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Former legislators say there are many reasons for few Statehouse challengers this election year

People walk outside of the Southwick Senior Center polling place in Southwick, Mass.
Raquel C. Zaldívar / New England News Collaborative
People walk outside of the Southwick Senior Center polling place in Southwick, Mass.

Most incumbents in the Massachusetts Legislature are running uncontested this fall — and some former lawmakers say there are many reasons for this.

About two-thirds of the state's 200 legislative seats will have just one candidate on the ballot for this year's elections.

Former state Sen. Eric Lesser, who spent eight years on Beacon Hill, said factors include the current political climate and incumbents becoming intrenched without term limits.

Lesser noted that incumbents are allowed to roll over campaign funds from one election cycle to the next, unlike in some other states, making it even more difficult for a challenger to raise enough money to run a succession campaign.

Lesser said it's also an especially hard job for people from western Massachusetts, since a lot of policy making and relationship building is done in the halls of the Statehouse.

"You really need to do that work in person. You can't do it over Zoom. You can't do it through text message," Lesser said. "You have to do it in-person, so that means a lot of back and forth, a lot of driving."

In western Massachusetts, where there are just a handful of contested races for the state House and Senate, many districts are geographically larger due to the spread-out population. Lesser said that adds another level of difficulty to the job.

Former state Rep. Ellen Story of Amherst, who served on Beacon Hill for more than two decades until retiring in 2016, said having few contested races also has an impact on voters. She said they might pay less attention to state politics as a result.

"Some people are not as tuned into the election cycle as others of us, so if there's no competition and no signs up all over the place, it's easy to just let it slip past and not pay attention to what's going on," Story said.

Using its own metrics, the website Ballotpedia reports Massachusetts has had some of the least competitive elections for state offices anywhere in the country in recent years.

Adam joined NEPM as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.
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