^ five of the seven US Senators who have represented Massachusetts since 2009. can you name the other two ?
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A couple of days ago I was conversing as usual about Massachusetts politics with a friend who suddenly stopped me. “Do you realize we’ve had seven different US Senators in this State the past four years ?”
I had not, in fact, realized that. He counted them out : Ted Kennedy, Paul Kirk, Scott Brown, Elizabeth Warren. John Kerry, Mo Cowan, Ed Markey. Yup, seven it is.
We’re not used to such stuff. Before 2009, Massachusetts had sent the sme two men to the Senate since 1984, when John Kerry replaced Paul Tsongas. That’s what we do. We want our Congressmen and Senators to build up huge seniority, to outlast their opponents, to leave the Federal bureaucracy no chance to put off reforms in hopes that the reformer would just go away. It work. Kennedy and Kerry got a lot done in their 47 and 29 years in the Senate. Meanwhile, the seven who have followed them had, in comparison, barely time to put a name plate on the office door. It’s the same deal for a Massachusetts Congressman. Get him or her elected and then re-elect him or her every time until the seniority passes critical mass. Almost no Massachusetts Congressmen get defeated. The last time it happened was 1996, when Peter Torkildsen was beaten by John Tierney, who has held the 6th District seat ever since.
Given our state’s political habits it’s no wonder that people here are now calling the tide of elections, special and otherwise, rolling through Massaachusetts as “election overload.” In addition to the US senate elections there’s been a Special election in the 5th Congressional District, a Boston Mayor election, several State Legislature “specials” — and more of these to come — and, in eleven months, the regular election for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and more. For some of these “specials,” very few voters have bothered. Even the dramatic, confrontational Boston Mayor election only induced 37 % of the City’s voters to cast a ballot.
About the same percentate of the State’s voters balloted in the now legendary 2009 US senate “special” in which Scott Brown became the only Republican that we have sent to the US Senate since 1978. It seems as though 36 to 37 % of voters is our State’s participation ceiling other than on “normal” election dates. On those dates, between 70 and 80 percent of our voters vote. The state has two classes of voters : the “always active” 36 to 37 percent and an equal number of “only at the usual time”people.
What is the difference between these two groups ? I’d say that the only-at-regular-time people see voting as a duty, while the participant actives see it as connection. Those who vote whenever an election is called actually expect, or hope, that their vote will move things. The duty voters probably vote as skeptics, not believers. That’s healthy. Politics is an arena of agendas, not saviors. We should be skeptical of agendas. But we also need believers in agendas; and my point in this column is that we should welcome, not shrug at, the tide of elections now rolling over Massachusetts. Our democracy was not set up for lifetime office holders. Well into the 20th Cehtiury it was uncommon for Senators and Congressmen to serve for 20, 30, 40, even 50 years, as some have done since. Citizens stood for office, served, and came home again to their lives and communities. The Massachusetts custom, since the 1920s, of saying “why replace someone who’s down there doing his job ?” now gives way to a series of fresh faces, one after another, many people voicing our State’s concerns, each in his or her own way, and — we hope — voicing the concerns of more voters than just the insiders who for so long had everything their own way.
Almost all of our state’s political indsiders are Democrats. It is totally a good thing that, since 2009, they have had to campaign to the 70-80 of voters who vote in elections rather than just to the 15 % who control the Democratic primary, For decades, our state’s politics was — with the exception of Governor elections — the purview of a very small core whose members spoke only to themselves. That’s not true now. With so many elections at hand for so many offices, vast numbers of candidates who, in the period 1960-2008 would never have had a chancve, now have that chance. Many of therse newcomers are Republicans. Some are Tea Party. Much of what the Tea candidates, in particular, have to say shocks and disgusts; but better that it be said out in the open, where it can be confronted, than seething in silence. As for the Democrats, they now divide on many issues, between Obama-Clinton centrists and the labor-Left who would like to use Elizabeth Warren as their banner. All of which assures me that in the foreseeable future, Massachusetts will be a state with three — maybe four — political parties stepping into a never-ending exercise of democracy in action. After all, there’s at least five major candidates going for the Governorship, several others, and a lengthening list of new names vying to be Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Treasurer, and state Legislator. Don’t knock it.
—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere