The following was inspired by hearing Joe Kennedy speak at my ward committee and watching the past few debates. I could write much, much more about the positive case for Markey beyond what I include below, but I wanted to focus on rebutting fundamental misrepresentations and internal contradictions from the Kennedy campaign.
An Opening Pitch
When approaching races, I like to think about (a) what will the candidates fight for/will they be a champion of some issue area, (b) will they be fighting to improve legislation, and (c) do they have deal-breakers (e.g., are there things that would make them oppose legislation).
I feel more confident in Markey than Kennedy in all three. I’ve followed Congressional votes pretty actively since 2013 (I used to blog about Congressional roll call votes in a Daily Kos account). From that, if I were asked about issues that Markey focuses on and his specific expertise on, I would say climate change, net neutrality, and constraining nuclear weapons (which I like to frame as “the ethical governance of technology”). And I know that he has deal-breakers (voting against an end-of-year budget/appropriations bill a few years ago because it lifted the ban on crude oil exports; reliably voting against Trump’s nominees; when the Senate Democratic caucus splits on a largely left-right basis, even if it’s a very small left, he’s usually in it. His history of advocacy on climate change — along with the current Green New Deal framework, which foregrounds the intersectionality between climate change, public health, and inequality — is especially important since, if Democrats take back the Senate and win the presidency, we really need to start moving on that front. We need someone like Ed Markey to help translate the Green New Deal vision into the policies that will help us decarbonize the economy, provide good-paying union jobs, and address historic inequities.
And to take that a step further, if we do get the situation where we have full Democratic control in DC for the first time in a decade, someone with Markey’s values, experience, and passion is the type of person I want at the table crafting the legislation to get us out of the “fires everywhere” mess we’re in right now.
With Kennedy, he has not been a public champion of anything to the same extent. His voting record has been less progressive than that of Clark, McGovern, and Capuano/Pressley — more progressive than Neal, Moulton, Lynch, and Keating. And probably closest to Tsongas/Trahan. He had to be dragged kicking and screaming to support Medicare for All, and in general, activists I know in the district say that he largely avoids any events that branded themselves as “progressive.”
Although I am a supporter of primaries in general, the existence of this race feels like a distraction because it is preventing people from focusing on races in other states or down-ballot races here at home. If you’re going to run against an incumbent, you need a compelling case of why you and why not them. And I have yet to hear that from Kennedy.
Now on to some rebuttals…
Presence in Massachusetts: Joe Kennedy’s campaign has recently been stressing an argument that Ed Markey spends too much in DC. First of all, as the Capitol is in DC, I would want my senator spending a decent amount of time doing the job of legislating. Markey has a very strong constituent services program here in Massachusetts, so it is not as though his office is absent or distant. Joe’s promise to be constantly flying back and forth between DC and MA actually seems unwise from an environmental perspective (we should be discouraging frequent flying!). If he wants a job that is primarily in Massachusetts, the logical thing would have been to run for Governor in 2018.
Moreover, the claim that Markey is absent would only hold up if he is not delivering for the state. However, the campaign recently put out a map highlighting all that he’s been able to do for the 300+ cities and towns in the state, which I think speaks for itself: https://map.edmarkey.com/#/.
Moreover, I see a fundamental contradiction in asserting that one of Markey’s problems is that he is absent but that one of Kennedy’s strengths is that he spends all of his time fundraising for Democrats in other states — and thus being absent.
Money in Politics: On the issue of fundraising, the Kennedy campaign has taken issue with Markey’s non-disavowal of outside spending from environmental groups on his behalf. The very same people who make this point often, as noted in the above section, also tout Kennedy’s work going around the country fundraising for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and other Democratic candidates. One of the main problems with money in politics is that it skews politicians’ priorities and consumes their time. If we take money in politics as a problem, I don’t see how the latter is not just as troubling, if not more so. Being a prolific small-donor fundraiser (see: AOC, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren) is admirable; being a prolific big-dollar fundraiser, less so.
War & Peace: At my ward committee meeting, when a member asked for what contrasts there are between Markey and Kennedy, Kennedy highlighted that they differed on “war and peace issues,” noting that he was stronger. Kennedy then and in debates has pointed out that Markey voted “present” on a Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote on Obama’s proposed airstrikes/invasion in Syria in late summer of 2013 (although he has misrepresented it as a vote of the chamber). A “present” vote was actually a positive thing from an anti-war perspective given how heavily Obama was lobbying for the Syria resolution. Democrats on the SFRC voted 7 to 2 in favor (with Markey’s present the 10th Democratic vote), and the committee as a whole was to 10 to 7. Markey explained his “present” by saying that he thought the resolution was overly broad and that he needed more information. It would be one thing for Kennedy to criticize Markey here if Kennedy had been a vocal “NO” on the resolution. He was not. Per The Hill’s whip count, he was undecided/no clear position, and the House never did vote because Obama ultimately scrapped it.
Criticisms of Markey’s Iraq War vote are entirely fair (there was no good reason to vote yes), but I have a difficult time believing that Kennedy would have voted no. At the time, Joe Kennedy would have been a recent college grad with a prominent political last name. Had he wanted to get prominently involved in the protest movement, he could have. He did not. Kennedy was also part of the minority of the Democratic caucus to vote against an amendment from Rep. Barbara Lee to expedite the end of combat operations in Iraq in 2014.
In light of Kennedy’s frequent line about how being a senator is not just bills and votes, it is ironic that he accidentally voted to give Trump more money for his nuclear arsenal.
