Analysis: Incumbent Dems’ Opening Arguments, Now in Previews…
HOLYOKE—With state Democratic primaries, rising to full boil, including many against incumbents, candidates are missing few opportunities to meet party activists. The 413-based chapter launch for the College Democrats of Massachusetts was no different.
On the surface, the event was not explicitly about primaries. US Representative Richard Neal spoke separately from his Democratic primary opponent, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, who spoke on a panel with local mayors. US Senator Ed Markey talked up the battle to save the planet from climate change—and Donald Trump—hours after one primary challenger, labor attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan, spoke.
Still, the event at Holyoke Community College offered a microcosm of the evolving races Democratic primary voters must resolve next September.
Markey and Neal had different situations and tasks. Neal’s appearance was a refusal to cede a cohort that may gravitate toward Morse.
Morse spoke at Massachusetts College Dems’ convention in Worcester this spring. Since announcing in July, Morse has underscored Medicare for All and the Green New Deal (GND), both popular among younger Democrats.
Neal did not pander, though. Though supportive of aspiration in politics—and open to proposals Morse is campaigning on—the incumbent stated that legislative process doesn’t always work that way. On Medicare for All, for example, the “tricky” part was convincing 160 million insured people to give up their status quo.
On the GND, Neal offered a bit of nuance.
“I share the same existential belief about the threat of climate change,” he said. However, Neal’s focus is on bills, some his committee will write, not the GND itself.
Understanding legislation can block some elements of bad bills, too.
After the GOP had the votes for their 2017 tax bill, Neal began triaging programs that would get the axe to finance cuts for the wealthy and corporations.
“Kevin, you’re not going to let the low-income tax credit go by the wayside,” he recalled saying to then-Ways & Means Chair Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican. Neal and Democrats went to outside groups and the public to save, among others, low-income housing credits, historic tax credits and the new market tax credits. All survived.
For Markey, the appearance let him reconnect with a key constituency: young progressives. While Liss-Riordan and businessman Steve Pemberton have been running for months, Newton Congressman Joseph Kennedy, III’s entry has become the principal threat.
With 34 years between Markey, 73, and Kennedy, the latter is making a generational argument. However, Markey’s environmental records may give him an edge with younger progressives. This year he sponsored the GND with New York Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to tackle climate change.
Markey’s trip to the 413 on Saturday was not just about the base. As Kennedy’s kickoff tour made clear, the generational argument is not everything. Kennedy is promising to be present and visible in all corners of Massachusetts.
Markey supporters here have taken umbrage at the suggestion he has ghosted the 413. His campaign pointed to a quintet of visits this year and local backers highlight town halls in years past.
Earlier, Markey met with voters in Pittsfield. Then he sat for an interview with Focus Springfield, the city’s public access network, and mingled with residents at a block party at Court Square in downtown.
Huge thank you to US Senator Edward J. Markey for stopping by our studio today to chat with us on Government Matters. Look out for the full program, which will be released online Tuesday.
Posted by Focus Springfield Community TV on Saturday, October 5, 2019
At HCC, Markey opened with his path from being the son of a milkman to Law School and later the US House. These opportunities are the same things immigrant families want today.
“The accents were different, but the aspirations were clearly the same for that family as for the Markey family,” he said. “The 21st century is going to be graded by how well we do for that family.”
However, Markey also drilled down GND specifics. When asked what concrete form the proposal—which is really a statement of goals and a mandate to write legislation—would take, he was ready.
Among examples was legislation he and former Congressman Henry Waxman had passed—and the Senate ignored—during Barack Obama’s first term. Markey also said fuel economy standards would rise until electric vehicles could took over. He cited stats about the explosion in electric car sales and said buildings would become much more energy efficient.
Markey’s audience loved it, but his opposition did not follow to counter him.
By comparison, the Neal-Morse dynamic was complicated.
Obviously, Morse, 30, was more College Dems’ peer than Neal, 70. Yet, neither really laid into one another. Although this was ostensibly a campaign appearance, Neal answered questions a range of questions. Only while discussing the aspirational in politics did he seem to obliquely acknowledge his opponent’s pitch for forceful progressive policy.
Morse did not speak alone—he was on a panel with Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle and Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz. Consequently, his campaign for Congress came up until relatively late. Municipal matters were the panel’s focus.
“It’s the closest relationship to the people you represent,” Morse said of being mayor.
That still let him highlight issues central to his bid. Morse discussed making Holyoke greener and reusing the Mt. Tom coal plant site as a solar farm at length. When he discussed his campaign directly, he did draw a direct contrast with Neal’s more painstaking approach.
Harkening back to his first run, Morse said people had lost faith in Holyoke government. As mayor, he opened the doors to City Hall. Likewise, he said, people have lost faith in the feds. His bid was about restoring that lost trust.
Morse also took direct aim at Neal’s chairmanship of the House Ways & Means Committee.
“The fundamental question I ask is, “power for who?’” he stated in rhetorical response to arguments voters should not trade away Neal’s chairmanship.
Based purely on applause volume, Morse won the audience.
That may not explain the whole picture, however. Neal has encountered hostility in audiences past, specifically on the GND. That did not happen here.
Rather, based on questions Neal received, there was genuine interest in the legislative process works and how Neal got his start in politics—Neal saw JFK campaign for president in Springfield in 1960. (The mayors got the latter questions as well).
One attendee asked they identify and stop bad things in bills—or “poison pills”—from passing. Neal credited good, competent young staff who keep an eye for landmines in legislation.
Perhaps Neal’s ability to maintain if not completely win this audience stems from his time as a college professor—he still teaches a UMass-Amherst class. (Morse does, too).
Without a rival in nearby and serving in an entity that has basically ceased to function, Markey may have had a freer hand to make a more existential case about the issues and Donald Trump.
Encapsulating the challenges of environmental degradation and inequality, Markey observed, “Black & brown people breathe different air than white people.”
“Mitch McConnell doesn’t even let us have votes on the Senate floor,” Markey said. The body is just a factor floor for Trump’s judicial nominees.
At that point, Markey began turning a bit away from issues and even his own reelection to emphasize a broader point that Trump had to be defeated.
“That’s your generation’s challenge,” he said.
Needless to say, they are welcome to be inspired and help Markey win re-nomination, too.