(Cambridge, MA – 6/19/17) Gov. Charlie Baker and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren chat during the grand opening of Advanced Functional Fabrics of America headquarters, Monday, June 19, 2017. Staff photo by Angela Rowlings.

Massachusetts enjoys a political culture unique in America, one that poses idiosyncratic challenges to our state’s political parties. 56 percent of all voters belong to no party, which makes the two major parties a hard role to play.

It is getting harder every year, as a greater percentage of voters opt out of party enrollment.

On November 6th probably one-third — maybe more — of all the 2,700,000 who voted chose both Senator Warren, a Democrat, and Governor Baker, a Republican. Baker won 67 percent of voters, Warren 60.3 percent. Other than Maryland, where Governor Hogan also won re-election with more than 60 percent of voters who at the same election re-elected Senator Cardin, I can’t think of a similar case.

It’s not comparable. Maryland has more Republicans and fewer “NPA” voters than we do. Maryland voters made a choice. In Massachusetts such a choice is almost a given.

What, in Massachusetts, has been the reaction of partisan loyalists to the November 6th result ? The 56 percent who belong to no party might find the reaction of partisans weird, if not downright tone-deaf.

The followers of Scott Lively, who won 36 percent of the Republican Primary vote against Governor Baker, and who represent 28 percent of party activists, judging by Convention delegates, decry Baker’s election. They decry him, too, as a fake Republican, as a Democrat in “RINO” clothing, a Governor who “subverts” the party with patronage appointments, and who has betrayed “conservatism” and “Trump.” That Trump[ won only 32 percent of our voters in 2016 and is viewed favorably here by barely 29 percent, seems not to impress the Lively bunch. One would think that elections are about amassing a majority, and that it is incumbent upon a Governor to govern to the majority ? Not to Baker’s critics inside the state’s GOP. For them, the priority is to go down with a losing ship. That their “principles” are rejected by the overwhelming majority is, to them, of no more consequence than are elections.

If the Lively bunch numbers at most 36 percent of Massachusetts Republicans, do not think for a minute that their partisan view stops there. A significant portion of Governor Baker’s supporters view the “magop” the same way. They have made their peace with Governor Baker, because he wins, but their basic view is that the party should be more Trump, not less.

But so much for the partisans of a party which in Massachusetts numbers barely ten percent of our voters and twenty percent of electeds.

As for registered Democrats these number about one-third of all our voters and eighty percent of our electeds. What, then, is that Democratic, partisan mindset ?

I saw recently on facebook reports from the post-election Democratic State Committee meeting. The big discussion was, what to do about elected Democrats who publicly endorsed Governor Baker ? Many want them disciplined : if a state committee member, ousted; if an elected official, censured. The idea being that if you accept a party office you are bound to always support the party.

I don’t get this. The last thing you want to do, if your candidate wins only 33 percent of the vote while his opponent takes 67, is to drive members of the party away — elections are won by addition, not subtraction. Those who would discipline Baker’s Democratic endorsers say that a Democrat’s first loyalty should be to the principles of the party. But is that right ? Isn’t an electeds first loyalty to the voters ? All the voters ?

What Democratic partisans are up to is hardly unique to them. After Governor Bill Weld in 2014 endorsed Michael A. Day, then a first-time candidate for State Representative (he won), resolutions were presented to the Republican State Committee to censure Weld. He shrugged it off, as was proper: but the attempt had been made, and it signals how partisan Republican activists feel. Party first, party always, or else.

When I was a ward committee chairman in one of our parties, my view was that our task was to bring the best candidates we could to the voters by getting them nominated and their names printed on the ballot. And if our candidate was clearly inferior ? In my view it was incumbent on me to support the better candidate and use that as a lesson to the party activists to do better next time, or, in case where the opposing party had advanced a clearly superior candidate, to support the better : because ultimately it’s the public interest that should prevail, not a party’s.

Those who in Massachusetts take the “party principles first” position ensure that more and more voters will opt out of party enrollment. We’re already at the point at which unenrolled candidates are likely in many districts to defeat both party candidates. In the towns, “NPA” voters number upwards of 70 percent, even 80 percent. These numbers increase every year.

