^ Taunton’s State Representative Shaunna O’Connell (middle) : The #MAGOP’s top diva has a serious opponent now

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Republican members of our state’s legislature face a huge challenge. His name is Donald Trump.

We all know, in this depressing election year, what Donald Trump means. Most of us despise it. In Massachusetts, he seems on track to win barely 33 percent of the vote. Hillary Clinton polls 55 to 58 percent. That’s an awfully large disparity. In order to win re election, our state’s 40 Republican legislators probably must win a momentous number of Hillary Clinton  voters or they’re out of a job.

Their challenge isn’t as steep as it might be, however. Most of the 40 (34 House members, 6 Senators) represent districts where Trump won’t be beaten by 25 to 30 points. Yet I can’t think of ANY legislative district that Trump can win; and given the virulence and amateurism of his campaign, many voters who are not aboard Trump’s train seem to be washing their hands of all things Republican. I cannot blame them for wanting the GOP gone; but  they are making a mistake. In this editorial I will try to explain why non-Trump voters should reconsider dismissing down-ballot Republicans out of hand.

In Massachusetts, Republican legislators often have positive reforms to offer: budget discipline, administrative efficiency, local control of local matters. GOP legislators also sometimes support social issue reforms, providing them bipartisan legitimacy. For example : the “TransBill” passed in this year’s session would be on shaky ground had its 117 House supporters not included 9 of that chamber’s 34 GOP members. I give special credit to those nine — Shawn Dooley, Kim Ferguson, Paul Frost, Sheila Harrington, Randy Hunt, Hannah Kane, Jim Kelcourse, David Muradian, and Susannah Whipps lee — but by no means does that leave the other 25 GOP House members begging. In particular, Keiko Orrall, newly elected as the state’s Republican national Committeewoman, has dramatically improved that office’s influence in party affairs. And most of the other 24 matter a lot to Governor Baker’s state house clout.

Likewise in the Senate, where members Patrick O’Connor and Richard Ross have supported major reforms, both men thinking “outside the box.”

Several of the state’s best GOP legislators have no November opponent : Shawn Dooley, Hannah Kane, Randy Hunt, Kevin Kuros, Joe McKenna, Kim Ferguson, Tim Whalen, Elizabeth Poirier, Keiko Orrall among them. (Trump state chairman Geoff Diehl also has no opponent.) But Sheila Harrington, Jim Kelcourse, Susannah Whipps Lee, and Kate Campanale all face significant opponents. So does Saugus’s House member, Donald Wong. And Taunton’s sometimes controversial House member, Shaunna O’Connell, has now acquired her own serious opponent: City Councillor Estele Borges.

Challengers also face Andover’s Jim Lyons, Bristol County House members Jay Barrows and Steve Howitt, Marc Lombardo of Billerica, Plymouth’s Matt Muratore, Susan Gifford, and David DeCoste.

While I differ with the legislative records of many who face Democratic opponents, the most important component of almost any Republican legislator is support for Governor Baker’s agenda. So far, almost all of his major legislation has been adopted unanimously; but there have been occasions, including the “TransBill” and the FY 2017 Budget, when support for the Governor’s position has depended on all or at least some of the 34 Republican House members. It would reduce Governor Baker’s ability to work an independent course on state reforms were the number of Republican legislators to decline by much. (I speak chiefly of the House because State Senators are almost impossible to defeat. Of the six GOP Senators, only Donald Humason of Westfield faces a serious opponent.)

It’s also important to re-elect as many of the 40 as feasible because elected Republicans provide realism to a party whose activists have not always resisted the inflammatory cry of Trump, or the pressure of social issue anti’s. It is crucial that the GOP going forward retain, maybe even grow, its electoral realists. Too much of the GOP in Massachusetts has chased chimeras and issues positions rejected by an overwhelming majority. That sort of unrealism threatens Governor baker’s effectiveness and renders future Governor hopefuls underdogs from the get-go. And that is bad not only for Republicans but for all our voters; because a Governor free of the special interest pressures that control the Democratic primary is a boon to objective good governance.

And now to my ratings of who is most at risk in November. Read my estimate of what percentage of Hillary Clinton voters each major opposed GOP House member needs to win to be re-elected:

Sheila Harrington : 33 to 35 percent of her area’s Clinton  voters; Jim Kelcourse: 35 to 38 percent of his district’s Clinton voters; Susannah Whipps Lee : 30 to 33 percent of her western Massachusetts Clinton voters; Kate Campanale: 38 to 42 percent of her Worcester City’s Clinton voters; Donald Wong : 33 to 35 percent of Saugus and Revere’s Clinton voters; Shaunna O’Connell : 38 to 42 percent of Taunton and maybe 15 percent of Easton Precinct 6’s Clinton voters; Jim Lyons: 30 to 33 percent of his conservative Essex County district’s Clinton voters; Jay Barrows and Steve Howitt, 28 to 32 percent of their Clinton voters; Marc Lombardo: 20 to 22 percent of Billerica’s Clinton voters (if there’s a Trump-leaning town inside Route 495, Billerica is it); David DeCoste: 35 to 38 percent of his Northern Plymouth’s Clinton voters; Matt Muratore and Susan Gifford : 30 to 33 percent of their districts’ Clinton voters.

Who of these are most at risk ? Some House members face more spirited opponents, some less. From less to more, I’d rate the GOP risk this way :  Lombardo, Gifford, Howitt, Barrows, Whipps Lee, Muratore, Lyons — all at moderate risk; Wong, DeCoste, Kelcourse and Campanale — high risk. Both Kelcourse and Campanale won their 2014 races by less than 100 votes. Campanale’s district includes her home town of Leicester, yes; but its Worcester component reaches into some of that city’s most Democratic precincts, areas southwest of City Center that you’d expect to find in Mary Keefe’s adjacent district. For 30 prior years the seat had been John Binienda’s. Campanale will have all she can handle if Moses Dixon wins the Democratic primary.

Kate Campanale

^ the 17th Worcester’s Kate Campanale

Please note that the above figures are not unusual for GOP legislators in Massachusetts. They always need, in a Presidential election, to appeal to voters favoring a Democratic President. This is a major reason why our state’s GOP legislators tend to bipartisanship rather than obstruction. But this year their appeal will be more difficult, maybe much more difficult. I doubt that all will survive. But I do ask my readers to consider the advantage of “ticket splitting” upon the prospects for state government  reforms.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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