Now that Massachusetts has dispensed with primary-season niceties, will an ugly general election get the state’s political blood flowing?
You have to hand it to some of the fighters on the undercard last night.
In the Democratic primary for state auditor, state Sen. Diana DiZoglio and former assistant secretary of transportation Chris Dempsey went the distance, bickering and getting voters interested in any number of possibilities within the purview of that office. I saw some headlines about how this race warranted more attention—and sure, they all did—but for a low-profile post I feel it made a decent showing. There was real passion and disagreement, which could explain why at the time of this writing, it was also one of the closest races on the Democratic side, with DiZoglio up 54 to 46%. (I’m also looking forward to the general between DiZoglio and Republican Anthony Amore, who ran unopposed in his primary. More on that in a few weeks).
And how about that attorney general’s fight!?! In which even politicians who died decades ago were dug up from their graves and asked to endorse either labor attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan or former Boston City Councilor Andrea Campbell. You also have to hand it to Quentin Palfrey, who dropped out of the race late last month and still took 15%. For those paying attention to Mass politics in 2022, this was a major race to watch right up to the end in which Campbell prevailed with 51% to Liss-Riordan’s second-place 34%.
It’s all fairly exciting news in many ways, but did most commonwealth residents actually watch? Or care? Probably not. The turnout numbers aren’t in yet, but with the foul weather, immediate post-Labor Day scheduling, and back-to-school commitments, predictions have been grim.
Historically, state primary elections have attracted 20% or fewer voters for several decades in years when there wasn’t an overlapping hot US congressional race. Like in 2020, when the battle between Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III brought out nearly 37% of voters, about the same as the presidential primary six months prior. Even the most enthusiastic voters don’t tend their own yards, relatively speaking; in 2018, for example, only 40% of Jamaica Plain voters turned out for the state primary. Two years later, nearly 55% from that same ward voted in the presidential primary. The prospect of picking someone to oust Donald Trump from the White House summoned the masses; an opportunity to select somebody solid to oppose Gov. Charlie Baker drew a much smaller crowd.
In relevant news, I retrieved those election numbers from a page with Secretary Bill Galvin’s mug pasted in the leaderboard spot. The Diddy of Mass politics, he’s simultaneously an elusive behind-the-scenes operator and a guy whose face pops up every time you stream a cat video. While we don’t cover political horse races at DigBoston and instead try to use resources to cover how politics affect communities, reporter Andrew Quemere did take an exceptionally longform look at how Galvin and his opponent, NAACP Boston chapter President Tanisha Sullivan, differed in positions on public information and transparency.
In the end, Sullivan got clobbered, winning only 30% of the vote. In one sense, there’s hope in how she gave Galvin the kind of challenge he needed after serving for eight terms. Looked at another way, though, a loss for such a qualified and formidable candidate shows how unlikely it is that anyone can beat a secretary who gets to use state resources to advertise the success of his office. In 2019, the state Ethics Commission released a letter regarding how Galvin had mailed 2018 voter information booklets to every Mass residence which noted the prowess of his office more than you might say was needed. They wrote: “The benefits to Secretary Galvin from the prominent inclusion of his name on the early voting signs and the free positive publicity in the Information for Voters booklet were unwarranted, and the Commission found reasonable cause to believe that Secretary Galvin violated the conflict of interest law by using his official position to secure them.”
As long as those kind of shenanigans get less media burn than off-season Sox trades, and voting for state and local officers continues to be mostly a club sport for those in the know, the Galvins of the world will keep on clobbering (which, in his case for the coming general election, isn’t necessarily a bad thing since he’s running against one of the most unhinged people in politics, library-shamer Rayla Campbell).
In short, it doesn’t matter how much blood is flowing at the bottom of the ballot, or even close to the top in a showdown like the one we just had for AG—as long as there is a coronation at the top of the ticket, like we had in the Democratic primary for governor, people will tune into other programming. Congratulations to current AG Maura Healey on advancing to the big dance, but the fact that former state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz still grabbed 14% despite dropping out months ago suggests that I’m not alone in feeling that there was a missed opportunity.
A lively contest would have brought more people to the polls. And been better for democracy than what happened in Massachusetts last night. I’m not saying that every bout should be a mud bath like the Suffolk County District Attorney’s race between Boston City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo and current DA Kevin Hayden, with sexual misconduct and case-tampering claims swirling as issues like police misconduct got lost in the wind. The stain left by that Boston Globe-assisted mess will last for years to come, as will the aggravation of progressives who will now have to live with the Baker-appointed Hayden, who took 53% to Arroyo’s 46%, in an elected seat.
Of course, general elections are where shit is known to get particularly hideous. And the marquee race we’re closing in on won’t be an exception, with Healey squaring off against the smug suburban face of Trump in Massachusetts, former state Rep. Geoff Diehl. I don’t have to tell you what a ballbag this guy is—if you haven’t heard his schtick yet, you’re about to. Just be sure to listen closely. Diehl’s ass is not on full display; rather, he’s the slimy collared country club-adjacent version of the Trumpies who have decorated barricades around their trashy compounds with Let’s Go Brandon banners hanging above their makeshift moats. Meanwhile, it’s how many people will support the Republican nom, or if the media and Healy will give him enough oxygen to choke on—nevermind that he just beat normal-ish GOP businessman Chris Doughty in the primary and is awfully close to the highest office in a state that loves to elect mild-mannered conservative governors.
But it could get heated. And if it does, I’ll borrow five words from their MAGA nemeses to offer Democrats ahead of time, especially those who rarely venture beyond city limits to the lands of those exurban Trump bunkers, who think that they can sit on the sidelines for this year’s state election: fuck around and find out.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.