State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Boston) became the third candidate to officially enter the 2022 Massachusetts governor’s race Wednesday, casting herself as a candidate with a proven track record of pushing the often sluggish state Legislature to act on big systemic challenges facing the Commonwealth.
Chang-Diaz spoke at English High School, in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood, after campaign stops in Springfield and Worcester, where she met with leaders of color and small-business owners and employees.
In Jamaica Plain, Chang-Diaz touted her work on the Student Opportunity Act, which created $1.5 billion in new education funding and prioritized schools serving lower-income students, many of whom do not speak English. Gov. Charlie Baker, the Republican incumbent who has not yet announced whether he is planning to run for a third term, signed that legislation into law at English High School in 2019.
“For four years, we had to drag Governor Baker to the altar,” Chang-Diaz said. “But from Boston to the South Shore to Leominster to Easthampton, we built a movement to get it done. We made it impossible for Beacon Hill to ignore working families and their kids.
“That’s what can happen when we elect people who are willing to challenge the status quo, even when it’s uncomfortable,” Chang-Diaz added. “Bold, transformative change is possible. We just need to stand together, see each other’s fights as our own, and stop putting people in charge who are more concerned with holding on to power than [with] doing something with it.”
She began the day by releasing a campaign video emphasizing her legislative work on education and criminal-justice and education reform, which she said had succeeded despite resistance from “Beacon Hill insiders” who pushed her to “think smaller.”
The video noted that Chang-Diaz was the first Latina elected to the Massachusetts state Senate, and that her father, Franklin Chang-Diaz, was NASA’s first Latino astronaut.
Erin O’Brien, a professor of political science at UMass Boston, says there’s strategic value in how Chang-Diaz is framing her decade-plus tenure on Beacon Hill.
“A lot people in Massachusetts politics feel like outsiders,” O’Brien said. “The old boys’ network still controls things, especially on Beacon Hill — [which] might be solidly Democratic, but big Democratic policy changes don’t seem come out of the State House.
“I think it’s really smart to say, ‘This is a status-quo institution, and I’m anything but status quo,’" O'Brien added. "Those are magic words to a lot of young progressives, and a lot of activists who have a disproportionate impact in these primaries.”
Several young progressive activists flanked Chang-Diaz as she spoke, joining more established political figures such as state Sen. Jamie Eldridge, state Reps. Russell Holmes and Nika Elugardo, and Boston City Councilor Julia Mejia.
One of those activists, Nicole Eigbrett, is a former legislative aide who worked with Chang-Diaz on the Student Opportunity Act and is now a Somerville community organizer. She’s also active in Beacon BLOC, a group pushing for increased attentiveness to racial justice and equity on Beacon Hill.
Eigbrett called the senator’s approach to politics exemplary.
“For a generation of Democratic activists and advocates like myself, we not only want the talking points — we want results,” Eigbrett said. “And Sonia has proven time and time again that she knows how to make impactful, long-term visionary policy, and then organize to win that, in a really effective, inclusive way."
Chang-Diaz joins two other Democrats — former state Senator Ben Downing and Harvard political theorist Danielle Allen — in the 2022 race. Downing announced his candidacy in February. Allen, who is the first Black woman to seek a major-party gubernatorial nomination in Massachusetts, launched her campaign last week.
Maura Healey, the state’s Democratic attorney general, is also thought to be weighing a run.
A UMass Amherst / WCVB poll conducted by YouGov March in showed Baker leading Chang-Diaz among registered voters, 31 percent to 17 percent, in a hypothetical matchup. He led Allen 31 percent to 14 percent, and Downing 31 percent to 12 percent. Baker also led Healey 31-28, and former Congressman Joe Kennedy 37-27.
While that poll was conducted before Allen and Chang-Diaz entered the race, O’Brien sees Chang-Diaz as the instant front-runner in the current Democratic field.
“Ben Downing is a true progressive … but he’s a white guy, and that’s a harder push right now,” she said. “And Danielle Allen just doesn’t have the name recognition right now."
Baker, who has enjoyed consistently high approval ratings, “will be tough to beat,” if he decides to run, O’Brien added. “Anybody who jumps in this race does so knowing it’s an uphill battle.”
Chang-Diaz, a former public-school teacher, joined the Senate in 2009 after narrowly defeating then-incumbent Dianne Wilkerson in the 2008 Democratic primary. She resides in Jamaica Plain and represents the Second Suffolk district, which includes all or part of that neighborhood, Dorchester, Hyde Park, Mattapan, Mission Hill, Roslindale, Roxbury, and the South End.