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Mass. Republicans lose a member — but gain an opportunity

Massachusetts Republicans lost one this week, but they got the potential to pick up a bigger one.

First, just when you think the state’s House Republican caucus couldn’t shrink any further, one of its members — Susannah M. Whipps of Athol — is bailing out of the GOP.

Whipps, who has refused to back President Trump and sided with Democrats on several important issues in the House, said in a Tuesday statement that she was registering as an independent. That, she said, will “allow me to better serve all the people of the district with the obligation of towing any particular line.”


But just a few days later, Governor Charlie Baker pulled what looks like a very clever political move when he appointed fifth-term State Senator Jennifer Flanagan of Leominister, a Democrat, to head the state’s new Cannabis Control Commission. Flanagan’s district marginally votes in favor of Democrats: Hillary Clinton got only 50 percent of the vote there last year, compared to 61 percent statewide over Trump.

The district, which is dominated by northern Worcester communities and their conservative independents and Republicans along with a strong strain of conservative-leaning Democrats, is ripe for a GOP pick-up for the even-smaller six-member Senate GOP caucus, out of 40 seats. (There are just under three dozen Republicans out of 160 House members. )

Flanagan’s departure will set off another special election this fall, creating a challenge for Democrats to keep a seat the party has held since 1991 — and for Republicans to seize a rare opportunity to be competitive in legislative races.

Frank Phillips can be reached at frank.phillips@globe.com.