When US Representative Niki Tsongas announced last month that she won’t seek reelection next year, a rare opportunity opened up in the Third Congressional District, a seat that has been held by Democrats for four decades and by Tsongas for the last 10 years.
A large group of Democrats declared their interest in running. But something so far has been missing: No candidates from the district’s many immigrant communities have emerged. In a large district that includes some of the most diverse municipalities in the state, that should be a nagging concern for the Massachusetts Democratic Party, which too often takes minority voters for granted in general elections. Primary voters in the district deserve to choose from a representative field of candidates.
Consider Lowell, the district’s largest city . Immigrants from Brazil, Cambodia, and Nigeria will soon account for more than a quarter of the city’s population. Lawrence, the second-largest city in the district, has the biggest share of Latinos statewide. Between 2012 and 2016, the number of Hispanic voters in the district grew more than 20 percent. In the district’s 2014 midterm Democratic primary, with Tsongas running uncontested, four gateway cities with large immigration populations — Lowell, Lawrence, Haverhill, and Methuen — made up 37 percent of the vote.
Calling for more candidates isn’t intended as a knock on the current field, which includes Dan Koh, the former chief of staff for Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh. Koh, who grew up in Andover, has strong credentials: He’s a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Business School. Notably, he’s expected to capitalize on Walsh’s connections for fundraising. Other possible contenders include state Senator Barbara L’Italien of Andover and state Senator Eileen Donoghue, a Lowell Democrat. (Another presumptive favorite, Ellen Murphy Meehan, former wife of the University of Massachusetts president and former congressman in the district, declined to run.)
They all seem like capable candidates. But others deserve consideration as well, like 29-year-old state Representative Juana Matias, who took on an incumbent last year and surprised the political world by taking the Lawrence seat in the House. Matias came to the United States from her native Dominican Republic when she was 5 years old. More to the point, she is a newcomer with a compelling life story that could capture the imagination of the urban parts of the district — particularly in the Trump era. The 2018 midterms promise to be a referendum on the president and his hurtful and misguided policies against people of color, immigrants, and Latinos in particular.
“Progressives talk and talk about diversity. Then let’s get behind somebody!” said Emily Cherniack, founder and executive director of New Politics, a bipartisan group that supports candidates with national and military service backgrounds. Cherniack, who recruited Representative Seth Moulton to run for office, is now advising and urging Matias to run. “We have to be allies and put out our networks and resources.”
Too often, candidates from minority communities just gaining in political clout are discounted in the Bay State. If the Democratic Party wants to live up to its own rhetoric about inclusiveness, that needs to change.