It was depressing to listen to newly-nominated Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, on the day after her victory in the primary, talking about Democrats this, Democrats that.  Is she elected to represent just Democrats ? Or all her voters ? one hopes the latter: but there she was, sounding like a candidate for Democratic National Committee-Woman, not for Congress. In Washington, talk about party may matter, for Congress has become almost completely Parliamented (our Constitution notwithstanding). Here in Boston, however,k such talk sounds weirdly unreal.

Governor Baker won his 67 percent — moire than 1,700,000 votes — not only because of a job well done. The most frequent comment I hear about him is that “he works across the aisle.” That — working across partisan aisles — is what almost all of our voters want, and it is why they gave him a bigger vote even than Senator Warren received.

The message could not have been clearer.

Our partisans need to rethink the closed-shop approach. Either our parties expand, and welcome those of it who critique, or they risk becoming conspiratorial curmudgeons, relics of a curious Leninism in which loyalty to the party shines an ever dimmer light on ever more faded mirrors. Not that that prospect troubles our partisans. the smaller the party, and the less connected to the outside, the easier it is for controllers to control it. No political battles feel fiercer than battles for state committee and ward committee control. The party eventually cannibalizes itself — and enjoys the meal.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




^ my working group at the BPDA zoning revision meeting

We attended Wednesday night’s Zoning Plan meeting, at East Boston Social Centers, hosted by the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA). Since early in the summer, the BPDA has moved to engage as many East Boston residents as it can in forming a comprehensive revision of the City’s Zoning Code. Wednesday’s meeting was the third such.

Before I report on the Wednesday meeting, it ,might be helpful to offer links to the actual Zoning Code and to the State’s Zoning Law under which a City is empowered to establish zoning regulations:

The current zoning code, and zoning maps illustrative, can be read and viewed here :

The State’s Zoning Law, MGL c. 40A, can be read here :

I want to call your attention in particular to MGL c. 40A section 10, “Variances,” in which the criteria for granting are made explicit as well as the public policy underlining them:

OK then. having provided you the law, let’s look at Wednesday’s meeting as well as the enormous challenges confronting a Zoning revision:

Jay Ruggiero, of Eastie’s well-regarded funeral home family, is now the BPDA’s Director of Community Outreach. Jay emcee’d the meeting. Information pamphlets were handed out as well as papers for nominating people to a 25-person “Advisory Group” that, if all goes well, will meet twice a month to work out a new zoning plan for East Boston. (I nominated three : Mike Russo, Mike Othmer, and Jules Burrell — wanting to name people who, although activist, aren’t already loaded with Eastie meetings and group commitments.) Who the City will actually pick, is anybody’s guess.

These preliminaries handled, the meeting attendees — about 60 people — were split up into six working groups each at a separate conference table. I sat with Frank DelMuto’s group. Frank is a respected Eastie builder who lives in the Salesians-St. Mary’s section and actively participates in harbor View Neighborhood Association meetings. Mike and Christy Dennis joined us as did Jared from the BPDA and several well-informed residents whom I had not met — a good thing; one always wants to see the rolls of local activism attracting new recruits.

The discussion at our table and at the others — including groups led by Dayna Antenucci (Orient Heights), Debra Cave (Eagle Hill). Joanne Pomodoro (Orient Heights), Meg Grady (Eagle Hill), Maureen White (Jeffries Point) — were tasked with identifying zoning priorities. These we all know well enough: density issues, height of buildings, traffic concerns, design hurdles, impact on infrastructure. People also cited the remarkable eased with which zoning variances are granted. Much was said about stiffening the obstacles to variance, including granting more authority to neighborhood groups overseeing the BPDA’s required “public comment hearing.” All of us are familiar with these public comment hearings. Neighborhood association activists command them, which means that development proposals requiring many variances are almost always overwhelmingly voted down.

Not everyone likes how these hearings turn out. This we all know :

Development advocates dislike how public comment hearings are run. They cite the need for greater residential density if limited-income families are to remain in a neighborhood where rents are sky high-ing. Developers  cite the right of property owners to use their properties. Owners who have, in many cases, owned for decades properties bought for very little back in the day, when no one wanted most East Boston homes, feel entitled now to cash in a sale price as big as a lottery winner.  Cashing out has presented Eastie with some of its currently most troubling proposals, including the Narrtow Gauge project, the huge 144 Addison Street envision, the hotel-sized proposals at 205 Maverick Street, 650 Saratoga Street, and Mt. Carmel Church on Gove Street. Nor are these the only disruptions that East Boston faces. According to the BPDA there are 58 variance requests on the Zoning Board of Appeals calendar. Most of these, if not all, seek to build five stories high, increase units from two or three to nine or more, and fill out lots almost to the lot line. Many involve insufficient off street parking.

