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Representing the 15th Suffolk District since 2002, Jeffrey Sanchez seeks a ninth term in the Massachusetts House.

His is no ordinary incumbency. During the last House session he was named Chairman of the House’s Ways and Means committee, succeeding Brian Dempsey of Haverhill, who resigned his seat after many terms. The Chairman of Ways and Means directs the House’s annual state Budget proposal: a $ 41 billion behemoth allocating monies to literally dozens of agencies and departments. Many observers consider the Budget chief second in power only to the Speaker; and he or she who holds the position is prominently regarded as a future Speaker him or herself.

The idea of a city-resident Latino — Sanchez is of Porto Rican ancestry — becoming Speaker of the House has given Sanchez unique prominence in State and City politics. Nor is he a newcomer. His mom, the legendary Maria Sanchez, has been an influential activist in Mission Hill affairs since the 1970s. Even today, at Mission Housing Project events she draws as many people to her side as her famous son. Jeffrey Sanchez has all of that support as well, and his mother sees to it; and he has, by his rise to the top ranks of State House powers, acquired the support of all kinds of Mission Hill and Hyde Square (Jamaica Plain) activists. At least 200 of them attended his campaign kickoff in March at the Puddingstone Tavern.

You might suppose, in such case, that Sanchez would not have an opponent for re-election: but an opponent he has, and she is not insignificant. Nika Elugardo served on the staff of State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz and thus has her own following of activists.

That said, there seems no comparison between the two, at least in fund raising. Sanchez’s most recent OCPF report shows he has $ 80,755.83; Elugardo has $ 16,866.37. The question thus arises : why is Sanchez being challenged by a candidate who has a measure of credibility, and what is her campaign about ? It would certainly seem that the voters of Sanchez’s city district (it includes one precinct of Brookline but is otherwise entirely a Boston district, including all of Mission Hill, the higher-income side of Jamiaca Plain, the power neighborhood known as “Moss Hill,” and three Jamaica Plain-ish precincts in Roslindale) would be mighty glad to have the House Budget chief as their State House voice.

Alas, the answer to my question is exactly what one might suppose : Elugardo asks voters to see Sanchez as part of an “establishment” that practices compromise where her voters want insurgency. We see this bifurcation elsewhere in this year’s primary season. Next door to Sanchez, Representative Liz Malia, a pragmatic reformer in the House even longer than Sanchez, faces Ture Richard Turnbull, who has for many years been the leading Massachusetts advocate for single-payer health insurance. A similar dichotomy pits City Councillor Ayanna Pressley — a very effective councilor at that — against Congressman Mike Capuano, who will be a committee chairman if Democrats take control of Congress this November. (Disclosure : I know and admire both Capuano and Pressley.)

There isn’t much in these challenges that we haven’t seen before. Age against youth, establishment and insurgent, long in office versus time for someone new — these are campaign themes you and I have heard from as long as we’ve been alive and sentient. Yet the journalist in me, as the voter in you, needs to ask, why should we replace an elected who is effective, and slated to become more so ? What can a replacement offer that the elected one cannot offer better ? In Sanchez’s case, especially, I see no convincing answer, no matter the enthusiasm of Elugardo, or her supporters’ very just aspirations, or her own argument that structural injustice is a serious problem. It is a serious problem; but how would defeating Sanchez alleviate it ? As I see it, promoting Sanchez further alleviates it more than defeating him ever could.

I’ve thought a lot about the significance of Jeffrey Sanchez as House Budget chief. My thinking is this : we’re on the verge of finishing the most productive legislative session I have seen in my adult lifetime. Prudent, forward looking reform has taken place in almost every policy domain, and a lot of that reform has been Sanchez’s doing. Governor Baker goes around the state awarding Skills Capital grants, ground breaking at workforce housing and affordable housing developments, announcing the renovation of university building and court houses, proclaiming hundreds of millions of dollars in new aid to education at all levels. The money he announces doesn’t come from a magic wand. It comes largely from the prudent, forward looking reform knotted together by city-guy Sanchez and his Budget committee. I think the voters of his District — many of whom I met at his recent backyard fundraiser at the home of Jaime Rodriguez, an old friend — rise high above structural injustice on the strength of having as their State House voice the man whose Budget work improves life all across Massachusetts.

One last assertion : we are very, very lucky in Massachusetts to have consensus government, well across partisan divisions, by which all manner of reform has been legislated this year by votes unanimous or almost. From automatic voter registration and criminal; justice reform to gun-regulations and the transgender public accommodations civil rights bill, and from a $ 1.8 billion dollar housing bond bill to a $ 2.2 billion dollar education bond bill, and the extension of the Green Line to new cars on the Orange Line, and via the grand bargain bill which instituted a $ 15/hour minimum age and paid family leave, we enjoy almost an embarrassment of effective practical reform. Idealists did not get all that they wanted; but almost every activist got something. Which is how actual good government works.

If incumbent legislators ever deserved re-election, this is the time to reward a job incredibly well done.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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