Dem candidates for governor pushing big, expensive ideas
Is the time right, or are they bucking historical trend
OVER THE LAST 30 years, voters in Massachusetts have been remarkably consistent, electing moderate Republicans as governor to serve as a counterbalance to the Democratic-controlled Legislature.
The only exception to that trend was the election of Deval Patrick in 2006. He ran for an open seat when Mitt Romney chose not to seek reelection and ended up serving for two terms – defeating Kerry Healey to win a first term and Charlie Baker to win a second. Both Healey and Baker moved to the right in those campaigns and lost. Baker adopted a much more centrist campaign in 2014 and won; his mix of political pragmatism and fiscal incrementalism has made him one of the most popular governors in the nation.
The race for governor in 2022 is still taking shape (Baker, for example, hasn’t said whether he will run again), but the early trendlines suggest Democrats believe a different dynamic is in play this time around. Rather than adopting centrist positions, the three announced Democratic candidates – Harvard professor Danielle Allen, Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz of Jamaica Plain, and former state senator Ben Downing – are all campaigning on platforms that call for a much larger and expensive role for state government in daily life.
Chang-Diaz on Tuesday came out in support of extending the K-12 public school system in both directions – adding publicly funded preschool programs for 3- and 4-year-olds and making public higher education free for all Massachusetts residents, with additional money to cover fees for living and textbook expenses for low-income students.
Allen and Downing would not go quite as far. They both support a massive state investment in preschool education, but not a state takeover of the system. They also support making higher education debt-free – which means anyone who needs financial aid to avoid having to borrow money would get it. Downing says he would embrace free public higher education down the road, while Allen says she would continue to collect tuition from those who can afford to pay.
As Chang-Diaz laid down a bold marker on education, Downing on Tuesday unveiled an aggressive and expensive transportation proposal. He promised to make all MBTA and regional transit authority buses fare free by the end of his first year in office and the MBTA entirely fare free by the end of his first term. He also pledged to electrify all commuter rail lines and launch East-West commuter rail service by 2030.For the Democrats, the revenues to cover these program expansions would come from higher taxes and fees, primarily on the wealthy. All three Democrats support passage of a constitutional amendment coming before voters next year that would impose a surtax on incomes over $1 million. Chang-Diaz backs a new tax on large college endowments. Downing favors an increase in the state gas tax, implementation of congestion pricing on roadways, and higher fees on Uber and Lyft rides.
Baker has taken heat for not moving fast enough to address many of the state’s challenges, but his popularity among voters has remained high. Democrats in the race for governor are betting that voters want action now and are willing to give one party the reins of power on Beacon Hill.