Massachusetts elections have never had the notoriety of those in Long's Louisiana, or the predictability of Vermont's. Traditionally, the Republicans pit a Puritan Beacon Hiller against a Democrat recently arisen from Boston's South End. This year the situation has changed: for one of the two major state posts, the Democrats have nominated a fair-haired boy from the upper classes, and the Republicans have chosen two relatively unknown political hacks in their nearly hopeless campaign effort. All four candidates are united in one respect: they are mediocre.
The gubernatorial contest pits incumbent Foster Furcolo against Charles Gibbons, who became the party's rush nominee when Attorney-General Fingold suffered a fatal heart attack ten days before the primary. Gibbons, backed by thousands of dollars from the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, is harping on the heavy state expenses in the last two years, and on the excessive state debt. The Republicans, however, are neglecting one point: most of the debt was incurred in the last two GOP administrations.
As majority leader under former Governor Herter, Gibbons supported the expansion of the state debt by over $600 million--70 per cent of the current total--so that the blame cannot rest entirely on Furcolo's shoulders. Furthermore, Gibbons has shown reactionary tendencies in his voting record in the state General Court. He opposed the establishment of a state Fair Employment Practices Commission and voted against raising the minimum wage on four separate occasions.
As Governor, Furcolo has spent more than any other executive in state history. Inflation is one cause of this record and debt retirement has proved very expensive. Massachusetts has the largest per capita state debt in the nation, despite the existence of a high state income tax, extra excise taxes and local property levies that pass $90 per $1,000 valuation in Boston. (However, it should be pointed out that part of Furcolo's expenditure has gone to provide additional housing for the elderly, to establish nine state junior colleges, and to reconstruct the inadequate state road system.)
Another debit is Furcolo's ineffectiveness as a party leader, shown by his inept attempt to institute a state sales tax. Also, corruption in the Department of Public Works has not been corrected. Furcolo is keeping out needed industry with his high tax policies and his insistence on a withholding tax; he foresees only an expansion of state expenditures in the future. It seems that neither Furcolo nor Gibbons has the potential to deal with the Massachusetts crisis.
National interest centers around the Bay State senatorial race, since John F. Kennedy will almost certainly be re-elected and go on to seek the presidential nomination in 1960. But an endorsement of Kennedy is hardly warranted by a look at his voting record in the last six years.
Kennedy has his sights fixed on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and his Senatorial record provides ample evidence of inconsistency, party politicking, and even desertion of the basic needs of this state. Although he refused to vote against the St. Lawrence Seaway, Kennedy introduced a bill supporting a higher U.S. tariff on fish. His support of the jury-trial amendment was received favorably in the South, but not in Northern liberal strongholds. His stand against McCarthyism, moreover, came too late in the game to be counted as a display of anything but opportunism.
Even admitting that Kennedy is none too good, his almost unknown Republican adversary seems far worse. Vincent J. Celeste, an East Boston attorney, has never held an elective office in the state. As qualifications for the Senate, he lists an unsuccessful candidacy against Kennedy in 1950 and four years' work as a secretary in the office of former Governor Herter.
Voters thus have an option with little meaning, for neither major party has nominated a worthwhile--much less inspiring--candidate. The choice of evils is a difficult and unpleasant one for any voter. That such a choice will have to be made on November 4 is a sad commentary on democracy in Massachusetts.