by Cole Harrison, Glen Cote, and Bonnie Gorman
Progressive policy dodged a bullet on November 8 as the predicted “red wave” did not materialize. The collaboration between women, labor, people of color, liberal democrats and progressives out-organized and out-mobilized opposition in some significant ways. Nonetheless, Washington will see a divided government for the next two years, with Democrats controlling the Presidency and the Senate and Republicans holding the House and Supreme Court. Regardless of the party in power, the pro-peace agenda will continue to face challenges throughout the coming congressional term.
It is clear that the far right overreached, as many of Trump’s favored candidates lost, though they still made some gains, with 2020 election result deniers winning office in many states. MAGA Republicans regrouped after losing the 2020 election, won many contests and state legislatures, and will continue to pose a serious threat in 2024, in the view of Convergence’s Max Elbaum. Many winning Republican candidates cannot be easily pigeonholed into the MAGA or neoconservative camps, but are instead splitting the difference, according to Rachel Bovard, Senior Director of Policy for the Conservative Partnership Institute, at a Quincy Institute webinar.
John Fetterman, who brought a progressive, populist agenda to both suburbs and small towns, was rewarded by a Senate win in Pennsylvania – and was attacked by his opponent for accepting a Peace Action endorsement. Meanwhile, progressive Peter Welch will join Bernie Sanders in representing Vermont. The Congressional Progressive Caucus added a dozen new members, including four standouts who will strengthen the “Squad” developing since 2018: Maxwell Frost, Summer Lee, Greg Casar, and Delia Ramirez.
With the country polarized and mainstream Democrats presenting lackluster messages, grassroots progressive organizations that are independent of the party machine were key to turning out the vote and bolstering Democrats’ chances. Organizations like the Working Families Party, Justice Democrats, and Our Revolution, as well as labor unions and state-level grassroots organizations, played a critical role in boosting voter turnout. In the wake of judicial and legislative attacks on reproductive rights, women and allies turned out to preserve their own rights.
Election Poses Little Challenge to Hawkish Foreign Policy
The balance of forces does not favor pro-peace foreign policy from Washington. Foreign policy received little attention in the election, and the alliance of mainstream Democrats and neoconservative Republicans seems likely to continue to push hard for US global hegemony and to contain any challenges from Russia and China, not to mention middle powers like India, Iran, Turkey, Venezuela and Brazil. While many MAGA Republicans are hesitant to fund the Ukraine war, most are strongly anti-China and are not likely to mount a sustained challenge to the bipartisan, hegemonist foreign policy, while Progressive Caucus Democrats are falling in line behind Biden and have few foreign policy initiatives of their own.
On Palestine/Israel, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) openly intervened in Democratic primaries for the first time, spending $27 million to defeat progressives. By the end of the 2022 primary season, candidates supported by AIPAC had won 77 percent of the time, though their spending to defeat Summer Lee did not work in either the primaries or general election, in which AIPAC pivoted to supporting MAGA Republicans. Meanwhile, in other races, candidates running on otherwise progressive platforms made significant changes to their stances on Israel-Palestine, in apparent attempts to avoid becoming the target of the AIPAC and Democratic Majority for Israel spending binges. This silencing effect could ultimately be the goal of the group’s outsize spending.
With little progress on peace issues likely to happen in Washington in the next two years, MAPA and other peace advocates are eyeing putting greater focus on the State House in 2023.
Democrats Gain in Massachusetts
Turning to state matters, Massachusetts voters elected a nearly all-female team to state constitutional offices, as Maura Healey easily overcame MAGA Republican Geoff Diehl to become Governor, Kim Driscoll lieutenant governor, Andrea Campbell attorney general, and Diana DiZoglio auditor. Deb Goldberg was reelected as treasurer and Bill Galvin as secretary of state. Though progressive challengers to several of these candidates lost in the primary, we can expect somewhat easier paths for progressive bills in the State House without Charlie Baker wielding the veto pen.
On a local level, progressive Paul Heroux ousted 25-year MAGA incumbent Tom Hodgson as Bristol County Sheriff, but the ACLU’s Rahsaan Hall lost to Tim Cruz in the race for Plymouth County District Attorney.
State Sen. Adam Gomez addresses Yes on 4 supporters at an election night party at the Colonnade Hotel in Boston. Photo: Tréa Lavery, MassLive.
Massachusetts Ballot Questions
Passing with a vote of 52%, Question 1 established for the first time a two-tier income tax in Massachusetts: those with incomes over $1 million a year will pay an additional 4% in tax on any income over $1 million, and the proceeds will go to education and transportation. The Fair Share Amendment has been an eight-year struggle, powered by labor, including both teachers’ unions and building trades, as well as the broad community coalition, RaiseUp Massachusetts, in which MAPA has participated since 2013. Part of the business community sat out the election, according to the Boston Globe’s Shirley Leung, in which just six millionaires provided over half of the funding for the “No on 1” campaign. The Yes on 1 campaign mobilized thousands of volunteer door-knockers, while “No on 1” had no volunteers or field operation and relied on deceptive TV ads.
Question 4 was a veto referendum on a bill to allow undocumented immigrants to receive Massachusetts driver’s licenses. 54% of voters upheld the law, passed by the Legislature over Gov. Baker’s veto, which will now go into effect in July 2023. Immigrant advocates have long worked for passage of this bill to allow for driver’s licenses to be issued to undocumented residents in Massachusetts, who can use licenses to get to and from work, bring their children to school, gain access to emergency services, and generally be able to participate in the community more safely. MAPA campaigned for both Questions 1 and 4.
Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly supported single-payer health care in 20 State Representative districts across the Commonwealth. Question 5, a non-binding public policy question, won in every district where it was on the ballot. “The majority of Commonwealth residents support Medicare for All,” said Stephanie Nakajima, Executive Director of Mass-Care: the Massachusetts Campaign for Single Payer Health Care, citing past ballot questions and polling. “Given this broad mandate to go ahead with Medicare for All legislation, the next state legislature should finally give the bill a proper hearing and pass it out of Committee rather than allowing it to die without a full vote of the legislature,” said Nakajima.
Question 6, calling for State Legislature committee votes to be publicly posted and other transparency measures, passed by an even wider margin of 85% in 20 districts. Massachusetts has one of the least transparent statehouses in the country. The practice of voting in secret makes our legislators more accountable to the Speaker of the House and special interests than to the people of Massachusetts. When constituents can’t hold their elected officials accountable, our democracy, and with it the peace and justice movement, suffers. These ballot question election results send a clear message to decision makers on Beacon Hill: we deserve to see how you vote. We deserve a government held accountable to the people.
The Facing our Challenges in Dangerous Times conference December 3 in Worcester, organized by MAPA and five other progressive organizations, will provide a forum to digest the election results at the national and state levels and build greater progressive unity in the years to come.
Cole Harrison, Glen Cote, and Bonnie Gorman are Co-Chairs of MAPA’s legislative/political committee