Through much of 2012, the local political media — myself included — were a bit distracted by the big-name, big-money campaigns of Mitt Romney, Scott Brown, and Elizabeth Warren. Many of the so-called "down-ballot races" didn't get the attention they deserved.
That certainly was true of the races to fill three open seats in the state Senate. The winners — Kathleen O'Connor Ives of Newburyport, to succeed Steve Baddour; Mike Barrett of Lexington, to succeed Susan Fargo; and Joan Lovely of Salem, to succeed Fred Berry — all figure to remain in the Senate for years to come, and have a significant impact on public policy. I'll call them the young gun, the returning liberal, and the Leslie Knope.
THE YOUNG GUN
Ives, a 35-year-old Newburyport city councilor, was one of the biggest surprises of the 2012 state elections. An underdog winner in the Democratic primary, she went on to out-poll well-connected Republican Shaun Toohey of Haverhill (and two independent candidates) in a conservative-leaning district.
Given the makeup of the district, it's unsurprising that she shies away from embracing a progressive label, although she meets most liberals' policy requirements. Ives tells me she thinks of herself as pragmatic more than ideological.
That's a fair description of the whole group of new, north-of-Boston senators: Ives and Lovely, elected this year, and Eileen Donoghue of Lowell and Barry Finegold of Andover, first elected in 2010.
Although she lives in upscale Newburyport, "I come from a working-class background," growing up in Chelsea and Malden, she says. She went to Mount Holyoke, and has a background in environmental law — "I would be very enthusiastic to revisit the bottle bill," she says — but is also interested in consumer protection and health-care affordability. She also wants to consider revenue-generating proposals that can direct funds to transportation and higher education.
THE RETURNING LIBERAL
Barrett was a state senator years ago, representing Cambridge and neighboring towns (the Phoenix named him one of the state's 10 best legislators) before running unsuccessfully for governor in 1994. Now 64, he returns as the senator from the commuter 'burbs including Waltham, Lexington, Concord, and Lincoln.
In between, he spent 18 years in the private sector, much of it in health-care information technology; Barrett says that the Senate took "tremendous initial steps" with cost containment last year, but worries that its mechanisms are too voluntary and phased in too slowly.
Barrett is also committed to environmental gains — he is having solar panels installed on his own house — and believes that voters are ahead of the state government in recognizing the importance of the issue.
"Global warming and climate change are much more potent to working-class and middle-class people than you might think," Barrett says. "The environmental constituency in Massachusetts doesn't know its own strength."
An unapologetic liberal, whose platform included a gas tax increase, I'd expect Barrett to find common cause with liberal nearby-district senators Jamie Eldridge and Pat Jehlen.
THE LESLIE KNOPE
See if Lovely's story sounds a little familiar: a woman known more for hard work than ideology or partisanship gets involved in politics by spearheading a committee to renovate a dilapidated local playground, draws enough attention to get named to an official position, and uses that as a springboard to a successful city council campaign.