As MassDems chair Gus Bickford steps down, governor backs former state rep

Massachusetts Democratic Party Chair Gus Bickford plans to step down in April, roughly midway through his four-year term, following a run as party chief during which Democrats made significant gains on Beacon Hill.

In concert with the news about Bickford's plans, Gov. Maura Healey said she supports longtime party operative Steve Kerrigan to serve as the next party chair and Kerrigan said he was grateful "for her confidence in me to lead our party." Kerrigan is president of Worcester's Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center and ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor (2014) and state rep (2008).

The party announced Bickford's plans on Saturday, saying he will step down at the next state committee meeting on April 24. Bickford was first elected chair in 2016 and reelected in 2020.

With the election of Healey and Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll, Democrats in November took back the governor's office and swept the six statewide constitutional offices as well as nine U.S. House races. Democrats also built on their legislative supermajorities, pushing Republicans to Beacon Hill's fringe.

Democrats flipped 19 legislative, county and statewide seats from Republican to Democrat over the last six years, Bickford said. In addition, while some Democrats have had trouble with primary opponents, no Democratic incumbent has lost a general election for a legislative or statewide race during Bickford's tenure, which overlapped with a period of Republican Party infighting and struggles under former chairman Jim Lyons.

"Under Gus' steadfast leadership, Massachusetts Democrats made history up and down the ballot time and time again — electing more women and people of color than ever before," said Sen. Elizabeth Warren. "As one of the most data savvy campaign strategists in America, he's a political mechanic who fights from the heart and knows how to win."

Bickford said, "I am so proud to be able to step down as chair with more Democrats in the Legislature than when I began, and with an incredible team of Democrats in every statewide office, but especially with our historic Governor Healey. This is not goodbye. I will continue to be engaged in Massachusetts and national politics, and hope to see many of my fellow Democrats on the campaign trail."

Amy Carnevale, the new chair of the Massachusetts Republican Party, told Jon Keller of CBS Boston in an interview that aired Sunday morning that "we need to get our party back focused on winning elections." The party "needs to support candidates who are electable," she said, while also adding that "my job as chair is to support all Republicans across the board, so that's what I'll continue to do."

Carnevale plans to focus on fiscal issues, she said. She predicted "serious consequences" from a voter-approved surtax on household income above $1 million per year due to taxation impacts stemming from wealthy individuals leaving the state.

Asked if the state budget was too big, Carnevale said "certainly."

"I think there are savings that can be had at the state budget level," she said.

Gov. Charlie Baker, a popular Republican who opted against seeking a third term, last July signed a $52.7 billion fiscal 2023 budget, vetoing less than half a million dollars of spending. The budget raised spending by $5.1 billion or 10.7 percent over the $47.6 billion annual budget passed for fiscal 2022.

Managing the state budget when revenue growth is slowing and special interests are rallying to raise spending is shaping up as an early test for Healey.

The new chair also plugged a race that may show whether the GOP has any early strength in 2023, touting James Dilisio as "strong Republican candidate" in the Feb. 28 Attleboro mayor's election.

"The party is putting their attention in that race, and you know [it] may be the first win in our column," she said.

The mayor's job is up for grabs because former Mayor Paul Heroux, a former state rep, defeated longtime Republican Sheriff Thomas Hodgson in November.

Correction: WBUR's headline misstated how many terms Bickford served as party chair.



More from WBUR

Listen Live