Op-ed: Mass. Senate debate –– Kennedy contradicts and contradicts some more

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Photo courtesy of NBC10 Boston.

Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Joe Kennedy III face off in a fiery debate for Massachusetts senate seat.

Jacob Kemp, contributor

Perhaps no race better represents the ideological divisions growing in the Democratic Party than the current Senate primary between incumbent Sen. Ed Markey and his challenger, Rep. Joseph Kennedy III. As the race starts speeding up toward the Sept. 1 vote, with Sunday night’s debate igniting sparks, tension and incredible passion to win from both sides, it’s time for those of us at Northeastern to tune in.

While many would expect 74-year-old Markey to represent the politics of the past, this primary reinforces that the divisions are based in ideology, not necessarily age. As the co-author of the Green New Deal with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, along with endorsements from a plethora of progressive leaders and environmental advocacy organizations, Markey is generally seen as the more progressive choice. 

Though incumbency usually is a large factor in primaries, Markey is playing catch up for his reelection, largely due to the well-renowned and beloved Kennedy name. However, many are questioning why Kennedy is even running and if his climate rhetoric is undermined by his personal investments in fossil fuels. Additionally, he’s taken heat for using progressive insurgency rhetoric while largely being seen as a political “insider.”

Fast forward to Sunday’s debate, which some saw as the most pivotal of the year. With mail-in ballot applications arriving in the coming weeks, a good debate night for one of these candidates could change the course of the race.

Unfortunately, neither candidate had that night. Instead, we were given a brawl in the mud, with political dirt, accusations of lying and moderator-encouraged rebuttals tossed from each side. It’s clear that both sides were looking to score points and neither escaped unscathed.

Nevertheless, one thing was evidently clear: Kennedy still has not been able to articulate why he is running.

At first, his argument for “change” seems clear. However, if you sit up and wipe away his rhetorical mud from your screen, you’ll see the many contradictions that Kennedy and his campaign are dealing in. I’ll outline just a few from the debate:

Claim #1: 

Kennedy claimed Senator Markey has been an “absent” senator, emphasizing that the job requires “more than the votes you file and the bills you pass.”

Reality: 

“But introducing his own legislation has never really been Kennedy’s thing. Since entering Congress in 2013, he has sponsored 60 pieces of legislation, including bills, resolutions, and amendments. In the same period, Markey has sponsored 505—more than eight times as many,” according to The Nation reporter Maia Hibbett.

Claim #2: 

Kennedy claimed Markey’s endorsements from local leaders, elected officials and mayors across Massachusetts don’t prove that the senator has a good record across Massachusetts. Meanwhile, he touted his endorsement from the late civil rights icon John Lewis as proof that his record on race is strong.

Reality:

As much as he wants it, the congressman can’t have it both ways. He needs to decide whether endorsements are an important metric in this race or not. It’s a bad look to claim endorsements only matter when they are for him.

Claim #3: 

Kennedy claimed Markey’s endorsements from organizations like the Sunrise Movement aren’t surprising: “Of course they endorse incumbents. They’ve endorsed me in every race I’ve run too.”

Reality:

Not only did the Sunrise movement remind Kennedy they “have never endorsed” him, but that they are not known for endorsing incumbents. The youth-led organization went even further in a fiery set of tweets, noting that “[young people] want Ed Markey in the Senate, not you.” Many environmental groups similarly are supporting Markey.

Claim #4:

Kennedy claimed to be part of calls to push back against “the politics of the past,” seemingly attempting to ride the current progressive electoral wave of fresh leadership and saying, “We need change.”

Reality: 

Kennedy opposed Rep. Ayanna Pressley in her insurgent race against Rep. Michael Capuano, as well as multiple progressive women of color (such as Mass. Rep. Nika Elugardo and District Attorney Rachael Rollins) in their primary campaigns. Additionally, Rep. Joe Crowley, who was toppled in his primary against progressive superstar Ocasio-Cortez, recently held a fundraiser for Kennedy. It’s clear that Kennedy has had multiple options to support progressive challengers and, instead, sided with the incumbency machine.

Claim #5:

Kennedy claimed he “stands by” his record on race, “certainly when it comes to holding police officers accountable.”

Reality: 

Kennedy was knowingly part of one of America’s most racist fraternities, founded by Robert E. Lee, and only disaffiliated right before he began his campaign. Kennedy chose to work for a racist Republican prosecutor. In 2014, Kennedy voted against an amendment to slow the militarization of police. Kennedy staunchly opposed marijuana legalization, historically a racial justice issue, as recently as 2016 and only recently changed his position. Kennedy recently hired a police officer, Sheriff Steve Tompkins, as a senior adviser on “racial and economic inequality and criminal justice reform” for his campaign. In 2018, Kennedy voted for the Protect and Serve Act, known more colloquially as the Blue Lives Matter bill, which was condemned by ACLU, Human Rights Watch and the NAACP.

In a night of mud-slinging and sharp criticisms of records, a likely preview of the last month of this contentious campaign, one thing became certain. Kennedy is depending on contradictions and vague calls for “change” to make his way to the Senate. It’s up to the voters, including us students who are eligible to vote in Massachusetts, to decide between Kennedy charm or one of America’s most progressive Senators.

Jacob Kemp is a second-year political science major. He can be reached at [email protected].