Scott Brown wins Massachusetts Senate seat: what does that mean?

This commentary is the opinion of the author and may not necessarily reflect that of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin

Timothy Kincaid

January 19th, 2010

A month ago it was all but certain that Martha Coakley would be the successor to the US Senator from Massachusetts seat that had been held by Teddy Kennedy for four decades. And the Whitehouse, along with congressional leadership made a decision that now seems foolhardy and arrogant: they assumed that they would have a filibuster-proof majority for another year.

So they made the strategic decision to freeze out Republican involvement in running the government, most specifically in reforming healthcare. Choosing to have this reform be the centerpiece of the Party’s image for the next decade, they excluded Republicans from the talk, instead negotiating among Democrats behind closed doors.

Today this looks to have been a major mistake. With the election of Scott Brown to the Senate, Republicans now control 41 votes, effectively killing President Obama’s efforts to revise the health industry as he wishes. Scott Brown’s election has put the brakes on what has been a rapid gallop in a new direction, definitely eliminating such possibilities as a “public option”.

What Brown’s election means to the administration is that the honeymoon is over. And the election of a Republican to represent the state of Massachusetts sends a signal that November may be a sad time for Democratic Party leadership.

But what does Brown’s election mean for our community?

Not good, but perhaps not catastrophe.

The irony is that while many progressive gay activists support the “public option” and were hoping that Coakley’s election would allow Democrats to pursue this dream, it may be advantageous to our community that such a provision is no longer likely.

Any movement of health care coverage from private industry to federal oversight could have disastrous impact on the lives of gay men and women. While a great many private companies provide spousal coverage to same-sex partners, such provisions are banned by the Defense of Marriage Act. And as I understand it, the legislation that has been proposed takes little notice that gay people and gay couples exist.

On specific gay issues, Martha Coakley would have been an ardent supporter of our community in the Senate (filling in Kennedy’s shoes). I think, however, there are signs that Scott Brown will likely not be an ardent opponent.

Although Brown has recently been cast as “homophobic”, it does not appear that he is comparable to, say, Sam Brownback. Brown is a dedicated enemy to marriage equality but has stated that he supports civil unions. Further, he has commented that in Massachusetts, the decision has already been made.

On a Federal level some have suggested that he would support a Defense of Marriage Act to change the US Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, but that appears to conflict with the following statement on his website:

I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. States should be free to make their own laws in this area, so long as they reflect the people’s will as expressed through them directly, or as expressed through their elected representatives.

And Brown appears to have avoided running an anti-gay campaign.

None of which suggests that he is a friend. The Boston Globe says that he opposes the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (I would welcome a more direct source, which I’m having difficulty finding). He also is credited with opposition to lifting the ban on open service in the military. Also, Brown may feel that he owes much of his success to social conservatives, like National Organization for Marriage, who provided substantial financial and strategic support.

So I think we can safely assume that he will not vote with us on marriage or military issues. But I don’t see him as a likely to seek to attract too much attention by being sharply anti-gay. He does, after all, still have to answer to the voters in Massachusetts who prefer their Republicans to be at least moderately supportive.

I am reasonable hopeful that on such issues as discrimination, immigration, and the like we have a decent chance at competing for Scott Brown’s vote. Perhaps now is a good time to try think about building bridges to the Senate’s newest member.


January 19th, 2010

Timothy, I usually admire your dispassionate, clear-eyed analysis, but in this instance you strike me as just being way too NICE. Don’t forget that, as Jeremy at Good As You has pointed out, Brown let anti-gay groups like MassResistance and NOM send out the homophobic messages for him. LGBTs here in the bay state need to assert to Brown that we are his constituents, too, and that he needs to consider our needs and perspectives. Will he listen and respond to the LGBT community? Highly doubtful.

Transplanted Lawyer

January 19th, 2010

Conversely, I was not aware that one’s being gay (or, in my case, gay-friendly) meant that one necessarily had to adopt a pre-set array of positions on an entire constellation of issues. Certainly it would be better if Senator-Elect Brown were more friendly to the idea of marriage rights for everyone. But I overall agree with Timothy’s assessment that it could be a lot worse.

The real test will be how Brown votes on ENDA.


January 19th, 2010

“And Brown appears to have avoided running an anti-gay campaign.”

Forgive me for being facetious, but what do you consider an anti-gay campaign if allowing short of outright acknowledging NOM’s robocalls, which centered squarely around gay marriage, falls under the bar?


January 19th, 2010

“The real test will be how Brown votes on ENDA.”

There is absolutely nothing in his record to indicate that he would support ENDA – whether or not it’s ‘inclusive.’ He has consistently opposed all lgbt-friendly legislation at the state level.


January 19th, 2010


Negotiations with Republicans went on for months. Republicans weren’t going to support Healthcare Reform, because they did not want to give Obama any victories.

As for the public option, Obama along with a few Democratic Senators who were bought and paid for by the insurance companies killed the public option months ago without any Republican input. Coakley’s loss will have zero effect on that.

I support real healthcare reform that actually provides coverage to people. As it stands, this bill simply forces people to pay loads of money to the insurance industry with little if any requirements on insurance companies to provide any real coverage. Like Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, no bill is better than this one.


January 19th, 2010

If the democrats are really intrested in passing the bill, they could go with the nuclear option to end the fillibuster. Its not likely but its still a possibility if they are serious.


January 19th, 2010

I also support TRUE healthcare reform. Does it not take a TRUE majority (a.k.a. 50+1 votes) for a bill to pass in the Senate? Unless I slept during the lecture(s) in my United States Government classes, I am of the understanding that a supermajority of 60 votes is not required to pass legislate in the Senate. So what if a debate or the Republicans will talk forever? It is not as if they will talk for months. Really? This whole supermajority cr@p is driving me crazy. As a commenter from a previous story noted, George W. Bush was able to pass through almost any legislation he wished without having any mention of the word “supermajority.” What gives?


