Democratic State Convention 2018

Right up to almost the last minute I was thinking of skipping the 2018 Massachusetts State Democratic Convention. Last year’s convention, my first, was eye-opening in all the wrong ways. You can read all about it, and about how I finally, after several decades of voting Democratic, finally registered as a Dem and got involved in Democratic Party activities.

My newest postcard, for Eileen Higgins, running for county commission in Miami-Dade County, Florida.

This year’s was bound to be better. The 2017 convention was devoted to wrangling about platform planks, a largely symbolic exercise made worse by the enthusiastically ignorant “Our Revolutionaries” and the ineptitude of the MassDems. The 2018 had a clear and non-symbolic purpose: to endorse Democratic candidates for the 2018 midterms. I was a delegate, I had strong feelings about the contests for governor and secretary of state — I collected nomination signatures for Jay Gonzalez and Josh Zakim, respectively — and I’ve written so many postcards to voters in distant states, telling them that “Your vote is your voice,” that the message seems to be sinking in.

The Vineyard contingent at the Mass. Indivisible conference, November 2017. From left: Lorraine Parish, Holly MacKenzie, me, Margaret Emerson, and Kathy Laskowski. Missing: Carla Cooper.

Probably most important, we’re now a year further into the worst, most destructive administration in U.S. history. By last November, when I attended the statewide Indivisible conference, it was clear that the nastiness of the 2016 campaign had mostly receded into the background, at least among those who have thrown ourselves into the many tasks involved in undoing the damage and getting the country back on course.

Still, when my alarm went off at 4 a.m. Saturday morning, I did, very briefly, consider going back to sleep. But no: Trav and I went for our morning walk as the sun started to come up, and I met my friend who was doing the driving on the 6 a.m. ferry. We made it to Worcester in good time.

The convention had actually begun the previous afternoon, with speeches by the candidates who were uncontested in the primary followed by parties thrown on behalf of various candidates and causes. The unopposed candidates included Attorney General Maura Healey and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, both of whom are kick-ass speakers, but the hassle and expense of staying overnight in Worcester wasn’t worth it.

Delegates are seated by state senate district, and this year the Cape & Islands district (represented on Beacon Hill by State Senator Julian Cyr) had some of the best seats in the huge DCU Center: in the very front of the floor at house right. Within the section, we were seated by town. Fortunately the six Vineyard towns were seated together; last year we were split up plus there weren’t enough seats, so trying to keep together was difficult.

After all the welcomes and a good speech by U.S. Senator Ed Markey (who isn’t up for re-election this year), the real work of the convention began: first the nominees for governor, then for lieutenant governor, then secretary of state. For each one, a couple of short introductions and a video presentation preceded the candidate’s own speech.

Jay Gonzalez, candidate for governor, speaks. The photo is of the screen at the front of the hall, hence the distortion in the image.

For governor, both Jay Gonzalez (my guy) and Bob Massie gave very good speeches, refreshingly non-acrimonious and focused in the importance of Massachusetts again taking the lead on key issues, as it has in the past but hasn’t under the current Republican governor.

Going into the convention, I was undecided about the lieutenant governor’s race. Both Quentin Palfrey and Jimmy Tingle were solid candidates. Tingle is better known as a comedian than a politician, and he’s one of the few stand-up comics I’ve ever liked listening to, mainly because he’s a lot more than a stand-up comic.

Jimmy Tingle, candidate for lieutenant governor. Photo is of his image on the big screen.

That gave me pause: I wondered why such a talented performer would be interested in the lieutenant governor’s job. Not to mention — since the 2016 campaign I’ve been more suspicious of flash and charisma than ever.

But Tingle won me over. His video persuaded me that he was serious about the job (in 2010 he got his master’s in public administration from Harvard), and his speech might have been the most powerful of the convention.

The speeches by the secretary of state candidates were far more combative than those for the other two offices. No surprise there: When a candidate takes on a 20-year incumbent in the primary, dissatisfaction with the status quo is generally a large part of it. Incumbent Bill Galvin’s delivery was, considering his long experience, surprisingly awkward, as if perhaps he wasn’t accustomed to having to defend his record.

