When Preparing Run against Humason, Bring Record to Full Boil…
WESTFIELD—Overshadowed in large part by the hot senate contest next door, the 2nd Hampden & Hampshire Senate election has been a more heated affair as a Democrat seeks one of the few Republican senate seats that could flip. Republican Senator Don Humason is facing a stiff challenge from Holyoke patrolman and realtor Democrat Patrick Leahy.
Because Humason is the incumbent, protecting a seat he picked up in a special election last year, he is in the unenviable position of defending his record in a purple seat. Humason has a bulwark in Westfield, the city he represented for over a decade and enjoys reputation as jovial and omnipresent. Leahy, however, has offered a stiffer, more aggressive challenge than David Bartley, the Holyoke city councilor Democrats nominated last year.
The Second Hampden & Hampshire District includes four precincts in Chicopee as well as Agawam, Easthampton, Granville, Holyoke, Montgomery, Russell, Southampton, Southwick, Westfield and Tolland.
Their appearances together begin cordially enough, but often become, sometimes suddenly, a dispute over Humason’s efficacy. That situation is unfamiliar territory for Humason who faced weak challenges is ever for his rep seat, and easily dispatch Bartley last year.
During a Westfield News sponsored debate Wednesday night at the vocational high school here, the pressure rose on questions about the candidates’ respective experience.
Leahy noted that as a cop and a realtor, he had real world public safety and business experience. “We need to have people with real world experience in those fields,” Leahy said later dinging Humason for being a creature of Beacon Hill.
Humason, careful to praise his opponent’s career in policing, said he had held lots of jobs, although few as an adult were in the private sector. “I work in Boston, I live here,” Humason said in an attempt to parry Leahy’s charge of disconnect.
But Leahy had none of that, saying that Humason says one thing in Westfield and does another in Boston.
Leahy has seized on Humason’s vote against the commonwealth’s new gun law, thin legislative portfolio while promising, if elected, to stop housing homeless families in motel. A loaded question that seemingly accused Leahy of wanting to start an expensive homeless program (he wants transitional housing rather than millions spent on motels), devolved into crosstalk between the two over who was to blame for starting the homeless hotel program.
Humason blamed Governor Deval Patrick, whom he called Leahy’s governor, although the problem stretches at least far enough back to when Republican Charlie Baker was at the helm of the department of Health and Human Services.
The following question from the moderator, posed to Humason, asked what was in the legislative pipeline. Humason mentioned no bills, but focused instead on plans for the budget. When it was his turn, Leahy pounced. It was an opportunity for the Holyoke Democrat to note the minimal number of bills Humason had sponsored. Leahy focused on the lack of effort, not a lack of results, as Humason could easily deflect that and blame the intransigence of the uber-Democratic legislature.
However, that argument is fine line to walk as Holyoke’s stable of Democrats turned down contests with Humason’s predecessor, Mike Knapik, for nearly twenty years. Knapik avoided challenges or even appearing vulnerable by cutting a moderate, perhaps liberal image. Among his last votes were those in support of the transportation funding bill, which included indexing the gas tax to inflation. Both Humason and Leahy support Question 1, which would repeal indexing.
It leads to an odd dance where both Leahy compares Humason unfavorably with Knapik’s effectiveness, while Humason, a former Knapik aide, ties himself closely to his predecessor. Voters might forgive Humason for not building up a record over eleven month as senator, but the void Leahy alleges of Humason as a representative is harder to cover over. When Humason describes that record, Leahy says Humson rode Knapik’s coattails.
But even tying himself to Knapik has its limits. When the Westfield debate returned again to housing the homeless, Humason somewhat nostalgically referred to an era before “big government” started taking care of everything, when churches and local government handled such matters. Even in Westfield, the more conservative of the major cities in the district, it is hard to fathom Knapik saying that out loud.
Humason was not without his moments. While declining at Leahy’s insistence to explain his vote against the gun bill despite being approved by the Gun Owners Action League of Massachusetts, Humason noted he had that group’s endorsement. Likewise, it was more plausible for Humason to blame Democrats in general for failing to restore local aide to pre-recession levels.
But even that exposed Humason to Leahy critiques, who again noted the incumbent’s tendency to vote against the budget, but celebrate items within it.
If Westfield was simmering, the debate at the Holyoke Senior Center Monday was on full boil. Part of the debate was Lincoln-Douglas style, with questions posed to one another. Humason charged Leahy was out of touch because his consultant, Ryan McCollum, was from outside the district.
Leahy replied he hired a consultant for technical functions like producing mailers and fundraising, not to learn about the district. Leahy countercharged that Humason was using his taxpayer-funded senate staff to run his campaign. Humason’s campaign finances also featured out of district spending, including canvassers from Eastern Massachusetts.
Leahy pointed out that Humason used campaign funds to buy a tuxedo days before his wedding. Humason defended himself to Masslive saying he bought it for official functions, but said he was married in it, too. Personal use of campaign funds is prohibited, but use for official functions is allowed, leaving Humason’s tux in a legal gray area.
Humason took pleasure in recalling a call with incoming Senate President Stanley Rosenberg in which the Amherst Democrat said he expected to see Humason in January, even as he was endorsing Leahy.
Leahy kept needling, asking why Humason voted against a new buffer zone and remained unrepentant about opposing marriage equality for same-sex couples. “I listen to the voters, I listen to my conscience, I listen to my God. Sometimes you just have to take those votes. I’m comfortable with that, Pat”
Humason argued he was voting his conscience and neither his party or governor pressured him. However, Humason was in the House when Mitt Romney pressed the legislature to overturn the decision legalizing same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.
The back and forth continued with Humason mostly on his heels, striking back that his record as presented by Leahy was a misrepresentation. Clearly exasperated and seemingly conceding his tenure rarely found the spotlight, Humason said, “I don’t toot my own horn.”
Leahy apologized if pointing out his opponent’s record seemed a little rough, promising sardonically, next time, “I’ll be gentler.” In his closing, he asserted, “I’m the only candidate who is talking about what they are going to get done.”
Some argue whether Leahy comes across as too hot in hitting Humason. It might cost Leahy some votes, but on balance it probably gains them. Without the contrast of Humason’s record, the former rep maintains his wide advantage in Westfield and is unquestioned outside of Democratic Easthampton and Holyoke.
It is clear that Humason is taking the challenge seriously, too. In Westfield Wednesday night, the moderator asked who each supported in the city’s rep race, a repeat of the special election wherein Westfield sent its first Democrat—another McCollum client—to Beacon Hill in more than thirty years.
Leahy said without hesitation he backed incumbent John Velis. Humason demurred, saying that he was running his own race and that was his focus. While Velis faces a potentially tight challenge from City Councilor Dan Allie again, Humason’s refusal to answer, after backing Allie in the special, betrayed an ominous fear.
Humason may no longer be the favored local boy with the hometown spirit and Leahy could give the new guy, Velis, a big political bear hug. But Humason, who still namechecked Velis during debates, could not.