Ask people to name the leading voice of opposition on Beacon Hill these days, and you’re likely to be told House Speaker Sal DiMasi — or Governor Deval Patrick, depending on which of the two is considered the current locus of political power.
|Runs in the family|
The GOP’s emphasis on fiscal conservatism is not every Republican’s idea of a winning ticket. “There are groups out there that are trying to get people to run for representative and Senate offices on family values,” says A. Richard Hersum, executive director of the Association of Massachusetts Republican Committees. One such candidate is Sandi Martinez, former state director of the socially conservative Concerned Women for America organization, and a newly elected state committeewoman, who is now running for Susan Fargo’s Waltham-area Senate seat.
That’s not the way the playbook was written for the Massachusetts Republican Party. By solidifying one-party control of state government, Patrick’s election was supposed to fuel a forceful dissenting voice. Just as Michael Dukakis in the late 1980s gave rise to William Weld and a surge in GOP legislators in the early 1990s, so the Patrick administration was supposed to have birthed a strong opposition party.
It may happen eventually, but it hasn’t yet. In fact, the GOP is barely acknowledged — media reports rarely bother even quoting Republican voices on the issues of the day. Meanwhile, a string of special elections have been won by Democrats, including four state-representative races earlier this month — at least two of which were in districts where their party should have been competitive, Republican insiders concede.
Even bleaker for the GOP, with just more than a month before signatures are due for candidates running this November, the Republican crop of candidates so far looks like one of the weakest yet.
There’s no sugar-coating the problem. “It’s daunting,” says Brad Jones, house minority leader. “The party certainly has its work cut out for us.”
“I don’t think it’s gotten any better” since Patrick’s election, says State Senator Robert Hedlund, a Republican from Weyland.
The ineffectuality of the Republicans can be attributed to many things, one of which is the ongoing battle between Patrick and DiMasi on such high-profile issues as casinos, corporate taxes, and local-options taxes on meals and hotel rooms. (This is the latest example of Democratic dysfunction that, curiously, seems to only enhance the party’s monolithic control of Beacon Hill.) That feud has given the impression, say some Republicans, that both sides of every issue are being fought for — and that the bad-government fears about one-party rule have not materialized.
But that’s a misperception, Republicans say. “Despite some high-profile differences,” says Jones, “[Patrick and DiMasi] are not really that far apart.”
For example, Patrick and the legislative leadership in both houses agree on the level of local aid for the next state budget — case closed, no debate.
And who is standing up for good government? In the latest supplemental budget, Democrats approved pay raises for three of their own, with barely a peep of public criticism, says Jones. When the state inspector general criticized DiMasi this month over a shady $13 million software contract, the Speaker just kept right on cracking casino jokes.
In days gone by, the Republican governor, his press secretary, or a department head could have stepped to a microphone and drawn attention to any of these issues. Today, the only members of the opposition party in the building are five state senators and 19 state representatives — a mere 12 percent of the 200 legislators — and none of them have the public presence to fill the void.
Nor has the party’s state committee proven itself adept at seizing the spotlight.
The Massachusetts GOP has been forced to remake itself after the end of the Mitt Romney era. Peter Torkildsen, who became chair of the state Republican Party in 2007, when Romney ally Darryl Crate stepped down, finds he has little to work with.
Previously, the party had been propped up by staff and funding from Romney’s campaign committee. That assistance is gone — as are many of the party’s own personnel, who had earlier crossed Washington Street from the Massachusetts GOP’s North End office to work for the Romney presidential campaign. (As with Paul Cellucci and William Weld before him, Romney’s interest in the state party seems to have been limited to how it could serve him personally.)
Fundraising, too, has plummeted. The three main Democratic committees — the state party and the House and Senate political-action committees — had nearly 10 times the combined cash on hand at the end of 2007 as the Republicans. Sources tell the Phoenix that the state GOP’s first big fundraiser of the year, held this past Wednesday, was eclipsed by a John McCain fundraiser in Boston that same evening.
And unlike his predecessors, Torkildsen insisted on drawing a salary, further draining the limited resources.