A friend of mine, an economist who consulted with the state of Rhode Island, repeated a jape he had heard from the Rhode Island Speaker of the House: “Government in Rhode Island is a game of football — and the governor is the ball.”
Like Rhode Island, Massachusetts is a single-party corrupt fiefdom, the party being the Democrats. Others include New Jersey, Maryland, and Connecticut. I am unable to think of a polity one could describe as a “single-party corrupt Republican fiefdom.”
Nonetheless, the governor’s position in Massachusetts has not been held in as low regard as our neighbor’s to the south. Republican William Weld returned the state to financial probity after the profligacies of the Dukakis administration, his lieutenant Paul Celluci held down the fort after Weld left to take an ambassadorship, and Celluci’s lieutenant in turn Jane Swift stepped aside from future office ambitions — a good thing, too, Swift being an idiot. But they were all Republicans, and they all did what they could.
Swift was followed by venture capitalist and former Olympic czar Mitt Romney, who has been a genuine breath of fresh air, and who, tiring of being kicked around, has decided against running for another term, setting his sights on the Presidency instead.
IT HAS BEEN A MYSTERY, this continuing election of Republicans to the governor’s chair in Massachusetts. One theory holds that Dukakis did such a bad job that even the commonwealth’s predominant Democratic voters got tired of run-amok state finance. Maybe. The upcoming election could well explain what our voters are really all about, and as well bring to an end the long-running reign of Republican governors.
Kerry Healey, Romney’s lieutenant, won the Republican nomination. Her only possible opponent, Christy Mihos, a former turnpike commissioner, chose to run in the general election and may prove to be a real spoiler, Perot-style, on the Republican side. The Democratic primary featured a heated three-way contest between Beacon Hill millionaire Chris Gabrieli, Attorney General Tom Riley, and former Clinton apparatchik Deval Patrick, a black former head of the Clinton civil rights division and a dedicated liberal supporter of affirmative action, rights of criminals, and so forth.
Patrick won, as I predicted he would. Riley had embarrassed himself by intervening in a drunk driving case, and Gabrieli could not overcome Patrick’s superior machine political skills. So now we have Patrick against Healey. The race started with Patrick holding a supposed 39-point lead. Healey has substantially eroded that lead with skillful attacks on Patrick’s common sense in former matters involving his interventions in defense of some nasty criminals. Some faction or other, probably not the Healey campaign (regardless of Patrick campaign charges), has exposed the fact that Patrick’s brother-in-law was convicted of rape (of his wife) in San Diego, is required to register as a sex offender in Massachusets, where he now lives, and has not done so.
You can find many a discussion of these truly non-issues. Nobody so far has talked about the real one, which is: How will the tribes of Massachusetts vote?
THE TRIBES WERE BEST DESCRIBED BY GEORGE V. HIGGINS, in his non-fiction out-of-print classic, Style vs. Substance, about the Boston mayoralty of Kevin White. “They do not trust anyone they do not know,” Higgins wrote, “and those they do know they think they have unmasked for the scoundrels they are.”
What this means in terms of practical politics is that most Massachusetts office-holders adhere to a regular ethnic type — the Boston Irish or Italian pol who speaks with the local accent and who treats government as a jobs program. True, it does not always play out that way. Romney beat Treasurer Shannon O’Brien, a tribal exemplar, and Romney is a true-blue mittel-American who could be a TV announcer.
But Healey vs. Patrick exemplifies nothing of local loyalties. Both the lieutenant governor, a wealthy veteran Republican party officer for whom Lieutenant Governor is her first office, and Patrick, the Washington denizen, would be regarded as “outsiders” by most natives of the Commonwealth. The Massachusetts voter is legendarily prejudiced. His (or her) opinion of the race, held in secret, would be: Patrick is an uppity n-word, and Healey is a WASP bee-eye-itch.
So who does this voter vote for — or rather, and more likely, against? Mihos won’t grab enough to win, though he’s the native in the race. (There’s a Green candidate, too, but she’ll pull only marginally.) Which trend will win out on the Democratic side? The loyalty to the party? Will machine habits predominate, as the teacher’s unions and Service Employees International endorse Patrick? Or will the tribal unease reassert itself in the privacy of the voting booth?
In 1982, Los Angeles’s black Democratic mayor, Tom Bradley, ran against George Deukmejian, and lost, despite leading in many polls. I remember my surprise. I lived in Los Angeles at the time, and thought of Bradley as a kind of black Eisenhower, an unassuming, inoffensive fellow who made no particular point of his race. Some political analysts call this effect “Bradley’s ghost.” In the voting booth, enough voters found themselves unable to pull the lever for a black man that the Republican won. Four years later, Bradley ran again against the now-incumbent Deukmejian, and lost by a wide margin.
No faction of the Massachusetts tribe is represented in our current gubernatorial race. And I think, deep down, those voters are probably pissed. Inside the booth, who knows what circle they’re going to mark. We may well be in for a big surprise, come election night.
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