Wednesday’s meeting achieved no solution to these challenges. Naming zoning priorities is fine, but the details of an actual ordinance revision remain out of reach. And then these riddles, for which no one, at least at  my table, was ready to offer a solution:

( 1 ) Why are zoning variances so easy to win at the Appeals Board ? The stated purpose of variance, as set forth in MGL c. 40A, section 10, is that a variance should confirm and support the zoning condition within which a variance is sought. Yet many, many variance grants — at least within my familiarity — grossly violate the zoning condition thus varied. How come this happens ?

( 2 ) How can neighborhood-changing development be curbed when investors can and do now pay far higher buy prices than any residential home buyer would be willing to pay, or able ? All the happy talk about devising a zoning revision based on neighborhood priorities flies out the window of a real estate and economic boom that is pricing the neighborhood into a completely different future in which ordinary income earners will have no place.

The vast majority of Eastie residents wants its neighborhood character to remain, to be enhanced, not devolved. The zoning law itself establishes neighborhood characteristics. All the good intentions in the world, however, not to mention the law’s precepts themselves, can stand against the plans of deeply pocketed investors and their huge constituencies of architects, contractors, builders, lawyers, consultants, and real estate agents, all of whom draw very comfortable incomes from work done in a development’s course. My own feeling is that all the BPDA meetings that mayor Walsh can ask for, and all the well intentioned “Advisory Group” participation, will amount only to a shrug and a good bye smile as the Boston economic boom transforms every close-in neighborhood of the City from its traditional working class character to the absolute opposite. Nor has the BPDA even addressed the Air BnB controversy : the tourist-ing of close-in Boston neighborhoods continues, and it’s not easy to see how it can be stopped without violating basic individual property rights that cannot in any circumstance be compromised.

It was, of course,. oh so different when Boston was a city that people wanted only to leave; when suburban life was the ideal and vast shopping malls on the Interstates were the trade destinations. Then — 40 years ago — one could readily live in the City on very little money, amid neighbors one had known since childhood surrounded by structures that never got rebuilt or even renovated. Do we want those days back ? Do we want to live on very little in an unchanging corner of a neighborhood that time ignores ? Maybe we do want it; but we aren’t going to get it. In a sense Ayanna Pressley was right to say “change can’t wait.” I make only one revision to her election slogan : in Boston change WILL NOT wait.

I think the BPDA knows this. I think the BPDA is trying to alleviate the anger we will all feel when — I hope I am wrong, but I doubt I am — we see, a few years from now, or by 2030, that all of our pride of neighborhood character was maintained in vain.

The zoning meetings continue. I will attend them.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere








^ Governor Baker at Santarpio’s in East Boston visiting Senator Joe Boncore’s Election Day lunch. (Boncore standing next to Baker. StRep Jay Livingstone next, then District One Councillor Lydia Edwards, then local business leader Tony Portillo. In front : Gladys Oliveros and Bob Boncore)

NOTE : this column will be a long read, with many statistics shown. If statistics aren’t your thing, skip over them.

On election day, on his way to a 67 to 33 percent win statewide, Governor Baker won 49.5 percent of the Boston vote, losing to Jay Gonzalez by only one percentage point. The actual numbers : Baker 107,108; Gonzalez 110,187. (5150 voters blanked the race). The total turnout — 222,445 — rose by 68,000 from the 2014 mid-term.

In 2014, Baker won 48.5 statewide, 30 percent in Boston. This time he won 67 percent statewide, 49.5 in Boston. Relative to the state, Boston barely moved : from 18.5 points more Democratic than the state to 17.5 percent.  But Baker’s lift was not uniform. In some neighborhoods his vote rose more than in in others; in some, much more. Let’s look at some sample neighborhoods, precinct by precinct :

Ward One — East Boston

Baker 5006 Gonzalez 4704 (2018) (Baker53%) Baker 2620 Coakley 3982 (2014)(Baker38%)

By precinct :

One       Baker 50.5 / 49.4 (2018)    Baker 33 – 61.4 (2014)  Baker gain : + 17.5 %

Two      Baker 43.7 / 56.4 (2018)     Baker 33.6 / 60 (2014)  Baker gain : + 10.1 +

