Throughout my career in government, people have often asked me the question: “Why are you a Republican?”
The answer is increasingly important, both to me personally and to the future of political discourse in Massachusetts and beyond.
When I came into political consciousness in my youth, I saw the Massachusetts Republican Party as the party that passed the nation’s first universal health care system, stood for centralized government and personal liberty, lifted the voices of the middle class, elected our nation’s first popularly elected Black US senator, Edward Brooke, and exhibited the decorum that I wanted to see in an elected body.
I joined the state Republican Party and quickly understood what it meant to fly that unique flag.
Being a Massachusetts Republican means standing up against the extremes on both sides of the aisle and fostering rational dialogue to solve day-to-day problems. It means working hard to present an alternative to the Beacon Hill status quo where Democrats hold supermajorities in the House, Senate, and, as a result of the November 2022 elections, all of the state’s constitutional offices. And importantly to me, it means showing voters that true Republicans still exist, independent of both Democrats and the new offshoot of Republicans who have lost their way.
The MassGOP used to be the party of John Volpe, William Weld, Paul Cellucci, Jane Swift, and, until recently, Karyn Polito and Charlie Baker. But now those days are gone. Under its new leadership, the state Republican Party has taken a hard right turn, and that turn is not popular with the quiet majority.
Collaborative conversations have turned into destructive disputes. Rather than lifting up the most successful and hardworking members of our party, the party’s leadership has implemented strict tests of ideological purity. Winning elections and public service have taken a back seat to spouting extremist dogma.
Political infighting has caused the MassGOP to lose credibility, dignity, and elections. State government is designed around a functioning two-party system, and without a legitimate Republican Party our Commonwealth will — and has — become lopsided. Further, the party as it exists is ostracizing modern Republicans, blocking a path for productive discourse with Democrats at both the municipal and state level. This is evidenced by the loss of nearly 50,000 registered Republicans in Massachusetts since 2016.
The Massachusetts Republican Party needs to grow up before it can grow. We need to end these vicious cycles of lawsuits, private investigations, accusations, and turmoil. We need to be more inclusive, mainstream, and understanding. We need to do some soul searching to figure out just what it is we as a party want to be and what we want to represent.
There is a lot of work we need to do to get back to who and where we were, but I ask for only one thing: That the party looks to its past to guide its future.
Voters have trusted Republicans with the corner office for the better part of the last three decades. This didn’t happen by coincidence, and it didn’t happen simply as a counterweight to the Democrat supermajority in the House and Senate. We have had leaders who understood the importance of pragmatism, collaboration, and compromise. They used those skills to successfully move Massachusetts to incredible heights — leading the nation in education, energy efficiency, and livability — with historic approval from the electorate. Their work paved a path for Republicans in this state, and we need to walk it.
When people ask me why I am a Republican, I say “because I still believe in the brand of Massachusetts Republicans that built the party and our state, not the one’s destroying it.”
Read more in the series: The future of the state Republican Party
State Senator Patrick O’Connor represents the Plymouth and Norfolk District.