Whistle Stops: Some Grand Old Conundra for a Grand Old Party…
Whistle Stops is an occasional series of shorter hits from the legislative campaign trail.
by Michael Lachenmeyer
Within the national Republican Party, few figures contrast with President Donald Trump as much as Governor Charlie Baker. Where Trump’s policies tack towards the right edge of the political spectrum, Baker steers towards the ideological center. Where Trump seeks to provoke conflict, Baker seems to find bipartisan compromises.
The divide between these two men has created complications within the Massachusetts GOP. Local and statewide party officials effectively must pick between two incompatible identities. Whichever choice will inevitably alienate them from some voters. This dynamic could play out in two Republican primaries for the 3rd and 4th Hampden House Districts.
Since coming to office Trump has consistently been one of the most unpopular presidents in modern American history. Charlie Baker has been the most popular governor in the United States for much of Trump’s first term. In 2016 Trump lost Massachusetts by 27 percentage points to Hillary Clinton, while Charlie Baker won it by 33.5 in 2018. This data presents risk and reward for down ballot candidates, even in districts where the GOP has done well.
In the 3rd Hampden House District, which covers the towns of Agawam, Granville and Southwick a two-term Agawam City Councilor Dino Mercadante is challenging incumbent Nicholas Boldyga. As recently as 2018, Boldyga and Mercadante appeared to be political allies, ostensibly supporting each other in their respective campaigns.
Yet, throughout 2019 and 2020 Boldyga took actions that probably endeared him to his party’s ideological fringe.
For example in 2019, Boldgya voted against a bill banning conversion therapy for minors, which passed the Massachusetts statehouse 147 to 8. Furthermore, on May 26, 2020, Boldyga signed a letter circulated by the Chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party, calling on Governor Baker to end “ten weeks of lockdowns” and “reopen Massachusetts”.
As a result, Mercadante could position himself as a more moderate alternative to Boldyga for Republican voters in his district. Having advertised ties on social media both to Democrats like State Senator John Velis and the region’s former Republican state senator Westfield Mayor Don Humason, Mercadante has receipts to make such an argument.
More generally, as the proprietor of 911 Burgers & Hot Dogs, Mercadante is a well-known small business owner within his community.
At the moment, Boldyga enjoys a large cash advantage in the race, with $13,643.84 on hand. Mercadante has $2,494.27. This is according to the latest reports filed with Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF).
In the 4th Hampden House District, which covers the entirety of the city of Westfield, Kelly Pease will confront the Westfield City Councilor Dan Allie in the open GOP primary. Pease has recently served as one Humason’s former legislative aides when the now-mayor was in the State Senate.
The seat is open following now-former Rep Velis’ election to Humason’s senate seat.
Although Pease is a relative newcomer to Westfield electoral politics, he has held political office before. When Pease was 21, he was elected to the Chester Board of Selectmen. He did not stay in Chester for very long. Pease spent most of his career as an active-duty military intelligence officer. He moved to Westfield three years ago to help take care of his mother.
Politically, Pease has apparently positioned himself as a “caring” conservative, emphasizing the importance of a quality public education system and expanding infrastructure spending in his platform. Protecting the second amendment is the only cultural issue he has touted.
Pease, in his social media, also features his former boss and Velis.
By comparison, Allie has shown much more sympathy for the right-wing of the Republican Party. For example, on May 28, Allie shared the same letter Nick Boldyga signed calling for Governor Baker to end the statewide lockdowns.
Allie has been strongly against the Transportation and Climate Initiative, a Baker supported program which includes new fees on fuel suppliers.
Unlike Pease, Allie has been a presence in area politics for more than 8 years. In 2012 and 2016, Allie was elected as a delegate to the Republican National Convention. The follow year, he won an ant-large seat on the Westfield City Council. He has since won reelection four times.
In 2014, Allie ran against Velis for the 4th Hampden House seat twice. Velis won both times, the first a special election and the second the general.
While on the Council, Westfield made headlines in 2018, because of a perfluorooctanoic acid (PFAS) leak from Barnes Air National Guard Base that contaminated part of the city’s water supply. In 2018, the majority of the city council voted to pass a $13 million bond to provide filtration for four of the affected wells. Yet, the debate over the measure was bitter and it only passed after three votes were taken on the bond. Allie was in the opposition every time.
In 2019, Allie went to Washington with fellow Westfield Councilors to meet with Representatives Richard Neal and James McGovern. The councilors sought to expedite the city’s civil proceedings against the Department of Defense. In September 2019, the US Air Force paid the city $1.3 million as part of a larger set of costs to mitigate the contamination.
During that trip to Washington, Allie also took a tour of the White House. He praised Donald Trump’s administration for its receptiveness towards municipal officials, but they do not appear to have met.
Recently, Allie has been working to put two public policy questions on the ballot in the Westfield-only the 4th Hampden District.
The first ask voters whether the State Rep should introduce legislation to increase Local Aid funding to at least 2007 levels. The second asks the state to increase funding for road maintenance by approximately $100 million.
Currently, Allie enjoys a sizable cash advantage over Pease, with $6,059.63 on hand compared to Pease’s $3,681.30, according to the OCPF.
Which direction voters go in the primary could have an impact on the GOP’s success come November. The presidential contest could ripple down the ballot.
In 2016, Trump flipped Agawam and Westfield for the first time in a presidential election since the mid-’80s. However, with Joe Biden now polling approximately 9 points ahead of Donald Trump nationally it seems unlikely that Trump will be able to repeat that feat.
If that’s the case, a more moderate Republican may fare better down ballot. If he can maintain that edge in these districts, more conservative nominees may do well.
The primary election is scheduled for September 1, 2020.
The winner of the 3rd Hampden GOP primary will face Democrat Kerri O’Connor, an Agawam School Committee member. The 4th Hampden Republican nominee will face comms professional and Democratic activist Matt Garlo.