The Green Party has taken a great deal of flak from Democratic activists who are rightfully miffed at its role in sending the 2000 presidential election into overtime. In the past few weeks, however, Massachusetts Democrats have complained that Jill Stein, the Green party's nominee for this year's gubernatorial race, might tip the election to Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate. In this case the Democrats doth protest too much. If the Democrats cannot defeat Mitt Romney, then they have much bigger problems than those posed by the Massachusetts Green Party. The Greens, however, are missing a golden opportunity to be a force for good in Massachusetts politics.
Anyone who thinks that Massachusetts politics is just for liberals is missing half of the story. The Massachusetts congressional delegation is indeed quite liberal, with two Democratic senators, liberals Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, and ten Democratic representatives, most of them in turn liberal. But Massachusetts has also had a Republican governor since 1991, and has had a conservative Democrat as the Speaker of its House of Representatives since 1996.
The Massachusetts Republican party is a decidedly odd bird. In many respects, the party is comatose. It will not field a candidate this year against John Kerry, the incumbent Democratic senator. Its last senatorial candidate managed a political first by getting into an auto accident during a live radio interview, and almost came in third behind the Libertarian candidate. In the State House, Republicans are almost invisible: they hold only 19 out of 160 seats in the House and 6 out of 40 seats in the Senate. Things will not get much better this year. According to the party's web site, it will only contest half of the state's congressional elections, fewer than half of the state senate elections, and barely half of the state representative elections. Despite these problems, the Republicans have enjoyed success in gubernatorial elections, with a great deal of help from the Massachusetts Democratic Party.
In 1990, John Silber, the president of Boston University, won the Democratic primary by running to the right of Attorney General Francis Bellotti. He proclaimed himself to be an outsider who would shake up the government. Instead, he lived up to his reputation as a cranky, hot-headed, bitter man. Former United States attorney William Weld defeated Silber by running to his right on economic issues but to his left on social issues like gay rights. (Silber did get some unexpected support from some BU employees, who voted for him just to get him off campus.)
In the intervening 12 years, the Democrats have been unable to regain the governorship, even through the Republicans have been eager to shed the mantle of incumbency. After Weld won reelection in 1994, he tried to redefine the word dilettante. First, he ran for senator against John Kerry in 1996, but lost that bid. Then, he got Bill Clinton to nominate him to be ambassador to Mexico, but found that Jesse Helms was blocking the nomination because of his progressive views on homosexuality. Then, he quit in order to join a New York law firm and become a part-time novelist. By 2000, he had separated with his wife and set up housekeeping with a younger woman.
Weld's lieutenant governor, Paul Cellucci, took his place and won the 1998 election despite an entirely undistinguished record as Acting Governor. Key to his victory was the support of House Speaker Tom Finneran, nominally a Democrat. But by 2001, Cellucci in turn was bored. Denied the chance to be a cabinet secretary in the Bush administration, he accept the ambassadorship to Canada. His replacement was Jane Swift, whose record as Acting Governor was so distinguished that the Massachusetts Republican Party forced her not to run for election later this year.
This election might well be different. The Democrats have five candidates on their gubernatorial ballot, each with ample political experience. Three have held elective office. A fourth is the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. A fifth is a former United States secretary of labor. All have views that put them in the mainstream of the party—Republican nominee Mitt Romney will not be able to run to their left on any issue without dramatically changing his public positions. Furthermore, the Republican administration has been at the helm while the state budget sank into a deficit of several billion dollars. The budget deficit has several causes, not the least of which is a dramatic drop in receipts from capital gains taxes. But an income tax cut pushed by Cellucci and Swift in 2000, when the country's economy looked rosy, had a significant role. Capital gains cuts pushed by Weld in 1994 compounded the deficit.
The biggest impediment to the Democrats this year is that the most important and obstinate insider in Massachusetts politics is the speaker of the Massachusetts House, Tom Finneran. While he claims to be a Democrat, it is not clear that he is what political scientists call a "small-d democrat." He runs the House of Representatives with an iron fist, passing his favored bills on voice votes, and bottling up bills he does not like in committee. His favorites enjoy contributions from his well-funded political action committee. His opponents get smaller offices, fewer staff members, and undesirable committee assignments. The most glaring example of his power came during the fiscal year 2002 budget process. He kept the budget out of committees and off the floor for months, then gave members only 12 hours to digest an enormous document.
The nominally Democratic Finneran would not be speaker today without the overt help of the Massachusetts Republicans. He won the speakership in 1996, even though only a minority of his caucus supported him. He won the votes of the 34 Republican members of the House, along with 54 of the 126 Democratic members. If Romney points to Finneran as the scourge of Massachusetts politics, the Democratic nominee should be prepared to point to the Republicans who were vital to his political success.
Romney is far from an ideal candidate for the Republicans, although they do not have many good choices. In his only other bid for elective office, he lost a Senate race to Ted Kennedy by 17 percent in 1994. The main entry in his resume is that he successfully rescued the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics from a scandal-plagued regime. Running a state government for four years, of course, is much different than running a sports exhibition for a few weeks.
