ASSESSING THE MASSACHUSETTS CONSENSUS

consensus

^ consensus in “liberal” Massachusetts

—- —- —-

We’ve written before about the remarkable, political consensus that has enabled important reforms to take hold in how our State operates. Now comes an article in today’s Boston Globe examining a few aspects, at least, of why that consensus thrives. The writer shows, statistically, that our legislature is the second most liberal in the nation, and he tells us why : almost all our legislators hew to the political middle, more or less.We have, says the writer, no conservatives, which is enough, despite our also having few far left legislators, to make us second only to California for liberalism.

You can link directly to Evan Horowitz’s story here : http://www.bostonglobe.com/2015/08/09/how-liberal-massachusetts/5Ryp0CxUBidusnB8TY8fbM/story.html

I disagree with Horowitz’s findings but not with his close observation. Our legislature is hardly as liberal as he claims. If anything, it’s the very definition of centrist. The fascination is to see why that Is so, in a state whose vote does have a very deep blue complexion in national elections.

First : Republicans make up only 11 percent of the state’s voters and are able to win legislative elections only in districts far from Boston.

Second : because Republicans are so few, and because Republican legislators number hardly more than a few, the major super PACs and right wing advocacy groups do not spend money or time here. After all, they want to win stuff.

Third : lacking a right wing donor base to fund their campaigns, Republican candidates for the Massachusetts legislature have no choice but to seek campaign funds from actual voters, whose donations are limited by law to $ 1,000 per year. Thus Republican legislative campaigns must appeal to a fairly broad base of voters. A Republican candidate in Massachusetts has no oligarchic ideologue to fund circumvention of the electorate.

Fourth : because the Speaker of the House rules the House absolutely, and because the Senate President wields almost as much power, Republican legislators could not gridlock the legislature even if they wanted to. They would simply be shut out; and as their numbers aren’t close to enough to sustain a veto or override a ruling, they have little choice but to “work with” the Speaker and Senate President.

Fifth : on the Democratic side, the PAC-funded, advocacy-directed party that dominates Massachusetts’s national elections cannot press its advantage locally, because ( a ) the majority Massachusetts voters aren’t Democrats (the party counts only 36 – 37 % of voters) and, second, because the Speaker and Senate President find it easier to maintain dictatorial control by pushing controversial agendas to the side. (This doesn’t mean that controversial agendas get no attention at all. They do. But they are not made a priority. To reach that status they have to amass a significant, broad based of support. Which to me is how it should be.)

Sixth : because the Democrats control the legislature so overwhelmingly, few if any left-leaning PABCs and advocacy groups press their points. Their only opening would come in the Democratic primary, but because controversial agendas don’t motivate most primary voters — who choose this or that candidate by familiarity or character — they can’t often elect an ideological candidate. And what if they do ? He or she will s\till have to defer to the Speaker or Senate President.

\Seven : because our state votes almost two to one Democrat in national elections, it is never in play and so national party organizing never takes place, nor is there any local debate. Massachusetts party organizations are built by locals for local reasons, and if there is any debate,. it’s about local, Massachusetts issues in which the dominant tone is commanded by the majority of our voters being of neither political party.

Will this situation continue ? That’s an important question. My guess is that it will. Here’s why :

One : power and politics in America are devolving rapidly back to the states, as Washington gridlock becomes the norm. If nothing can happen by way of the Federal government, it has to happen in the states — which pre-exist the Constitution and in it retained significant powers, especially the electoral college method of electing a President.

Two : the big money right-wing agenda PACs have concentrated their spending and candidate recruitment in the starts where they think they can win, and thereby have achieved much of their aims in those states, which today make up about half of all. States controlled by right-wing PACs suffice to block anything they dislike from becoming law in Washington.

Three : the same is true of Democratic-leaning PACs and voter groups, which today dominate the other half of our 50 states. It’s enough to prevent any agenda that Democrats don’t like from becoming law in Washington.

We see the “prevention” purpose of today’s national politics in the arguments made for electing the next President. Folks tell me I must vote for Hillary Clinton not for what agenda she may advocate but for whom she will pick for the Supreme Court. The same argument is given to me on behalf of Jeb Bush. This is telling, because the Supreme Court cannot Do anything; all it does is to permit or disallow. Its power is entirely negative. Somehow, electing a President to prevent stuff doesn’t exactly empower him or her to render the Federal government active again.

There is, of course, a counterpoint to all of this. The supporters of Donald Trump want him to wipe out the Democratic half of states. Those who support Bernie Sanders want the opposite. This is why they are so angry. They cannot abide that America today has devolved into two kinds of states pursuing two opposite agendas — one of which they loathe, the other love — or that Washington can’t do anything. They want everything to go “my way or the highway.” They insist.

My guess on this aspect is that it will fail. Most voters aren’t ideologues and go with the flow. And the flow is to enable, empower, and harden two different agendas in two sets of states, the gridlocked Federal government all but powerless to interfere with either. It’s a system that works for those who drive it. And, for the most part, it works for the voters who elect it, otherwise they wouldn’t do so.

—- 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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