PLYMOUTH, Mass. Ben Quelle is 39 years old. He’s a former Army captain, a veteran of the war in Iraq who served with General David Petraeus.
The turning point for him came when he lost his job and benefits. He’s now working as an independent contractor. Quelle thought he could either sit around and gripe, or get out there and do something. That’s when he decided to run.
“I think it’s a great environment to be running against an incumbent,” Quelle says. “I think there are a lot of people out there who are going to be unhappy right now, and when people are unhappy, they’re going to hold the person accountable who’s got the job currently.”
Quelle meets me in his Jeep Cherokee in a parking lot off Route 3. “We’re going to go to Plympton,” he says, “and we’re going to start knocking on doors.”
Quelle has always been into politics. He says he likes to read the state budget. He thinks people now want to see their neighbors run — regular Joes like him — who can feel their pain personally. He says when he’s knocking on doors, he doesn’t present himself as a Republican. He says you don’t go around waving an elephant.
“It’s not going to get people motivated, and people just don’t want to hear about the negatives and the Democrats and stuff,” he says. “They want to hear ideas. That’s what Scott Brown did. Right? It’s an independent-thinking state.”
Before Quelle even gets to run against the Democratic incumbent, he has to face another Republican trying to get on the ballot.
Joe Truschelli is 27, and also an Iraq War veteran. He walks around his neighborhood in Plymouth, gathering signatures while pushing his 16-month-old son Joey in a stroller.
“I’m trying to get my name on the ballot at this point,” Truschelli tells a voter.
“What can you tell me about yourself?” the voter asks.
“I’ve spent about 10 years now in the military,” Truschelli replies. “I’m for limited but effective government, kind of the Jeffersonian principle of smaller government.”
“I hope this is like the beginning of a huge mushrooming grassroots movement,” Bernie Durante tells Truschelli. “Good luck to you.”
The hope of a movement is what keeps candidates Truschelli and Quelle motivated on the campaign trail. But the cold reality is that Republicans hold only one out of every 10 seats in the state House of Representatives.
Handicaps The State’s Legislative Races
“We got to get up there with at least 15 to 20 new names on that board,” Quelle says. He believes Republicans’ chances of doubling their numbers in the Legislature are pretty good.
“If a lot of these more level-headed Democrats come to work one day in the General Court and they look up on that board and see 10 or 15 names that are now Republican,” he says, “it’s going to be that nudge that they need to come to the center of the aisle, listen to what we have to say and vote along those lines that they know are actually the ones that people need and want. ”
Steve Crosby agrees that Republicans could double their numbers. He was chief of staff for Acting Gov. Jane Swift and is now dean of the McCormack Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Boston.
But when I asked Crosby whether twice as many Republicans in the Legislature will get enough independent Democrats to join with them on key votes, he said: “I think that’s pretty much of a pipe dream. The speaker of the House in Massachusetts is very, very powerful.”
But one matter on which Crosby believes Republicans could hold sway is taxes.
“If Speaker De Leo decided to favor an increase in the gas tax and the Republicans had got a bunch of new members and sort of scared all the Democrats, it’s conceivable that there could be pressure to oppose something like some kind of a tax increase,” Crosby says. “So it’s not totally unreasonable, but it’s pretty far out there.”
It’s a far out dream that has got Republicans like Quelle, out in the woods of Plympton, trying to get on the ballot.