The Republican Minority In The Mass. Legislature Shed 5 Seats In 2020
Democrats appeared headed into the next lawmaking session with two more seats on Beacon Hill, a slight expansion to their veto-proof majorities in both chambers amid national election currents that might have pushed the party to aim higher.
Voters in two Republican-held House districts and one Republican-held Senate district selected Democratic candidates in the general elections, while the GOP flipped a House seat recently represented by a Democrat, leaving a net gain of two for Democrats who already control more than three-quarters of the state Legislature.
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito campaigned for several in their party running for legislative seats. The governor expressed mixed feelings about the outcome.
“There are obviously a lot of headwinds in this election,” said Baker following a ribbon cutting in Haverhill on Thursday. He said his “batting average” was pretty good.
“We won far more races in places where we supported people than we lost. But obviously, you hate to lose any of those seats because they make a big difference in terms of creating what we like to see, which is a sort of a frothy debate on Beacon Hill,” Baker added.
The election night shift is smaller than two years ago, when Democrats added three seats, despite occurring in an election where Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden rolled up big numbers over President Donald Trump, who is unpopular in Massachusetts and remains locked in the tight national race with Biden for the presidency.
However, Democrats had already flipped three other seats — one House, two Senate — in special elections earlier this year to replace lawmakers who resigned for other opportunities, so their projected ranks for the 2021-2022 session are five members larger than the start of the current session.
Several races were too close to call Tuesday night, including one of the eight open House seats where incumbent representatives are not seeking additional terms. On Wednesday, that seat flipped blue: North Attleborough Town Councilor Adam Scanlon, the Democratic candidate for the 14th Bristol District, claimed victory and said the race's GOP candidate, fellow Councilor John Simmons, had called him to concede.
"While we won't know the absolute final result of our race for some time due to technical difficulties and late mail in ballots, we do know that we have won due to current trends in the results we have so far," Scanlon wrote in a Facebook post around 9 a.m. "Early this morning I was grateful for the kind words spoken by Councilor Simmons as he conceded the race."
His win notches the district for Democrats — and ensures that a Poirier will not represent it — for the first time in more than four decades. Republican Rep. Elizabeth Poirier of North Attleborough, who did not seek reelection, has held the seat since winning a 1999 special election. Her husband, Kevin, won 11 terms before that, dating back to the 1970s.
The results in one district could remain unresolved, though. AP vote tallies listed Democrat Jake Oliveira of Ludlow as the winner by about 130 votes in the 7th Hampden District, but Republican candidate James "Chip" Harrington said Wednesday he was speaking with attorneys about potential disparities in the vote-counting.
Harrington said he had been declared the winner Tuesday night before Belchertown's town clerk indicated the initial results were erroneous. He also said that, although the AP's count says 100 percent of precincts are reporting, there could be some outstanding mail-in ballots whose results may not become clear until Saturday and that he might seek a recount in Belchertown.
"We're going to wait to see what happens with these mail-in ballots because it's been up, it's been down, this whole election season has been one for the record books," Harrington said.
"I don't know how things will shape out in the end. Jake Oliveira certainly has the lead right now, and when the time comes that we have it, I will congratulate Jake and we'll move on," he said in a video posted to Facebook. "But until that time comes, we're not ready to make that final determination right now because we still have some more outstanding ballots."
Other races whose results were unclear Tuesday all broke in favor of incumbents. Rep. Kathy LaNatra of Kingston and Sens. Anne Gobi of Spencer and Becca Rausch of Needham, all Democrats, held onto victories over Republican challengers, while Republican Reps. Timothy Whelan of Brewster, Jay Barrows of Mansfield, Sheila Harrington of Groton, David DeCoste of Norwell and House Minority Leader Brad Jones of North Reading all secured additional terms by varying margins.
After the 2018 elections, the House started the current two-year session with 127 Democrats, 32 Republicans and one independent, Rep. Susannah Whipps of Athol. Its balance is set to shift to 129 Democrats and 30 Republicans, plus Whipps, after the special and general elections.
