My favorite quote from a Senate candidate of late goes to Marisa DeFranco, who told the Globe,in response to concerns raised by some Democrats about her candidacy, ““Do we just want to have an anointing? Don’t sell people on the fact there’s a democratic process and then whine that there is a primary.’’
DeFranco was back in the news because she crossed the threshold needed to get her name on the primary ballot. She did this in almost stealth fashion as the attention in this race has been on Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren. She forced a primary against tremendous odds. That’s energy that other candidates need to try to capture.
Her success has caused unnecessary fear among the nervous nellies: those Democrats who shudder at the thought of a fellow Democrat harming Warren. They wish to only focus on Brown. The nervous types don’t like anything that deviates from the script. They are the ones who knew, just knew, that the long and hard-fought Obama-Clinton race of 2008 would destroy the chances of Democrats to win the White House in 2008.
DeFranco has made this a race on the Democratic side. She’s progressive not only in policy outlook but in party outlook as well. Too often of late party leaders in Washington have tried to dictate nominees to state and local organizations. It is not a critique of Warren to note that once party bosses in Washington and Boston made it clear that she was their candidate, most other viable candidates gained little traction and were very quickly shown the exit.
What an odd turn of events, particularly for progressives.
Progressivism began as more than just a policy regime designed to ameliorate the social and economic inequalities that existed in turn of the 20th century America. It was also an anti-party movement designed to strike at the power party bosses had at their disposal to dispense nominations, control patronage, and obstruct national regulation over state and local affairs. Primary elections emerged as one of the most powerful tools used by progressives to make parties answerable to the party faithful. Ordinary voters gained the right to choose party nominees and that right has been fairly sacrosanct ever since.
Later in our history, some party organizations came to believe that party leaders had become too weak in the process of choosing nominees and attempts were made to restore some of their power: Super Delegates are just one example. In Massachusetts, a candidate must meet a low threshold of support in a Convention in order to have their name appear on the primary ballot. This was designed, in part, to ensure that nominees had a measure of support from their own party and some relationship to the party leaders who might be essential for governing.
DeFranco is likely to meet that 15% and ensure that the progressive party in Massachusetts lives up to the expectations of earlier generations of progressives. Democrats should not dismiss her: she is a passionate defender of progressive values, she is the only candidate who speaks with a deep knowledge of immigration law, and if she is bested by Warren, DeFranco voters won’t bolt. They will turn out to vote for Warren.
Expect a barn burner of a speech from DeFranco at the Democratic Convention in June and a hardy band of volunteers storming the state afterward. Exactly the type of grass-roots activism that helped to begin the progressive movement.