Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Massachusets GOP has reached its lowest ebb since before the Civil War

This column originally appeared in the March 21, 2008 edition of the Post-Gazette of Boston.

by Edward W. Wagner

The atmosphere was cheerful and collegial with no dissent as all offices, from national committeeman to assistant secretary, were filled by acclamation of uncontested elections. Most of these were re-elections of the current office holders. Overall the tone was one of cautious optimism.

In other words it seemed a party meeting for some other state rather that Massachusetts where the GOP has reached its lowest ebb since before the Civil War. There was no sense of crisis. The lack of palpable aura of doom hanging over the proceedings only lent to them a feeling of unreality, like listening to the officers on the deck of the Titanic discuss the next day’s shuffleboard tournament.

Above all there was no perception that the state party had just perhaps been lately ill-served by its leadership. The longest serving officers, National Committeeman, Ron Kaufman and National Committeewomen, Jody Dow proudly noted that they have been at their posts since, respectively, 1988 and 1981. But they did not point out that that means they have presided over one of the most precipitous declines of a major party in any state outside the Democrats in the old confederacy.

I think in large part that members of this committee believe that the Mass GOP has been on receiving end of some hard knocks and poor luck but that they could not have done anything to prevent the current state of affairs. They are now hopefully looking forward to a change in luck. It is true that, since the defeat of Kerry Healy and the ending of Mitt Romney’s presidential hopes, the clutch of multimillionaires who have been riding the party hard to serve their own ambitions seemed to have finally walked away. But what remains is a committee that largely served their interests over any other consideration. If the Healy for Governor Committee no longer shares the same address as the party headquarters it’s only because one of them went out of business; and one wonders how long the other will be able to pay the rent.

What I heard about party finances was not encouraging. Sitting state chairman, Peter Torkildsen, who presided over the meeting, graciously agreed to forego a large part of his six-figure salary until the state party has raised enough money to pay him. He did not note that, until his tenure, no recent chairman had pulled down any salary at all.

The composition of this committee is still in flux. Eighteen seats (out of eighty) were uncontested at the primary election. In the interim three persons have been elected (and were seated at this meeting) by district caucus and there was at least one successful sticker campaign. I don’t know if this could provide the elements of a dissenting or even a conservative caucus in the committee. Nowhere did I see one in action at this meeting.

[Note, Mr. Wagner is Chairman of the Boston Ward 11 (Jamaica Plain) Republican Committee. He joins us a guest columnist this week. (dt)]

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