On Tuesday voters on Martha’s Vineyard and across Massachusetts will go to the polls to fill the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the death of Edward M. Kennedy on August 25. The winner of next week’s special January election will serve out the remainder of Mr. Kennedy’s term, through January 2013.
The three-way race in the order that their names appear on the ballot features Republican Scott P. Brown, Democrat Martha Coakley, and independent Joseph L. Kennedy.
The state’s strong Democratic establishment and voting history gives Ms. Coakley a considerable edge. The last time a Republican was elected to the Senate was Edward Brooke, a Vineyard summer resident reelected in 1972, and there are three times more registered Democrats than Republicans in the state.
However, some recent news reports said Mr. Brown has managed to close the gap. Mr. Kennedy, an Independent running his campaign out of his home, lacks the party support of the other candidates but does have significant name recognition, although he is no relation of the Kennedy family that dominated Massachusetts politics for decades.
In the six -candidate primary election on December 8, Ms. Coakley easily outdistanced Mr. Brown on the Island, 1,490 votes to 400.
Profiles of the three candidates based on each candidate’s website and their published comments on a variety of major political issues follow:
Scott Brown, 50, of Wrentham is a graduate of Tufts University, and Boston College Law School. A former Wrentham selectman, the current Massachusetts state Senator served three terms as a state representative. Mr. Brown has been a member of the Massachusetts National Guard for nearly 30 years and holds the rank of Lt. Colonel in the Judge Advocate Generals Corps.
In a recent OpEd published in the Boston Globe Mr. Brown introduced himself this way: “I’m the candidate running for the US Senate who you may not have heard of before but that you need to get to know. I’ve never served in Washington before. I don’t have Hollywood actors who have endorsed my campaign. I’m not the cautious politician who measures every word. I’m not a mega-millionaire.”
Mr. Brown opposes the current health care bill. “It will raise taxes, increase government spending and lower the quality of care, especially for elders on Medicare,” he said. “I support strengthening the existing private market system with policies that will drive down costs and make it easier for people to purchase affordable insurance.”
On the economy he has carved out a no-tax position. “I am a free enterprise advocate who believes that lower taxes can encourage economic growth,” he said. “Raising taxes stifles growth, weakens the economy and puts more people out of work. Our economy works best when individuals have more of their income to spend, and businesses have money to invest and add jobs.”
Mr. Brown opposes amnesty for people who have entered the country illegally. “I welcome legal immigration to this country,” he said. “However, we are also a nation of laws and government should not adopt policies that encourage illegal immigration. Providing driver’s licenses and in-state tuition to illegal immigrant families will act as a magnet in drawing more people here in violation of the law and it will impose new costs on taxpayers.”
On at least one issue, more troops for Afghanistan, Mr. Brown supports President Obama. “I am disappointed but not surprised to see how far out of step my Democratic opponents are with a President from their own party on a major issue of national security and foreign policy. Their opposition to President Obama shows just how far out of the mainstream they are and my fear is their opposition will jeopardize the safety of our troops and allow Afghanistan to again become a base to export terror around the region and the world.”
Mr. Brown said he supports the Second Amendment and believes “that citizens have the right to keep and bear arms as a basic constitutional liberty. I support safe and responsible gun ownership.”
Martha Coakley, 56, of Medford, graduated from Williams College in 1975, and Boston University School of Law in 1979. Prior to attending law school, Ms. Coakley worked on Martha’s Vineyard where she cleaned houses and worked as a waitress at the Captain’s Galley in Edgartown.
She began her legal career in 1979, practicing civil litigation and joined the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office in 1986. She was elected Middlesex District Attorney in 1998.
In a recent OpEd published in the Boston Globe, Ms. Coakley stressed her commitment to health care reform.
“Promoting affordable, quality health care has been one of my top priorities as attorney general, and it will be a top priority if I serve in the Senate,” she said. “National efforts should draw on lessons that we have learned in Massachusetts.”
