Politics in the Age of the Coronavirus—Democrats Flip Two GOP Massachusetts State Seats May 31, 2020
The horrible coronavirus pandemic continues and at least 105,000 Americans have died. Demagogue Donald’s bungled response to this tragedy has been off -the- charts disastrous. According to a Columbia University study, had Donald imposed social distancing/lockdown measures one week earlier in 3/2020, an estimated 36,000 fewer Americans would have died (@nytimes, huffpost.com, Mosbergen 5/21/20). In the meantime, political contests continue to be held as required in a democracy. Remember, during the Civil War and WWII, presidential and local elections were rightfully not cancelled. In the first special election held during the COVID-19 outbreak on 5/12/2020 in the suburban Santa Clarita swingy California 25th Congressional District (CD), far fewer Democrats voted by mail or at the polls. During this pandemic, Democratic volunteers were unable to go door-to-door to push for voter turnout. The result? Way more Republicans sent in their votes by mail, and GOPer Trump loyalist Mike Garcia won a special election over Democrat Christy Smith by a 9.8% margin to take the place of Democratic Congresswoman Katie Hill. Hill had resigned after a sexual scandal. In 2016, Hillary had won that formerly solid GOP district by 7 points, and in 2018, Hill had flipped the CA 25th “Blue.” Hill defeated incumbent GOP Cong. Steve Knight by 8 points (Cohen & Cook 2020 Political Almanac, nytimes.com, 5/16/20, CA 25th 5/12/2020 special election runoff). On 11/03/2020, there will be a rematch between Smith and Garcia for a full House term, a “do-over” opportunity for Democrats. In the 5/12/2020 special election contest, about 56% of voters over age 65, normally a GOP group, turned in their mail ballots, while just 19% of those under 35, usually a Democratic group, did (NY Times, Medina, J., 5/13/20). Again, it’s all about the “T” word, “Turnout.” Democrats, according to a poll, are favored to win back this seat in 11/2020 when, hopefully, turnout will be way higher with the presidential race on the ballot (See firstname.lastname@example.org). By then, Garcia’s Trump voting record will also, to quote House Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi, be “tattooed on his forehead.” “Team Blue,” however, still wins special elections in the age of the coronavirus. On 5/19/2020, one week after the CA Democratic loss, Democrats John Velis and Susan Moran flipped two “Red” seats to “Column Blue” in the MA State Senate. Let’s look at these Bay State race contests.
Westfield , MA native John Velis has a lifelong family and personal commitment to public service. His uncle Peter Velis served as a Hampden, MA Superior Court Judge from 1999-2012 and was a member of the MA House of Representatives from 1973-1979. John Velis attended Roxbury Community College and received his 2004 political science degree from the University of South Florida. In 2008, he obtained his law degree from MA’s Suffolk University Law School. In 2011, Velis enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve. He served in the Judge Advocate General Corps (JAG). He served in active duty in Afghanistan, participating in Afghanistan’s Operation Enduring Freedom. He taught the rule of law to tribal leaders, brought warring parties together, and oversaw all ISAF-NATO rule of law efforts in Afghanistan’s Zabul Province. In 8/2017, Velis was sent to S. Korea where he participated for about a month in joint military exercises with the U.S. Army and allies. Velis was promoted to major on 7/04/2018 while deployed in Afghanistan and continues to serve in the Army Reserve (races dlcc.org, Glaun, 5/23/17 & Kinney, 7/04/18, masslive.com, velisforsenate.com). Velis worked in the Hampden County Superior Court and the MA State Treasurer’s Office. He was appointed by Westfield’s mayor to the Commission for Citizens with Disabilities. Velis additionally held internships at the Hampden County District Attorneys Office, Northwestern District Attorney’s Office, and the White House (velisforsenate.com).
In 2014, Velis won a special election to the MA House of Representatives’ 4th Hampden District. After serving the remaining seven months of the former GOPer’s term, Velis won his first-full term regular election in 11/2014. Velis became the first Democrat to represent Westfield in 35 years. He ran unopposed in 2016 and 2018 (electionstats.state.ma.us,masslive.com, 4/01/14, Fay, 11/04/14, wwlp.com). In the MA House, Velis cast his first vote in support of a bill to help individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities, including autism. This bill, H. 4047, would allow families to set aside tax- free savings accounts to pay and plan for long-term care for children with these problems (malegislature.gov, 4/16/14). One of Velis’ main priorities has been MA veterans. Shortly after taking office, Velis passed his first major bill, the “Stolen Valor Act.” That bill made it a crime to impersonate a veteran for financial gain. He has filed numerous bills to extend more benefits to MA veterans. In 2017, Velis was appointed Vice-Chair of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs, a few weeks after being named MA Veterans’ Service Officer’s Association Legislator of the Year (velisforsenate.com).
When the GOPer representing MA’s 2nd Hampden and Hampshire State Senate district resigned to become Westfield’s mayor, Velis ran to take his seat in a special election scheduled for 3/31/2020. That election date was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic and GOP Gov. Charlie Baker’s stay-at-home advisory. When the 5/19/2020 special election was ultimately held, lots of precautions were taken. Masked campaign volunteers held signs while standing six feet apart and poll workers wore face coverings and had hand sanitizers for voters. In some areas, temperatures were taken and only one voter at a time entered polling places. Election-night parties were canceled. Velis and his GOP opponent John F. Cain gathered with a few close friends and family to await the results (2020 Advance Local Media LLC, 5/19/20, DeForge). In this race, Velis pushed for developing a strong educational system to train people for 21st Century jobs, as well as emphasizing his work for veterans. Velis was laser-focused on flipping this district that had been in GOP hands for 25 years (dlcc.org, DeForge, 5/19/20). In the end, GOP newcomer and Southwick business owner John Cain was clobbered by Velis by about a 28% margin, 64%-36%. Although about only 15% of the voters cast ballots, and many voted by mail, this western MA area, represented as recently as 1991 by a GOP Congressman, is turning heavily Democrat at all levels. The voters here, according to MA Democratic Party Chair Gus Bickford, rejected unhinged ego-driven Donald and the GOP’s extreme anti-working-class policies (See Cohen & Cook 2020 & DeForge). Velis promised to be the “hardest working senator this district has ever seen (DeForge).” Velis and Cain will have a rematch in 11/2020 for a full two-year term (DeForge).
