A funny thing happened to the Massachusetts Democratic Party on the way to the corner office this November. While losing to Charlie Baker, forces unseen remade it. This was done without the coordination of the party leadership or of its titular head, Deval Patrick.
How the party apparatchik responds will tell if this is a watershed moment in crafting a vision for our party and for our state today and for the next dozen years, or merely a refreshing of the individual players in the state’s elected organizational chart.
We know of the power of the Democratic Party in this state, but it is not monolithic and it lacks a machine like boss, one capable of electing or defeating candidates for office, as is the case in southern New Jersey. Just ask the boss’ brother, the new congressman-elect. Martha Coakley may have been a good or a flawed candidate, but there was no directive from on party high that hopes should be pinned to her.
In fact, when what some think is the power of our party gathered in Worcester to place or deny ballot access, it collectively chose to keep three new candidates off the ballot; Juliette Kayyem, Joe Avellone and James Arena-DeRosa, each an important voice for the present and future of our party, proving to be more mercurial than monolithic.
But real change happened. Take a step back, and take a look. Setting aside Senators Warren and Markey, one on a national stage and the other focused on long range national policy, the senior Democrat in state government is the new Attorney General, Maura Healey. Spare me the constitutional line of succession, I’m talking party politics, and Bill Galvin is not the future of the Democratic Party.
It’s Healey, who held no previous office or partisan party post. She is joined by a trio of congress people; Joe Kennedy, Katherine Clark, and Seth Moulton. These four were no where in the power structure five years ago.
But the path of each of the four was not through party power politics. They rose, each of their own choosing. Healey and Moulton defeated the party favorites, and Clark and Kennedy smartly pressed their advantages independently.
One noted disconnect here: The party was near unanimously for Tolman for Attorney General and steadfast in its support for Congressman John Tierney. The editorial pages were nearly so for Healey and Moulton. What did these observers in the media see that those in the party missed?
So we are presented with a rare opportunity. As Democrats we have no leader, no governor. We also have no clear platform. “We control everything” (but the corner office) is not a platform. But we have been remade. By seeing this as an opportunity and not a time for hibernation, we might offer an actual policy contrast to the Baker administration. There will be conflict in the next four years, it might be grounded in competing visions.
Healey, Clark, Kennedy, and Moulton offer new thinking, but join or recently joined institutions that are set in their collective ways. As they press and promote new apps for our democracy, let’s see if we can pull our party apparatus, even more arcane, from the mentality of the French court, one that must be catered to, but holds only the power to chop off your name from appearing from the ballot, into a true democracy.
Our future will be made through disruption of the existing system. We can do this as a conscience strategy, or the next Maura Healey will do it for us. It will be better for the party, and for democracy, and for the future of our state, if we encourage and welcome this expansion of thinking.