On Nov. 4, local voters will help choose the next president of the United States, settle a hard-fought state Senate battle and weigh in on three hot-button ballot questions.
Most Americans are now familiar with the major-party presidential/vice-presidential candidates: Barack Obama and Joe Biden for the Democrats, and John McCain and Sarah Palin for the Republicans.
But several other choices will appear on local ballots: Chuck Baldwin/Darrell Castle, Constitution Party (ultraconservative); Cynthia McKinney/Rosa Clemente, Green-Rainbow Party (ultraliberal); Ralph Nader/Matt Gonzalez, independent; and Bob Barr/Wayne Allyn Root, Libertarian Party.
With the major-party campaigns spending record amounts of money promoting themselves and bashing each other, there is a dizzying amount of claims and counter-claims to digest. One attempt to sort out the issues is the Jamaica Plain-based web site SeeThrough-
David Delmar-Senties, a JP resident and web designer, said that after the first presidential debate last month, “I was interested to see what the truth was.” Joined by his sister Andrea, he set up the web site as a non-partisan way to compare and contrast Obama and McCain solely on issues, and largely in their own words. The site welcomes source suggestions from users.
Delmar-Senties said he is supporting one of the major-party candidates, but wouldn’t say which one. “I guess it was out of extreme bias that I created a site that is unbiased,” he said. The site may continue and expand to cover other parties and elections.
Established sites offering non-partisan presidential campaign information include FactCheck.org, which analyzes factual claims, and OpenSecrets.org, which provides extensive campaign finance information.
In the race for the local 2nd Suffolk District state Senate seat, Democrat Sonia Chang-Díaz will face Socialist Workers Party candidate William Leonard on the ballot.
But incumbent Democrat Dianne Wilkerson, who lost to Chang-Díaz in the primary election by 213 votes, is continuing the battle with a write-in campaign. [See JamaicaPlainGazette.com for intructions on voting for a write-in candidate.]
Chang-Díaz and Wilkerson have similar progressive politics. Wilkerson, who has served eight terms, argues that she has the experience to continue supporting the district. Chang-Díaz, a Jamaica Plain resident who has never held elected office, argues that Wilkerson’s long history of legal troubles is too damaging to the district.
Leonard, a Roxbury union organizer, told the Gazette that both of the other candidates are members of a party that represents the rich elite instead of the working class. He said he wants to use the Senate seat as a soapbox for national issues, such as the economic crisis.
Wilkerson is the state’s only African-American senator, holding a seat designed to give power particularly to Roxbury and Dorchester in a city with a notoriously racist past. Some Wilkerson supporters have argued that Chang-Díaz—who has white, Latino and Chinese ethnicity—is essentially white, is backed by white voters and cannot represent the district well. The arguments have not been publicly endorsed or debunked by the Wilkerson campaign. Chang-Díaz, who identifies herself as a “person of color,” has called such criticisms “dishonest.”
Earlier this year, Wilkerson agreed to a $10,000 fine and other sanctions for violating campaign finance laws for years—her second such fine in 10 years. In 1997, she was convicted of willful failure to file federal income taxes for four years.
Wilkerson’s legal troubles continued two weeks ago, when the state Office of the Bar Counsel—which polices lawyer’s ethics—revived a 2006 accusation that Wilkerson committed perjury in a homicide case. Wilkerson’s already-suspended law license may be on the line. She has blasted the Bar Counsel’s move as “politically motivated and a travesty of justice.”
On the ballot questions, voters will be asked to: repeal the state personal income tax; decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana; and ban gambling-based dog-racing.
Question 1 would cut the state’s 5.3 percent income tax rate by 50 percent next year and abolish it completely starting in 2010. It is the brainchild of state Libertarian Party activist Carla Howell. The legal language is mostly a Libertarian philosophical statement. It would require the state government to declare itself a “Big Government” that is “inherently flawed and unreformable” and operates programs that “make things worse.”
Opponents estimate the change would slash state revenue by about 60 percent, likely forcing massive hikes in property taxes and other taxes and fees, as has happened in states that have no income tax. The alternative, opponents say, would be de-funding state programs that are not legally required by about 70 percent overall.
A similar ballot question failed in 2002.
Question 2 would remove criminal penalties for possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana. Instead, an adult offender would get a $100 fine, and a juvenile offender would be fined and required to attend a drug education program. Other marijuana violations, including selling it and driving while under its influence, would remain criminal offenses.
Supporters say that there is no point in turning people with a minor amount of a recreational drug into criminals. A conviction for possessing small amounts of marijuana now creates a criminal record that can prevent offenders from getting jobs, student financial aid, public housing and driver’s licenses.
Opponents say that decriminalization could let drug-dealers off the hook and that it would encourage people to use marijuana. They also note that state law already requires that first-time drug users get only probation followed by a dismissal of the charges if there are no further offenses.
A similar ballot question—but a non-binding one that just polled public opinion—succeeded in Boston in 2002 with more than 70 percent of voters backing it.
Question 3 technically would end betting on dog races in the state. In practice, it would end greyhound racing at the state’s two dog tracks in Revere and Raynham as of 2010. Supporters of the question—including the JP-based Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals—say dog-racing is an unnecessary and inhumane activity that kills, injures and torments thousands of dogs.
Opponents say dog-racing is a legitimate and humane sport that employs about 1,000 people.
A similar ballot question failed in 2000.
John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, is the only other candidate with competition on the local ballot. He is being challenged for one of Massachusetts’ two US Senate seats by Harwich Republican Jeff Beatty and Springfield Libertarian Robert Underwood.
Beatty is a former Army Delta Force officer and FBI and CIA agent who promises stronger expertise in national security. Underwood has his own version of the fiscal conservative/social liberal libertarian positions, including a call for Canadian-style health care coverage.
US Rep. Mike Capuano, who represents most of JP, is running unopposed after the new, Boston-based Free Government Party failed to produce a candidate it previously promised in the race.
Other candidates running unopposed this year include: US Rep. Stephen Lynch; state Reps. Willie Mae Allen, Liz Malia and Jeffrey Sánchez; Suffolk County Register of Probate Richard Iannella; and Governor’s Councilors Christopher Iannella and Kelly Timilty.