January 20th, 2010

Timothy, what reality are you living in? Obama and his cabinet have done nothing whatsoever toward a public option. The lack of real healthcare for the American people has nothing to do with the Democrats shutting out the Republicans, and everything to do with them allowing the private healthcare industries to craft the new healthcare bills with them behind closed doors. Shame on you for making it an Us vs Them debate.


January 20th, 2010

I see John already covered it, but the bill that passes is exactly what Obama wanted. A do-nothing bill that pleases the campaign financiers while having a thin veneer of reform on top. It’s going to f**k over Americans more than the current system because there are no cost caps.

Currently 60% of US personal bankruptcies are because of health care costs, and of those, 75% had some form of coverage. Meaning the bare bones system is not enough to drive someone into financial ruin. These bare-bones do-nothing coverages are what everyone will be forced to buy. It’s regressive, it won’t improve the US’s healthcare system, and absolutely should be blocked and real UHC demanded with a public option from both democrats and republicans, because neither of them are behind what we need.

Dan L

January 20th, 2010

If Scott Brown wants to stay Senator from Massachusetts past 2012, there is no way in hell he will vote against ENDA. Indeed, his election may actually make ENDA’s passage this year more likely. A number of vulnerable, red-state Democrats are going to want to postpone any vote on it until at least 2011. If you can offer them the political cover of darling-of-Republicans-everywhere Scott Brown, they may be more likely to go along with a vote this year.

In fact, while it’s too early to tell, I think that Brown has the potential to be a significant asset. Supporting at least some gay issues gives him a ready-made way to distinguish himself from those “other” Republicans, especially if he sticks closely to the fiscally conservative platform he campaigned on. It would unquestionably improve his re-electability in Massachusetts in 2012. His ability to provide Democrats with unmatched political cover on a number of key gay issues–such as federal civil unions–could therefore prove pivotal.

Ben in Oakland

January 20th, 2010

I think it was Mark Twain who said “I don’t belong to any organized political party. you see, I’m a Democrat.”

As jon stewart has pointed out, , The demos have a bigger majority than the republicans ever had since 1923. But they didn’t do a thing that we elected them to do, OFAMA (our fierce advocate my ass) included. They managed to pass the hate crimes bill– better than not passing it, but of little value to our community compared to ENDA, and DADT and DOMA repeals.

and as for the greater community– the bailout went to the people who caused it, rather than creating jobs. we’re still in Afghanistand, iraq, and threatening to go into dumbfuckistan as well. Healthcare? A joke. Arcane senate rules that mean the minority, not the majority rules? Still there. It has paralyzed my homew state of California as well.

And on and on and on.

I could think of almost no republican i could vote for, and haven’t since john anderson in 1980. I can barely stomach the democrats– any of them. And worse, I fear our country is in serious decline, with no hope on the horizon.
$14 trillion in debt owed to people who do not like us, 2 wars we cannot win, and greed, pettiness, and stupidity constituting a major portion of our very gross national product.

And worst of all, i keep wondering about the handmaids tale.

Bruce Garrett

January 20th, 2010

I see John already covered this, but swear to god when I read your post here Timothy I wondered what I’d been missing all these months. The republicans weren’t frozen out, they just stubbornly refused to participate, and not just with regard to health care. I think their strategy here is pretty obvious: deny the democrats the ability to get much of anything done and then blame the fact that nothing much got done on the democrats.

Which is not to say the democrats are faultless here. This is the scorched earth war on the Clinton presidency all over again and if they can’t see it coming then maybe they just aren’t up to governing after all. You don’t bring a warm handshake and a friendly smile to a knife fight.


January 20th, 2010

I agree that John and Bruce Garrett already cover it, but I’m surprised to see Timothy fall into the Republican hype so easily. The Public Option was already long dead, and the Republicans have zero intention on voting for any public health care reform whatsoever. They said the goal was to kill health care to embarrass Obama, and they have indeed succeeded. It’s quite shocking to see a liberal such as yourself falling for it.

And ENDA? DADT repeal? Just as dead. Any gay person celebrating this win should be ashamed of themselves.


January 20th, 2010

Amen: I am with you. I don’t like Brown, I loathed Coakley, she was a monster in what she did to people who were innocent and languishing in jail. Also, you are the first gay-oriented site I’ve seen to make the important point that the private sector does recognize gay partners for insurance all over the place and federal law bans such recognition.

Politically controlled programs tend to benefit the majority to whom politicians are appealing. To do that they often have consciously screw minorities. Gay people are taxed at higher rates in order to subsidize straight people in program after program, often for programs they can’t apply for because its for “married” people (consider how gay people subsidize social security so surviving wives can collect but not surviving same-sex partners).

Gay people will be at the short-end of the stick once again. But, hey, don’t worry, Obama will appoint a gay person to some relatively unimportant position and give us hope.

Ben in Oakland

January 20th, 2010

I just received another fundraising appeal from the DSCC yesterday. I wrote them a short note back:

“As a life-long Democrat: Not one dime! As a gay man: Not one dime!
As a concerned american citizen: not one dime!

I can only say that you are as spineless and useless as the Republicans are stupid and vicious.

Not one dime!”


January 20th, 2010

Dan L makes the point I wanted to make.

Clearly nobody voted for Brown because they suddenly changed their mind on gay rights issues, so his stay will be a short one if he chooses to ignore the popular will on that count.


January 20th, 2010

This link shows Scott Brown’s stance on the top three gay issues. He’s anti-gay on each one of them. I honestly don’t understand how people can be surprised by this.

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