The most progressive elements of the Massachusetts Democratic party chalked up some satisfying victories at the recent state party convention. Among the items added to the party’s “action agenda”—which the party calls its “road map to electoral success in 2012″—were four measures heavily promoted by the Progressive Democrats of America, addressing such vital issues as healthcare, clean energy and the role of big money in elections.
At the June 4 convention, held in Lowell, delegates voted in support of a bill, filed by state rep Lori Ehrlich of Marblehead, that would give coal-burning power plants in the state until 2020 to either convert to a cleaner means of energy production or to close. In cases where plant operators opt to close, the bill would provide money, through a Community Repowering Fund, to help displaced workers.
“This bill offers a clear, step-by-step approach to transitioning away from coal to clean energy. Coal’s days are numbered, and coal plants are closing down across the country,” Peter Vickery of Amherst, a volunteer with the Mass. Sierra Club, said in an announcement of the convention vote.
The Democrats also voted in support of a bill, sponsored by state rep Sean Garballey of Arlington, to regulate hydraulic fracturing—more commonly known as “fracking’—a controversial way of extracting natural gas reserves from under ground through the high-pressure injection of water, sand and chemicals. Garballey’s bill would require Massachusetts utilities that use natural gas to generate electricity to disclose the chemicals used to extract the gas, and to certify that no drinking water was contaminated in the process. While fracking is not taking place in the commonwealth, Massachusetts utilities do use natural gas piped in from states where the issue is a hot topic, including New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
“Most of the electricity we generate in Massachusetts comes from natural gas,” Tim Carpenter of Northampton, PDA’s national director, said after the convention vote. “We just want to be able to switch on our lights without poisoning someone’s drinking water. Is that asking too much?”
U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts’ 7th District, has been especially critical of fracking and has called for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to look deeply into the potential risks. Right now, fracking is exempt from regulation under the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act.
The Progressive Democrats also persuaded the party to add to its action agenda a “People’s Rights Resolution,” which calls for a constitutional amendment to reverse the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark—and, critics say, devastating to democracy—2010 decision in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Under that decision, corporate funding of independent political messages cannot be limited but is said to be protected under the First Amendment.
Town Meetings in nine Massachusetts communities (Great Barrington, Williamstown and seven Cape communities) have passed resolutions calling for such an amendment. The resolution voted on at the June 4 party convention notes that “the United States Constitution was designed to protect the rights of people, not corporations” and that “corporate misuse of the First Amendment and Constitution has reached an extreme conclusion in the [Citizens United case],” which “presents a serious and direct threat to our republican democracy.” A Constitutional amendment reversing the effects of that ruling would “restore constitutional rights and fair elections to the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the United States,” the resolution reads.
Finally, the Mass. Democrats approved a measure reaffirming the party’s commitment to a single-payer, or Medicare-for-All, healthcare system. While the state party platform already includes a plank in support of single-payer healthcare, the cause has fallen out of favor with some in the party due to President Obama’s lack of support, Carpenter told the Advocate last week.
The recently passed resolution comes at a time when, it says, the state Legislature “is considering the wrong-headed path of forcing unionized workers to bear the brunt of the excessive insurance costs and has moved to limit the rights of workers to bargain collectively over healthcare.”
The convention victories reflect PDA’s strategy of making progressive change from within the party, Carpenter said. PDA has been working on these issues for years, he said, and the group’s efforts to add them to the action agenda were warmly received.