The Codcast: Two candidates bucking the incumbents-rule rule

When it comes to the Massachusetts Legislature, voters won’t have a lot of choice this fall, either during the primary on September 4 or the general election in November.

Seventy-eight percent of the 200 candidates running for the House and Senate will face no opposition in the primary. Most of that group (55 percent) will face no opposition in the general election, either, meaning they’re as good as elected already. The other 23 percent will have an opponent on Election Day, but the challengers in almost every case will face long odds in taking on an incumbent.

Incumbency, with the advantages it brings in fundraising, media exposure, and institutional support, is a powerful force in Massachusetts politics. Where there are incumbents, there tend to be fewer, or no, challengers.

By my count, there are 25 races – 22 in the House and three in the Senate – where no incumbent is running. These races tend to attract a lot of interest from candidates because they feel they have a chance to win. For example, Sen. Eileen Donoghue of Lowell resigned her post in April to become the city manager of Lowell. Five Democrats and one Republican are vying to replace her.

What’s unusual is for a candidate of the same party not to wait for an opening and take on an incumbent in a primary fight. Only 20 incumbents – 17 in the House and three in the Senate – are facing challengers in the primary this year. In all but four of the races, the winner of the primary will win the seat because no one from the other party is vying for the position.

In today’s Codcast, we talk to two Democrats challenging incumbents from their own party – Samantha (Sam) Hammar of Melrose, who is taking on Sen. Jason Lewis of Winchester, and Ted Steinberg of Needham, who is running against Rep. Denise Garlick of Needham.

Both Hammar and Steinberg are frustrated. Both were disgusted with the Legislature’s end-of-session hijinks, where so many bills that they hoped would become law failed to make it through the process. Hammar said Lewis is “fine” as a legislator. Indeed, she voted for him in the last election. What set her on her current course, she said, was his lack of empathy when she went to talk to him about the high cost of child care and preschool.

Steinberg, who is 24, said he is concerned about the concentration of power in the hands of a few in the Legislature. He said he respects Garlick for her years of service, but worries that she has become part of the problem as a member of House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s leadership team. “This is supposed to be the people’s House, not the speaker’s House,” he said.

Both Steinberg and Hammar say the power of incumbency is real. Hammar said she has worked inside state government and at Boston City Hall, and has discovered that many of her old friends have no interest in her candidacy. Many of the state’s political interest groups have endorsed the incumbent without even seeking out her views on the issues.

“I have a little bit of a scarlet letter on my chest, but I wear that proudly,” she said.

No candidates have reported any campaign expenditures yet for 2018, but it’s a safe bet that Hammar and Steinberg are being outspent. Lewis served in the House from 2009 to 2014, when he won election to the Senate, replacing Katherine Clark, who left to run for Congress. Lewis started this year with $109,149 in his campaign account and spent $29,447 during the 2016 election, when he faced a challenger only in the general election.

Garlick was elected to the House in 2011. She started the year with $50,014 in her campaign account and spent $44,116 in the 2016 election, when she faced no opposition in both the primary and general election.

What Steinberg lacks in resources he said he intends to make up with energy. Hammar says much the same. Both say they are not deterred by the long odds.

“Loyalty perpetuates the status quo,” Hammar said. “If you stay loyal to the people in power, nothing will ever change.”

BRUCE MOHL


BEACON HILL

The 2008 law allowing civilian flaggers rather than off-duty police officers to direct traffic at construction sites has been largely a failure. According to the Department of Transportation, the agency spent $511,701 on civilian flaggers in 2017 compared to $45 million on off-duty police officers. (Telegram & Gazette)

The surest sign of how far Charlie Baker is sprinting to the political middle with a reelection race looming? The Boston Globe editorial page goes to his right and rips Baker for wimping out on pushing for an extension of the Pacheco law waiver for the MBTA.

While lamenting the light schedule kept by the Legislature, which has ended formal sessions until January, Jeff Jacoby says lawmakers are in session way too long — along with being paid way too much. (Boston Globe) Meanwhile, Margery Eagan takes stock of the country’s utter dysfunction and absence of leadership on so many levels, but zeros in on the Legislature’s inability to fix the state’s broken school funding formula in the same session they voted themselves a huge pay raise. (Boston Globe) The Associated Press examines the legislative limbo created by the rush to finish the session and the failure to plan for the governor’s amendments to key pieces of legislation.

John E. McDonough says the Legislature needs CBO-like scoring of health care legislation, done by the Health Policy Commission. (CommonWealth) Tim Foley, an official with the SEIU and a member of the Health Policy Commission, says the Legislature’s failure to pass a health care bill was a big, missed opportunity. (CommonWealth)

Baker on Friday signed into law most sections of an economic development bill. (State House News)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Enterprise has an in-depth look at how a parking violation escalated into a racial discrimination suit by a disabled man against the city of Brockton and how officials allowed a bogus criminal complaint by the traffic officer to move forward.