Mass Peace Action voted to endorse Markey earlier this year, noting (among other things) his excellent work on nuclear disarmament. You can read why here: https://masspeaceaction.org/tag/ed-markey/.
2009 ACES Bill: One of the weirdest lines from the Kennedy campaign is blaming Ed Markey for the failure of the 2009 American Clean Energy and Security Act in the Senate, of which Markey was not yet a member. The bill was often referred to as “cap and trade” as shorthand, but it did a lot more than that. The bill was not perfect, but it was probably the best that could get through the House — and it squeaked by 219 to 212. It was, coincidentally, the first bill I actively followed, as I was active in Georgetown’s environmental action group at the time (I remember getting people to call for a Boxer-Sanders bill a few years prior, but can’t say I was paying too much attention to it). The bill failed in the Senate because Harry Reid could not get to 60. I don’t see how that was Ed Markey’s fault. If you would like to read more on this, I would suggest these three (the last, on the whip job for the bill in the House is actually one of my favorite all-time articles):
Progressive Cred: Kennedy likes to tout himself as the true progressive in the race. Although it has been less common in recent years, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, of which Kennedy is a member, has put forward its own budget. In 2013 and 2014, he voted against his own caucus’s budget. See the 2013 vote here and a write-up of the 2014 vote here.
Environmental Scorecards: Kennedy and his supporters have at times noted that he has a higher score from the League of Conservative Voters. First of all, the LCV has endorsed Markey. But second of all (setting aside some issues I have had over the years about the LCV’s vote selection, such as their exclusion of a vote to close the so-called Halliburton loophole), intra-chamber comparisons on such a scorecard are methodologically unsound. The House and the Senate do not cast the same votes. This is like comparing a 98 in Mrs. Smith’s class and a 96 in Mrs. Jones’s class. The graded material was different: the assumption you can get is similarity, not rank order. Markey’s vote may have fallen when he ran for Congress in 2013 as the LCV scores absences as votes against them, which, most notably, has hurt presidential candidates and would likely hurt those running in special elections. Regardless, as the LCV and every other environmental organization knows, it is Ed Markey who has been proactively leading on this issue.
Past Record: We should criticize politicians for their past votes, but I frankly find it a good thing that Ed Markey has evolved since the 1970s (if a politician hasn’t, well….). That is what we want from politicians: we want them to change and to be responsive to progressive public pressure. And Markey has. I have been struck by how difficult it is to point to recent bad votes or positions from Ed Markey. (I can, off the top of my head, name votes I dislike from both — I pay far too much attention to this stuff). But if we are to criticize Ed for things from so long ago, I don’t see why it’s okay to absolve Joe Kennedy of affiliating with a notoriously racist fraternity for so long and working for an extremely conservative district attorney on the Cape. That he is as wealthy and connected as he is makes these even more concerning because he had all the resources and knowledge in the world to take a different path. After the Peace Corps, he could have not decided to work for the Cape DA: he had every opportunity open for him. He made that choice.
Policing & Surveillance: Joe Kennedy has tried to take advantage of the political moment to frame himself as a champion of racial justice; however, votes in his recent record sit at odds with that. Take, for instance, his vote in 2018 for a “Blue Lives Matter” bill that would set a federal penalty of up to 10 years for “assaulting an officer.” This charge is often used as a cudgel to dissuade legitimate victims of police brutality from filing complaints. But even in cases where someone did assault a police officer, there are plenty of federal and state laws protecting police officers already, and there is no wave of such a crime going unpunished. The ACLU and NAACP had slammed the bill as a dangerous solution in search of a problem.
In 2014, when the issue of police militarization started getting more attention given the outrageously disproportionate police response to protests, Kennedy voted against banning the transfer of “aircraft (including unmanned aerial vehicles), armored vehicles, grenade launchers, silencers, toxicological agents, launch vehicles, guided missiles, ballistic missiles, rockets, torpedoes, bombs, mines, or nuclear weapons” to local police departments.
As recently as 2018, Joe Kennedy was arguing that marijuana decriminalization had been bad because it made it harder for police officers to engage in stops that often amount to little more than racial profiling (“If you smelled [marijuana] in a car, you could search a car,” he said at the time. “When it became decriminalized, you couldn’t do that.”).
Although both candidates have recently voted against expanding Trump’s surveillance powers (Senate, House), it took Joe longer to get there. In 2008, Markey voted against the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, and he voted against extending the PATRIOT Act in 2011. However, in 2013, Joe Kennedy was voting against efforts to curb the surveillance state, such as the amendment from Justin Amash and John Conyers to end bulk collection by the NSA. That Joe seems to have evolved on this issue is good; that Ed Markey got there first is better.
2018 DA Race: Joe claims he did not “endorse” against Rachael Rollins. It’s an issue of semantics. He showed up for a GOTV launch for Greg Henning. That, by my definition, is an “endorsement.” It is not a press release supporting the candidate, but it is a public statement of support of a friend. Greg Henning is the candidate that had to be shouted out by the crowd at a candidate forum in Hibernian Hall to admit that systemic racism was a problem in the DA’s office.
It has been great to see Joe Kennedy evolve and adopt more progressive positions since he started angling to run for the Senate — that’s what we should want from politicians. But Ed Markey was already there. Every politician needs to be pressured (that’s the job of activists), and our role in elections it to help elect those that require less work from us to get them where they need to be today. Because there’s far more work to do.