fuels local political scene
November 2, 2002
Activists across the political spectrum say it has
been an intense campaign season in the Valley for a range of
reasons, not the least of which is a gubernatorial race too close to
call that involves Shannon O'Brien, who hails from Easthampton.
O'Brien wins on Tuesday, she would be the first female elected
governor of Massachusetts, and the governor with the strongest
connection to the Valley since Calvin Coolidge of Northampton was
elected in 1918.
And if that weren't enough to stir interest in the
area, there was drama in both party primaries, perhaps particularly
so on the Democratic side where former U.S. labor secretary Robert
Reich developed a passionate following locally.
candidates, meanwhile, worked steadily to build their own political
bases and could pick up votes from unenrolled voters and others who
are turned off by the major party candidates' negative campaigns.
Area Green Party members have rallied around their candidate, Jill
Stein, despite the insistence of Democrats that a vote for anyone
other than O'Brien in such a close election equals a vote for
Republican Mitt Romney.
And three hotly contested ballot questions
on the income tax, bilingual education and the Clean Elections law
also have contributed to the activity, as have two non-binding local
questions about House Speaker Thomas Finneran and instant runoff
"There is just a lot of different issues for people to be
involved with," said Democratic activist Alice Swift of Amherst, a
supporter of the Clean Elections law. "I think we'll all be glad
when the election is over and we can all get back to our lives -
hopefully with joy and not too much discouragement. And overlaying
everything is the war in Iraq."
Swift was a
passionate supporter of Warren Tolman, the only Clean Elections
gubernatorial candidate, in the Democratic primary and she is
representative of area Democrats who have shifted their support to
When Reich supporters flooded area caucuses in February,
accounting for 70 percent of elected delegates to go to the party's
nominating convention, some Democrats questioned whether they would
stay involved if Reich lost.
Not only have they remained active,
but Reich himself has been to back to the Valley to encourage
Democratic and unenrolled voters, as well as those with third-party
leanings, to vote for O'Brien.
"A vote for the Green Party is in
effect a vote for the Republican Party," Reich told Democratic
activists in Amherst last weekend.
The Democrats have not always
been as united. Lackluster support from some elected Democratic
officials, including Finneran, hurt 1998 gubernatorial candidate
"There are no defections like there have been in
the last three governor's elections," said Edward O'Brien of
Easthampton, the gubernatorial candidate's father. "In our party, if
we're going to win this thing, we've got to win it on the streets.
We have to make up in troops what they can buy and pay for. But they
can't buy and pay for the army of people that are working for
Although Hampshire and lower Franklin
counties are largely Democratic territories, Republicans expect
their candidate will also do well locally. Romney's late entry into
the race energized the flagging GOP statewide, much as it did when
he ran against Edward Kennedy for U.S. senator in 1994, said John
Andrulis, chairman of the Northampton Republican City Committee,
Area Republicans quickly jumped on Romney's bandwagon when he
announced just days before their party's convention in April that he
would run, nudging acting Gov. Jane Swift aside. But they were
divided on who to support for lieutenant governor - Jim Rappaport,
who had been actively campaigning for a year, or Kerry Healey,
Romney's chosen running mate.
Andrulis, who had been a Rappaport
supporter, said he found himself and the Northampton Republican City
Committee were left more or less "out of the loop" following the
"I do think the lieutenant governor's race was a bit
divisive," Andrulis said. "There's no great animosity of any sort,
but a lot of people including myself were working for Rappaport
weren't absorbed back into the campaign very easily."
counts himself among voters who are somewhat dispirited by the
negative tenor the gubernatorial campaigns have taken.
negative campaigning in the past couple of weeks has been the most
negative I think I've seen going back to Barry Goldwater and the
commercials of the little girl picking daisies with the countdown to
the nuclear blast in the background," Andrulis said. "I think it
really tends to turn off a lot of undecided voters. I know some who
say, 'This is terrible and I'd rather not vote for either of them'."
Still, although voters say they don't like negative advertising, it
seems to influence them in the voting booths, Andrulis said, which
is why candidates are probably loathe to abandon the tactic.
Andrulis does feel very good about Romney. "He's dynamic; he's
fresh; he's capable, and I think he'd make a very good administrator
of whatever he did."
Third parties on rise
could be the beneficiaries, if people vote for someone who has very
little chance of winning just to send a message to the major
The Green Party, bolstered by state representative
candidates Michael Aleo in the 1st Hampshire District and Sue
Bartone in the 2nd Hampshire District, has built support for
chipping away at the balance of power on Beacon Hill.
Democratic and Republican party candidates are virtually
indistinguishable from each other, some of the Green Party members
Frank Gatti, the newly elected chairman of the Amherst
Green Town Committee, doesn't buy the argument that a vote for Stein
is a vote for Romney. "I would ask O'Brien people, why don't you
really look at what the candidates are saying in the debates and
realize your interests lie with Jill?"
Amherst lawyer Peter
Vickery, one of the leading area proponents on the regional ballot
questions on instant runoff voting, says if that system were in
place, voters could choose a third-party candidate without the worry
some Greens are feeling now.
Under the system, voters rank
candidates in a multi-candidate race in order of their preference.
If no one receives a majority, the candidate with the fewest votes
is eliminated and the votes redistributed according to that
candidate's supporters' second choice.
In Vickery's view, even
independent Barbara Johnson, who has had the least exposure of the
five gubernatorial candidates, could draw a percentage point or two
of the final vote - enough to make a difference. People may vote for
Johnson, even if they don't know her, as a kind of "none of the
above," Vickery suggested.
Libertarian Carla Howell, by contrast,
has a small but committed band of supporters in the Valley, and they
are just as likely to stay with their candidate as Stein's
supporters are. "In my opinion this isn't a year for the-lesser-of-
two-evils-voting, because the two evils are almost identical," said
Libertarian Terry Franklin of Amherst.
Franklin, who has long
organized the annual Extravaganga, a rally in favor of legalizing
marijuana in Amherst at which Howell has often spoken, said
Libertarians are an optimistic bunch and don't tend to get
Michael Cloud, the Libertarian running for U.S. Senate
against John Kerry, has gotten so little press that he is staging a
hunger strike in protest, which Franklin said has caught the
attention of some television reporters at least.
"It does make
(Cloud) look a little like a fringe candidate," Franklin allowed.
"But it seems to be working. I got an e-mail from a friend in New
York who said he heard about him on the Fox news."