It’s campaign season for the state primary election.
But you’d never know it.
Once again, there are hardly any competitive races on SouthCoast.
People are evidently so happy with the guys and gals who represent us in the state Legislature that hardly anybody has run against a wide swath of longterm incumbents who have represented local cities and towns for one, two and three decades.
It’s actually more likely that a U.S. senator or congressman from Massachusetts, incumbent governor or attorney general, will draw a re-election opponent than an incumbent member of the state Legislature from SouthCoast. Year after year, decade after decade, many of them never have an opponent.
It must be some outstanding delegation we have!
I have long known most of the members of the SouthCoast delegation and they are all good men and women, some of them effective legislators. But reasonable people can disagree on the issues and it’s astonishing that election after election no one runs against any of them.
Almost all of them are Democrats even though there is no shortage of Republicans in the SouthCoast suburbs. But with the exception of the Lakeville and Wareham areas, there are few GOP candidates who ever compete — places like Dartmouth and Westport, Marion and Mattapoisett — they just don’t seem to generate many Republican candidates.
Even among the Democrats in Massachusetts there are divisions between conservative, moderate and progressive Democrats. We have progressive incumbents like Tony Cabral, Mark Montigny and Marc Pacheco who rarely draw conservative opposition in their primaries. And we have incumbent Democrats on the conservative side like Mike Rodrigues and Chris Markey who don’t draw progressive opponents.
They say it’s because of the campaign finance system. When you’re an incumbent, you have the ability to raise money from folks seeking something from government. And when you go a few cycles with no opposition, the campaign kitty builds up. But in truth, a good candidate with moderate resources has proven time and again that he or she can take out an incumbent that’s mailing it in.
They also say it’s because this region is so Democratic, so liberal that candidates are discouraged from trying. That doesn’t really make that much sense to me when you think that places like Acushnet and Westport voted for Donald Trump in the last presidential election. In other towns, Hillary Clinton won, but in some of them, like Fairhaven, only narrowly.
Perhaps I’m looking at the glass as half full. Perhaps the reason the local incumbents are strong is simply because they are doing a good job. As the cliche goes, people hate Congress but they like their own congressman.
Even though most of the local incumbents are running opposed, there are a few who have drawn opponents that could be interesting.
Twenty-nine year incumbent Rep. Bob Koczera has drawn an opponent in 35-year-old Chris Hendricks, a North End attorney who represents injured workers at the Department of Industrial Accidents. Hendricks, an energetic young guy, says he’s been motivated against the national populism of Donald Trump. He talks about doing so much door-to-door campaigning that he’s coming back to folks a second time.
Koczera, who himself upset an incumbent almost 30 years ago, says he listens to what folks are saying in his near North End and Acushnet district, and criticizes what he categorizes as “special interests” who have put referendum questions on the ballot. He has supported the Legislature’s so-called Grand Bargain that combined questions like paid medical leave and a $15 minimum wage.
The sleepiest of sleepy parts of local government — county government — will have a race this year. Incumbent John Saunders of New Bedford will face off against challenger Frank Durant of Attleboro. That looks like a battle of the regions in a county in which the northern and southern halves are effectively in different parts of the state, for all they have to do with each other. Which is very little.
Both candidates will have to explain why we still need county government, whose role seems to be limited to running the courthouses and the county agricultural school, and why greater New Bedford or greater Attleboro should hold this seat.
Over in the Wareham/Middleboro area, Republican Susan Williams Gifford will face off against Democratic Carver selectman Sally Hewins in the November election. It’s a reprise of the race two years ago. And in the Lakeville/Middleboro area, Republican Norman Orrall (husband of incumbent Rep. Keiko Orrall) will face off against a Middleboro selectman, Democrat Allin Frawley, in the final. Keiko Orrall is running for state treasurer.
Other than that, the only sleepy local primary is that of incumbent Ninth District Congressman Bill Keating against Bill Cimbrelo of Osterville as Keating seeks a fourth term.
According to his website, he’s a former chemist who built a home remodeling business. He has run as an independent before but is running as a liberal Democrat this year.
Statewide, there are Trump-like Republicans (Geoff Diehl) and Charlie Baker Republicans (John Kingston and Beth Lindstrom) running to face U.S. Sen. Liz Warren in the November final. And it will be interesting to see how many GOP primary voters that conservative minister Scott Lively can peel away from Gov. Baker, whose moderate reputation has made him poll as the nation’s most popular chief executive, but has made him not so popular with the party’s right flank.
It’s all a bit of a yawn here in the Bay State.
Where is our Alexandria Ocasio Cortez?
Where is our Donald Trump?
On second thought, maybe a sleepy primary is good.
Jack Spillane is the Sunday and editorial page editor of The Standard-Times.