Winds of change don’t blow on Beacon Hill

The down-ballot Democratic surge never happened

THE WINDS OF CHANGE rarely blow on Beacon Hill, where Democrats have long held a majority in the House and Senate. Tuesday’s election, in the midst of a pandemic, a national reckoning over race, and an outpouring of opposition in Massachusetts to President Trump, demonstrated how true that old adage is.

It was widely anticipated that the massive turnout for Joe Biden would cause a surge for local Democrats in down-ballot races, giving the party even greater control over the Legislature. But it didn’t happen.

Republicans entered the election with 32 seats in the 160-member House. After most of the votes were counted, they ended up with 32 seats, and a chance at adding one more, bringing the total to 33.

The math was fairly simple. Rep. William Crocker of Barnstable was the only Republican incumbent who lost his seat – to Democrat Kipp Diggs, also of Barnstable. But Republicans picked up a seat in western Massachusetts and may add another in Ludlow if things go their way.

The GOP regained a longtime party stronghold in Westfield, which had gone Democrat in 2014 when then-mayor John Velis became the first Democrat to take the seat in over 30 years. When Velis moved on to the Senate in March, Kelly Pease of Westfield moved in to take it.

Pease, a veteran and legislative aide to former state senator Donald Humason, won the Fourth Hampden seat with 49 percent of the vote, beating out 23-year-old Democrat Matthew Garlo, who received 40 percent, and independent Ethan Flaherty, a 19-year-old political newcomer who got over 9 percent.

In the 7th Hampden District, the race for a seat held by outgoing Democrat Rep. Thomas Petrolati remained too close to call on Wednesday.

Republican James “Chip” Harrington, a Department of Correction manager, realtor, and part-time Ludlow police officer — has the support of Republican Gov. Charlie Baker. Democrat Jacob Oliveira of Ludlow works in leadership at the Massachusetts State Universities Council of Presidents, which represents nine state public colleges and universities.

Both candidates claimed victory Tuesday night. Harrington said he won by 146 votes, while Oliveira insisted he beat Harrington by 137 votes. During the hullabaloo, the Associated Press reported Harrington had a 324-vote lead with all precincts reporting and declared him the winner.

Oliveira didn’t concede, and Wednesday morning it was discovered a Belchertown clerk gave the wrong numbers for one precinct to the Associated Press. With the right numbers, Oliveira ended up with 11,128 votes to 10,994 for Harrington – a lead of 134 votes.

Harrington told supporters in a Facebook message that he’s talking to an attorney because “there are a lot of unusual things happening in Belchertown that took place yesterday.” He also said there are more mail-in ballots that must be counted this week, and he plans to wait and see what happens with those.

“Human error is human error. It’s pretty bad, but I understand it,” he said.

There were plenty of other exciting races in the House that didn’t change the overall makeup of the chamber.

Republican Steven Xiarhos of Barnstable, the deputy police chief in Yarmouth, beat Democrat James Dever by 1,167 votes to win the 5th Barnstable District seat, currently held by Republican Randy Hunt, who decided not to run for a sixth term. In that race, which Dever called “a squeaker ” in an interview, Xiarhos won by slim margins in almost every town.

Republican Rep. James Kelcourse of Amesbury defeated Democrat Amber Hewett of Newburyport by a margin of 52-48.

In the Sixth Plymouth District, Republican Tatyana Semyrog, a refugee from the former Soviet Union, was considered a strong contender to unseat Rep. Josh Cutler, a Democrat from Pembroke. Semyrog, a Duxbury resident, had gained the support of police unions, including the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, with her vocal opposition to the defunding of police departments. Cutler won by a margin of 59-41.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, 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 long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, 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.

In the Fifth Plymouth District, Republican incumbent David DeCoste of Norwell defeated Democrat Emmanuel Dockter, who was trailing by 385 votes when he conceded.

Dockter posted an emotional statement on Facebook after the loss. “I want to thank everyone who supported me and believed we could make a difference, so that more of our neighbors would be able to provide better lives for their children. I also want to thank those of my opponent’s supporters who were able to balance political advocacy while still showing kindness – this was not always the case; it can be difficult in the heat of passion,” he said. “I pray we are able to move on, to see each other as people instead of members of opposing teams. We certainly will need this over the coming years with the devastating pandemic and economic fallout. We must come together. We must choose kindness and compassion.”