In the Senate, a chamber that had 34 Democrat and six Republican members after the 2018 elections is poised to start the next session with 37 Democrats and just three Republicans.
The districts that flipped as a result of Tuesday's voting were not connected by any clear geographic or political pattern: one was on Cape Cod, one was along the Rhode Island border, one was in western Massachusetts, and one was in the central part of the state.
Scanlon will join the Legislature as one of eight new representatives who topped contested general elections to fill open seats where incumbent lawmakers are not seeking additional terms.
The seven others, including Republican Kelly Pease's victory for the House seat most recently held by Westfield Democrat Sen. John Velis, had all been decided late Tuesday night.
Among the House's newcomers will be Kip Diggs, the Barnstable Democrat who flipped a seat held by Republican Rep. William Crocker for the last four years. He is in line to be the first African-American state legislator from Cape Cod, his campaign and the Democratic Party said.
"I want to be the first African American to go to Beacon Hill," Diggs told the Barnstable Patriot in September. "My community has given to me. I need to give back to them. This isn't a job — it's personal. I'm tired of being the underdog. I want everyone to be successful. We need to teach our children to be winners. Kids are our future. We need to hear them, we need to listen to them."
In the 1990s, Diggs was a professional boxer who claimed the North American Boxing Federation and International Boxing Organization world welterweight title. While boxing, he started a construction transportation business, his campaign said, and Diggs now works as a construction inspector for Barnstable.
Another major shakeup on Tuesday was Lunenburg Democrat John Cronin's victory over incumbent Republican Sen. Dean Tran in northern central Massachusetts, a result that ensures the GOP will swear in only three members — the fewest at the start of a two-year session since at least 1970 — in January.
The legislative elections were yet another example of the massive advantage that Beacon Hill incumbents hold.
Three-quarters of the Legislature, totaling 150 lawmakers across both chambers, sailed to re-election with no opposition on Tuesday. Excluding the eight open districts, only two of the 42 representatives and senators who had general-election challenges - Tran and Crocker - lost their bids for another term.
Just two incumbents, Sen. James Welch and Rep. David Nangle, were toppled in the primary.
Nangle lost more than six months after he was indicted on a range of federal fraud charges, and Tran in March was stripped of his assistant minority whip position after a Senate Ethics Committee investigation concluded his State House staff had been performing campaign work during legislative business hours.
Rausch, a Needham Democrat, claimed victory at noon Wednesday over Franklin Republican Matt Kelly, who was attempting to flip the Senate district that snakes from Wayland down into Attleboro back to the GOP after Rausch wrested it from former Republican Sen. Richard Ross two years ago.
"While we still do not have fully final results, our internal results tell us that the outcome of this race is clear. I am deeply honored and truly humbled to be reelected as state senator," Rausch said during a live Facebook video. She added, "This victory is a resounding 'yes' for truth, science, civility and policymaking that uplifts our individual and collective humanity."
Pro-choice activists like those at NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts celebrated Tuesday's results and said that every incumbent who has supported the so-called ROE Act expanding abortion access in Massachusetts won their contests. The group said the pro-choice contingent on Beacon Hill will grow with Democrat John Cronin set to unseat Republican Sen. Dean Tran.
"This morning we woke up, just as we did on Primary Day and during our special elections, clear that across the Commonwealth supporting reproductive freedom and the ROE Act are winning issues," Executive Director Rebecca Hart Holder said. She added, "Over and over, Bay State voters have made their support for the ROE Act clear by electing leaders who are committed to removing politically-motivated barriers to abortion care ... We look forward to working with the pro-choice champions in the state legislature to remove barriers to abortion care by passing the ROE Act."
House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka said in a joint statement this week that they are "committed" to taking up a bill related to abortion and reproductive health care at some point in the next two months, though they did not say whether they intend to debate the ROE Act, which has been cosponsored by a majority of members in each branch but has been sitting before the Judiciary Committee for more than a year.
With additional reporting by WBUR's Steve Brown
This article was originally published on November 05, 2020.