Progressive gay congressional candidate Alex Morse has not had an easy month. In mid-August, the current mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts became the target of vague accusations of sexual misconduct by three college Democratic groups in the state. It quickly became clear, however, that the allegations were not only unfounded, but that they may have been an intentional smear campaign to help elect Morse’s opponent.
Now, as Morse heads into his September 1 primary having been vindicated of the allegations, he told LGBTQ Nation that his campaign is doing great.
“Overall, it was just a very disappointing experience, and it has backfired in a way that I think is reflective of what people don’t like about politics and the parts of our democratic process that oftentimes become about personal destruction and retaining power. People here in the district I think are seeing this for what it was, and in many ways it has led to more enthusiasm and support for the campaign.”
When the allegations first surfaced, Morse, who in 2012 became Holyoke’s youngest and first out gay mayor at 22, admitted to having sexual relationships with college students but remained steadfast that he never abused his power. He apologized if he made anyone uncomfortable, but he also believed there was homophobia laced into the accusations.
“It was an all too familiar experience and feeling for so many members of the queer community that are accustomed to over policing of our personal lives and our sex lives and the weaponization of our identities,” he said.
Morse is proud that he stayed in the race through it all.
“I realized obviously that this was more than just about me, and that my decision and my willingness to stay in this fight [was about] wanting to make sure other young people, other queer people, single people, feel like they too can run for office without having a fear that their identity or personal life would be weaponized and used against them.”
The UMass Democrats recently issued an apology stating regret that the letter they sent Morse accusing him of misconduct ever went public and also apologizing that it played into homophobic tropes. The group also admitted to naivete regarding the amount of knowledge they had about the allegations before accusing Morse.
“I’m glad to see they have acknowledged and realized their role in amplifying number one something that was untrue and number two something that led to incredibly problematic and destructive language and tropes about folks in the gay community,” Morse said. “My focus is obviously winning this election on Tuesday, but I think after the election, we need to have a reckoning and those folks need to be held accountable.”
Tomorrow voters will decide between Morse and longtime incumbent Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA) in the Democratic primary. Neal has held the seat for thirty-one years, and Morse feels strongly that it’s time for a change.
“[Congressman Neal] has refused to use his power to hold the president accountable and instead has used his power to benefit the corporations and special interests that have invested millions of dollars into his campaign account, and he isn’t using his power for the people and places here in Western Massachusetts.”
Among Morse’s progressive priorities is Medicare-For-All.
“Healthcare needs to be a fundamental human right,” he said. “Healthcare should not be tied to employment.”
In addition to fighting for basic universal healthcare, Morse wants to ensure all Americans have access to treatment services for ailments like mental illness and addiction.
Morse’s fight against the opioid epidemic, which has been a focus for a long time, is personal. Just a few months ago, he lost his brother to an overdose.
“We have a healthcare system that really doesn’t value folks that are struggling with those diseases,” he said. “This is something we have made a central focus of our campaign, in direct contrast to Congressman Neal, who has taken tens of thousands of dollars from the very opioid manufacturers that intentionally fuel this crisis to begin with, has taken millions of dollars from big pharmaceutical companies and has done their bidding for them in Washington and is fighting tooth and nail to preserve a status quo system that maximizes profits for the private sector.”
When he first became Mayor in 2012, Morse said his first big decision was to launch a needle exchange program in Holyoke, the first new one to open since 1995. Despite opposition and a lawsuit filed by his own city council, he fought hard to keep it. This, he said, led to a change in state law that resulted in the opening of over twenty more sites in Massachusetts.
“While overdoses are going down in the state of Massachusetts entirely, the only area and region that they’re going up in is Western Massachusetts, this district” he said, “So we are just in desperate need of a member of Congress that is in touch with those challenges.”
Morse is also eager to bring more LGBTQ representation to Congress. If he wins, he will be the youngest out LGBTQ congressperson ever elected.
“Oftentimes what sets younger LGBTQ folks apart is that more often than not, we’re more intersectional in our thinking,” he said, “and we recognize our fight for liberation and equality didn’t stop with the right to marry and marriage equality, that there are struggles embedded in every one of the policy discussions we have, be it education, healthcare, criminal justice reform, climate change.”
Morse said he hopes “to tackle violence against the trans community, and trans women of color in particular, to fight to use federal funds to identity this as a public health crisis.”
“I’m running against a member of Congress that voted for the Defense of Marriage Act,” he added, “that supported the policies of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, that yes has evolved to some extent, but we need more representation of our community directly and we need inherent allies that understand the struggles of our community.”
When he spoke with LGBTQ Nation on Sunday, Morse was crisscrossing the district to campaign before the primary.
“The enthusiasm, the momentum, the energy is palpable,” he said. “You can feel it. They’re drawn to our campaign because we’re fighting for more than just a candidate. This isn’t about me, this is a movement we’ve built across Western Massachusetts… We bring our message directly to the voters, directly to the people, particularly those people that have felt forgotten about and left behind by people who are in office right now.”