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December 12, 2014

The original version of this post included some misinterpretation of the Scot Lehigh column referenced.  After receiving constructive feedback from the Globe columnist, I have removed the passages that attributed to him conclusions he had not reached.  The substance of my analysis was not altered by these corrections.

Globe columnist Scott Lehigh recently wondered if the Democratic State Committee Chairman, State Senator Tom McGee, is the right guy to lead the party into the Charlie Baker Era. Will McGee's status as a Beacon Hill insider hamper the party's efforts to compete with a Republican governor well positioned to make being a Beacon Hill insider politically disadvantageous?  If so, the ability of the Democratic legislature to effectively govern with a Republican in the corner office over the next two years (not to mention the fate of the party's 2016 candidates) might depend on not being too closely associated with entrenched Beacon Hill "insiders."

Let me gently suggest that Democrats on Beacon Hill (including Chairman McGee) need not lose any sleep over these concerns.

If gubernatorial midterm elections were more like presidential midterms, then Beacon Hill Democrats might need to rethink their leadership and approach going into the 2016 election cycle. Were Massachusetts state legislative elections the only (or even just the biggest) show in town, a sitting Republican governor without the burden of an ongoing re-election campaign might well be able to capitalize on a partisan, insider versus outsider narrative over the next two years. Unfortunately for the Mass GOP, the 2016 state legislative elections will be sufficiently buried by the presidential and congressional elections to render such efforts relatively ineffective. Incumbent Democratic state legislators are not relying on their public images or any particular campaign or governing narrative to get themselves re-elected. If they were, then a Republican governor willing to call them out might produce a bit of heartburn on Beacon Hill, and the party building hopes of the Mass GOP would be considerably more realistic. At this point, however, the politics of state legislative elections in Massachusetts remain sufficiently local to insulate Democratic incumbents from the rhetorical arrows of a sitting Republican governor.

Even if Governor Baker were hoping to seek political advantage by highlighting Democratic entrenchment or corruption on Beacon Hill, the election of Stan Rosenberg to the Senate Presidency would put a serious crimp in his plans. If Democrats really did need an anti-establishment, anti-corruption front man to deny Baker the rhetorical high ground over the next two years, then Stan Rosenberg is right out of central casting. As a gay, Jewish, progress from Amherst Stan would be a very poor rhetorical whipping boy for any gubernatorial efforts to expose a Democratic "good ole boy" Establishment on Beacon Hill. Rosenberg's successful stewardship of the latest redistricting effort makes him virtually bullet-proof in this regard.

Finally, the likelihood of an aggressively partisan or confrontational Governor Baker is also belied by the very timid partisanship of candidate Baker. While it is true that Baker's "me too" policy liberalism on the campaign trail doesn't foreclose the possibility of an aggressively partisan governing narrative, there is no reason to believe such a strategy will be more viable in office than it was on the 2014 campaign trail. Baker's slim victory was not achieved by aggressive efforts to exploit Beacon Hill corruption. Candidate Baker was very measured and frankly conservative in his use of the very high profile convictions of longtime probation officials, for example.

With veto-proof Democratic majorities in both houses of the legislature, considerable competition for the attention of voters in the coming election cycle, and very little electorally useful grass roots GOP organizing efforts between elections (the most active GOP grass roots efforts in MA are actually counter-productive electorally), I am quite confident that the “disquiet in state Democratic ranks” that Scot Lehigh is hearing at present need not lead to any high profile post-election autopsies, rebranding efforts, or leadership shake ups.

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