A Globe editorial calls for a creative, pedestrian-oriented reuse of the Northern Avenue Bridge a la the wildly successful High Line in New York City.

The Brewster Fire Department, one of the few Cape towns that is split between full- and part-time personnel, is feeling a pinch as part-time firefighters increasingly leave for full-time jobs elsewhere. (Cape Cod Times)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Rep. James McGovern and Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone are traveling to Honduras to spotlight problems with poverty and violence there as part of an effort to rally support for blocking President Trump from ending Temporary Protected Status for immigrants from the countries. (Boston Globe)

A planned rally outside the White House by white nationalists fizzled out after about a half-hour when the nearly two dozen attendees quietly packed up and left after being vastly outnumbered by thousands of protesters, police, and media members. (New York Times)

Omarosa Manigault Newman, a former aide to President Trump who rose to fame on his Celebrity Apprentice reality show and who’s now on the circuit touting her new book about her former mentor, secretly taped her firing by Chief of Staff John Kelly as well as a phone conversation she had with Trump after she was terminated. (Washington Post)

ELECTIONS

Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito officially kicked off their reelection campaign on Saturday. Joe Battenfeld writes that Baker will wage “a safe, TV ad-centric campaign that showcases his popularity and willingness to get along with Democrats, and focuses on noncontroversial issues like tackling the opioid crisis.” (Boston Herald)

Questions are being raised about the residency of three of the six candidates for Suffolk County district attorney. (Boston Globe)

Mary K. Grant of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute offers a prescription for the “democracy gap.” (CommonWealth)

Western Mass Political Insight analyzes the political geography of the First Congressional District, where US Rep. Richard Neal and Tahirah Amatul-Wadud are battling in a Democratic primary. Amatul-Wadud is facing questions about her ties to a controversial Pakistani cleric. (Telegram & Gazette)

Rep. Seth Moulton says he’s “not planning to run for president in 2020.” (Boston Herald)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Wayland Business Association has closed its doors after nearly 40 years as a younger generation of business owners look elsewhere for their networking and socializing needs. (MetroWest Daily News)

ARTS

A Berkshire Eagle editorial takes pride in the region’s second-place finish in a ranking of the nation’s most vibrant medium-size arts communities.

TRANSPORTATION

The MBTA said Sunday night that the Alewife garage will be open this week but there will be no overnight parking in the facility and it will close again next weekend to make additional repairs and safety evaluations. The garage was closed over the weekend as the T made repairs after a slab of concrete fell on a car. (CommonWealth) Gov. Charlie Baker rejected a call by Sen. Jason Lewis to revive the millionaire’s tax proposal to fund needed infrastructure projects like the garage, saying, “Let’s do a better job with the dollars we have.” (Boston Herald)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Edward N. Krapels says Massachusetts put wind power in gear with the approval of the Vineyard Wind contract. (CommonWealth)

Quincy officials are considering a plan to repair more than 1-½ miles of an aging and deteriorating seawall in the city’s Houghs Neck section Lang a stretch where the wall is the only buffer along the sole evacuation route. (Patriot Ledger)

Dallas is undertaking a tree-planting initiative to ease heat and respiratory issues, an action that could be a template for many urban areas in the country where trees are disappearing in favor of development. (U.S. News & World Report)

CASINOS/MARIJUANA

Could the opening of the first retail marijuana store still be months away? (Patriot Ledger)

A Westport farmer is making a pitch to selectmen to allow the town’s struggling farmers to grow recreational marijuana even though voters approved a ban on retail stores. (Herald News)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Signs of misconduct in the State Police were ignored for years before the payroll scandals now enveloping the force erupted earlier this year. (Boston Globe)

Dudley Police Chief Steven Wojnar, speaking on behalf of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, condemned US Sen. Elizabeth Warren for saying the nation’s criminal justice system is racist. (Telegram & Gazette) Gov. Charlie Baker does not exactly whack Warren, but says police “feel like they’ve been on the wrong end of a lot of the rhetoric that’s gone on in this country for quite a while.” US Rep. Seth Moulton defended Warren, saying, “There are aspects of the justice system that are clearly racist in their results. That doesn’t mean that everybody who works in the justice system is a racist.” (Boston Herald) Warren herself walked back a bit of her comment.

MEDIA

The Boston Globe proposed a coordinated editorial response by newspapers across the country to attacks on the media by President Trump. (Associated Press)

Duke University researchers analyzed 16,000 stories across 100 smaller US communities and found little original coverage of local news. (Nieman Journalism Lab)

WEEI host Christian Fauria, who was suspended earlier this year for using an Asian accent on the air to mock sports agent Don Yee, spoke on Friday at the Asian American Journalists Convention in Atlanta, where he again apologized for his actions. (Boston Globe)