Three   Baker 45.6 / 54.1 (2018)     Baker 26.3 / 68.3 ( 2014) Baker gain : + 19.3

Four     Baker 45.5 / 53.7 (2018)     Baker 31.5 / 59.6 (2014)   Baker gain : + 14

Five      Baker 50.2 / 49.5 (2018)    Baker 35.7 / 59.5 (2014)   Baker gain : + 14.5

Six       Baker 46.4 / 53.3 (2018)     Baker 31.4 / 61.1 (2014)   Baker gain : + 15

Seven  Baker 44.1 / 55.2 (2018)     Baker 30.2 / 61.1 (2014)   Baker gain : + 13.9

Eight   Baker 46.6 / 52.8 (2018)     Baker 34.9 / 61.3 (2014)   Baker gain : + 11.7

Nine : Baker 47 / 52 (2018)           Baker 30.3 / 62.2 (2014)    Baker gain : + 16.7

Ten     Baker 48.9 / 51.2 (2018)    Baker 30.5 / 63 (2014)       Baker gain : + 18.4

Eleven – Baker 61.8 / 38.1 (18)    Baker 47.2 / 46.9 (2014)    Baker gain : + 14.6

Twelve  Baker 65.6 / 34 (2018)   Baker 54.2 / 40.8 (2014)    Baker gain : + 11.2

13th      Baker 58 / 41.6 (2018)    Baker 43.7 / 52.2  (2014)   Baker gain : + 14.3

14th      Baker 60.2 / 36 (2018)    Baker 48.4 / 48.4 (2014)    Baker gain : + 11.8

In East Boston, Baker gained most in the Jeffries Point region (1 and 3), Salesians (11), and the part of Eagle Hill running from the High School to above Day Square (9 and 10). In 2014 he fared poorly with young professionals (Jeffries Point) and Latino voters (precincts 6 through 10). Not so this time. Even with an opponent named Gonzalez, Baker came close to winning East Boston’s Hispanic precincts. Yet his outreach to non-traditional voters did not cost him “traditional” support. Indeed, his vote share among long-time Eastie voters (precincts 11 through 14) improved measurably.

Now Charlestown (Ward Two) :

Baker 5774  Gonzalez  2624 (yes, you read that right. Baker won Charlestown 69.8 to 30.2 — almost three points better than the statewide. I cannot recall when a Republican managed such a result or anything even close. In 2014 Baker narrowly lost Charlestown to Martha Coakley, 47.8 percent to 49.3. This in itself was a remarkable result — his Charlestown number was only 1.2 points less than his statewide. This time his number improved in Charlestown by a full 22 points. It was his best Boston neighborhood.

South End, Seaport, Chinatown, bay Village, Downtown

If Baker’s vote gain in was remarkable in Charlestown, in these five neighborhoods it rose beyond all prediction. There were precincts in which Baker’s vote percent increased by 23, 24, even 30 points from his 2014 results:

Ward 3 Precinct 7 ( Chinatown) :  this time, 56.3 / 43.6; in 2014, 32.8 / 59.6

Ward 4 Precinct 1 (South End) : this time, Baker 56.1 / 43.9; in 2014, 33.7 / 63.2

Ward 4 Precinct 3 (South End) : this time, Baker 56.9 / 43.2  in 2014, 32.4 / 63

Ward 5 Precinct 1 (bay Village) : this time, Baker 56.9 / 43; in 2014, 33.8 / 63.8

Ward 6 Precinct 1 (seaport) : this time, baker 60.3 / 39.3; in 2014, 38.3 / 58

Ward 8 Precinct 1 (Cathedral) this time, Baker 43 / 56.6; in 2014, 16.6 / 81.5 (yes, a 27 point gain !)

Ward 9 Precinct 1 (Villa Victoria): this time, baker 48.9 / 51; in 2014, 18.3 / 78.5 (you read this right. Baker gained 30 points in this part of the South End, home to Villa Victoria, the City’s foundational Puerto Rican community.)

Blue Hill Avenue and Mattapan: 

If Baker’s numbers in the above neighborhoods stun the reader, what will be her reaction upon eye-balling how he took hold of this part of Boston, the center of its African-American community. In the 21 precincts that include all of Ward 14 plus the Matttapan seven of Ward 18, Baker tallied these numbers this time :

Baker 5573 Gonzalez 8074

That doesn’t look so good: but consider how Baker did in these same precincts in 2014 :

Baker 781 Coakley 10,620

From winning barely seven percent of this region’s vote he gained about 41 percent. How did he do it ? By hiring a full staff of community activists for outreach  — both in Room 280 and on the campaign — and by attending doggedly to community events and never letting go. And by being just as likable a guy as there is. More on this aspect of Baker later.

