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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Backing up the headline

If I were a Globe editor, I would have sent the headline on Matt Viser's Page One story back for something more accurate.

Stashed somewhere near the top of a story about Democratic factions feuding is a quote from the latest state Republican Party talking head:
"It's an exciting time," said Nick Connors, executive director of the Massachusetts Republican Party. "The Democrats are creating opportunities for us all around the state. It shows a definite need for two parties and a different vision for where we can take the state."
The sentiment is not new. It's been uttered regularly -- from Andrew Natsios, Ray Shamie, Bill Weld, Joe Malone, Paul Cellucci and Mitt Romney. What's missing is action.

Massachusetts Democrats have always been a fractious bunch. Remember when Tom Finneran called Scott Harshbarger the "the loony left" and damaged the Democratic gubernatorial candidate? Or check out this prescient piece by the current spokesman for Speaker Robert DeLeo discussing how Finneran would likely have preferred to back Jane Swift because it would have boosted his authority?

The problem has not been the inability of the GOP to field successful candidates for statewide office -- four on that list won voter approval. What the GOP is apparently incapable of doing in Massachusetts is consistently recruiting and electing a farm team, people willing to run for state representative and senate.

Two recent exceptions to the rule are also instructive even as they appear contradictory.

A similar wave of voter disgust brought on by the fiscal crisis of the late 1980s not only brought Weld into office but also a significant enough slate of Republican senators to give him a veto threat. In 2004, Romney fielded a slate of legislative candidates that actually managed to lose ground for the GOP.

The common thread? Both governors lost interest in the job and put personal gain over creating a team that could actually develop into a credible minority party.

Some of the blame for the local GOP's ills also result from the national party and its kamikaze lurch to the right. The GOP tradition in Massachusetts was ably carried on by Saltonstalls, John Volpe, Edward Brooke, Frank Sargent and Frank Hatch.

The party of Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh is alien to the New England tradition. Just ask the surviving members of the US congressional delegations, Maine's Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.

There's been some realization of this disconnect from Massachusetts Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei. But the bombs being hurled out of the GOP headquarters don't seem to match the message.

Next year is another one of those rare chances for the state's GOP -- provided it can recruit a vibrant cadre of candidates in tune with Bay State voters. The results of 2006 and 2008 legislative races -- with the continued slippage in the size of the delegation -- raise serious doubts.

Connors is right that Massachusetts needs two parties. The Democrats have provided that "balance" for years. Finneran is the classic leader of the legislative branch. Patrick represents the left side of the party, which traditionally has had its ins and outs with the legislative party.

It's up to Connors and his cohorts to translate the rhetoric into reality. Just because a Globe headline writer thinks they can do it doesn't make it true.

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