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Party and Power in Massachusetts

Massachusetts is a one-party state. The effects of that are hard to catalog and harder to prove. But this week’s Globe story about the cascading effect of Kerry’s decision to stay in the Senate adds an interesting item to the list.

Read the quotes from the story.

Philip W. Johnston , chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party: “If John had left the Senate, it certainly would have set off a game of musical chairs. Now that he’s not running, I think most people will stay where they are and wait.”

Scott Harshbarger , a former Massachusetts attorney general: “. . . you are losing the opportunity to have new people, new faces become involved at all levels of state and federal offices — as well as what it does to enliven and energize the party and the activists.”

When you have more than one party in action, seats are won and lost on a more frequent basis. Seats change hands because of conflict, ideas, and coattails. The power of incumbency is strong, but some seats change in the general election.

When you have only one party, seats are only lost in the primary. Because a primary is an election among “friends,” the stakes are high. Anyone who runs a primary challenge and loses is forever branded. In a state with only one party the loser is ostracized, never to return. People don’t mount primary challenges because, perversely, the stakes are higher than mounting a challenge in a general election.

One more quote: “‘Upward mobility is a lot more difficult in a state where one party is so dominant,’ Johnston said.” Taking it further: not only do we lose the opportunity to see new faces, but the old faces are mostly just standing in line. There is no disruption, no “rolling boil” that brings good, new faces to the top. There’s just the current office holders, grimly clinging to what they have and waiting for someone above them to move along.

Looking at the current landscape, only one of Massachusetts’s 10 representatives has retired in the last 10 years, and the senators are at 22 and 44 years in office. Are these really the best people for their offices? Or did they just get there first? With no real second party in the general election, and the huge risk/reward ratio in the primary, the status quo continues. Looking at the future, there isn’t really a prospect for change until 2012. That’s the year that Massachusetts will lose a congressional seat to population shifts and Kennedy’s eighth term ends.

Six more years of Kerry isn’t just six more years of Kerry. It’s six more years of everybody else, too.


Pingback from Dan Dunn’s Podium » Havern Resigns; Cue Musical Chairs Theme
Time: August 23, 2007, 12:13 am

[…] The Globe lists a few of the likely candidates for the seat.  As a special election, anyone can run without risking their current seat.  I expect a number of people to give it a go.  Whoever wins will open their seat – and the musical chairs continue.  You probably recall that I ran for Marzilli’s seat in 2004.  That musical chair music sounds pretty loud to me. I note that everyone listed so far is a Democrat.  I’ve talked before about how the primary is the only election that matters around here. […]

Pingback from Dan Dunn’s Podium » None Of The Above
Time: May 23, 2008, 7:26 pm

[…] often written about the effects of single-party politics in […]