As I have noted, Baker achieved his successes with voters not part of his 2014 win without losing any of his stalwarts. Indeed, he gained strength in those stalwart neighborhoods :

Ward 16 Dorchester :

Baker 5539  Gonzalez  3668  (Baker won eight of 12 precincts,. including precinct 12 with 80.7 percent of the vote) (63 percent for Baker)

in 2014 :  Baker 3065 Coakley 4431  (Baker won only two of the ward’s 12 precincts; 39.5 percent for Baker)

West Roxbury (15 precincts of Ward 20):

Baker 9,115  Gonzalez 5,008   65 percent. (Baker won every precinct.)

in 2014 :  Baker 6080  Coakley  6003 Baker 50.5 percent.  (Baker won only eight of 15 precincts, most narrowly)

And of course, South Boston, where in his four best precincts he won 74 to 76 percent of the vote.

—- —- —- —-

Baker did not triumph everywhere in Boston. One of his worst showings was the Hyde Square (Jamaica Plain) vote, which included his worst precinct in the entire city, Ward 19 Precinct One :

Baker 1431 Gonzalez 3476 (Baker 29%)

Yet even this weak result was much improved from his 2014 vote in the same five precincts :

Baker 452 Coakley 2664

…and in Ward 10, Precinct 7 — Bromley-Heath Project, where he and State Representative Jeffrey Sanchez officiated at a major youth gathering back in March, Baker’s 29.8% represented a 21.8 percent lift from his 8.6 percent there in 2014.  It was one of his largest Boston precinct vote gains.

Sanchez, the State’s legislative budget chief, was eventually defeated, narrowly, by Nika Elugardo — to most observers a surprise result. She assaulted Sanchez for not insisting that the FY 2019 Budget include the Safe Communities Act — even though that act had no chance of passage. (More about the implications of this argument later.) Elugardo lives in Ward 19 Precinct One. It was Baker’s worst precinct in the entire city — 23.2 percent — yet in 2014 he won only 10 percent in it. His 13.2 percent improvement was quite weaker than his city-wide improvement — 19.5 percent, yet it more than doubled his 2014 percent there. In 2014, only 69 people in “19/1” voted for Baker. This time, 233 of “19/1” voters chose him.

The rest of Jamaica Plain’s precincts proved nearly as resistant to Baker’s persuasion. With the exception of the “Moss Hill” precinct (19/2), which Baker won — albeit by not a lot : 621 to 532, 53.8 percent to 46 — the Governor cracked 40 percent in only one precinct; in seven, he was under 30 percent. And if that’s much better than the eight to 21 percent that he won in 2014 in these precincts, it still represents a sizable vote of no confidence.

Baker’s Jamaica Plain vote fell short of even the little that he won in Somerville, Cambridge, Northampton, and the Amherst region : the state’s “progressive” vote base. In Somerville, 35.2; Cambridge, 34.2; Northampton, 35; greater Amherst, 32.2. There weren’t many precincts anywhere in Massachusetts where Baker won less than his Jamaica Plain percent and probably none where he polled lower than his 23.2 in Ward 19, Precinct One.

That said, Baker’s Boston vote highlights the gap between Citywide voter sentiment and that of the “progressives.” Many media got giddy about “progressive” wins in the Democratic primary, but these were few, even if Ayanna Pressley’s 59 to 41 trouncing of Congressman Mike Capuano — attributed to progressive energy — deserved every headline it got. Pressley’s win in fact arose from much more voter discontent than from progressives — long incumbency has often been an obstacle in this “change” year — and the Baker vote in Boston clarifies the city’s prevailing vote opinion : reformist, but cautious; civil rights stalwart, but economically scrupulous. Call it “business reformism” if you like, or “social liberal – economic conservative, as many observers do: whichever your rubric, Boston voters once again confirmed Massachusetts’s long-standing, basic policy preferences: we’re inclusive, but we’re not tax-aholic. We’re a city of immigrants, but we’re not hell bent for confrontation with the Feds. We’re not ready to burn our political bridges or storm barricades. We trust the political process to get it right.

