Could fossil fuel investments hinder Kennedy campaign?

Generational change not only factor in race

As Representative Joe Kennedy III officially announces his decision to challenge Senator Ed Markey, voters are wondering—what distinguishes the two men both viewed as progressive Democrats?

The obvious one is age. But New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has complicated the argument that a vote for Kennedy is a vote for a new generation. The 29-year-old hailed the 73-year-old Markey as “one of the strongest progressives that we have in the US Senate,” lauding him on their shared project, the Green New Deal, health care, and labor.

Markey was first elected to the Senate in 2013 after more than three decades in the House. He was first elected in 1976, four years before Kennedy was born.

But beyond the difference in age, there are other more substantive contrasts.

Kennedy sits on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and backs the Green New Deal, but he’s not squeaky clean, according to climate activists. Earlier this week, government accountability watchdog Sludge followed fossil fuel money right to Kennedy’s wallet.

“As he considers whether to enter the race, Kennedy owns as much as $1.75 million worth of stock in the fossil fuel industry, including oil and gas companies that see Markey’s Green New Deal as an existential threat, according to a Sludge review of financial disclosure documents,” wrote reporter Donald Shaw.

In December 2018, Kennedy’s press secretary told Sludge that Kennedy’s family investments play no role in his decision-making. But those holdings in Chevron, ExxonMobil, oil service giant Schlumberger, and coal burning utility company NextEra Energy add fuel to questions about whether Kennedy can match Markey’s progressive bonafides. Chevron paid a super PAC that ran attack ads against candidates that supported the Green New Deal in the last election cycle.

Would Kennedy divest if this becomes a sticking point as he tries to win over Markey faithful?

Kennedy’s second major difference from Markey is over how environmental protections can be passed in a Republican-held Senate. Kennedy wants to abolish the filibuster (just like Sen. Elizabeth Warren). Markey wants to restore the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations. But to pass bills as politicized as the Green New Deal or Medicare for All, a simple majority would make things much easier than a required 60-person vote.

Another difference between the two is where they come from. Markey was raised as the son of a milkman in Malden. Kennedy’s part of a Massachusetts political dynasty that goes back generations. Markey may seek to highlight his rival’s privilege in the coming months.

But Kennedy is ready for a fight. The heir to the Kennedy political dynasty has $4.2 million in his campaign account, compared to Markey’s $4 million. Last Thursday, he enlisted Rich Thurma to be part of his team again. Thurma is a political operative who served in Kennedy’s scheduling department in 2012 before jumping ship to be head of that department for Markey a year later.

The numbers are in Kennedy’s favor. According to Politico, early polling shows Kennedy with a 14-point lead over Markey in a head-to-head race, and a 9-point lead in a four-way race against Markey with businessman Steve Pemberton and labor attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan.

Meanwhile, Kennedy is recruiting staff from a successful challenger to an incumbent–Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley. He recently brought on Tracey Lewis, a longtime adviser to Pressley, to his campaign. Pressley has not made an endorsement.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Markey’s main defense has been stacking up endorsements like a barrier, beginning with Warren, the majority of the state’s Democratic delegation, and the Senate Democrats’ campaign committee. Warren, who chose Kennedy to introduce her at her campaign launch for president back in February doesn’t have a bad word to say about either her Senate colleague or former Harvard student, Kennedy, but cast her lot for Markey in August, calling him a “true progressive” and noting his work on Medicare for All, climate change, and gun violence.

Kennedy’s decision was first reported by The Boston Globe. He will formally announce his candidacy on Saturday morning at an East Boston service agency breakfast, and will then begin campaigning across the state. Kennedy met with Markey on Wednesday to inform him of his decision.