More than half of lawmakers face no challenger this year

Trend of minimal competition on Beacon Hill is continuing


MOST MASSACHUSETTS state lawmakers will stroll into another term in office unopposed, poised to face no declared opponents in both the September 6 primary and November 8 general elections.

All 160 House districts and 40 Senate districts are up for grabs every two years. Among the pool of lawmakers seeking reelection, 92 representatives and 16 senators are the only candidates to qualify for the ballot in their respective districts, according to an  analysis of preliminary data from Secretary of State William Galvin.

Those legislators could still face write-in challenges, but given the sizable advantage incumbency offers, it appears nearly certain that 54 percent of the Legislature will cruise to another two years in office with minimal friction.

Those easy glides will play out in the first election season with newly redrawn districts in place following the 2020 U.S. Census and in a year with open contests for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and auditor driving a spike in political engagement.

And as a result, millions of voters will effectively have no options in the House or Senate beyond the status quo as they grapple with rampant inflation, lingering COVID-19 threats, a growing climate crisis and more.

The uncompetitive trend is present up and down the legislative hierarchy.

Some of the newest lawmakers atop Beacon Hill have been effectively gifted another term by drawing no challengers, such as first-term Republican Rep. Steven Xiarhos of Barnstable and Democrat Sen. Lydia Edwards of East Boston, who joined the Senate less than six months ago after winning a Jan. 11 special election.

Many veteran lawmakers are in line for easy wins, too. Rep. Kevin Honan, a Boston Democrat and the House’s longest-serving member, does not face a declared opponent after fending off a primary challenge two years ago.

[Full List: Incumbents Seeking Reelection Without Challengers]

Neither House Speaker Ronald Mariano of Quincy nor Senate President Karen Spilka of Ashland are set to face primary or general election opponents on their ballots, and the same is true for most of their inner circles.

Only two members of Senate leadership drew challengers: Salem Democrat Sen. Joan Lovely, who faces a primary from Kyle Alexander Davis as well as a Republican bid from Damian Anketell, and Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Michael Rodrigues of Westport, who is the only Democrat on the ballot and will square off against Republican candidate Russell Protentis in the general election.

Mariano has a few holes to fill in his leadership team if he secures another term as speaker as expected, but those stem more from mid-session resignations for other jobs or retirements than the prospect of voter dissatisfaction. Provincetown Democrat Rep. Sarah Peake is the only person in House leadership with a declared opponent after drawing a primary challenge from lobsterman and onetime Senate candidate Jack Stanton.

A handful of high-ranking lawmakers are among the 21 reps and senators who face primaries from members of their own party, including Transportation Committee co-chair Rep. William Straus of Mattapoisett, Rules Committee co-chair Rep. William Galvin of Canton, House Ways and Means Committee Vice Chair Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante of Gloucester, and Public Safety Committee co-chair Sen. Walter Timilty of Milton.

Compared to two years ago, the current cycle is a bit more competitive for legislative elections. A total of 125 incumbent lawmakers were the only major-party candidates on the ballot in 2020, representing nearly two-thirds of the Legislature.

Departures, Redistricting Open Up Contests

At least 24 new faces are guaranteed to join the Legislature next term with open races in five Senate districts and 19 House districts. That would create a freshman class representing roughly one in every eight lawmakers who will take the oath of office in January.

On the Senate side, all of the open contests will take place in districts where sitting senators are leaving.

Nineteen of the House’s 160 districts will feature open races this fall with no incumbent on the ballot seeking reelection. [Chris Lisinski/SHNS]

Sen. Harriette Chandler, an 84-year-old Worcester Democrat, announced in January she would not seek reelection to the district representing her city as well as West Boylston, Boylston, Northborough, Berlin and Bolton.

Like many Senate districts in the center and west of the state, the First Worcester District’s boundaries slid eastward on the new map, reflecting population shifts over the past decade.

Two Democrats filed nomination papers seeking to succeed Chandler: Worcester Mayor Joe Petty and longtime Beacon Hill aide Robyn Kennedy of Worcester. The winner of that primary will face unenrolled candidate Lisa Kair in the general election.

All four of the other open Senate seats are being vacated by Democrats who launched campaigns for statewide offices: Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz of Boston, who is on the ballot for governor; Sen. Eric Lesser of Longmeadow, a lieutenant governor candidate; Sen. Diana DiZoglio of Methuen, an auditor hopeful; and Sen. Adam Hinds of Pittsfield, who also sought the lieutenant governor office but failed to qualify for the ballot at Saturday’s Democratic nominating convention.

