston, Democratic candidate Michael Barrett of Lexington combines an impressive record of public service and private-sector experience. Barrett, who served as a state senator from Cambridge from 1987 to 1994, reinvented himself in recent years as an information technologist specializing in health care. All of his specialties, including education policy, are well-suited to the business of the Senate.
HOUSE: Spirited races are also underway for about a dozen open seats in the House, where Republicans are making cases both for themselves and the need to provide greater party balance. Republicans make up just 20 percent of the 160-member House.
In the 10th Norfolk district, two strong candidates compete for the seat already vacated by Democrat James Vallee. Republican candidate Richard Eustis of Medway lacks the impressive town government experience of Democrat Jeffrey Roy of Franklin. But Eustis, who runs the Bar Advocate Program in Worcester County, offers an intriguing blend of pro-business policies and cost-effective alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders.
The Sixth Plymouth district has long been solidly Republican. And with a standardbearer like Karen Barry, a member of the Duxbury Fiscal Advisory Committee, there is no reason to break with tradition. Barry proposes the elimination of the state’s inventory tax as a way to encourage business expansion. She targets abuses in social-benefit programs while still recognizing the legitimate need for a strong human services network. Barry faces a strong Democratic opponent in Josh Cutler, a civic-minded newspaper editor from Duxbury.
Two earnest but relatively unknown candidates vie for the House seat in the Second Essex district where conservative Democrat Harriett Stanley, who rarely marched in lockstep with the House leadership, is stepping down. Democrat Barry Fogel speaks thoughtfully on transportation and environmental challenges in the Merrimack Valley, especially the need to see pending road and bridge projects to fruition. The West Newbury attorney is eager to review state tax credits to ensure that companies are meeting policy objectives. Republican candidate Lenny Mirra, also of West Newbury, is a strong critic of labor practices that run up the cost of public construction projects. But Fogel takes the broader view of the district.
Another good race is underway in the 21st Middlesex District to succeed Charles Murphy, who is resigning his House seat. Democrat Kenneth Gordon, a Bedford attorney (and long-ago sports stringer for the Globe), has been active in town government and passionate about the need to improve the quality of public transportation to support the district’s commercial centers and health care facilities, even if it means adding a few cents on the gas tax.
In the heavily redistricted 14th Essex district, Republican Karin Rhoton of North Andover, a former school committee member, is eager to reform the state’s convoluted school funding formula and bring fairness and efficiency to the state’s contract bidding process. Her experience as a business systems analyst provides the right background for both tasks.