Maura Healey is seeking a lock on the Massachusetts governorship, but…
After two terms as the state’s top law enforcement official and attorney, Maura Healey, the Democratic candidate for Massachusetts governor, is no stranger to the Bay State legislature and the its main players: Speaker of the House Ron Mariano and Speaker of the Senate Karen Spilka. Along with their lieutenants, most served for many years before Healey even stepped onto the scene as attorney general in 2014. Barring a political supernova, voters in Massachusetts will send Healey to the Statehouse, where she will have the built-in benefits of experience and familiarity that incumbent Charlie Baker and Deval Patrick, the last Democratic governor, lacked when they came to power from the private sector.
In the Massachusetts legislature, what leaders want, leaders get. They fiercely guard their own legislative priorities, which range from moderate to conservative. They herd on a docile base that fears the wrath that could snatch provocateurs from committee chairmen and exile them to basement offices. They refuse to make public the votes of the joint commissions and the six bills on greater transparency. Above all, they preside over an institution that conducts its business so quietly that lawmakers in a full-time state legislature end up cramming significant amounts of business into the final days of a session.
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“The way I describe the evolution of the Massachusetts legislature over the past decade is that it has gone from doing things that are actively harmful to doing things that are woefully insufficient,” says Jonathan Cohn, policy director for Progressive Massachusetts, a statewide political advocacy group. “There is a certain type of conservatism that is born of inertia, risk avoidance, lack of commitment to policy at the individual level and the fact that the most powerful interests militate for the status quo. pure “big C” conservatism like a Republican legislature, but a status quo bias in effect.
This reality on the ground belies the state’s reputation as a progressive country. There are strong regional variations in the basic Bay State blue. Generally speaking, Boston and some western suburbs have a deeper shade of blue, thanks to the leftward shift in recent years, led in large part by progressives like Mayor Michelle Wu. As a region, the western Massachusetts leans toward progressivism. The far northeast, southeast, and central regions, however, lean from moderate to conservative.
In Massachusetts, the closer the state gets to the trifecta of Democratic control, the further the legislature moves away from the kind of life-altering change that makes a difference for the state’s seven million people. Policymaking takes unrecognizable shapes when it comes up against the internal partisan fire at which Democrats excel. Healey will have to go from being an activist attorney general in charge of the national agenda to being a chief executive who has to wring the arms of fellow Democrats who like to legislate as he is, including legislative leaders who relish showing governors that they are the real power brokers in the building.
This inertia is amplified by notoriously uncompetitive legislative elections. This year, more than half of the incumbents of the 200-seat legislature are running unopposed, ensuring the preservation of longtime Democrats in a quasi-permanent Democratic supermajority. One of the few encouraging signs for the institution is a new class of freshman lawmakers that will include more people of color. During the 2020 census redistricting process, state lawmakers passed predominantly white body diversification, adding a total of 19 majority-minority districts in the House and Senate, with four of those districts having no incumbents. .
In the Massachusetts legislature, what leaders want, leaders get.
Healey has been angling for the governor’s office for years, and with superior name recognition and fundraising, she dropped her only top-flight opponents in the race long before the September primary, beating Sonia Chang. -Díaz, a Boston State senator who stayed on the ballot, by a 72 percentage point rout. If elected, Healey would be the state’s first female chief executive and, possibly, one of the nation’s first two lesbian governors. (Tina Kotek is the Democratic candidate for Oregon governor in a contest too close to call.) Her Republican opponent, Geoff Diehl, a former state representative and habitual seeker turned Trump sidekick, has had a somewhat tighter contest against first-time candidate, moderate businessman Chris Doughty.
Healey leads Diehl 52% to 26%, according to a Suffolk University/Boston Globe/NBC10 Boston/Telemundo poll. She has a nine percentage point advantage among the independents.
The winner will not lack challenges. Sky-high housing costs and transportation problems have simmered and erupted under the last three governors: Charlie Baker, the popular Republican governor who chose not to seek a third term; his Democratic predecessor, Deval Patrick; and Patrick’s predecessor, Republican Mitt Romney, all of whom came to power with ambitious transportation plans and governance reform proposals.