The 19 open House districts stem from a mixture of lawmakers who resigned and others who are seeking higher office. Some also stem from the redistricting process after Democrats who control the maps opted to draw “incumbent-free” districts aimed at maximizing the opportunities for candidates of color.

Lawmakers created a new Hispanic-majority, incumbent-free 11th Suffolk House district anchored in Chelsea. Chelsea City Councilors Judith Garcia and Leo Robinson and Chelsea School Committee Member Roberto Jiménez Rivera, all Democrats, are on the ballot for that race, as is Republican Chelsea City Councilor Todd Taylor.

Another new district with no sitting lawmaker and a Hispanic majority is the Fourth Essex House district representing parts of Lawrence and Methuen. That race drew three Democrats: James McCarty, Lawrence City Councilor Estela Reyes, and former Rep. William Lantigua, who in 2010 resigned from Beacon Hill to serve as Lawrence mayor before launching two unsuccessful campaigns to unseat Rep. Marcos Devers.

One race is all but decided already. In the 15th Essex District that will represent parts of Methuen and Haverhill, former Methuen City Councilor Ryan Hamilton, a Democrat, was the only candidate to file nomination papers.

Other contests are crowded. Six Democrats make up the ballot in the House’s Eighth Essex District covering Marblehead and Swampscott: Jennifer Armini, Diann Mary Baylis, Tristan Smith, Theresa Tauro, Douglas Thompson and Polly Titcomb. The winner of the primary is set to join the Legislature with no declared Republican opponent.

The fight to fill Chang-Díaz’s Senate seat, which will also be effectively decided in the Democratic primary, could be one of the most intense across the state.

Two sitting representatives, Nika Elugardo and Liz Miranda, are giving up their House seats to run for the Senate opening. They will face off against Chang-Díaz’s immediate predecessor, Dianne Wilkerson, who is mounting a comeback bid after she resigned from the Senate, pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges, served prison time and then took on a new role in the activism world. Deacon James Grant and Rev. Miniard Culpepper round out the field.

Republicans Aim to Stave Off Further Losses

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker is wrapping up an eight-year tenure in the corner office, but the MassGOP has seen its numbers on Beacon Hill diminish in recent years.

The House kicked off the 2019-2020 lawmaking session with 127 Democrats, 32 Republicans and one independent, Rep. Susannah Whipps of Athol, while the Senate opened that term with 34 Democrats and six Republicans.

Today, following the most recent round of biennial general elections and a string of resignation-fueled special elections, Republicans hold 28 seats in the House compared to Democrats’ 126 and only three of 40 Senate seats.

MassGOP leaders hope the party’s rightward shift and vocal embrace of President Donald Trump can pry a few wins away from Democrats, or at least prevent their opponents from further expanding on supermajority margins in both chambers.

Altogether, 55 House districts and 19 Senate districts will feature at least one Republican candidate on the ballot in November — less than half in each chamber — while Democrats are in the mix for 141 House districts and 38 Senate districts.

Eighteen incumbent Democrat representatives face a Republican challenger, as do 15 incumbent Senate Democrats; on the flip side, Democrats will look to unseat eight Republican representatives seeking reelection and Republican Sen. Patrick O’Connor of Weymouth.

Some of the races will take place in areas proven to be competitive. Republican Rep. Shawn Dooley of Norfolk is challenging Needham Democrat Sen. Becca Rausch for her seat in the upper chamber, which she flipped in 2018 — under the previous district lines — from Republican Sen. Richard Ross with 51 percent of the vote.

Republicans will hope they can hang onto Dooley’s House seat, too, where Democrats Kevin Kalkut and Stephen Patrick Teehan will face off to meet Republican Marcus Vaughn in the general election.

Another open seat along the New Hampshire border, represented by Republican Rep. Sheila Harrington of Groton until she resigned for a judiciary post, will be in play for the minority party. Republicans Lynne Archambault and Andrew James Shepherd will face off in a primary for the First Middlesex District, then go on to challenge Democrat Margaret Scarsdale and unenrolled candidate Catherine Lundeen in the general election.

Meet the Author

Chris Lisinski

Reporter, State House News Service
MassGOP lost a nearly guaranteed seat via the decennial redistricting process when former Ipswich Rep. Brad Hill’s district got carved up. Democrats at the time signaled they think another new incumbent-free district — the 19th Worcester District containing parts of Northborough, Southborough and Westborough — could present an opportunity for Republicans.

Two candidates filed nomination papers to run for that new seat: Democrat Kate Donaghue and Republican Jonathan Hostage.