Posted by on September 16, 2013 in Blog

By Isaac Levey
Legal Fellow

Syrian FlagsUntil the last few weeks, Arab American Juliette Kayyem was not a household name to anyone except a few national security policy wonks in Boston and the Washington, D.C area. But earlier this month, Kayyem lit up the Massachusetts political scene when she announced that she had raised over $130,000 in her campaign to become Governor of Massachusetts, all just eleven days after she officially announced her candidacy on August 21. A national security expert who has never held elective office before, Kayyem describes her positions as showing that “progressive politics and safety and security policy strengthen one another.” The election is in November 2014.

Kayyem’s first job as a public servant was as homeland security adviser to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. She coordinated different institutions and influences including the Massachusetts National Guard, federal homeland security funds, and security and disaster planning for Massachusetts. From there she went to the Federal Government, working as Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Governmental Affairs. There she dealt with issues as diverse as immigration; the 2011 BP oil spill; and the attempted bombing of an airliner on Christmas Day 2009. And national security is by no means the sole area of Kayyem’s expertise. Before working for Governor Patrick – the man she hopes to succeed – Kayyem worked as a civil rights attorney, fighting for the disadvantaged. She worked on a major federal anti-bullying case, and helped pressure the Citadel, the elite military-oriented prep school in South Carolina, to finally admit women.

Kayyem also has appeared in the media as a commentator on national security affairs, and wrote a regular column for the Boston Globe. A highlight was her response to Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)’s slanderous, bigoted attack on Arab American and American Muslim public servants including Huma Abedin, adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who Bachmann and other Republican members of Congress accused of being spies for the Muslim Brotherhood. Kayyem pointed out the pernicious effect of these attacks on the whole American civil service: “They are intended to make Muslims or Arabs in government … feel like outsiders. It will most surely affect the desire of those who can contribute language and cultural skills to ever work in government.” She was also an uncommonly level-headed voice during CNN’s roundly criticized coverage of the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings and their aftermath.

Kayyem’s campaign website and her early interviews stress themes including the pursuit of economic justice; a commitment to fighting climate change (an obvious area of concern to a coastal state like Massachusetts); and a focus on creating and keeping jobs in Massachusetts. Other Democrats who have announced their candidacy include state Treasurer Steve Grossman and, officially as of today, Attorney General Martha Coakley, who is looking to redeem herself after an embarrassing loss in a 2010 special election for the U.S. Senate. Also running is Donald Berwick who, like Kayyem, previously worked in the Obama Administration (as Director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services). Governor Patrick is eligible to serve a third term, but is not running. Nor should the Republicans be counted out: while Massachusetts is about as blue a state as can be, it has a history of electing moderate Republican Governors. Fitting that mold is the sole declared Republican so far, moderate technocrat Charlie Baker, who will try again after failing to unseat Patrick in 2010.

It will be an exciting race, and one we intend to keep watching. For her part, Kayyem sounds like she’s already got a slogan figured out: “I am not a career politician. I don’t believe in luck; I believe in preparedness,” she says in a web video announcing her candidacy. “I will make sure that Massachusetts is ready for whatever comes our way.”

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