Josh Zakim, candidate for secretary of state. Photo is of his image on the big screen.

Challenger Josh Zakim, in contrast, was fired up and very clear about what Massachusetts wasn’t doing well enough in administering elections (a big part of the secretary of state’s job) and what he would do differently. This is why I joined his camp the first time I heard him speak this past winter.

Then came the voting. We voted the way we were seated, by state senate district. The tellers called us up by town, starting with Aquinnah and proceeding alphabetically to Yarmouth. Since West Tisbury, my town, comes near the very end of the line, there was plenty of time to kibitz before my turn came to line up. One at a time each delegate gave his or her choices for all three contested offices. Tellers recorded the votes both electronically and on paper. “Jay Gonzalez . . . Jimmy Tingle . . . Josh Zakim,” I said. As it turned out, this was how the Cape & Islands delegation went.

It took a while to tally the results from all 40 state senate districts because one district (which was not publicly embarrassedidentified) had had a snafu with the electronic voting so the paper numbers from each city and town had to be counted and verified manually.

Jay Gonzalez decisively defeated Bob Massie for the convention’s endorsement, 70% to 30%. Quentin Palfrey beat Jimmy Tingle less decisively (IIRC Palfrey had 59% of the delegates’ votes), but the huge upset was that Josh Zakim won the convention’s endorsement over incumbent Bill Galvin, 55%–45%. A strong showing would have made Zakim’s point that a more activist, progressive secretary of state is called for, but he won. This may have taken him and his team by surprise, but needless to say everyone was euphoric.

The unendorsed candidates will still be on the September 4 primary ballot: anyone who gets at least 15% of the convention votes qualifies. (I really hope Massie will withdraw. We really need to pull together to defeat Baker, and if there’s an expensive and/or acrimonious primary campaign, that leaves only two months to gear up for the general election on November 6.)

More photos from the convention:

Looking rearward from the Cape & Islands delegation. Paulo de Oliveira, Dukes County register of deeds, on the right; and behind him Edgartown town committee chair Diane Drake.

Edgartown delegate Carla Cooper and me in our convention regalia. Her T-shirt says S.W.A.T. Smart Women Against Trump. Mine should be self-explanatory.


seating arrangements, candidate speeches, voting. Results.

About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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6 Responses to Democratic State Convention 2018

  1. I’m glad you went… I like comparing what is happening in other states races to what is happening here in Colorado. It seems like the candidates who just present a solid Dem objective are doing better than those who run as Anti-Trumps, even if the first group references the Trump policies as the problem. I find as a voter I now so want this man out of the Presidential office that I don’t even want his name in the Dem narrative. And the longer he tweets, the more Progressive I get…


    • Gawd, no kidding! Virtually all of the candidates I’ve written postcards for focus on what they want for their various districts. Trump et al. are there between the lines, but not explicitly. The things that come up over and over again are access to health care, investment in education and infrastructure, and good jobs. Also the environment (esp. water and responding to climate change), criminal justice reform, and civil rights. The priorities vary by office and region, but it’s easy to see the “solid Dem objectives” underpinning it all — to the extent that I really wonder about the pundits and social-media kibitzers who keep asking “What are the Democrats for?” For the time being at least, the Dems are the only sane alternative, and I’m encouraged that so many of the Dems running for office are so, well, solid in their experience and priorities.


  2. Helen Green says:

    Thank you for this Susanna. It’s important work.
    I didn’t know Jimmy Tingle was running and had no idea he was a politician or trying to be.
    Olivia and I had been reading about who was running for what and we liked the sound of Zakim. I was happy to be discussing Massachusetts politics with an interested 20 year old.


    • Yay! I saw quite a few people at the convention who were in Olivia’s age range — some delegates, others working for candidates, still others staffing the various tables (for organizations, ballot questions, etc.) in the exhibit hall. Hugely encouraging!


  3. Well done, Susanna. Thank you for taking up the torch and letting us know what’s going on, how it works, and why.


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