The role of lieutenant governor is one of the most misunderstood in state politics. Recognizing its potential influence, though, requires only a look at Worcester.
That makes the Sept. 6 Democratic primary of utmost importance to Massachusetts in general, and to Western Massachusetts in particular. The Democratic lieutenant governor’s race could give putative party gubernatorial candidate Maura T. Healey an asset the Republicans will not be able to match: geographic balance in a state in which its political structure and future growth desperately needs it.
The Republican editorial board has yet to speak with Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, who, along with state Sen. Eric P. Lesser, of Longmeadow, and state Rep. Tami L. Gouveia, will compete in the Democratic lieutenant governor’s primary on Sept. 6.
We respect the efforts of all the candidates and what they have to offer, but Lesser is the only statewide office candidate living west of Interstate 495, including Healey, who lives in Charlestown.
Only Lesser represents and lives in a four-county region whose health and growth are essential to that of the state, a point on which even Eastern Massachusetts officials claim to agree.
Worcester has enjoyed such growth. From tourism to economic development to rail travel, with a Trial Court less than 15 years old – and by 2021, a massive renovation of its old courthouse into popular modern apartment lofts – the Central Massachusetts city has flourished during the administration of Gov. Charlie Baker.
It is no coincidence that Baker’s lieutenant governor has been Karyn E. Polito, of Shrewsbury, a suburb of Worcester – nor that Polito’s predecessor was Timothy P. Murray, a Democrat from Worcester who served under Gov. Deval L. Patrick.
In the nearly 16 years of Worcester-based occupancy in the lieutenant governor’s office, that city and region have boomed. With Attorney General Healey seeking the governor’s seat and Lesser vying for the lieutenant’s job, the prospect of an east-west team at the state’s highest levels of elective office is real.
The Democratic primary victor will join a party ticket headed by Healey, who has an unobstructed path to the November gubernatorial election.
An east-west ticket balance has appeal not only for the western sector but also for Healey, whose career arc has given rise of speculation about her national potential. Governing a state with vibrancy from border to border will elevate her profile.
More relevant is that a geographically balanced ticket would best address the immediate health and growth of the entire state during her governorship.
Utilized properly, a lieutenant governor can double the administration’s visibility and presence. The governor sets the agenda, but an able No. 2 can serve as liaison on many fronts, from education and transportation to tourism and development – and even, under the right circumstances, in dealing with a Democratic legislature.
Healey has avoided taking sides in the lieutenant’s race, but she knows that only Lesser has represented and lives in the most neglected region in the state. His involvement with west-east rail, his leadership in advancing mental health care, his understanding of education needs in both urban and rural western districts and his support of tourism offer Healey a ready-made ambassador and Western Massachusetts resource on these and other issues.
With U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield, chairing the House Ways & Means Committee, a powerful voice exists to ensure the state receives its fair share of urgently needed government dollars. This is a moment to be seized, and the western sector should not – must not – be left out or left behind.
The Western Massachusetts vote on Sept. 6 will be crucial. In 2012, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren defeated Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Scott P. Brown in a competitive race that turned, in part, on a Western Massachusetts sweep by Warren. Warren is a national figure to whom Healey, in a futuristic sense, is sometimes compared.
Any doubt about a lieutenant governor’s influence is answered by looking at Worcester’s renaissance since Murray and Polito have held the post. Of the three possible combinations, only Healey-Lesser would provide the Democratic ticket the geographic balance and Western Massachusetts presence in high office.
Such balance speaks to growth and equity in all sectors of the state, and not just in its eastern half. That is something Healey, and the voters, must consider in this highly competitive race for an office whose impact must not be underestimated.