SHIRLEY — Kevin Hayes, R-Shirley, knows he’s facing an uphill battle to unseat James Eldridge, D-Acton, in the House of Representatives, but he’s staying optimistic.
“It’s been about 20 years since an incumbent Democrat was knocked out by a challenging Republican in the House of Representatives, so I know I’ve got a battle,” he said. “Most of my life, I’ve had to work twice as hard for half as much. We believe it’s going to happen.”
Hayes and his campaign manager, Bryan Dumont, have criss-crossed the district since May using a grassroots campaign to drum up support for his first attempt at elected office.
In the big picture, Hayes termed having 21 Republicans in the 160-member House unhealthy politically. Nevertheless, disasters such as the Big Dig have the electorate wanting greater balance on the state level, he said, and his message of lowering taxes and following the will of constituents on social issues is finding resonance.
Dumont agreed dissatisfaction with state politics has been palpable, and support for Hayes is growing.
“Kevin is not well known yet. That’s what we’re working on,” he said.
A Shirley resident for 20 years, Hayes owns the Custom Courier service, which delivers packages around New England. It’s a success story that took a lot of work, said Hayes.
At age 16, he entered the workforce full time to support his family after his father’s business failed. He later earned a GED and worked three jobs to support his family after his first son was born. Once his business took off, he was able to attend business administration courses at Northeastern, but he hasn’t forgotten the hard work that has garnered him success to date.
“I don’t have a fancy sheepskin or anything like that, but I do have some practical experience,” he said.
Though his political experience is limited to a stint as the Shirley Republican Town Committee chairman, Hayes said he fits the profile of state representative as outlined by founding father John Adams in the state constitution.
“I’m the poster child for what he had in mind,” he said. “He wanted people like myself, people who work or maybe have a small business to go in, make some positive changes and then go back to what they’re doing. (It’s) not being career politicians. That’s not what this job was intended to be.”
“Mr. Eldridge is a nice guy but we disagree on almost every issue,” he said. “I thought rather than just complain about it, this is a good chance to step up to the plate I’ve always been a political junkie. This is my chance to make a difference.”
He charged Eldridge with consistently voting against the will of constituents on a number of issues, using in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, English immersion in schools and deferring a decision on a petition that would put the question of returning same-sex marriage to the polls. Hayes was particularly rankled by the latter.
“I believe he betrayed not only the people of his district, but his oath (of office) when he put that off conveniently until Nov. 10, two days after the election,” said Hayes. “On social issues, if my constituents overwhelmingly tell me I’m wrong on something or they want something else, I’ll listen to (them), even if it’s against my ideology. That’s what the job is.”
Eldridge disputed the notion that he votes against the will of the district, saying the same-sex marriage vote was deferred because it had a low priority among voters. He said he’s been up front about his support for same-sex marriage since 2003, and the district has already returned him to office once since then.
“It’s a pro-choice district. It’s not socially conservative,” he said. “I’ve spent most of my time working on issues that are far more important to people, such as education, health care and the environment.”
On the issue of same-sex marriage, Hayes said the Legislature looked at a better solution several years ago that would have extended benefits to people living together, regardless of whether they are partners or family. He said that solution would have given equal benefits to all without discrimination, but was inexplicably held up in the Senate and died there.
That’s the problem when dealing with an essentially one-party state, he said.
“They can pass legislation, bad ideas and pet projects, and in many cases they can do it without a roll call, so we don’t even know who to hold responsible for some of these ideas,” he said. “We need some balance to break up this super majority.”
Hayes said his Republican affiliation is based on local issues. Several years ago, he bought a car and attempted to pay his excise tax. When he went to Town Hall, he was told the bill was held up at the registry and he’d just have to wait it out.
Three years later, he got a bill for the entire total, some $1,000, since the registry of deeds has no time limitation on when it can send those bills. Hayes felt that was wrong and said he worked with state Sen. Pamela Resor’s office to create some change, fruitlessly. After three months, Hayes said he was told he could write up some litigation, and she would attempt to attach it to another bill.
Instead, he went downtown and joined the Republican party.
“People are trying to attach me to Bush. I want to go back and say this is local,” he said. “What happens at the federal (level) is far different from what happens in the town of Shirley and on Beacon Hill.”
But first he has to get there. Hayes is expecting to keep up the grassroots campaign for the foreseeable future, with a goal of meeting 9,000 residents in the district before November. At this point, he expects Eldridge gives him little chance to win, but isn’t letting that slow him down.
“I don’t think Mr. Eldridge is looking at me as a serious opponent right now, and that’s fine with me,” he said. “He’s going to wake up on Nov. 8, and it’s going to come as a realization to him.”
Eldridge said he’s taking the challenge seriously.
“I’ve had two full-time campaign staff members since may, I’ve had staff going door to door since July, and I’ve had a fund-raiser in every town in the district,” he said. “If that’s not taking it seriously I don’t know how to work harder and still represent the 37th Middlesex District.”