Herman stakes out progressive turf

John Ruch

Web Exclusive

State representative candidate Jeffrey Herman spoke strongly against incumbent Jeffrey Sánchez and claimed to be the progressive alternative at a poorly attended July 14 forum arranged by Herman himself. The two Democrats are facing off on the September primary ballot for the 15th Suffolk District seat, which roughly covers western Jamaica Plain.

Herman pledged to legalize medical-use marijuana and called himself proudly “soft on immigration,” among other stances.

“He’s a nice guy. He goes to a lot of meetings. But he has what I call a bureaucratic mentality,” said Herman of Sánchez at the forum, attended by a maximum of 10 people, at the First Church in Jamaica Plain Unitarian Universalist. “I don’t think he has a good enough imagination. I don’t think he’s proactive enough.”

Sánchez was invited to debate Herman at the forum, but did not attend. Sánchez later told the Gazette that he will attend Democratic ward committee forums with Herman and answer questions there.

“I’m not going to respond to him” in the meantime, Sánchez said, largely
declining to comment on the record about Herman’s specific criticisms. “If I start answering each and every point he has to say, then who’s running his campaign? Me? That’s not how this works.”

“There are too many things he’s trying to [say to] chip away at my professional credibility and personal credibility,” Sánchez added about Herman. “I’m not going to dignify [that with] a response to that.”

Herman used the two-hour forum to introduce himself in an informal discussion that ranged widely from autobiography to global issues, with frequent quotes from books he has read and lectures he has attended.

Displaying old photographs and newspapers, Herman sketched his background in anti-war activism and international politics. His leadership positions include teaching at the United Nations University of Peace in Costa Rica; serving as the chair of Democrats Abroad in that country; and serving as a student senate leader and head of a group opposing the Vietnam War at the University of California Santa Barbara. He also described being orphaned at a young age and being cared for by the Salvation Army, an organization he continues to support.

“From what I hear of that forum…it sounds like [Herman] spent a lot of time in Costa Rica and it was show-and-tell on [that],” Sánchez told the Gazette. Sánchez noted that he has lived in the district for most of his life and continues working on issues here.

Herman’s criticisms of Sánchez were relatively few, but strongly worded. He noted that Sánchez was first elected in 2002 by a plurality, not a majority, of voters, and that Sánchez had not had a serious challenger since then. He concluded that Sánchez’s politics are not progressive enough for JP.

One example Herman pointed out to the Gazette was Sánchez’s 2005 vote to reaffirm the use of the term “one nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, as reported by OnTheIssues.org, a Cambridge-based, non-partisan vote-tracking database. The use of the term “God” in the Pledge and other government rituals frequently has been legally challenged by advocates for a strict separation of church and state. While that resolution was introduced by a Republican, OnTheIssues.org also shows Sánchez voting along liberal Democratic Party lines a majority of the time.

“My litmus test for who is a progressive would not include someone who reaffirms ‘one nation under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance,” Herman said. “I don’t like people using God as an excuse to serve their purposes, whatever they might be.”

Herman’s favorite example is medical marijuana. Earlier this year, Sánchez controversially chose to essentially kill a bill that would have legalized medical marijuana when it came before a public health committee he chairs.

“It enrages me that our legislator was able to relegate those people [who could use medical marijuana] to more years of suffering because he doesn’t know enough about the issue,” Herman said, saying the last words—a paraphrase of Sánchez’s previous comments to the Gazette—in a mocking tone.

Calling Sánchez the “clog in the machine,” Herman said he believes he can get medical marijuana legalized in his first term as state rep. “If that’s all I accomplish, I’ll be happy,” he said.

Sánchez acknowledged that one of Herman’s criticisms is accurate: that Sánchez’s campaign finance reports list an incorrect home address. He indicated to the Gazette that he forgot to update the address when he moved from Hyde Square to Moss Hill in 2008.

“I appreciate him bringing that to my attention,” Sánchez said.

Herman said that his election would be a “resounding call to other legislators that their positions are not safe.” He also criticized what he called the State House “buddy system,” where legislators agree to support each other’s policy positions even if they disagree with them as a go-along-to-get-along method.

“I would be willing to campaign against any legislator who is part of the buddy system,” Herman said, indicating that he believes JP’s other state rep., Liz Malia, participates in that system with Sánchez.

Herman outlined his positions on a number of state issues:

• Taxes. Herman said that, unlike most self-described progressives, he opposes tax increases. Instead, he believes government should focus on affordable, high-quality services and programs that generate long-term social and financial value. For example, he not only supports legalizing medical marijuana, but doing so in a way that is affordable to all users.

• Immigration. “I’m very, I’m going to say, soft on immigration. No person is illegal,” Herman said. “I know some undocumented workers that are friends of mine.” He said he believes that undocumented immigrants should be allowed to apply for citizenship after living in the US for five years without any felony criminal record. But he said he opposes having open borders and believes in deporting criminals.

• Crime. Herman opposes the “prison-industrial complex” and said he likes one advocacy group’s proposal to provide treatment rather than prison for drug-related offenders and use the cost savings to better rehabilitate all other offenders.

• Casinos. Herman said he understands that casinos would create jobs and retain gambling money in-state that currently goes to casinos elsewhere. But he indicated he opposes casinos because they do not generate wealth, instead merely shifting it into the hands of casino companies. Herman did not mention Sánchez’s position on casinos, which includes a recent vote to oppose casinos and slot machine parlors. “[Herman] called to thank me for my vote,” Sánchez told the Gazette.

• The environment. A longtime activist on clean energy and overpopulation, Herman warned of a “radical, apocalyptic” crisis that is “going to hit us like a tsunami.” On a local level, he criticized Sanchez for allegedly opposing Herman’s idea of requiring utility companies to distribute energy-saving light bulbs to customers. On the bigger scale, Herman cited E.O. Wilson’s book “Consilience” in describing a horrifying future where the surviving human race consists of “scrawny, possibly cannibalistic creatures” who wish they had died earlier in the catastrophe.

“It’s kind of crazy,” Herman said. “Here I am running for state rep., and [seeing] how little I’ll be able to do, and the problems are so enormous.”

Herman drew some criticism from the small audience for his stances on reducing overpopulation and requiring a certain kind of light bulb. But his general policies drew a positive response from at least two new supporters in the audience.

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