Romney is a charismatic man who speaks well on camera, but his recent missteps are legion. For months, he claimed that he had no interest in running for governor of Massachusetts. By the end of March 2002, he had decided to run after all, and had maneuvered to have Jane Swift abandon her nascent campaign. Once he announced his candidacy, Romney claimed that he would have the Republican convention pick the candidate for lieutenant governor. Days later, he announced that he would have a running mate after all: Kerry Murphy Healey, whose political history included two massively unsuccessful runs for state representative.
Romney has claimed that he has maintained his eligibility for the governorship by maintaining his Massachusetts residency for the past seven years, even though he filed his taxes as Utah resident and a Massachusetts non-resident in 1999 and 2000. There is a reasonable legal argument that tax returns are not the controlling documents as to residency, but Romney first claimed that he filed as a resident for the years in question. Only after the press and the Democratic Party got wind of the truth did he admit to his actual filings.
Romney also made a set of startling claims about a property tax break that he enjoyed on his Utah home. He claimed that he did not realize that he got an annual property tax break of $18,000 because his multimillion dollar home was being taxed as his primary residence. (Romney's claim of Massachusetts residency requires that he count the Utah mansion as a temporary home.) Most people whom I know remember fairly vividly when they get an extra 25 cents in change from the soda machine at work. Perhaps $18,000 is less than pocket change to Mitt Romney, but I suspect that even he noticed the tax break. Then Romney claimed he did not notice the tax break because his wife paid the property taxes. Blaming his wife would merely have been bad form, until proof came that he signed the check for the 1999 tax payment.
Some Massachusetts Democrats have disagreed with the objections of the state Democratic Party to Romney's candidacy on residency grounds. It is time for them to read some Clausewitz, who might have said on a waggish day that politics is the continuation of war by other means. Even if Romney had a good case for residency because he voted in and maintained a house in Massachusetts, he lied about all sorts of other facts. It is seldom bad for your side when you can prove that your opponent is a serial prevaricator, and by pressing its case, the state Democratic Party can get Romney to admit to his lies under oath.
Looking at the 2000 presidential election, one might think that the Green Party could tip the upcoming election in Massachusetts to the Republicans, because Ralph Nader received over six percent of the vote. But Nader's vote was a confluence of two streams: a small vote for the Green Party candidate, and a larger vote for Ralph Nader and against the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. Al Gore was going to win in Massachusetts in 2000 in a cakewalk, so many of Nader's votes were strategic votes aimed at getting the Green Party to the 5% level nationally and thereby qualifying for federal matching funds.
The Massachusetts Libertarian Party has never been a viable threat to the Massachusetts Republicans, even though they hold economic views that appeal to many Republicans (for example, this year they are pushing a referendum to scrap the Massachusetts income tax altogether). Their presidential candidate received less than 1% of the vote in 2000, but they maintained major party status because they offered the only sane alternative to Ted Kennedy. And they had a place on the 2000 ballot only because their candidates for secretary of state and auditor in 1998 received over 5% of the vote: the candidate for auditor was best known for being a practicing nudist.
This year, Greens nominated a political novice, Dr. Jill Stein, who has scared some Democrats witless by almost qualifying for $3,000,000 in public funding under the state's Clean Elections Laws. My own state representative, Jim Marzilli, accused the Greens of handing the governorship to Mitt Romney. However, the Greens undid themselves with their lack of organization: they could not get the paperwork together in time to show the requisite 6,000 donations to qualify for the state funding.
Jim Marzilli is a reliably progressive representative, an outspoken opponent of Tom Finneran, and an outspoken advocate for reform. However, his dismay at the Green party was mostly misplaced. It would be great if the Green Party would nominate Squirt the Wonder Clam, or nominate no one, whenever it was worried about the closeness of an upcoming election. But the Massachusetts Greens have never been able to muster votes for any statewide Massachusetts candidate, with the singular exception of Ralph Nader in 2000. Jill Stein is a weak candidate of a weak party, and no amount of Clean Elections funding would change that.
Third parties always face dilemmas when they run for offices. Is the goal to move one or both parties to their way of thinking, or is it to win at any cost? Unless your gubernatorial candidate is someone with tremendous name recognition (like Jesse Ventura or Lowell Weicker, recent third-party governors in Minnesota and Connecticut, respectively), the first strategy is not a bad one. If the Democratic nominee stole much of the Green party platform, he or she would probably get almost all of the potential Green votes. The risky aspect of this strategy is that the Democrats might try to position themselves as the centrist party. Then, the Green platform might be ignored, and the Democrats would risk losing voters who might choose a real Republican over a fake one.
What is depressing about what the Greens are doing this year is that they had dozens of opportunities to fight all-out for offices without providing any serious succor to the Republicans. According to the Green party web site, the Greens are contesting only seven of the two hundred races for state representative or state senator. To the party's credit, these seven races feature incumbents hostile to the Clean Elections Law. But the party could have and should have aimed higher. If the Green Party had found candidates to run against incumbents who have supported Speaker Finneran, then it truly could call itself a party of reform. The Republican Party is so moribund at the local level that it leaves many races uncontested, so the Greens would often be the only opposition, and could conceivably win some of those elections. Even if Green Party activism tipped a few seats to the Republicans, it would not affect which party controlled either chamber of the legislature. But defeating some of the craven incumbents—or even running creditably against them— would punish the Democratic rank and file who act contrary to the public interest. The Massachusetts Green Party did not and probably will never take this tack, because building a party from the ground up is ultimately harder than running quixotic statewide campaigns.
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