The state has always had colorful figures in elected office who make for interesting copy and are willing to pop the balloon of decorum and comity that’s often really just a cover for the go-along mentality that keeps pols safely in place and shies away from challenging the status quo.
Former state rep Dan Winslow managed to do that with some humor wearing the Republican label, the late anti-tax rabble-rouser Jack Flood did it wearing the Democratic label in the House while acting more like the Republican he eventually became, and liberal Democratic firebrand Chris Hodgkins regularly railed against his own party’s speaker, Tom Finneran.
But that brash tell-it-like-it-is approach caught up with Jim Lyons. The Andover Republican was sent packing from his House seat on Tuesday, as newcomer Tram Nguyen, a 31-year-old legal services lawyer, rode a wave of huge Democratic support and fundraising to oust the four-term lawmaker.
Nguyen said at her victory party that she ran because Lyons didn’t work collaboratively enough with colleagues to get things done. But that’s not why she was able to raise more than $200,000 and win the endorsement of former president Barack Obama. She became a star attraction because of the possibility that she could take down the most outspoken right-wing pol in the Legislature.
Colorful is one thing. The fact is, Lyons was out of step with his more moderate-leaning district and defeating in today’s climate may have been mostly a matter of fielding a strong candidate with hefty funding.
The Andover vote at the top of Tuesday’s ballot seems to underscore that, as town residents split their ticket by delivering big margins to both Gov. Charlie Baker and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. That’s not the kind of voter profile that a candidate like Lyons could count on.
Could a similar progressive focus on another Massachusetts pol who seems out of step with the state’s more moderate-to-liberal ways translate into another incumbent ouster? In today’s Globe, David Scharfenberg wonders whether Bristol County sheriff Thomas Hodgson could be ripe to knock off in this era of criminal justice reform.
The Republican jailer has stood well outside the national move toward rethinking corrections, offering instead to ship out his inmates to help build a border wall and facing lawsuits over his use of solitary confinement for severely mentally ill inmates and high charges for prisoner phone calls. He’s the closest thing we have to Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona law-and-order sheriff adored so much by President Trump that he pardoned him last year to void Arpaio’s criminal contempt conviction.
As Scharfenberg notes, Bristol County went for Hillary Clinton in 2016, not necessarily a good data point for the man he calls the state’s “Trumpian sheriff of its own.”
Even conservative Maricopa County in Arizona decided it had had enough of Arpaio. With heavy funding of a Democratic opponent from liberal financier George Soros, voters tossed Arpaio out of office two years ago, the same election cycle in which Hodgson ran for reelection unopposed.
With sheriffs elected to six-year terms in Massachusetts, Hodgson doesn’t face voters again until 2022. But if the reform wave in criminal justice is still going strong then, the state’s hardline sheriff could face a hard reelection climate.