The Case for Competition in Our Elections
I was disappointed but not surprised when I saw the recent news that many local legislators are running
unopposed in the coming election season. We are all justly proud of our state, but too often, Massachusetts legislators are getting a free pass when it comes to job performance.
According to the nonpartisan political website Ballotpedia, elections for the Massachusetts State
Legislature rank dead last among all states in terms of competitiveness. This means that in 2016 we
were the least competitive political landscape in the country, and near the worst in all three aspects of
Ballotpedia's Competitiveness Index: the percentage of open seats, incumbents facing primary
opposition, and general elections with major party competition.
We are extremely competitive in Massachusetts in so many ways, yet we do not hold our elected
officials to the same high standards. We are ranked first in the nation in education, we’ve been ranked
the healthiest state, the best state to raise a family, and the most innovative. Every year we pride
ourselves on having the best universities, hospitals and sports teams – yet year after year we give our
elected representatives a pass.
Why should we care?
Competition matters. Contested elections allow the sun to shine on the candidates, their qualifications,
record of service, accomplishments and important issues of the day. Voters then have the opportunity to
make an informed decision on which candidate will best represent them in the legislature.
I also believe that in elected office — as in business, education and athletics -– competition makes us
better. Constantly striving to rise to the top of your field creates an atmosphere of hard work and
innovation, and a discipline of self-evaluation and improvement. I also believe that a lack of
competition leads, at best, to complacency – and at worst, cronyism and corruption. Given the lack of
electoral competitiveness in our Legislature, are we surprised that we’re seeing the following in
- A Commonwealth Magazine study in 2012 found that the amount of time the Mass. Legislature
spends in session has dropped by roughly half since the mid-1980s. The number of recorded votes
has declined by about 70 percent in the House and 50 percent in the Senate over that same period.
More recently, the Senate and House took an extended 49-day break from formal sessions from
November 15th, 2017 until January 3rd, 2018. Not many working families enjoy that kind of time
- In January 2017, after no public input or hearings, our legislators rammed through $18 million in
pay raises for themselves, using “emergency funding” language to ensure that their larger paychecks
would come right away. Legislators got a pay raise averaging 40% – and nearly double for various
- In December 2017, former Assistant Majority Leader of the State Senate Brian Joyce was arrested
on an indictment of more than 100 federal charges alleging that he collected about $1 million in
bribes and kickbacks during his 18 years in office.
This on top of the most recent troubling allegations of outrageously inappropriate conduct and silencing tactics from leadership in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. These stories dominate our headlines while we should be more concentrated on the growing concerns about the state’s fiscal stability even as the overall economy remains strong.
So, what is to be done?
People who are active in their communities need to be encouraged to run for office. This is a job for all
of us. Nothing is going to change until we re-introduce the process of WINNING these seats by
competitive election versus today’s elected officials’ sense of entitlement to office.
For anyone thinking of running, there is still ample time to step up and take out papers. Let’s put
competition back on the ballot. Massachusetts and all of its citizens will be the winners.
Allison Werder is the former president of MassLive Media and is current candidate for State Representative in the 2nd
Hampden District which includes Longmeadow, East Longmeadow, Hampden and Monson.