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Am I A Political Insider Now?

Opinion | September 22, 2010

Two years ago, I set foot on this campus knowing the names of the two Massachusetts senators, the late Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, and not much more about Massachusetts politics.  About this time last year, I began interning for Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Senate campaign, which was a fateful step in moving from political outsider to insider.  Even though that campaign was a failure, it brought me into a world where I never imagined I would be a part of as a junior at Tufts.

Let me take a step back to explain how I get here.  After the Coakley campaign, I remained in touch with many of the other staff and supporters as they went around Massachusetts and the rest of the country working for different campaigns and political organizations.  This network invites me to many events and I love going to them to expand my political network and keep up with the news.  These connections and others landed me a job running State Representative Carl Sciortino’s (D-34th Middlesex) re-election campaign this fall.

Now that I am running the campaign of a three-term incumbent representative, it has dawned on me that I am truly part of the political establishment.  Many of these people with whom I associate are often described as special interests lobbyists. In the last few weeks I have gone to events for friends who happen to be lobbyists and/or candidates running for elected office without even thinking twice.  I used to naively think that all special interests were bad, but now I see the need for their time, money, and volunteers.  Also, they support most of the same causes that I do.  It may be popular to rail against them, but it’s tough and unwise to ignore their support.

Another misconception I had coming to Massachusetts was that this commonwealth (I would have probably called it a state two years ago) is the bluest of blue.  While the Democrats have huge majorities in both the State House and State Senate, not all of these Democrats actually believe in the national platform of the Democratic Party.  Many come from very conservative backgrounds that make some Blue Dogs in Washington look progressive.  Unions used to deliver reliable Democratic votes, but now many union members are breaking from the party to vote for people like Senator Scott Brown based on their conservative social values.  While that does not mean the Republicans are going to take control of Beacon Hill anytime soon, it allows the possibility of creating a strong opposition that would unify Democrats.  If Democrats were actually unified behind the party platform, Massachusetts could actually the bluest state in the union.

For me the most alarming part of this process is how quickly one can go from being an outsider to an insider.  By just spending a few months hanging around with full-time campaign people, you can find out how a large portion of Massachusetts politics operates.  I don’t know if that is the case on the Republican side or even on the other more conservative Democratic side, but right now it is very easy to rise up very quickly within the ranks of progressive activists.  Last year, I had to use a connection to land the Coakley internship and now people are coming to me for access to my interns and trying to get more interns through me.  One of my friends who is rising through the ranks even faster than I am has described the process as a vacuum.  Once you get sucked into the vacuum, you never get spit back out.

While politics is not the cleanest profession, at the end of the day I love what I am doing, and so do most of the people inside the vacuum.  When you are constantly on the campaign trail, you meet countless fascinating personalities that at a minimum give you some of the best stories of your life. Many of these people become life-long friends.  It is not an entirely healthy lifestyle, but it’s a world that is never boring.  While the media and many citizens criticize the insider culture of Washington or Beacon Hill, I embrace my active role in helping elect my favorite politicians.  Many may think I am part of the problem, but I think I am part of the solution for Massachusetts.