Mass. 2018 Election Menu Shaping Up As Feast For Voters

Voters make at the voting booths at the Hellenic Center in Watertown, Mass. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Voters make at the voting booths at the Hellenic Center in Watertown, Mass. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

The 2017 elections may have lacked the drama and intrigue for many voters looking for a reason to be engaged. But next year's cycle should more than make up for it.

Care about transportation and the MBTA? Then maybe the governor's race will be the one to watch.

Want to cast a vote to protest, or support, President Donald Trump? U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is up for re-election, as are the nine members of the state's all-Democrat House delegation.

Or maybe you're frustrated with taxes and wages. Too high? Too low? An initiative to tax the wealthy at a higher rate on income over $1 million is likely to be on the ballot, as could a question to lower the state sales tax to 5 percent and another to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The 2018 elections may have something for everybody, and they're closer than they appear. Now that the polls have closed and mayors across the state have been chosen, focus will shift to the statewide elections, which typically pack a bigger punch than odd-numbered election years.

The general election may be a year away, but there's a lot that must happen first.

Gov. Charlie Baker has repeatedly said he would make the decision this fall whether to seek a second term, but barring something unforeseen the governor is building a war chest like someone ready to go to battle and is widely expected to run for re-election.

If and when it happens, Baker will become the first elected Republican governor to announce for re-election since his mentor Gov. William Weld did it on his way to a lopsided re-election win in 1994. And that's not the only reason the 2018 contest for governor has already started drawing comparisons to that race.

Weld faced off in 1994 against Democrat Mark Roosevelt, a prominent member of the House who a year earlier helped write the landmark Education Reform Act that ushered in standardized testing to Massachusetts.

Roosevelt emerged that year from a Democratic field of three men, including George Bachrach and Michael Barrett – to challenge a popular Republican governor with environmental advocate Robert Massie on the ticket as his running mate for lieutenant governor.

Twenty-four years later, Massie is one of three men running to be on the top of the ticket for Democrats along with former state budget chief Jay Gonzalez and Newton Mayor Setti Warren.

Like Weld who had to share the ballot with a high profile Senate race between U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy and Mitt Romney, Baker will also be challenged to navigate a partisan-charged Senate contest between Warren and whoever emerges from the field of four Republicans so far looking to take her on.

Baker, however, will face a different set of headwinds than Weld, who ran during the "Republican Revolution" that saw the GOP win back the House and Senate midway through President Bill Clinton's first term, as well as a majority of governorships. Instead, Baker, who has been working overtime burnishing his bipartisan credentials, could face the opposite with an electorate in Massachusetts chomping at the bit to send an unpopular Republican president a message.

So far, four of the state's eight incumbent members of Congress expected to seek re-election appear to have drawn challengers next year, and Rep. Niki Tsongas's decision to retire after her term expires has sparked a free-for-all in the Third Congressional District.

As many as nine Democrats may eventually get into the race for Tsongas's seat, and three Republicans have set up committees to run for the seat.

Warren announced her plans to run for re-election in January in what could be a precursor to a presidential bid in 2020, but four Republicans are hoping to stop her in her tracks. Rep. Geoff Diehl, of Whitman, jumped in early representing the Trump wing of the GOP in Massachusetts, while former Romney aide Beth Lindstrom and businessman John Kingston are angling for the party establishment's support. A fourth candidate, Shiva Ayyadurai, is also running.

All four will be put through the gauntlet in April when the Massachusetts Republican Party will hold its election year convention, and each candidate will have to win over at least 15 percent of the voting delegates to secure a spot on the primary ballot.

Two months later, the Democrats running for governor will face a similar test with their party faithful at the Democratic Party Convention in Worcester in June where they will also have to win at least 15 percent.

By then, the electoral picture for down ballot races will also be much clearer. Attorney General Maura Healey, Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, Auditor Suzanne Bump and Secretary of State William Galvin are all expected to seek re-election, but little interest has been shown thus far from challengers.

Two Republican attorneys from Cape Cod — Sandwich resident Dan Shores and Bourne resident Jay McMahon — have announced plans to challenge Healey, and Democrat Quentin Palfrey is running for lieutenant governor. More will likely emerge in the coming months.

Democrats here are hoping that in addition to the national political climate their candidates will also be able to capitalize on several ballot initiatives that could appeal to progressives and provide even greater motivation to show up at the polls.

The Raise Up Coalition is behind two initiatives that could make it all the way to the ballot to gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour from $11 and to guarantee paid family medical leave. Combined with millionaire's tax initiative, the trio could be a potent combination of punches for liberal activists and candidates that support their mission.

Before the proposed constitutional amendment to impose a surtax on income over $1 million reaches the ballot, however, the courts must decide a challenge brought by business groups looking to disqualify the amendment from the ballot.

The Supreme Judicial Court plans to hear that case on Feb. 5

Secretary of State William Galvin on Monday encouraged voters to take Tuesday's elections seriously, but laid out relatively low expectations for a cycle when the marquee race – Boston Mayor Marty Walsh's re-election bid against City Councilor Tito Jackson – failed to generate much enthusiasm.

"We frequently see large turnout in our federal elections, and that's wonderful, but these elections are something that really hit home so we hope that people will participate if they can," he said.



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