The hard truth for Western Massachusetts public officials is that if you dream of running for state office, you’d better find a new dream. It has been historically almost impossible for anyone from the western side of the state to succeed in a statewide race. There have been no governors or lieutenant governors from Western Massachusetts since Jane Swift became acting governor in 2001. Since a majority of the state’s population lives within about 30 miles of Boston, any candidate living solidly in Eastern Massachusetts has an often insurmountable “hometown” advantage at the state level.
Maura Healey became the nominee for governor because she is known throughout the state and has been for years. Kim Driscoll, who won the lieutenant governor nomination, was the only statewide candidate this cycle to lose almost every city/town in the western part of the state. The current mayor of Salem, Driscoll won a three-way race for the lieutenant governor nomination, prevailing over Longmeadow State Sen. Eric Lesser and Acton State Rep. Tami Gouveia. Lesser was the only western Massachusetts candidate in the race and Gouveia is from Acton, closer to Boston than Longmeadow but not as well known in that region as Driscoll.
As soon as Driscoll entered the race, pollsters deemed her the winner. That was the case up until the state party convention where delegates from local city/town Democratic party branches gather as one to choose who the party wants to endorse. At the convention, Driscoll won 41 percent of the vote compared to Lesser’s 23 percent and Gouveia’s 21 percent. All three candidates made it over the 15 percent delegate vote requirement to make it onto the ballot. Since her announcement at the beginning of the year, the state Democratic party began coalescing around her (see polling section on Lt. Gov race).
Like Maura Healey, Driscoll ran on a platform advocating for better housing, healthcare, and childcare. As in most states, the lieutenant governor has a very obscure job description. In some states, they just preside over the state Senate chamber, while in others they assume complete control of the governorship if the governor so much as steps out of the state’s borders. In Massachusetts, the lieutenant governor chairs the governor’s council — a body of eight members elected from districts across the Commonwealth who vote on the governor’s judicial nominees and give advice. Aside from that, the rest of one’s tenure is more or less spent traveling the state as a kind of publicist for gubernatorial initiatives. All this means that it’s a generally boring position — so why was the field so crowded this year?
Driscoll may want to run for governor or Congress in the future, and proving that she can win statewide is valuable fuel for a campaign. She has been the mayor of Salem — a trendy place to be during the Halloween season. She patiently waited for 16 years to shoot her shot and ultimately made it. Undoubtedly, she will triumph over Leah Cole Allen — the Geoff Diehl-endorsed Republican nominee who shares Diehl’s weaknesses as a far-right candidate. For Western Massachusetts, though, the question is, will she remember us?
It is no secret that Driscoll was trounced in the western part of the state by Lesser, a native of Western Massachusetts. Voters here undoubtedly wanted him to be the lieutenant governor. Unfortunately for him and them, that will not be the case. Losing almost all of four counties does not look good. So, unless Driscoll works to coalesce this region around her, she will alienate this part of the state. I have met Driscoll and talked with her and she doesn’t strike me as the type of person to leave anyone behind. Although residents of Western Massachusetts certainly had a preference for Lesser, Driscoll’s support of the construction of a West-East rail line shows that she values their votes. Indeed, she and Lesser stood side by side in Springfield in support of the project, and Lesser has given a full endorsement of the Healey-Driscoll ticket.
I believe that Driscoll’s loss here has only driven her to want to build more relationships in Western Massachusetts. In the months leading up to the primary she gained some momentum in the region, including the endorsement of the Springfield City Council President as well as some of his colleagues on the council and school committee. The support that she gained in the region, however minor, is proof that she cares about Western Massachusetts residents, and is a foot in the door, so to speak, to gaining allies outside of her Eastern base.
Moreover, Driscoll will have to live up to making relationships here if she plans on running statewide again for a higher office. In 2018, Sen. Warren only defeated her opponent because the western part of the state showed up and out for her. She dominated in the Boston area and its suburbs, but if Western Massachusetts voted for the Republican nominee for Senate with the same enthusiasm with which they voted for Gov. Baker in his race the same year, Warren may have lost. So, there are occasions where Western Massachusetts matters, and our state leaders are beginning to realize that.
I hope Western Massachusetts won’t continue to be forgotten and I feel that it won’t be. Perhaps Sen. Lesser will receive a position in the new administration if the Healey/Driscoll ticket wins the general election. Our governors rarely pick cabinet secretaries from this region, leaving our mayors and city councils to fend for themselves. It is not the case that everyone in the race gets a position, but the state needs someone from Western Mass in Boston to continue helping bridge the divide.