^ running for an “open” State Representative seat in the new, baker-revised Massachusetts GOP : the 7th Middlesex District’s John Fetherston

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Here in Massachusetts, where the national GOP has no chance, an entirely local, state-based GOP is in the process of forming. Governor Baker, his popularity among our voters unmatched, is using t.hat popularity to assert complete control of the GOP state committee. The campaign he and his team have assembled is also generating candidacies for the legislature. Let’s take a look at what is happening and try to assess its prospects :

1.Baker is endorsing candidates for the 80-memener GOP state committee4, the executive body that, by law, directs the Massachusetts GOP. It’s rare to see a GOP governor spend political capital to elect members of a body that, by itself, has almost no power; but there are two strong reasons why baker has undertaken the effort : ( a ) in 2014 the state committee endorsed an anti-gay rights, pro-life platform that seriously impeded Baker’s campaign; and ( b ) just as the Speaker of the House controls his membership utterly and thus dominates Beacon Hill legislation, so Baker seeks a similar level of dominance of his power platform so that he can deal with the Speaker from a position of strength.

Baker isn’t mistaken. He has been unable to take any kind of stand at all on the transgender rights bill now pending because passionate opponents of it control the state committee — and use it to put pressure on the GOP’s 37 House members and six State Senators. I don’t doubt for a second that baker wants this bill to pass, so that an issue that shouldn’t be an issue at all gets off his plate; nor does he want to find himself thus cornered as he faces, in the upcoming year, legislation far more contentious than the no-brainer enactments of this year’s session. For example : new revenue for the MBTA; a potential $ 15/hour minimum wage bill; charter cap lift legislation; and a constitutional issue vote on the upcoming “millionaire tax” ballot initiative.

Baker wants a state committee less ideological and more practical, a body oriented to realistic reform and to candidacies that seek to win elections, not to use them to proselytize an agenda that most Massachusetts voters reject. Given Baker’s popularity, doggedness, and all-out commitment to his state committee slate, all of which his opponents in the party cannot match at all, I think he will win this fight.

2.The fight wonk, what will Baker do ? What can he do ? The next step is to sponsor or support candidates for the legislature. Yet this step is much more problematic. Challenging sitting legislators hardly moves them to endorse a legislative agenda that would be controversial in any case. Many legislators are reluctant to support charter cap lift legislation that teachers unions and their allies passionately oppose. The Governor’s energy legislation proposes clean energy advances well beyond what the House currently accepts. as for new revenue for the MBTA, why should a legislator voter for it only to face a GOP opponent who will use it against her ?

Fact is, that the legislators most vulnerable to a GOP opponent will likely vote for baker’s legislation anyway, while those legislators most likely to oppose it represent districts with few or no Republicans. For example : Baker can certainly count on Boston Mayor Walsh to assist him on legislation the two men support; but Walsh will necessarily be less likely to support a Baker effort if the Boston delegation faces GOP opponents.

What’s left are legislative seats left open because the incumbent isn’t running again. Those are fair game; but how many open seats will there be, and how many of them are districts in which a Republican has a fair chance of winning ? A handful at most.

3. At the same time, the Baker GOP will have its work cut out trying to hols the 37 House seats and 6 Senate seats that it now has. Hillary Clinton will alskmo9t certainly win Massachusetts’s Presidential vote by 23 to 26 points. A GOP legislative candidate, in all but the most Republican districts, might have to win the votes of 15 to 25 percent of Clinton voters if she hopes to be re-elected. In the open seats, the prospects will be even harder.

So the questions confront :

1.  Can a local, state-specific Republican party be built in a nationally. Democratic state like ours ? A party visibly unlike the national Republican party, opposed to it on so many major issues, and vastly different in t9one and mission ?

2. What would such a party’s purpose be ?

3. How would it relate to the state’s Democrats ? Right now, a GOP Governor’s campaign is run, in Boston and environs, almost entirely by Democrats, because that’s all there is and because city Democrats are accustomed to having GOP Governors and even prefer it. Would Boston-area Democrats so readily ally with Baker’s revised, state-specific GOP ? Many might indeed welcome his reform-minded, socially progressive local GOP. But would that GOP remain content, as today’s Massachusetts GOP is, to have the city portions its major¬† campaigns be run by Democrats ?

Right now the success of a GOP Governor rests politically on a very delicate equilibrium. Repositioning the components thereof risks losing the entire game. On the other hand, a successful revision could occasion a reform party strong enough to generate lasting political power. Let’s see where this goes.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere