In the late 1980s, my small manufacturing business was on the brink of collapse. At the time, state policy allowed for nearly unlimited employers liability settlements, which were driving insurance premiums beyond my business’s ability to pay. Fortunately, in 1990, Massachusetts voters came to my business’s rescue and elected William Weld governor and enough conservative legislators to push a conservative, pro-business agenda that included an early rewrite of the state’s employer liability policies.
Why would one of the most progressive, liberal leaning states in the country elect a fiscally conservative, tax-cutting, pro-business governor? And why would the majority of voters continue for most of the next three decades to elect liberal legislators for their districts and fiscally responsible Republicans as governors?
As a 2022 Republican candidate for governor, I had an opportunity to ask hundreds of voters across the Commonwealth this question. In one way or another, voters told me they wanted checks and balances in state government. Most voters do not have the time or interest to stay current on every expenditure and policy of state government, so they rest peacefully at night knowing the minority party will keep the majority party in check. One Democratic voter and activist put it succinctly: “I believe in the progressive causes, but I want someone to make sure they don’t waste my money.”
With the recent election of Governor Maura Healey, a Democrat, the checks and balances Massachusetts has largely enjoyed for decades are now gone. Every constitutional office, every member of the federal delegation, and both branches of the Legislature are now controlled by the Democratic Party. With over 90 percent of all elected officials from a single party, Massachusetts is now one of the most unbalanced states in America. Which has led many to wonder if single-party control is a permanent change. Will the Republican Party ever play a meaningful role in state government again? Or will Republicans forever be relegated to holding cardboard signs outside the State House while Democrats govern inside?
The answer depends on several factors. First, will the MassGOP state committee elect a new leader this month? Having run for office, I have seen the party’s dysfunction firsthand. Its chairman, Jim Lyons, has spent precious resources on frivolous lawsuits and past grudges and has alienated voters by endorsing extreme positions. By imposing strict purity tests on what is or isn’t “conservatism,” he has narrowed the MassGOP’s big tent to a lean-to. Massachusetts is not Alabama. To be a functioning opposition party, we must pick and choose issues that will not cost us victory in a general election.
The Massachusetts Republican Party needs leadership able to build a strong party infrastructure. Republicans must recommit ourselves to the important work of strengthening and organizing local town committees so there are volunteers to help knock on doors, collect signatures, and get out the vote efforts.
Strengthening the Republican town committees will also help the party’s outreach to unenrolled voters. Massachusetts’ dismal and declining number of registered Republicans is another black mark on party leadership.
It’s time to accept the realities of mail-in votes and early voting. Republicans will continue to lose if we don’t pursue these votes. The same can be said about donors. Republicans can fundraise in this state, but the party has been nearly destitute for years. This is partially due to poor messaging as well as a neglect of personal relationships with its past donors.
To win as a fiscal conservative in Massachusetts, good isn’t good enough. To win requires the highest quality leaders and candidates and a lot of hard work. I remain deeply optimistic about MassGOP’s future. Although the party may have temporarily lost much of its ability to influence policy, its principles of lower taxes, economic prosperity for all, and limited government are as true and needed today as they have been throughout its history.
For those citizens and job creators considering leaving the state or who are struggling under the burden of high taxes, affordability problems, and a growing anti-business climate, take heart. The voters in the early ’90s came to my rescue and I hope they won’t forget you either.
Read more in the series: The future of the state Republican Party
Chris Doughty is a former Republican candidate for governor for Massachusetts.