Making sense of the Massachusetts midterms
The Justice breaks down last week’s state election results: from a Governor-elect who has already made history, to ballot measures that suggest the state may be moving in a more progressive direction.
On Tuesday, Nov. 8, voters across the country went to the polls to vote in the 2022 midterm elections. Many candidates made history, like Florida’s Maxwell Frost, who will become the first member of “Generation Z” to serve in Congress. Candidates here in Massachusetts made history as well.
Governor-elect Maura Healey became the first woman to be elected governor of Massachusetts, and the first openly lesbian governor in the country, followed quickly by Tina Kotek of Oregon, also elected on Tuesday. Joined by Mayor Kim Driscoll of Salem, now lieutenant governor-elect, Massachusetts and Arkansas will be the first states to have two women occupy the offices of Governor and Lt. Governor concurrently.
But unlike Arkansas, Massachusetts also elected a woman into the attorney general seat. Andrea Campbell broke a “concrete ceiling” by becoming the first Black woman elected to statewide office in Massachusetts, winning the attorney general race. Incumbent Secretary of State Bill Galvin won an unprecedented eighth term. Incumbent state Treasurer Deborah Goldberg was elected to another four-year term, and Diana DiZoglio won the race for state auditor. For the first time since 2008, all six executive statewide offices will be held by Democrats.
Massachusetts was widely seen as one of the most “flip-able” governor’s mansions during this year’s midterm cycle. Republican Governor Charlie Baker is one of the most popular governors in the country, but when he opted not to seek reelection and Geoff Diehl won the Republican primary, many saw Massachusetts as a lost cause for the GOP. Healey won by 30%, leading many to wonder how Diehl fumbled Baker’s legacy.
A former delegate to the Massachusetts Democratic Convention and campaign staffer who wished to speak anonymously said to the Justice that Diehl lost because of his association with Donald Trump and that “Trumpism is just not popular in MA.” He elaborated, “Diehl took the difficult, but not impossible, task of winning as a Republican in MA and decided to run as a hardline conservative.” His defeat marks a shift in historical trends: Over the last three decades, Republicans have held the governorship in Massachusetts for all but eight consecutive years.
When asked how her administration would differ from Baker’s during a Nov. 9 press conference, Healey had only this quip to offer: “The microphones are going to be a little lower. There you go. And the rest, we’ll see,” which is a reference to the fact that Baker stands over a foot taller than Healey.
Jonathan Cohn, the policy director at Progressive Mass, a grassroots activism organization, felt Healey had not been “as direct in her policy proposals” as he would have liked. In a Nov. 14 email to the Justice, he elaborated that he was hopeful about the Healey/Driscoll team, and said they care far more about “climate action, reproductive rights, public schools, and public transit than [Governor] Baker does.” Cohn said Baker “tends to get a pass” for right-wing beliefs due to a “boring congeniality” and that he “enables the worst instincts” of the Massachusetts legislature, saying they can “always use the real or imagined threat of a veto as an excuse for inaction.” Cohn hopes that with Healey as Governor, the Legislature will embrace new opportunities to deliver on Democratic priorities. For instance, Cohn said that his organization plans to push for more ambitious legislation to counteract the “inertia” of inaction in the Legislature.
In a Nov. 14 email to the Justice, John Dolan — the former campaign manager for lieutenant governor candidate Eric Lesser, who lost the Democratic primary to Driscoll — said he was “thrilled” to see the incoming Healey/Driscoll administration earn a victory on Election Day and see Democrats back in the governor’s mansion. Describing how a Healey/Lesser administration would have been different, Dolan identified transportation as the issue where Lesser and Driscoll differ the most. Improving and expanding the state’s public transportation systems was a main focus of Lessers’ campaign. Driscoll mainly emphasized her experience working with municipalities during her campaign.
However, the Healey/Driscoll team did indicate a willingness to take up Lesser’s signature campaign promise of East/West rail. When asked if he expected Healey and Driscoll to act more as progressives or pragmatists, Dolan pointed to early signs that “have indicated to me that they may be intent on simply providing a steady hand rather than a vision.” One of the signs Dolan cited was the newly elected officials’ unwillingness to publicly support Ballot Measure 2 on the campaign trail. The second question on this year’s general election ballot asked voters to decide on new dental insurance regulations, including a “medical loss ratio” which would mandate that at least 83% of insurance premiums go toward improving patient care. Dolan called this measure “overwhelmingly popular,” and he was right. Question 2 passed with 71.4% of the vote, by far the highest percentage of any ballot measure this cycle.
Dolan said he wasn’t sure of Healey and Driscoll’s reasons for not endorsing it but called their choice “nearly inexcusable” considering the measure’s mass support and ability to establish new consumer protections. He said he hopes this early decision of the Healy/Driscoll team is not indicative of a larger “pragmatic” approach by the governor and lieutenant governor-elects.
The other ballot measures passed last Tuesday were also transformative. Voters approved Massachusetts Question 1 by a slim margin, with 52% voting “yes” to amending the State constitution to add a 4% tax on income over $1 million, with the revenue dedicated to public education and transportation. At Progressive Mass, Cohn worked on the “Yes on 1” campaign in support of this ballot measure. He attributed the campaign’s success to the coalition of “faith, labor, and community groups that we were able to build,” in a Nov. 14 email to the Justice. There have been multiple attempts to address Massachusetts’s constitutional flat tax rate, Cohn said, but this is the first that has succeeded. The estimated $2 billion additional investments in public education and transportation resulting from the new amendment could be “transformative,” he said, adding that the initiative passed at an excellent time. Since the ballot initiative was first proposed, the COVID-19 pandemic has put an even bigger strain on schools while the state’s public transportation services “seem to keep getting worse,” he elaborated.
Massachusetts voters also voted to keep in place a Massachusetts law allowing residents to obtain driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status. The campaign supporting this initiative, Question 4 on the ballot, argued that the law would keep roads safer, even going so far as to name their campaign “Yes on 4 for Safer Roads,” and cited widely-held support from law enforcement groups.
Cohn pointed out that although Question 1 and Question 4 ended within a point of each other in the final tally, they were supported by different coalitions. While there was strong support from progressives for both, it was different combinations that got them to majorities. The wealthiest towns in the state, like Dover and Wellesley, voted solidly in support of Question 4, the driver’s license measure, but strongly against Question 1, the income tax amendment. Cohn added that conservative towns on the South Coast and in South Shore voted no on both, but were harsher on Question 4 than Question 1. Overall, he said, “The two questions combined really do provide a useful political typography of the state.”
The dental insurance regulations measure that voters passed is the first of its kind in the entire nation. In voting to allow undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses, Massachusetts voters joined 17 other states. By approving a millionaire’s tax, voters in the Commonwealth accomplished a progressive goal a century in the making. While questions remain about the policy goals of the new governor, the results of this year’s ballot questions offered a resounding “Yes” on progressive policies.