Despite the mountains of study at their disposal, however, Massachusetts governors have seemed unable to grasp just how serious these issues are and, more importantly, how they will weigh on a governor’s agenda.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, Boston’s regional transportation system, is the crisis generator that invariably finds a way to cause disaster, usually shortly after a new governor is sworn in – Charlie Baker found himself with a collapse of the system after a series of harsh winters. storms and appointed a tax audit council to bring order. On the rails and on the streets, however, delays, crashes, fires, passenger injuries – including one death – continued, and federal authorities intervened. A ballot question that would reduce tax pressures on transportation (and education) with a point tax on earnings over $1 million is on the November ballot. Today, the runners’ only hope is that the federal government will remove the entire system from the state plate in the short term to eliminate some of the malfunctions of the system. A June MassINC Polling Group survey of likely Democratic primary voters found that 59% of those polled wanted the next governor to make a “significant and bold change” in transportation, which came second only to clean energy. as a state problem which they considered the most important. .
Housing is another long-standing issue. Soaring rents and single-family home prices have spread across the state from Boston, forcing people to rule out moving to smaller towns and villages two and three hours west of the state capital. . The simple solution – more housing and more housing near public transit – is meeting fierce resistance in suburban localities determined to ward off people of color and families with children of any color who likely threaten property values and plates. tax.
With Baker, America’s most popular governor is at the door, and it’s no surprise that Healey shouted it not once but twice in his primary victory speech. Having some of that Baker patina may spell betrayal for some, but these gestures bow to the reality of nearly three million independent voters, 60% of the electorate, who outnumber Democrats and Republicans. and who kept Baker in power.
If Healey faces the slimmest threat, it comes in the form of voters eager to weigh in on a ballot issue that calls for the repeal of the law allowing undocumented residents to have driver’s licenses. (Baker supports repeal.) A June poll by Suffolk University and the Boston Globe found that the issue broke down along predictable partisan lines: Democrats overwhelmingly opposed repeal, while Republicans strongly supported overturning the law. The gap narrowed within the crucial independent bloc, however, with 51% in favor and just 37% against. Another June poll, this one from the University of Massachusetts Amherst/WCVB, with a larger sample, found that a plurality of voters supported repeal, with a high number of voters still undecided.
Even so, Republican Diehl’s journey is skyrocketing, especially now that Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has entered the race with his stunt drive to the White House – sending undocumented immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard. . He is unlikely to campaign on the slogan “rule Massachusetts with an iron first” bequeathed to him by Donald Trump. He’s already adopted the central general election strategy that served Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) so well on his way to victory in 2021. But trying to slip to the center undetected is can’t -not be as easy for Diehl today as it might have been before. Dobbs and Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) decision to introduce a national abortion ban into the midterm conversation at a time when Republicans want to keep inflation and the economy at the top of people’s consciousness. voters.
Where does this environment leave Healey as a likely incoming governor? Attorneys general are generally cautious about their political leanings. Healey stayed that way except where she had broad support, as she did on issues like voting rights and reproductive rights. In keeping with her moderate outlook, she hasn’t used her campaign platform as an escape opportunity to telegraph her legislative priorities, which lawmakers might want to push through early on.
There are no high-profile new initiatives in the 12 areas she checks off on her campaign website. His calls for reform are more of a collection of the greatest successes of familiar Bay State aspirations: increased housing supply, denser development located near public transit, new leadership and better governance at the MBTA. . In short, it’s a broad and low-key platform, portrayed as trying to control expectations while appealing to centrist and liberal voters.
“Under a Republican governor, the power resides in the legislature, they set the agenda: they can ignore whatever the governor asks them to do because, ultimately, they can muster the votes for what ‘they want to do whatever it is,’ says Cohn. “[A] The Democratic Governor assumes that the Legislature should adopt the priorities of the Democratic Governor, which takes power away from the President and the Speaker of the Senate.
As a result, the Battles of Healey will not end in November.