Ms. Coakley supports the Senate Health Care Reform bill.
If elected, Ms. Coakley said she would work to expand access to those without insurance coverage by supporting an individual mandate and a public insurance option that would complement the existing employer-sponsored insurance framework by providing coverage to those who lack it.
Ms. Coakley said the best way to get our economy back on track is to tackle the economic crisis head on and to take all necessary steps to get people back to work. This includes responsible tax relief that helps the middle class and enables businesses to hire, innovate, and thrive.
She said the Bush/Cheney tax cuts that lowered the tax rate of the top 2 percent of income earners or those who make more than $250,000 per year should be allowed to expire.
“I understand the challenges small businesses face, especially in today’s tough economy,” Ms. Coakley said. “In the Senate, I will work to provide small businesses targeted tax relief and access to capital to help them survive and thrive.”
Ms. Coakley has little to say on her website about illegal immigration. But in a November 25 interview with the MetroWest Daily News, she said immigration policy needs to be resolved on a federal level, and the nation’s estimated 12 million illegal immigrants need a path to citizenship.
“We need a policy that makes sense for 12 million people who are stuck in a purgatorial status quo,” Ms. Coakley said. She noted that a distinction should be made between hardened criminals here illegally and those whose only crime is immigrating without going through proper channels.
Ms. Coakley supports President Obama’s diplomatic overtures around the world and opposes his Afghanistan policy. “Based on what I know now about the President’s planned troop increase, I do not believe that we should send additional troops into Afghanistan,” she said.
“My concern moving forward is that there is no evidence that the Afghan government, led by President Karzai, is a legitimate or trustworthy partner in these efforts. Without a credible Afghan partner, we cannot achieve a goal of securing this country with increased troop levels and then implementing a sound exit strategy that leaves it in the hands of a stable Afghan government.”
Ms. Coakley’s web site and recent interviews provide no stated position on gun control.
Joseph L. Kennedy, 38, of Dedham graduated from Clark University in 1993 and went to work in the computer and technology field.
“I firmly believe we need more individuals to take an active role in government as the average politician seems to have lost their understanding of what life outside politics is like,” said Mr. Kennedy of his long shot decision to run. “I think the most important role of a politician is to listen to the citizens they represent and make sure that view point is accurately echoed in the decisions made in Washington.”
Mr. Kennedy, a registered Independent, said, “The extensive spending on wars, bailouts and social programs in both the current and previous administrations have expanded the deficit at speeds we have never before witnessed. These costs will have to be paid by us in the short term through tax increases, or by our children. These concerns have pushed me more and more to a Libertarian way of thinking.”
Mr. Kennedy opposes the war in Afghanistan. “This region of the world has been at war for centuries and it is presumptuous of us to think that we are going to stop it any time soon,” he said. “Moreover, the role of the American military should be to defend against attack or the imminent threat of attack, not to act as an ongoing police state on foreign soil … Democrats often claim to oppose foreign wars. But after eight months in total control of Congress and the White House, Democrats have done nothing to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
He opposes the current health care reform act. “Make insurers and physicians compete and we will dramatically lower the cost of health care making it more accessible for everyone,” he said.
On gun control he had this to say: “Rather than banning guns, politicians and law enforcement should encourage gun education and training programs. Responsible, well-armed and trained citizenry is the best protection against domestic crime. America’s founders knew that and it’s still true today.”
The polls in the six Island towns open at 7 am and close at 8 pm. Polling locations are as follows:
Edgartown, Town Hall selectmen’s meeting room
Oak Bluffs, Library meeting room
Tisbury, American Legion Hall
West Tisbury, Public Safety Building (State Road fire station)
Chilmark, Community Center
Aquinnah, Town Hall meeting room.
Because town offices will be closed for Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, Jan. 18, the day before the election, voters have until 5 pm Friday to apply for an absentee ballot. The usual deadline is noon the day before election day.