That’s Baker to a T. Reform without drama. Inclusion, as a principle, not a defiance. Do your job, not show out.

Baker is the epitome of an institutional man. Well, so is Boston, as the state’s capital city, and home to one of the nation’s most powerful Mayors, an institutional city. We’re accustomed to institutional governance, institutional participation, institutional economics, institutional education, institutional finance, institutional charity, and institutional medicine. Heck, in Boston a very substantial percentage of all of us work for one of our institutions. The city’s “progressives” — and the state’s — may dislike the bulk presence and sluggish ways of institutional life, but their desire to hurry the processes strike the rest of us as a kind of Humpty Dumpty falling, and their readiness to divide the community, if need be, to get their way — witness the votes that Nika Elugardo won by attacking Sanchez on his decision to drop the un-enact-able Safe Communities Act from his proposed budget — strikes most of us as grossly irresponsible. Innovation needs to find a smarter path (and for many activist innovators, it has found one).

If the Baker Boston vote was a message for anything, it was that a Governor, and government, should do the responsible thing. Even when innovating.

It also helps that Baker is as a easy going a guy as you’ll see in high places. It doesn’t hurt to be the “selfie king” — as he is — in the era of instagram. People flat-out LIKE Charlie Baker, and he likes them. Politicians always hug babies, but for Baker, convening with kids seems a passion. He enjoys their presence. Partly that’s because he’s something of a kid himself. He’s a fan of 1970s-80s rock bands — who hasn’t seen his contributions to David Bernstein’s “song challenge” facebook posts ? — and knows his stuff. Clearly it’s not just a pose.

Combine the likable Charlie Baker with Governor Baker the master of institutional governance, and you’ve got a landslide’s worth of political good.

Nor was that all Baker had working for him in Boston. He also had political clout. In the 15 precincts that make up the Hyde Park, Roslindale, and Readville parts of Ward 18, Baker tallied 7366 to Gonzalez’s 7530. That he came close to winning Boston’s biggest and most sprawling Ward had no Republican precedent since the early 1990s, and only one like it since at least the 1970s. How did he do it ? Consider that in 2014, Baker lost these precincts to Martha Coakley 3158 to 8380, a 29 percent vote share. This time he won 49.2 percent. In some precincts he improved by 25 points and more. So I ask again, how did he do it ? He did it by having the active, vocal, door-knocking support of the entire local political establishment : State Representative Angelo Scaccia; City Councillor Tim McCarthy; Register of Deeds Stephen Murphy; and, to cap it off, the son and daughter in law of the late Mayor Tom Menino. And their entire followings.

In Boston, political support has institutional heft. You can’t get from wanting to a win without it.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere






Dean Tran

^ big winners in our election : State Senator Dean A. Tran (R) and State Representative-elect Tran Nguyen (D)

—- —- —-

We in Massachusetts performed an election like no other in the entire nation. An actual majority of the 2,700,000 who voted chose a Republican Governor and a Democratic Senator. I cannot think of another state in which such a decision would even be possible today.

Clearly the words “Democrat” and “Republican” mean something different to us than what they mean beyond our state. We do have our partisans, for whom these two words mean what they mean elsewhere, but for most of us, “Democrat” and “Republican” are simply two lines on a ballot, each of which is worthy of voting.

As I’ve written often, because 56 percent of Massachusetts voters belong to neither party — a percentage that increases every year — the two actual parties have to open their portals to vastly more voters than the few who work within. Openness to all being our first voting principle, a candidate can chose either of the two major parties and win an election. At least that is the logical consequence.

One obstacle stands in the way of complete electoral openness in our state : the party primary. Chiefly party members vote in them. Those who enroll in no party can vote in either one, but few do. Why should they ? In November they get their shot. The result is that party primaries in which mostly only party members participate pick the candidates whose names will appear on the November ballot. This gives the whip hand to those who view politics through partisan filter. Thus candidates who get to the November ballot don’t usually reflect the 56 percent, and openness, but the preferences of a distinct minority.

Because in Massachusetts the Democratic minority is three times larger than the Republican one, the two candidates facing  the November voter do not start off equal. The Democratic one has already been vetted by three times as many voters who vetted the Republican one. That’s an enormous handicap for a Republican November candidate to overtop. Most don’t. On Tuesday, not one Republican legislative challenger defeated a Democratic opponent, incumbent or not. Meanwhile, two Republican incumbents lost to Democratic challengers : Senator Richard Ross and State Representative Jim Lyons.

