Running unopposed in the Bay State and beyond

What’s the point of having an election if only one person wants to run? That’s just what will happen in five congressional “races” come November: US Reps. Michael Capuano, Richard Neal, Stephen Lynch, James McGovern, and Joseph Kennedy are all running unopposed.  

Certainly, the prospect of spending millions to dislodge a comfortable incumbent or even a high-profile newcomer is a problem, one that puts off potential candidates in federal races.  In 2012, Kennedy raised well over $4 million to his opponent Sean Bielat’s $866,000.


But democracy isn’t doing any better in the state legislature. Although running for a state seat is a far less expensive proposition, so many state senators and representatives are running unopposed that Bostonmagazine’s David Bernstein quips that it “looks like ‘unopposed’ is the new majority party.”

If there is a ray of sunshine, it comes courtesy of MassNumbers, where Brent Benson finds an uptick in contested Senate races. In 2014, 19 of the 40 Senate districts will have real contests, compared to just 16 in 2012.

That nearly 50 percent increase is the result of four open Senate seats, a development that eliminates the incumbency advantage in name recognition and fundraising. Of those contests, the race to replace Sen. Gale Candaras, who is running for Hampden County Register of Probate, has attracted a whopping seven candidates; the contest to succeed Sen. Barry Finegold, a candidate for state treasurer, has pulled in four candidates.

Incumbency and money are just two factors in dissuading potential office holders. The leisurely pace of the legislative process on Beacon Hill and the absence of debate in either chamber should be factors three and four, but Massachusetts voters are, almost alarmingly, indifferent to those issues. An impotent state Republican party that can’t seem to recruit viable candidates also contributes to the Democratic lock on almost all races in the Bay State.

Massachusetts isn’t alone, however. The “unopposed” party is doing quite well elsewhere. A College of William and Mary study found that, in the 2012 elections, state legislatures nationwide had the lowest numbers of contested races in a decade.

Two years later the problem is very much with us. In Hawaii, 14 out of 51 state Senate or House districts do not have challengers. In Ohio, at least one congressional candidate decided to take a risk. After redistricting, with her once progressive Democratic district now represented by a conservative Republican US House member, an Oberlin teacher mounted and won a write-in campaign for the Democratic nomination. “If there is no one running against him, there will be no dialogue,” said Janet Garrett of her unlikely Fourth Congressional District run against US Rep. Jim Jordan.

But the Garretts of the world are more the exception than the rule. In Oregon, where several legislative and municipal candidates are running unopposed, Jim Moore, a Pacific University political science professor, explained the problem this way: “There used to be a risk-taking culture where people would run for office even if they knew they were going to lose,” Moore told the Statesman Journal, a Salem, Oregon, area newspaper. “We have candidates now who are focused too much on getting the job rather than representing ideas.”



House Speaker Robert DeLeo, concerned about a falloff in tax revenue, proposed an economic development bill that offers $7 million less for Gateway Cities than a similar bill filed by Gov. Deval Patrick, the Eagle-Tribune reports. State House News focuses on what’s not in the bill: local liquor license control, a ban on noncompete clauses, and a visa program.

DeLeo’s gun violence legislation, meanwhile, draws a crowd at a hearing, CommonWealth reports.

Channelling former state inspector general Greg Sullivan, Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby says legislation to authorize a $1.1 billion expansion of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center is a boondoggle of a bill filled with sweetheart provisions that don’t pass a reasonable smell test for good governance.


An online survey commissioned by the Worcester Chamber of Commerce asks college students what they want downtown, the Telegram & Gazette reports.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh meets with college leaders in his effort to have them provide the city addresses of all students living off-campus in the wake of a Globe spotlight series documenting dismal and dangerous conditions in Boston rental units catering to students.  

Adrian Walker says Boston, rather than tinkering around the edges with its residency rules for city employees, as Walsh has proposed, should scrap completely the regulations, which he says have outlived their usefulness.

A Dartmouth company is offering free Emergency Medical Technician training to firefighters facing layoff in Fall River, one of the few communities in the state that doesn’t require EMT certification for its firefighters. In a related note, the federal Department of Homeland Security agreed to amend the time period for funds granted to the city that would have had to be repaid if the layoffs came before the timeline expired.


Blue Mass Group’s David Kravitz reviews the back-and-forth between Democratic attorney general candidates Maura Healey and Warren Tolman over agreeing to a “People’s Pledge” in their race and concludes that Tolman is the one with some explaining to do.

David Bernstein explains Martha Coakley‘s decision to opt into the state’s public elections financing system.

A PAC with ties to House Republican leadership starts buying TV air time in support of Richard Tisei.

A Mississippi showdown between the Republican establishment and the tea party ends in a draw, setting up a runoff contest in three weeks.


Shirley Leung says there’s a tension between unbridled commitment to labor and to building more middle-class housing in Boston, one that Marty Walsh is uniquely positioned to address.

Housing advocates are slamming Bank of America, the state’s biggest bank, for pulling back from a lending program for first-time homebuyers.

Seattle’s decision to up the minimum wage in the city to $15 an hour could open the door for other cities and states to follow suit.

The Rochester police chief is ordering Verizon to hire police details while working on major roads in the town, where the utility’s workers allegedly told police they were ordered to work without details “until we get caught.”

A survey by the Council on Foundations shows the median salary for foundation employees has risen to a little more than $74,000, with about 80 percent of the grant-making organizations reporting staff salary increases in the last year.


Hanover school officials are banning 11 seniors from taking part in the graduation ceremony after allegedly returning to school drunk one afternoon late last month.

Some serious high school basketball recruiting skullduggery alleged in Amherst.


Holyoke ‘s Mt. Tom power plant officially closes. The coal-fired plant had been sputtering for years; CommonWealth previously reported that electric generation at the plant dropped by 90 percent between 2007 and 2011.

The Wall Street Journal takes a state-by-state look at the EPA’s new power plant emissions guidelines.


WBUR examines the practice at federal courts of barring cameras and recording devices.

Weymouth native and convicted cocaine smuggler George Jung, who was played by Johnny Depp in the movie “Blow,” has been released from prison after serving 20 years behind bars.

Texas moves to decriminalize student misbehavior, Governing reports.


Ezra Klein offers a smart meditation on the American Prospect and what he considers its pivotal role in launching the sort of policy journalism that has become widespread with the emergence of sites like Vox. The Prospect announced that it is laying off most of its staff and pulling back most web operations as it returns to its roots as a quarterly policy journal.

John Oliver, the HBO comedian, rants in a very funny way about net neutrality, and that prompts viewers to crash the FCC’s comments system.

Maureen Dowd flies to Colorado and eats way too much marijuana candy, and the internet explodes.