A vast number of candidates for state Legislature won’t be running for office this fall so much as walking, and our government is poorer for it.
As of this past Tuesday’s deadline to file nomination papers, 125 incumbents in the state House and Senate were set to return to office with no Democratic or Republican opponent, according to a State House News Service tally. Summer has barely begun, and barring the unusual successful write-in campaign, we already know who will win nearly two-thirds of 200 seats in the Legislature this November. Talk about anticlimactic elections.
None of this area’s state senators has an opponent. Of 18 state representatives in Essex County seats, five face contests for reelection.
Incumbent Reps. James Kelcourse, R-Amesbury, and Lenny Mirra, R-Georgetown, have Democratic opponents, but those are among the rare contests in the region.
In the 13th Essex District, representing parts of Danvers and Peabody, a crowd has gathered to fill the seat vacated by retiring Rep. Ted Speliotis, who has spent 30 years on Beacon Hill. Five candidates — a Republican, a Democrat, two independents and one unaffiliated — returned nomination papers.
Like a few other states, the Massachusetts Legislature is overwhelmingly controlled by a single party. Lines of legislative districts are drawn to advantage its candidates. With no term limits, there are fewer opportunities like the one in the 13th Essex that come with an incumbent leaving office.
Such a light ballot isn’t novel. An analysis of the secretary of state’s election data shows it’s been a decade since half of the races for Legislature were contested in November. In the past two cycles, one third or fewer contests for House and Senate had multiple candidates come November.
That says nothing for party primaries, which are forgone conclusions between 75% and 90% of the time.
Considering the failures of Beacon Hill — from its notorious lack of transparency to its sometimes surprising inefficiency to the occasional scandal — one wonders if any of those faults could be remedied if its members were challenged in real debates every two years in order to keep their jobs.
It may seem counterintuitive in such a divisive political and social climate, but our democracy functions better when oiled by a meaningful give and take about issues and people’s concerns. Alas, it’s not to be in most neighborhoods in our region this fall.