PROVINCETOWN — Democrats Jack Stanton and state Rep. Sarah Peake both entered politics to take on Republican incumbents.
Peake ran her first race for state representative for the seven Lower Cape towns 18 years ago, when she unsuccessfully challenged longtime incumbent Rep. Shirley Gomes (R-Harwich) in 2004.
Stanton began his quest for state office in 2018 by running against former state Rep. Randy Hunt (R-Sandwich). He lost to Hunt but set his sights on the Democratic primary the next year for the state Senate seat left vacant by the early retirement of Sen. Viriato deMacedo (R-Plymouth). Stanton dropped out of that primary, which was won by Susan Moran of Falmouth, who is now the senator for Plymouth and the Upper Cape.
Since then, Stanton moved from his hometown of Sandwich to Provincetown, where he lives on his sailboat and waits tables at the Lobster Pot restaurant. He previously worked with the World Bank, for Forcier Consulting in Africa, and as a lobsterman.
Peake, 64, has a law degree from Pace University and was a Provincetown Select Board member from 2002 to 2007. She was motivated to run against Gomes by Gomes’s vote to reverse the state’s legalization of gay marriage. Peake lost that 2004 race, but Gomes did not run for re-election in 2006, and Peake defeated two Democrats and a Republican to take the seat.
Peake has served as the representative for the Outer and Lower Cape ever since and is now second assistant majority leader in the House.
“I am part of the leadership and I am very proud of that,” Peake said in an Aug. 12 interview. “The relationships I have here in the Fourth Barnstable District I treasure and prize and find as valuable as the relationships that I have built inside that building on Beacon Street.”
Stanton, 31, was president of the Sandwich High School class of 2010. He has not served in public office. But, he argued in an Aug. 12 interview, he understands the real lives of Cape Codders. He is frustrated by the established political machine, which he said has been unable to pass important legislation even though the Democrats have a “veto-proof supermajority.”
“Mitch McConnell is not a problem in Massachusetts,” Stanton said. “Joe Manchin is not a problem in Massachusetts. We have all the power to enact the things that we should be able to enact in this deeply progressive state. And yet session after session, very popular pieces of legislation just go to die.”
The Safe Communities Act hasn’t made it out of committee to support members of the immigrant community, Stanton said. Same with LGBTQ-friendly sex education in schools, and the single-payer health care act.
“I think that we get complacent because we’re a one-party state, and we do not deliver on what we’ve promised voters that we’re going to do,” Stanton said.
Peake argued that it takes someone who knows the system to get results from the system.
The single-payer health care act “is not ready for prime time yet,” she said. “We need Medicare waivers. That bill has been filed and refiled for something like 18 years now; not one word of it has changed. You have to be willing to not just work outside the building and scream at legislators to pass something. You have to be willing to come into the building and sharpen your pencil and go to work.”
Stanton criticized Peake for standing against legislation to improve transparency in the state’s lower chamber.
“We’re the only state in the country where the state legislature is not subject to public records law,” Stanton said. “You have more scrutiny as a planning board member.”
Peake said committee hearings are now recorded and can be viewed remotely. Also, “yes” votes in committee are now recorded for the public to see. The nays and blank votes, however, are not.
Stanton called Peake’s response “such a bunch of bull. It is not that complicated.”
Transparency is high on the agenda for the nonprofit Act on Mass, which Stanton volunteered for and which has endorsed Stanton in this race. The group has argued that the public should have 72 hours to review bills before the House votes rather than the current 24 hours.
These reforms, said Peake, will help the Republicans.
“The Republicans have pressed for all of those issues every session that I have been in there,” she said. “And I am always joined with the majority of Democrats, including this time 135 Democrats, voting no. Five voted in the affirmative, and all the Republicans. I am a proud Democrat, and I will continue to vote as a Democrat against things that will give more power to Republicans, especially now.”
The Independent asked both candidates how to alleviate the Cape’s critical lack of affordable year-round housing.
Stanton said the state should itself build affordable housing. He also wants renters to have a right of first refusal when landlords puts their properties on the market.
Of Stanton’s advocating state-constructed housing, Peake said, “I don’t even know how to begin to unpack that. I would be afraid of some bureaucrat in Boston making a decision about what housing Truro needs.”
The renters’ right of first refusal could work, she said, if there was a way to keep the price within reach for a year-rounder. Peake also said she has worked for years to advance a zoning reform bill.
Peake said she and state Sen. Julian Cyr — who has endorsed her — successfully transferred the Cloverleaf parcel in North Truro from state to town ownership for affordable housing. Peake was a leader in pushing the short-term rental tax law, which is now adding millions of dollars to town coffers that can be used to buy land and construct housing. She argued that towns should use all their short-term rental tax revenue for housing.
She and Cyr also wrangled an additional 2.75-percent excise tax on traditional lodging and short-term rentals for the Cape Cod and Islands Water Protection Fund for improvements to wastewater treatment.
Better wastewater treatment allows denser development. “If we are going to build our way out of this, we need to be thinking big: 30, 40 units at a time,” Peake said. “Wastewater will allow us to do that.”
The Harwich Democratic Town Committee and 350 Cape Cod invited Peake and Stanton to debate on Aug. 24 or 25, and both candidates were invited to speak during a Cape Cod Sierra Club meeting on Aug. 16. Peake turned down both requests. The two candidates will debate live at 9 a.m. on Sept. 1 at WCAI, public radio for the Cape & Islands.