Would Be Senators, This Is Your Arena…
UPDATED 12:54PM: For confirmation Brewer is retiring and a previous version of this story indicated that Ludlow School Committee Member Chip Harrington would enter the 1st Hampden & Hampshire race as an independent. New information says he will run as a Democrat, setting up a primary if Rep. Puppolo runs.
As time marches on it becomes increasingly clear that Westerns Massachusetts could face its most dramatic remaking of its legislative delegation in recent memory. News today doubles the number of state senate seats that could open on top of challenges to Senator Don Humason in the Holyoke-Westfield-based district. Moves for the Senate could scramble the House delegation as well in addition to already announced vacancies.
Today, however, the apparent news of Senator Stephen Brewer’s departure is both seismic for the eastern frontier of Western Massachusetts and for the broader region’s politics. Republicans had already begun to line up for the seat which runs the length of Massachusetts north/south from Monson and Palmer in its southwestern corner to Ashby and Ashburnham in its northeastern edges.
The district’s formally called the Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire and Middlesex district.
Earlier this year Brewer lost a leadership fight with Amherst Democratic Senator Stanley Rosenberg who will become Senate President. He will take over whenever incumbent Therese Murray steps aside or no later than spring 2015 when she hits her term limit. Most expect Murray to step down and possibly resign after this year’s budget is finished. David Bernstein said that with Murray’s departure, Brewer was expected to lose his chairmanship of Ways & Means with the transition. For what it is worth, Masslive is reporting that Brewer calls reports of his retirement “premature.” Now, however, The Worcester Telegram & Gazette confirms Brewer’s decision to retire.
So far no Democrats have stepped forward, but that is probably because not everybody expect Brewer to step down. As the district is mostly outside of WMassP&I’s coverage area, no sources could name potential Democratic names, although a number of Democratic Reps hold seats in the Senate district.
Up in the Paper City, the field against Republican State Senator Don Humason that appeared to be unfolding last month became a bit more real. Holyoke Patrolman and Real Estate agent Patrick T. Leahy formally announced his campaign for State Senate. Leahy had formed his committee for the 2nd Hampshire & Hampden district last year as well, which prompted last month’s report.
Leahy officially joins Holyoke Fire Commissioner Christopher Hopewell for the Democratic primary. David Bartley, Holyoke’s Ward 3 City Councilor, was the Democratic nominee in last year’s special election and is said to be weighing a bid this year, too. The 2nd Hampden & Hampshire consists of Agawam, four precincts in Chicopee, Easthampton, Granville, Holyoke, Montgomery, Russell, Southampton, Southwick, Tolland and Westfield.
Leahy is the brother of at-large Holyoke Councilor James Leahy and informally announced his run with a new Facebook page unveiled Monday and was confirmed to Masslive. Garnering a sizable amount of likes in short order the page, features a fresh photo of Leahy in front of the Statehouse and a sharp campaign graphic as its cover photo.
At this stage, it is not too late for another candidate elsewhere in the district to emerge. However, with Holyoke producing as many as three candidates for the Democratic primary it all but assures that the Paper City will not swamp the race the same way it did last year’s special election primary. Instead, victory will require a strong coalition across the district. The fate of the general is a solid wildcard dependent on the direction of the gubernatorial race, Humason’s record this session in the Senate and the strength and campaign of the Democratic nominee.
Even closer to home, while it remains uncertain, it seems increasingly likely that Senator Gale Candaras’ seat will open as she pursues a political opportunity closer to home (or not). Rep. Angelo Puppolo of Springfield still has $200K+ in campaign money burning a hole in his pocket so his campaign may be inevitable inevitable. Puppolo has chosen to keep his plans to himself and the rumor mill, only saying he would make no announcement until Candaras made clear her intentions. Other Democratic contenders remain possible and new information suggests that a candidate previously slated to run as an independent will run in the Dem primary.
Candaras represents about a one third of Chicopee and Springfield each including all of the latter’s high-turnout Ward 7, Belchertown, East Longmeadow, Granby, Hampden, Longmeadow, Ludlow and Wilbraham.
However, non-Democrats have been making their move. At the tail end of last year, freshman East Longmeadow Select Board member Debra Boronski opened a campaign account for the 1st Hampden & Hampshire District, the formal name of Candaras’ seat. Boronski did not indicate a party on her paperwork, but she is widely expected to run as a Republican. She already has a site, Facebook page & Twitter handle.
Sadly, legislative candidates are uniquely excluded from biweekly campaign reports and regular deposit reports hampering the ability to measure candidates’ success. A year-end report is required and Boronski’s showed $900 dollars raised.
Nothing should be read into Boronski’s capacity to raise money based on that report alone. However, Massachusetts campaign finance laws allow only a $500 contributions to a candidate in any calendar year. Therefore, if a committee forms late in the year, there is a chance for donors to max out to the candidate and donate again the following year. That did not appear to happen for Boronski.
Boronski has couched her language in the conditional, insisting she would run only if Candaras bailed. Another candidate, a Ludlow School Committee member James “Chip” Harrington, did the same, although he went so far as to tell Belchertown selectmen about a declaration two days after he said Candaras plans to let her plans be known. This date for Candaras, January 21, has not risen to any particular buzz in the Valley politosphere, although it could be real. Either way, Harrington is widely seen as running for Candaras’ seat.
Most intriguingly, several sources had agreed Harrington was expected to run as an independent bypassing any primary. It is a risky gambit for a district that has listed leftward since Republican Brian Lees vacated it in 2006. However, now sources close to Harrington contend that the Ludlow politician will instead run as a Democrat.
With every Springfield precinct voting for Elizabeth Warren in 2012, including those in Ward 7 which has many Republicans, Longmeadow going for Deval Patrick in 2010 and countless others voting for President Obama twice, it would be very difficult for a Republican to take the seat back. Indeed its history as a Republican seat is limited to one man who did not face challenges even in banner Democratic years.
Lees only narrowly won the reconfigured seat in 1988 against none other than then-City Councilor and eventual ex-con Francis Keough. After two Democrats were thrashed in succeeding elections, Lees never faced a challenge for fourteen years until he left it voluntarily. Thus, the question is how does Harrington change the arithmetic of the seat that would favor the Democrat.
If it is Boronski-Harrington-Puppolo, there may not be much ideological diversity. But that race no longer appears to be happening. Were Puppolo to beat back Harrington and any other Dems, his better name recognition would give him the advantage—assuming he does not sustain any damage in any primary that could yet materialize. However, Puppolo needs to actually win the primary, something that can no longer be taken for granted.