The campaign to replace Congressman Joe Moakley, who died of leukemia on Memorial Day, has been anything but textbook. Max Kennedy, brother of former Eighth Congressional District representative Joe Kennedy and son of the slain Robert F. Kennedy Jr., toyed with the idea of running and even went so far as to purchase a house in the district (a house that he’s now selling). In the end, he got out the very day everyone expected him to announce that he was in. The remaining Democratic field, then dominated by State Senators Stephen Lynch, Brian Joyce, and Marc Pacheco, was roiled when their colleague Cheryl Jacques announced her candidacy weeks after the others had ramped up their campaigns.
The day of the primary, September 11, terrorists hijacked four planes, using three of them to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Preliminary mayoral elections in New York City were postponed. The election for the Ninth, however, went on as scheduled, drawing 32 percent turnout, much higher than the predicted 24 percent. In that race, Lynch bested the Democratic field, while State Senator Jo Ann Sprague easily defeated William McKinney in the GOP primary.
Since then, the campaign has been overshadowed by news related to the terrorist attacks. And there’s been little public posturing from either candidate. One exception, however, caught our attention: just six days after the attacks, Sprague blasted Lynch for not supporting George W. Bush’s plans to build a missile-defense shield. " My opponent has repeatedly attacked the president for his efforts to find answers to the future of our defense, " Sprague said, according to the Boston Globe. The criticism was an example of just the sort of unthinking patriotic bandwagoneering we do not need now. Supporters of a missile-defense shield are merely trying to take advantage of the tragedy, just as Mayor Tom Menino tried to use the attacks to justify his opposition to another runway at Logan Airport, and just as some are trying to use them as a wedge to open up oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
If the terrorist attacks did anything, they underscored the foolishness of Bush’s proposal. Lynch was right to oppose the shield before September 11, and he’s right to oppose it now. What we need in Congress now more than ever are independent thinkers, not gung-ho flag-wavers. For this reason, among others, the Phoenix endorses Stephen Lynch in the Ninth District.
On a host of issues, Lynch is the more appealing candidate. He is against the death penalty (although he came to this position recently), while Sprague is a lifelong supporter of it. He supports gun control, while Sprague does not. Lynch opposed Bush’s gargantuan tax cut — which, when combined with the spending needs generated by the terrorist attacks, is going to give us the first budget deficit since 1997. Sprague supports the tax cut.
To be sure, Sprague is the better candidate on two important social issues. First, she’s pro-choice and he’s pro-life. It’s unusual, to say the least, for the Phoenix to endorse a candidate who opposes abortion rights. In fact, in our Democratic-primary endorsement of Cheryl Jacques, we wrote: " If you care about preserving Roe v. Wade, you should care about where your next congressional representative stands on choice. "
We haven’t changed our minds. We have no reason to believe, however, that Lynch would be a greater threat to abortion rights than the pro-life Moakley was. While it is true that Congress is considering — or was, before September 11 — several measures that would restrict a woman’s right to choose an abortion, the greatest threat to Roe v. Wade comes from the genuine possibility that Bush will appoint anti-Roe justices to the Supreme Court. The House has no say in confirmation hearings; that job lies with the Senate.
Sprague is also better on gay-rights issues than Lynch. On paper, both support civil unions for same-sex couples in lieu of full marriage rights. In practice, however, Sprague has long been an advocate for gay men and lesbians, while Lynch’s record on gay issues is spotty at best.
Nevertheless, these are two issues out of many. There is a very real chance that Democrats could retake the House during the midterm elections (as has been pointed out elsewhere, the opposition party typically picks up seats during wartime midterm elections: it happened during the administrations of Roosevelt, Truman, Johnson, and Nixon). And frankly, a Democratic leadership in the House would be a better guarantee against anti-Roe legislation than Sprague’s election. It would also ensure a Democratic approach to future income-tax reform, federal help for laid-off workers, education reform, and pending legislation that could encroach on our civil liberties by expanding the government’s investigative powers. Sprague has presented herself as a Weld-style Republican, but she would still have to work with Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert and his ilk. We think a Democrat-led House is the better solution.
Lynch is fairly young, and he’s demonstrated a capacity to grow — his positions on the death penalty and civil unions being two examples. In private, he comes across as intelligent, thoughtful, well-informed, and able to discuss complicated issues such as stem-cell research and foreign policy with some nuance. We hope that he will show more of these traits in public and grow into the type of representative Joe Moakley was.
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