That the primary is the chief obstacle to absolute electoral openness in Massachusetts was proven by Governor Baker, who won 67 percent of the vote to Jay Gonzalez’s 33 percent, prevailing in almost every community. Baker had four years to be vetted, by all the voters, and the vetters liked what they observed and judged. The 56 percent who belong to no party voted Baker by about seven to one; he won a majority of registered Democrats. As the same voters who liked Baker also voted for Senator Warren makes clear that for almost two-thirds of our voters, party label, by itself, carries no advantage.

If political party means little to most Massachusetts voters, principles do. Our state’s voters have gateway issues on which they hold very specific views. Civil rights for all is one such. On Tuesday, the state’s Transgender civil rights law — which accords transgender people the same public accommodation rights as everybody else — was confirmed, versus repeal, by 68 percent to 32 percent. The ballot initiative won all but four towns and one city (Lawrence), and those it lost, it lost narrowly. There is but a small constituency in Massachusetts for discrimination, as for the pro-life position, and candidates who insist on the minority position do so at great risk.

Jim Lyons, a Republican who had represented North Andover, Tewksbury and part of Andover since 2010, was beaten 55 to 45 by a first time Democrat, Tran Nguyen, for his advocacy of repealing our Transgender Civil Rights law. He lost in a District in which Republicans outnumber Democrats and in which Governor Baker won over 75 percent of the vote. Can there be any clearer example of the commitment that most Massachusetts voters have to civil rights for all ? Lyons’s district is one of the most reliably Republican voting in the entire state, up and down the ballot, yet he lost convincingly even as the transgender rights law repeal he helped sponsor won his District by 60 to 40. Meanwhile Dean A. Tran, a Republican State Senator elected in a “special” early in the year,m was convincingly re-elected (32,500 to 27,500) against a strong Democratic challenger. It doesn’t hurt that Trans’ campaign manger is a transgender woman, or that he has a firm, personal support base in his district’s largest city, one in which Democrats occupy almost all the elected offices.

There are signs that the openness and consensus that have dominated Massachusetts state politics since at least 2014, and probably since 1990, may be diminishing. Governor Baker won the 67 percent in large part because the entire Democratic establishment, those who have worked with him on large amounts of reform, embraced him because he is a huge barrier to the “progressives” who loom increasingly i n the Democratic primary. The last thing regular Democrats wanted was a Governor whose political base is those “progressives.” Jay Gonzalez campaigned almost solely with “progressive” support; he espoused the entire “progressive’; agenda of higher taxes, medicare for all, and a “Safe Communities Act” which, however worthy — it would prohibit any local ore state law agency from co operating with Mr. Trump’s immigration police — would split the Democratic party and divide our electorate just as immigration has divided the nation. Unlike with civil rights, there is, in Massachusetts, no consensus for immigration reform – far from it. Regular Democrats understood that “progressives,” using Safe Communities as a “wedge issue,’ might swell challenge them in a party primary and maybe lose to them, just as Jeffrey Sanchez, appointed the state’s budget chief was beaten in  a party primary on the strength of that issue. (Nor can any regular forget the 59 to 41 defeat suffered by Congressman Mike Capuano, who would have been a Committee chiarman, by Ayanna Pressley, who will be but a freshman.)

Such challenges may well arise in 2020 — the “progressives” loathe Speaker DeLeo and frustrate over his partnership with Baker — but without a Governor Gonzalez to mobilize the power of a state-wide organization such challenges face barriers as formidable as the Eiger North Face.

That said, the “progressives’ aren’t stopping. Just the opposite. Plans are afoot to challenge legislators and Mayors, and certainly the 2020 Presidential election will give them an organizing opportunity likely to bear fruit in the 2022 mid-term elections. The politics of division foisted on us by Mr. Trump may affect only a minority of Massachusetts voters,m but it’s a passionate minority , in both directions.Even as “progressives” make inroads into Democratic primaries, so right wing ideologues impact the Republican. can we forget that the almost lunatic Trumpism of Scott Lively won 36 percent of the Republican primary vote this year ?

