I am a Democrat and proud of it. In Europe I would fall into the category of social democrat, somebody who has a vision for a more open, equal, just, and democratic society. At the same time I believe we should make the struggle against global warming the organizing principle of government. The best label for me is, I suppose, green social democrat. And as a green social democrat I believe that a healthy, pluralistic society needs a multi-party democracy. So I have a suggestion: Let's try building one in Massachusetts.
Before November 4, 2008, it was hard to believe that the political complexion of Massachusetts could turn any bluer. With the Democrats controlling all six constitutional statewide offices, both U.S. Senate seats, all ten congressional seats, and more than 85% of the Legislature, I thought the Democratic party must have reached its high-water mark. But I was wrong. Believe it or not, the Democrats now have 90% of the seats in the Legislature.
In such a lopsided political environment there is not so much a power vacuum as an opposition vacuum. Clearly the voters cannot look to the Republicans to fill the void. By failing to gain ground in the House and Senate in 2008 -- after forfeiting so many statewide races in 2006 -- the GOP has effectively abdicated the role opposition in Massachusetts. There is no latter-day Ray Shamie poised to rescue and rebuild the party. So if the people want competition for the Democrats, they are going to have to look elsewhere.
What about the Greens? Yes, Virginia, there really is a Green party in Massachusetts, although you would be forgiven for thinking otherwise based on the 2008 elections. Last November the unfortunately-named "Green Rainbow" party fielded even fewer legislative candidates than the Republicans. In fact, the grand total of GRP standard bearers was zero. The other progressive party with a ballot line, the Working Families party, did no better.
Looking at the voters' verdict on Question One (which would have abolished the state income tax) I believe there is a demand for a strong, organized, progressive party in Massachusetts. Almost three-quarters of the people voted to keep the income tax. That is a stunning figure. Remember, this is a state that not so long ago voted to reduce the income tax to 5% and elected a succession of Republican governors. Decades of anti-tax propaganda and an economic recession could easily have produced a different outcome. But Deval Patrick's consistent message in 2005-06 (yes, it's your money but it's also your broken roads, bridges, schools, etc.) combined with years of patient, unglamorous work on the part of groups like One Massachusetts and Neighbor to Neighbor helped lay the groundwork for the success of the No-on-One campaign.
For the sake of clarity, let me repeat myself: The vast majority of people who voted in 2008 voted to keep the income tax. There has been a sea-change in Massachusetts politics, and many voters are now noticeably to the left of the Democratic party. What does this mean for electoral competition?
I believe that there is a sizeable chunk of the electorate that is ready for a party that will compete with the Democrats for its support. And there is an opposition-shaped gap in the heart of Massachusetts politics, the kind of gap no healthy democracy can live with for long. Without more than token, tame opposition the Democratic party will float aimlessly around the center, entrenched in power but somehow ever on the defensive. This commonwealth needs a political party that will drive forward a green, progressive agenda by running credible candidates for the House and Senate. Any volunteers?