Today Maura Healey is being sworn in as Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and I am officially living in a one-party state. Nationally, I am represented by a Democratic President, two Democratic Senators (Warren and Markey), and a Democratic a Congressperson (Clark). At the state level we now have a Democratic Governor to work with our overwhelmingly Democratic legislature. Both my State Senator and State Representative are Democrats. Locally, Cambridge City Councilors don’t run with party affiliation, but every elected official in the People’s Republic is a Democrat, except for those who fly further left on the political spectrum.
Although I am registered Independent, my politics more closely align with Democrats than Republicans. So, I should be happy, right? I am…and I’m not.
I was weaned in a New Deal loving household under the mystique of JFK and bluster of LBJ. Of course we hated Nixon, but only because we always knew he was a crook. I didn’t truly appreciate Jimmy Carter until I lived in rural West Texas and saw him through the eyes of fellow farmers. Today, Jimmy’s the best ex-President we’ve ever had, and an important role model for me.
My real political education began during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, when I learned: beware of an ideologue at the helm. If they’re not your ideologue, you’re better off with a mere administrator. And if their ideology does align with yours, they will be sure to disappoint.
Massachusetts has a long progressive history. We also have a penchant for moderate Republican governors, who often serve as a kind of palate cleanser to our regular diet of Democratic largesse. Most recently, Charlie Baker, who served as governor for eight years, botched up the T and sold out on the prison moratorium, but he also notched up housing opportunities, kept his nose clean, and did an all-around credible job. Baker was consistently rated the most popular governor in America, and if he’d wanted a third term, he would most likely have won. But Charlie Baker was just as disenchanted with the direction of the Republican Party as those of us who have nothing into do with it, so he retired. The GOP nominated a Trump-clone who was rounded defeated. Thus, our state has no viable Republican voices; perhaps not even any moderate ones.
These days, Massachusetts is a great place for many, but not all. The economy is sound, mostly because our economic engine—brainpower—is in constant demand. The booms and bust of extraction, agriculture, or even defense spending hardly affect us. We are the best educated state by numerous metrics, yet we continually import more grey matter. People come here from all over the world to study, and many stay. I’m an example of that myself.
So, with all these progressive politicians, and this flush economy, we must be implementing all sorts of social changes, right? Livable wages, affordable housing, early education, racial accord, climate resistance, enlightened social programs. If only…
Although I am glad I live in Massachusetts over any other state, I am not ignorant of the blinders that constrict our potential. Yes, we have a $15 minimum wage, but that hardly matters in a place where the most basic apartment rents for $2000+ per month. Yes, we have great career opportunities, but we also have a hard underbelly of folks who cannot function in our job market. Yes, we have a tighter social net than most any other state, but we also have an expanding homeless crisis. Riding my bike through Mass & Cass reminds me of Port-au-Prince after the Haiti earthquake. No state that harbors such deprivation can call itself civilized, yet alone progressive.
After living in Massachusetts for over forty years I recognize that the most significant public policy advances have occurred under split administrations: where a Republican governor and the Democratic legislature had to hammer out hard stuff. That’s how Ed King managed to bend back the moniker, ‘Taxachusetts.’ It’s how Mitt Romney created the blueprint for affordable healthcare that eventually went viral. It’s how Charlie Baker crafted the first real change in zoning density in my lifetime, with actual teeth that are beginning to chomp down on cities and towns that don’t hop on the increased density bandwagon.
In theory, Governor Healey and her team will be able to work with the legislature to accomplish more. After all, they’re at the same party. Yet I fear that the Dems’ penchant for intra-party bickering, and the fat-and-happy idlement that comes with enjoying a supermajority, will actually yield fewer accomplishments then when we engage in opposing, yet civil discourse.
The opportunity for Governor Healy to make Massachusetts a more equitable place is tremendous. Yet every single-party state in the world—regardless of its ideological bent—must brace against the proclivity to stop listening, grow overconfident, and dance with tyranny.
Here’s hoping our new Governor flies above those temptations and turns the rhetoric of progress into meaningful change.