MAGOV14 : MASSACHUSETTS HAS FIVE (5) POLITICAL PARTIES, NOT TWO

1 charlie b aker and karyn polito

^ unified and focused : the Governor GOP’s ticket

—- —- —-

Americans grow up accustomed to the notion that we are a two-party democracy. Maybe so, but in Massachusetts that’s not the case. Here we live with two parties that both call themselves “Republican” but which have nothing at all in common– not agenda, not the offices sought, not even the same institutions or people. Our “Democratic” party also comprises two — even three — very different parties.

Those who enter the electoral lists without grasping these facts are very likely to lose elections — and to not understand why. But let us now look at and describe the five political parties that rule Massachusetts politics :

1.the Governor GOP.

this party is a very powerful, statewide party of at least 2,500 activists and thousands more supporters) dedicated to one task only : electing a governor. The Governor GOP is very good at what it does and is remarkably solid. Insurgents almost never penetrate it, and those who try find the door shut very firmly upon them. The Governor GOP’s institution is the state Convention, where Governor GOP delegates always control almost all the action.

Massachusetts voters (and many legislators) support the Governor GOP because (1) it nominates centrist candidates open to almost all and (2) the legislature is overwhelmingly Democratic, many of whom much prefer to line up behind the Speaker of the House to deal with a Governor GOP governor rather than find themselves pulled in different directions by the Speaker on the one hand the a Democratic governor’s supporters on the other.

On the issues, the Governor GOP aligns as closely as it can with majority Massachusetts sentiment.

1 Geoff Diehl

^ policy before people : the State Committee GOP projects itself onto St Rep Geoff Diehl

2. the State Committee GOP

The “state committee” GOP is a much smaller, almost entirely activist party whose goal is to control the Republican state Committee (the formal ruling body of a political party, as s set forth in Massachusetts election law) and thus the party platform, which it then uses to vet candidates for every state office except Governor. the “State Committee GOP” does not try to align itself with majority Massachusetts opinion — just the opposite. It works with policy advocates (such as Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance and Pioneer Institute) to advance views which it then asks its candidates to explain to the voters. “State Committee GOP” activists do sometimes win elections in very Republican-minded parts of Massachusetts, and that seems to satisfy this party’s purposes. That its policies might be disagreeable to most voters it attributes to the voters, not to the policies.

Perfect example of the state Committee GOP sees us : 80 % of Massachusetts voters support raising the minimum wage, and so does Governor GOP’s Charlie Baker. Yet 80% of GOP House members (23 of 29) voted AGAINST raising the wage; and the six who voted “yes’ were loudly attacked by State Committee activists.

The “State Committee GOP” is very good at what it does and may be even more impenetrable than the Governor GOP : because state committee members are (1) elected by very small numbers of voters,and thus its activists dominate and (2) candidates seeking to win actual elections don’t often run for a state committee seat because the vote base is so small.

1 Joe_Kennedy_III,_Elizabeth_Warren,_Barney_Frank

^ Congressional for life : Joe Kennedy and Barney Frank flank Senator Elizabeth Warren

The two Republican parties are well adjusted to their respective roles. The party that seeks a majority vote attunes itself to a majority; the party that seeks smallness adjusts itself to the very few. Massachusetts’s three Democratic parties work exactly the opposite. There is a “legislature Democratic party’ that is very good at accommodating to local sentiment; a “statewide Democratic party” that is disorganized in faction and completely unpredictable as to policy emphasis. There is also a “Congressional Democratic Party” that exists almost entirely independently of the first two Democratic parties, is ideologically unified (with one exception), and almost unbeatably good at winning office.

The “Congressional Democratic Party” wins easily, because its opponent, the national Republican Party, stands for policies that command barely one-third of Massachusetts voters if not less. Few of Massachusetts’s Congressional Democrats ever face a serious opponent; many of them command almost no field organization. They don’t have to, because almost every one in the other two Massachusetts Democratic parties supports them.

1 Speaker DeLeo and Gov Patrick

^ not unified, no coherence : Speaker Robert DeLeo versus Governor Deval Patrick

The difficulty rests with the two Democratic parties organized for in-state elections. Here, paradox rules. The “legislature Democrats” win three quarters of their elections –more, actually, because they don’t contest most of the one-quarter that the “State Committee GOP” wins –not on issues but simply because in most of Massachusetts the word “Democrat” simply means “running for office.” “Legislative Democrats’ are a hotch potch of views : progressive, centrist, even conservative and sometimes venal. Yet except for the progressives, who organize for issues just as much as the “State Committee GOP” (and who win about the same number of elections), the legislature Democrats mostly accept domination by the Speaker of the House and senate President. How can they not ? Left to themselves, they’re all over the lot about most everything.

So,too, is the “Statewide Democratic Party.” It has a terribly hard time winning the governor office because it has no focus or discipline, no tradition of solidarity and no ability to align effectively with — to cohere around — majority sentiment, because almost all of its candidates align that way and thus the alignment does not bring cohesion. The primary example of this party’s inability to cohere and focus is that whereas the Governor GOP selects a ticket — governor and lieutenant governor — early,. the Statewide Democratic party’s governor candidates have no idea who their lieutenant governor will be and thus scant opportunity to become a team, not to mention likelihood that the two will distrust, even dislike, one another or that the much less vetted lieutenant governor nominee will be a source for scandal. (It has happened, more than once, and quite recently too.)

These are the electoral facts of Massachusetts politics as I have seen them these past 40-plus years of activism.

By no means do I want to suggest that all Massachusetts elections will be decided by these structural factors. Statewide Democrats do occasionally elect a Massachusetts governor — we have one now — and State Committee Republicans do occasionally elect many legislators though never a majority). Republicans even win a Congressional seat now and then. Candidates do matter. Excellent ones can transcend the limitations of the parties that promote them. But the exception really does prove the rule here. we are a state of many political parties co-existing in electoral confusion and at cross purposes.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

Author: hereandsphere

Here and Sphere is an online journal of news, opinion, reviews, advice, & bits n' pieces of everything else - from HERE to SPHERE...... Co-founded by Michael Freedberg, a long-time Boston Phoenix journalist, and Heather Cornell, a South Coast Massachusetts columnist and editor.

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