In the second 5/19/2020 special election contest, Democrat Susan Moran defeated GOPer James “Jay” McMahon III by a 10% margin,55%-45% (capecodtimes.com, Spillane, 5/19/20). This MA State Senate seat had been held by “Team Red” since a GOPer won it in 2014 (DiFazio, patriotledger.com, 5/18/20). This senate seat covers towns in Plymouth and Barnstable Counties (Deasy, 5/19/20, capenews.net). This state senate district is part of MA’s 9th Congressional District (CD), currently represented by Democratic Congressman Bill Keating. The MA 9th has a weak Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI) of D+4, and this South Shore and Cape Cod area is MA’s most competitive congressional district. This region has only recently started to lean Democratic (See Cohen & Cook 2020). The Plymouth-Barnstable MA State Senate election had been delayed for nearly two months because of the COVID-19 public health emergency (capecodtimes.com, Spillane, 5/19/20). Democrat Moran will succeed the former GOP state senator who left his post in late 2019 to take a position at a state university (Spillane, 5/19/20). This special election was also held with precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In the town of Plymouth, voters were required to bring their own pens, masks, and gloves, and only six voters were allowed into polling places at a time (patriotledger.com, DeFazio, 5/18/20). Mail-in ballots had to be received at voters’ respective town halls by the close of Tuesday, May 19, 2020 (DiFazio).
Falmouth resident Moran is an attorney who focuses on solving issues, not emphasizing political partisanship. She is a business owner and trained mediator. She is chair of the Barnstable County Economic Development Council as well as chair of Falmouth’s Board of Selectmen. She is a mental health and addiction treatment counselor at New England Memorial Hospital. In her campaign, Moran emphasized climate change and lack of affordable housing as major issues facing the district. She cited this district’s needs for repairing infrastructure and noted that crumbling bridges throughout this area need repair (DiFazio, 5/18/20, Susan Moran For State Senate, emilyslist.org, 3/18/20). She additionally stands for supporting education by helping students and teachers in public schools get the funds they deserve, while strengthening community colleges with lower tuition costs. Her business background helps her understand the need for cultivating business development and pushing for clean industries. Living and working in a coastal area, Moran understands the need to protect the environment, fight climate change, and work for alternative energy resources while reducing reliance of fossil fuels. A cancer survivor, Moran believes access to healthcare is a basic human right and that includes women’s reproductive health. Her work as an addiction treatment counselor influences her strong stand in getting funds to stop opioid abuse. Moran has been endorsed by her Congressman Bill Keating, pro-choice EMILY’s List, as well as numerous current and former MA legislators (Moran For State Senate, emilyslist.org, 3/18/20).
Moran’s opponent, James “Jay” McMahon III is a “Team Red” conservative. Attorney McMahon served in the MA Army National Guard. He unsuccessfully ran for state attorney general (DiFazio, patriotledger.com, 5/18/20). He wants no tax increases and is committed to being a “fiscal watchdog” for taxpayers, code phrases for talking about helping people but not giving them the necessary money to aid education, decrease opioid addiction, or fight for a cleaner environment. He wants to “strengthen” the criminal justice system so that victims are protected. McMahon’s stance comes straight out of the old Nixonian and current GOP playbook that criminal defendants just don’t count, even if wrongly charged (plymouthwickedlocal.com/news, 10/31/19). McMahon is a Trump hardliner on immigration. He wants to prohibit licenses for illegal immigrants. He wants Social Security number verification for state IDs. McMahon stated he was the only candidate who went to a hearing to voice his opposition to legislation making MA a sanctuary by prohibiting local police from working with ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Translation: McMahon does not care if legal immigrants and U.S. citizens are rounded up for deportation along with illegal immigrants. He wants to end illegal aliens accessing MA taxpayer funded benefits (McMahon for State Senate, Issues, 2019). Moran’s term will be up in 11/2020, when this seat comes up for re-election for a full two-year term.
After these “flip-to- Blue” victories by Democrats Velis and Moran, MA GOPers now have just four seats in their 40-member State Senate (wwlp.com/news). These victories, as I have often stated in several of my blogposts, are not just about partisan bragging rights. State legislative winners often become part of a party’s “farm team” from which members are recruited to run for higher state and federal offices. Since Demagogue Donald took office, Democrats have flipped 450 state legislative seats by their opposition to his extremist right-wing policies (@DLCC, twitter.com, 5/19/20, 6:56 PM). “Team Blue” is now 30 seats away from toppling 8 GOP majorities in key states. A memo from a Koch-funded Republican group warned that Democrats are “dangerously close to WIPING OUT Trump’s conservative majorities in states around the country (dlcc.com, 5/25/20).” The only way to continue these successes? The “T” word, “Turnout,” “Turnout,” “Turnout” in every national and state election. Again, congratulations Bay State winners John Velis and Sue Moran!