State elections are usually held on Tuesday, but this year’s Massachusetts primary is tomorrow, and that’s a Thursday.
Some years primary elections are pretty ho-hum affairs. Not this year. This year no fewer than four incumbents are retiring or otherwise stepping down. The result is that all four Democratic primary races are contested, and in two the fields are downright crowded.
Which leads to a dilemma I wish we faced more often: How to choose, how to choose? When there’s an incumbent, it’s pretty straightforward: How’s the person doing? If there’s any opposition (and usually in the primary there isn’t), is it time for a change and is the opponent likely to provide the change you’d like to see?
With no incumbent, none of the candidates have experience in the office they’re running for, though they’ve all got experience in other, often related areas. It’s up to us to evaluate that experience and assess each candidate’s potential to do well in the position they’re running for. There is no scientific, objective way to do this. Earlier or later, gut feelings play an important role.
The blessing about most local races is that “the media” don’t play a large role. We are not bombarded 24/7 by pontificating pundits or glitzy TV ads. (I’m not bombarded at all. I don’t have a TV.) Campaigning consists mainly of mailings, yard signs, candidates’ forums like the one sponsored by the League of Women Voters last month, newspaper coverage, endorsements by local leaders and organizations, and word of mouth.
With four races to deal with and no prior preferences, I’ve been paying attention to how I make up my mind. In the race for register of deeds, word-of-mouth was decisive. There are four candidates running. I met Paulo DeOliveira at the candidates’ forum in August. He was outside introducing himself to voters and passing out flyers listing his qualifications and experience, all of which were impressive, not least that he’s currently the assistant register of deeds. Decisive for me, however, was the incumbent’s support. I ran into her at the fair a few days later and mentioned that I’d met Paulo and thought he looked pretty good. She said she wouldn’t be retiring if he weren’t so ready to step into the job. That did it for me.
The absence of word-of-mouth is why I’m still undecided about the state senate race. Both Sheila Lyons and Julian Cyr impressed me at the candidates’ forum. I’ve read their campaign literature and visited their websites. They’re both excellent candidates. I am, in a word, still undecided. So are several of the politically astute friends I’ve discussed this race with. We’ll see.
Since one of the open races is for Dukes County sheriff and I knew very little about what the sheriff’s department does, last May I went to a Q&A sponsored by M.V. Democrats and featuring the two Democratic candidates for sheriff. At the time I noted: “I couldn’t help noticing that one candidate was far slicker than the other — that the other wouldn’t last five minutes if all we had to go on was media presentation.” I heard the latter, Marc Rivers, speak again last night. Slick he still isn’t, but he’s clearer about why he’s running, what he brings to the job, and what he hopes to do if he gets it. Months of listening to people talk have persuaded me that the department needs more than the same old same-old, which is pretty much what Marc’s opponent is offering. I say give Marc a chance.
As it turned out, I found my candidate for state representative at that Q&A, though I didn’t know it at the time. I was impressed that Dylan Fernandes had come over from Falmouth to meet Vineyard Democrats at an event where he wasn’t even on the program. I was even more impressed when I read his introductory letter: he’d run Elizabeth Warren’s South Coast campaign in 2012, directed Maura Healey’s successful run for attorney general in 2014, and then worked in Healey’s office till he resigned to run for state rep. At that point I only knew one of the other candidates in the race — there are a total of seven, five running in the Democratic primary and two Independents who’ll be on the ballot in November — but Dylan was hitting all the right buttons.
It kept getting better. The guy was knocking on doors on Martha’s Vineyard, facrissake. He’d knocked on the doors of some friends who live so far off the beaten track that I get lost trying to find them, and just about everyone who spoke with him was impressed. So, I learned, were the Vineyard elected officials I respect most. By the time I got to the candidates’ forum I was about 90% sold. When it ended I was over the top.
The guy has got it. Not only does he understand the big issues facing this district — the lack of affordable housing and how it’s affecting our communities, the heroin-opioid epidemic, climate change, and the rest — as a fourth-generation Falmouth resident he knows them up close and personal. The Barnstable-Dukes-Nantucket house district has to be the most logistically challenging in the state, but he’s made it clear that Vineyard Sound and Nantucket Sound are no barrier to effective representation. He’s experienced, he’s unbelievably energetic, he’s effective, he’s respected by those he’s worked with, and he listens.
Do think seriously about voting for Dylan Fernandes in the Democratic primary tomorrow, September 8. If you want to know more, check out Ann Bassett’s two Vineyard View interviews with him from earlier this summer. They’re available “video on demand” on the MVTV website: look for Vineyard View shows 240 and 245.