Democrats Pad Supermajorities in Massachusetts House, Senate

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By Colin A. Young and Katie Lannan
State House News Service

As Republicans celebrated the first time a governor from their party was elected to a second term in nearly a quarter-century Tuesday, the GOP lost ground in both state legislative chambers and will be even more of a minority on Beacon Hill come January.

Senate Assistant Minority Leader Richard Ross (R-Wrentham), a four-term incumbent, was defeated Tuesday night by Democrat Rebecca Rausch.

Democrats dominated the contests for 28 open seats in Tuesday’s elections and flipped at least one seat in each chamber of the Legislature from red to blue to add to their House and Senate supermajorities.

Based on unofficial results, Democrats appear poised to begin the 191th General Court on January 3, 2019 with 122 seats to the Republicans’ 32 in the House — one seat will be held by independent Representative Susannah Whipps of Athol. In the Senate, Democrats are expected to control 34 seats to the GOP’s six. The GOP’s last veto-proof minority at the State House was in the Senate in 1991-1992.

Compared to the start of the current session, in January 2017, the Democrats will start the next session with four more members in their House caucus but Republicans will have lost five, since Whipps defected from the Republican Party mid-session. In the Senate, the balance of power will be the same as the start of the current session, but Democrats on Tuesday erased the GOP’s mid-session pickup of a seat in a special election.

And though Governor Charlie Baker has said since taking office in 2015 that he would focus on electing more Republicans to the House and Senate, he will start his second term with fewer members of his own party in the Legislature than when his first term began.

Massachusetts Republican Party chairmn Kirsten Hughes was not available Wednesday to discuss the election results, according to a party spokesman.

Just as Democrats across the country saw the predicted “blue wave” come up short of being a tsunami, the Democratic gains at the state level were not as significant as they might have been. Several Republican incumbents fended off Democratic challengers and Republican candidates defended a few seats left open by Republican members who didn’t seek reelection.

State Representative Leonard Mirra, a Republican from West Newbury, narrowly survived a challenge from Democrat Christina Eckert, with unofficial results showing Mirra holding onto his seat by about 360 votes out of more than 22,000 votes cast.

State Representative Mathew Muratore of Plymouth held off Plymouth Democrat John Mahoney to keep his seat, but Muratore’s margin of victory was less than 1,000 votes. State Representative William Crocker of Barnstable also kept a Democratic challenger, Paul Cusack, at bay by fewer than 800 votes, according to Associated Press tallies.

The Republicans retained the two open seats being vacated by Representatives Geoff Diehl of Whitman and Keiko Orrall of Lakeville, who gave up their Plymouth County seats to run unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate and state treasurer, respectively.

The GOP also held onto Representative Kevin Kuros’s seat in a tight race in which a winner was not officially called Tuesday evening. Bellingham Republican Michael Soter said on Facebook that his opponent, Uxbridge Democrat Patrick Malone, called him to concede Wednesday morning.

Kuros lost the Republican primary for Worcester register of deeds to Representative Kate Campanale, and Campanale on Tuesday lost that race to Democrat Kathryn Toomey. Worcester’s David LeBoeuf picked up that House seat for the Democrats, beating Republican Paul Fullen for Campanale’s current seat.

In the two races in which an incumbent was toppled Tuesday, a female Democrat took out a male Republican incumbent. In the Senate district that snakes from Wayland down into Attleboro, Democrat Rebecca Rausch defeated incumbent Republican Senator Richard Ross (R-Wrentham).

Rausch, a former health care attorney and a member of Needham Town Meeting, tweeted at about 2 a.m. Wednesday that, “[p]ending verification, the final tally is 37,323 votes for me and 35,641 votes for Ross.”

“They say that you should begin as you wish to continue, and so we have. I look forward to continuing the conversations and connections we initiated on the campaign trail, and to working together to make Massachusetts a place where everyone gets a fair shot at living their happiest, healthiest lives,” Rausch wrote to supporters in an email message Wednesday morning.

With Rausch’s win over Ross, Republicans lost the Senate seat that Scott Brown held when he launched his successful run for U.S. Senate. It also marks the first time since 2014, when Ryan Fattman (a Republican from Sutton) defeated Senator Richard Moore, that a sitting state senator has lost a reelection bid.

Andover attorney Tram Nguyen, who ran with the backing of Democratic power players from across Massachusetts and former President Barack Obama, unseated state Representative James Lyons, a conservative Republican from Andover who frequently casts the lone dissenting vote on House bills and often criticizes House leadership tactics.

Lyons came into office in 2011 after picking off then-Representative Barbara L’Italien, and was backed by Baker this cycle. Thanking his supporters on Facebook on Wednesday morning, Lyons called his stint in the House “an incredible journey.”

Nguyen, who moved to the United States at age 5 as a refugee from Vietnam, raised more than $160,000 in her first run for office. The political arms of the Environmental League of Massachusetts and Planned Parenthood cheered her win.

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee highlighted Nguyen’s win Wednesday as one of the 350 seats in state houses nationwide that flipped from red to blue.

Three new Republican lawmakers, including Soter, and 27 new Democrats are set to take seats on Beacon Hill in June.

Alyson Sullivan of Abington, daughter for former U.S. attorney and state representative Michael Sullivan, held for the GOP the seat Representatve Geoff Diehl gave up for his U.S. Senate bid. The 12th Bristol district stayed both within the party and within the family as voters picked Norman Orrall of Lakeville to succeed his wife Keiko Orrall after her run for treasurer.

Among Democrats, two of the new faces next session will actually be familiar ones returning to the Legislature in seats that their successors gave up to run for Congress in the Third District. Marcos Devers of Lawrence, knocked off by Representative Juana Matais in the 2016 primary, will reclaim his seat, and Andover’s Barry Finegold will return to the Senate seat now held by L’Italien.

Elsewhere in the Senate, Lowell City Councilor Ed Kennedy won the seat last held by Lowell City Manager Eileen Donoguhe, and Northampton’s Jo Comerford is on track to fill the seat last held by former Senate President Stan Rosenberg.

Representative Diana DiZoglio, a Democrat of Methuen, is now a senator-elect, prevailing in the race for the seat now held by Senator Kathleen O’Connor-Ives. Christina Minicucci, a Democrat of North Andover, will be DiZoglio’s successor in the House.

Also elected to the House on Tuesday were Democrats Daniel Carey of Easthampton, Tami Gouveia of Acton, David Robertson of Tewksbury, Patrick Kearney of Scituate, Kathleen LaNatra of Kingston, Richard Haggerty of Woburn, and Liz Miranda of Boston.

The three Democrats who picked off House incumbents in the primary — Nika Elugardo of Jamaica Plain, Jon Santiago of Boston, and Christopher Hendricks of New Bedford — went unchallenged in Tuesday’s general election, as did nine other Democrats who seized open House seats in the primary:  Devers, Peter Capano of Lynn, Natalie Blais of Sunderland, Lindsay Sabadosa of Northampton, Mindy Domb of Amherst, Maria Robinson of Framingham, Michelle Ciccolo of Lexington, Tommy Vitolo of Brookline, and David Biele of South Boston.