The media, too, stoke this new divisivenss: it gets attention and thus sells newspapers and collects “eyeballs.” It was probably no surprise that the lead about Tran Nguyen wasn’t her win but that she is of Vietnamese origin and thus gives a voice to voters who “look like her,.” This same “look like her”-ism was a big part of Ayanna Pressley’s message, and of course nationally gender identity was a major feature of media stories about the election and in campaign fund-raising. Myself, I don’t see legislating and governing as matters of what one looks like : the pens that sign new laws don’t have eyes, hair, a skin color or  national origin. But for the Instagram generation and the cult of selfie (don’t discount that Governor Baker is the Massachusetts selfie king), what one looks like is the only thing that emits drool from a political mouth. Expect more of it, not less. Even in Massachusetts.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



Yesterday, at a 250-person rally at fairmount Grille in Boston’s Hyde Park neighborhood, Governor Baker gave his closing message stump speech. It was a lesson in the power of listening — in his case, to the voters. All the voters. It was also a lesson in community — its role in crafting a successful politics for our state.

This is what Baker said, at length and with much passion (I am paraphrasing at times) :

“We’ve gone to the every one of our 351 cities and towns and to the various communities — of color, Latino, LGBT, women — and we’ve listened. We’ve listened to what these communities want, and everyone in my office has done outreach to every community in the state. It’s hard work, but we hear what they want and it’s been up to us to give it.

“Haven’t we all had enough of the division ? Of each side trying to out-crazy the other ? that’s not how we roll. We’re a uniter, not a divider. A good idea is a good idea no matter which side it is said by.”

The 250 people listening to him exemplified his outreach and his unification. I saw Haitians, Latinos, African Americans, Caribbeans, LGBT, and more women than men. (Not since Ed Brooke’s time have I seen as many people of color at a Massachusetts Republican rally as at yesterday’s.) Tom Menino, Jr, son of Boston’s late Mayor, co-hosted the rally with his wife Lisa Menino. State Representative Angelo Scaccia Spoke; so did Hyde Park’s City Councillor, Tim McCarthy. Suffolk Sheriff Steve Tompkins attended. All are Democrats.

So were most of the campaign activists — many of them veterans of city and Congress campaigns — gathered in such large numbers that some had to look down upon the rally from upstairs.

Five Democratic State legislators, in addition, to Scaccia, have endorsed Baker, and at least 50 more support him even though they can’t say it publicly. But their supporters get the unspoken message: essentially, Baker is the Democratic establishment candidate for Governor. There’s a political pull to this — Baker’s opponent has married the “progressives’ who, at every point they can, are contesting establishment Democratic legislators in the party primary — but pull or no pull, Baker won this level of support by listening and more listening and by going out constantly to the 351 cities and towns and winning the trust of municipal officials — central to the support that Democratic legislators — who number 80 percent of the legislature’s total –rely on for re-election.

Even more than his — and the legislature’s — record of reforms, Baker’s outreach and his listening represent his core message.

If Baker has made community central to his message of action, what he has done is to commit his mission to the most passionate popular movement going on right now, in response to the self-containment and division imposed on us by Mr. Trump and his politics of revanche and isolation. Everywhere I see communities being created, by activists and by just folks, as people step out from behind their iPhones and engage in real life, in numbers, to reach communal peace and to innovate solutions to riddles of climate, transportation, education and inclusion. Baker hasn’t won over every community arising, but if the polls are right that he has 65 to 67 percent of the vote, he’s definitely won the trust of most. This may be why 22 Massachusetts mayors have formally endorsed him and why most of the rest support him without saying so.

That Baker spoke so pointedly and with passion may surprise those who see him as the epitome of no-drama and caution. These he is : but no one should ever assume that because he is slow to engage, he lacks ideals fervently believed. He leads by example, teaches by doing — and by what he does not do and does not say — and makes his point — anti Trump — by being, in every sort of the way, the opposite of what Mr. Trump is and presents.

The city Democrats who gathered for Baker and cheered his words and saluted huis introducers spoke very directly about why they were there : “it’s not about what party you belong to, its about getting things done,” said District Councillor Tim McCarthy. Tom Menino, Jr. said the same thing.

I have never, since he died in 2014, seen a member of the late Mayor’s family spearhead a political event, much less one for a Republican. Yet there they were, Tom Junior and his wife Lisa, co-hosting, in a neighborhood of Boston where, in 2014, Baker had no organization at all. Today he has there a large one, of all sorts of people, including every Hyde Park political leader. Listening isn’t a bad tactic for winning the trust of a community strategy.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere