WHEN VOTERS IN the Ninth Congressional District go to the polls this coming Tuesday, September 11, they’ll make history by electing someone other than Joe Moakley in the Democratic primary for the first time in decades. Moakley distinguished himself as a creative legislator and national leader before succumbing to leukemia on Memorial Day, and it’s almost impossible to imagine any of the Democratic candidates replacing him. Almost. In a race conducted over just 15 short weeks, one candidate has outclassed the rest of the field in ideas, poise, and potential: Cheryl Jacques. The Phoenix enthusiastically endorses the nine-year Massachusetts Senate veteran for Congress.
Jacques is unabashedly pro-choice. When we had a pro-choice president, as we did from 1993 through 2000, this stance in a US representative perhaps wasn’t crucial. It is now. Congress is considering several bills that would restrict access to abortion. One would make it a federal crime for anyone but a parent to bring a teenager across state lines for the procedure; another would make it a crime to perform abortions on military bases; others have been filed that would limit access to the abortion pill RU-486. Perhaps most disturbing is the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which would make it a federal crime to harm a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus during a physical attack — a move many pro-choice advocates see as a step toward giving fetuses legal status. President George W. Bush is likely to sign into law any of these measures if they are passed by Congress. If you care about preserving Roe v. Wade, you should care about where your next congressional representative stands on choice.
Jacques supports marriage rights for same-sex couples. Although this is not an issue that members of Congress are likely to address directly (the body passed the odious Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 and is unlikely to take the measure up again anytime soon), it’s important to have politicians at every level of government who support gay marriage. And it’s particularly important here in Massachusetts, where a lawsuit modeled on the landmark Vermont case that forced the Green Mountain State to offer civil unions to gay male and lesbian couples is currently wending its way through Suffolk Superior Court. If events in Vermont presage what could happen here, the case for gay marriage will be fought not just in the court of law but in the court of public opinion. An openly lesbian member of Congress who can speak eloquently — and personally — of the need for marriage protections will be an important ally in this fight. And Jacques, unlike the other viable candidates in this race, is the only one to go on the record as supporting full marriage rights for gay couples, as opposed to separate-but-equal civil unions.
She opposes the death penalty. It’s a fairly new position for the former prosecutor, who announced her switch in June with a moving op-ed written with Rabbi Harold Kushner and published in the Boston Globe. Her late arrival to the issue is troublesome, particularly in a climate that’s seen Republican governor George Ryan of Illinois call for a moratorium on executions after the innocence of 13 convicts on his state’s death row came to light. The bottom line, however, is that Jacques is now where she should be.
In her nearly 10 years in the state senate, Jacques has amassed an impressive list of legislative accomplishments. Highlights include the Student Loan Tax Cut Bill, which lets taxpayers deduct 100 percent of the interest paid on their undergraduate student loans. She also lobbied hard for and was a lead sponsor of the Gun Control Act of 1998. The comprehensive measure — which tightens background checks conducted on consumers seeking a gun license, bans assault weapons, and mandates that all guns sold in the Bay State have trigger locks, among other provisions — gave Massachusetts the toughest gun-control laws in the country.
Beyond these tangible assets, Jacques has something else that’s hard to quantify: call it star potential. Although she’s been in the campaign just eight weeks, she has grown dramatically on the trail. She’s become more at ease in the debates. Her initially robotic recitation of accomplishments has evolved into a more natural presentation. She is easily the most articulate candidate on issues ranging from stem-cell research to civil rights to tax reform. Jacques’s status as the only female member of the Massachusetts delegation would give her a high profile locally; her formidable intelligence and tenacious ambition would eventually find the national audience that Moakley commanded, and that Congressmen Barney Frank and Marty Meehan have now.
One other thing: although many people fondly remember Moakley as something of a local hack who grew into a national figure, that’s not necessarily accurate. When Moakley ran for Congress in 1972, defeating the socially conservative Louise Day Hicks, he was a fully formed politician with progressive ideals, campaign smarts (his controversial decision to run as an independent against Hicks paid off), and several hard-fought campaigns under his belt (most notably a gutsy run for Boston City Council after he lost to Hicks in the 1970 Democratic primary). Of all the candidates vying to replace him, Jacques comes closest to Moakley’s maturity at the start of his congressional career. She is similarly grounded in her approach to issues. And she’s a ferocious campaigner who surprised everyone when she knocked off the popular newscaster Paula Childs in her first primary run for the state senate in 1992 and then defeated Republican minority leader David Locke in the general election — a race no one thought she could win. Although Jacques isn’t leading the polls in the Ninth, she’s been down before and come back. Don’t count her out. A vote for Jacques on Tuesday can make a difference.
Brian Joyce, the only other primary candidate with progressive views on choice and gay rights, ran a good campaign. Although much has been made of his switch on abortion from pro-life to pro-choice, a lot of this criticism has been unfair. There’s no reason to believe that Joyce’s explanation for his change of mind isn’t sincere. He’s also been a staunch advocate of domestic-partnership legislation in the state senate. In many ways, Joyce has a right to feel burned that Jacques got into the race so late and siphoned off a good chunk of progressive support from him. There’s no question that Joyce is a smart, politically savvy legislator. But in this race, Jacques is the better choice.
The front-runner in the race, Stephen Lynch, is a far more appealing character in private than his public posturing would suggest. His support for gay civil unions is a surprise, as is his recent decision to oppose the death penalty. And we have to agree with voters who merely yawned when news broke that Lynch had had problems paying back student loans. But Lynch’s pro-life stance is dangerously rigid — on the campaign trail he goes so far as to cast the debate over stem-cell research in the abortion paradigm. This is nothing if not intellectually timid.
For someone portrayed by opponents as a parochial pol, Lynch has wide-ranging and nuanced views on foreign-affairs issues such as the proposed missile-defense shield and trade with China. But his past record of parochialism is troubling. As a state senator, he often advocated for the residents of South Boston at the expense of other constituents in his district. This was shown most clearly by his back-room negotiations to divert 51 percent of linkage funds amassed from waterfront development to South Boston. And his decision to defend civil suits filed against 14 South Boston youths accused of racially motivated hate crimes is troubling. There’s nothing wrong with an attorney’s taking such a case. But taking such a case for free during his first run for political office raises unsettling questions.
Housing advocate John Taylor is just as much of a surprise in private as Lynch. He has creative ideas. His service on behalf of consumers is impressive. But his personality is abrasive — too much so for retail politics. That said, if Taylor sticks with elective politics after this race and learns to maneuver in the political realm as he has in consumer advocacy, he would be an appealing candidate.
State Senator Marc Pacheco’s campaign never caught fire, and the 15-week sprint has clearly exhausted him. Though he was in the race from the start, Pacheco never distinguished himself from the field. He’s been a good state senator, however, and is deservedly popular in his home district of Taunton.
Two other candidates, former federal prosecutor William Sinnott and Lyndon LaRouche supporter William Ferguson, are also on the ballot for the Democratic primary. Neither articulated ideas during the campaign that warrant an endorsement.
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