Beacon Hill Republicans Behaving Badly

by Ted Tripp

Sr. Political Reporter

Last month we asked the question: “Does Massachusetts have a Republican Party?” We posed the question because so many House Republicans voted with the Democrats on September 13th to override many of Governor Baker’s spending vetoes in the FY2018 budget. Baker vetoed $320 million of the $40 billion budget – less than 1% – because the money was simply not going to materialize. Only three of the 34 Republicans consistently voted to uphold the governor’s spending vetoes (Representatives Brad Jones of North Reading, Jim Lyons of Andover and Jay Barrows of Mansfield); the remaining 31 sided with the big-spending Democrats on numerous occasions. Representatives Kate Campanale of Leicester, Timothy Whelan of Brewster and David Viera of Falmouth all voted more than 26 out of 63 times with the Democrats to override the governor’s spending vetoes. And as we reported in October (see www.Boston Broadside.com for the article), 22 of the 34 Republicans voted ten times or more with the Democrats. Fifteen of the 34 (almost half) sided 15 or more times with the opposition party to increase spending and nine – nine – voted with the Democrats 20 or more times. Is this how you build a Republican Party?

And the beat goes on.

On September 27th the House took up the task of overriding more of Governor Baker’s budget vetoes. There were 58 override votes on various budget line items. As before, every single Democrat present voted to override the governor and spend the money like it would appear out of nowhere. Only three Republicans, the same three as in the previous session – Representatives Jones, Lyons and Barrows – supported the governor’s spending vetoes on every occasion. The rest voted with the Democrats to override the governor from 1 to 21 times. Representative Kimberly Ferguson of Holden voted with the opposition 21 times. Representative Sheila Harrington of Groton joined the other side 20 times and Representatives Paul Frost of Auburn, Angelo D’Emilia of Bridgewater, Jim Kelcourse of Amesbury, Tim Whelan of Brewster and Donald Wong of Saugus all abandoned the governor on 18 of the 58 spending vetoes.

Many of the line items gathering Republican override support seemed to deal with children, families or healthcare. Are the Republicans voting to restore money for these programs for political reasons? Do they believe the voters will throw them out of office if they just don’t push more money into some heart-tugging program? Of course, it should be easy to argue that there is NEVER enough money for any of these well-meaning programs and we should always appropriate MORE and MORE money until government solves all of these social ills. Why don’t the Republicans advocate that point of view?

On September 28th the Massachusetts Senate took up its first votes on overriding the governor’s vetoes. Now there are only six Republicans and 32 Democrats in the 40 member Senate (there were two vacancies at the time), so the Republicans have little chance of derailing the overwhelming Democrat majority when it comes to affecting the vote. Still, you would hope that the Republican senators would remember their roots and why voters sent them to Beacon Hill in the first place, and vote their conscience. You would be disappointed.

There were 27 override votes that day and all six Republican senators voted multiple times with their Democrat colleagues to override the governor’s spending vetoes. On the other hand, only on four occasions (out of 864 possibilities) did a Democrat cross the aisle to side with the governor. Here is the Republican tally: Senator Patrick O’Connor (Weymouth) joined Democrats on 16 of 27 votes; Senator Donald Humason (Westfield) joined them on 12 of 27 votes; Senator Richard Ross (Wrentham) on 11 of 27 votes; Senator Bruce Tarr (Gloucester) on 9 of 27 votes; Senator Vinny deMacedo (Plymouth) on 6 of 27 votes; and Senator Ryan Fattman (Webster) on 5 of 27 votes. That’s a total of 59 Republican senator votes supporting the increased spending. That day the Senate restored $25 million to the budget.

I was recently at a meeting of about 45 conservative activists and asked the question: “When you go into a voting booth and pull a lever for a Republican candidate, what are you expecting from that candidate?” The first response someone from the audience yelled out was: “Nothing!” Everybody chuckled, but only because they knew there was a kernel of truth in that answer. We would like to expect that our Republican candidates and even when they get into office are adhering to Republican principles of limited government, limited spending, a balanced budget and protecting the Constitution.

Protecting the Republican brand is important. Grover Norquist, the founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), has been called the most powerful man in Washington. He has been a champion of trying to protect the meaning of the Republican brand through his famous Taxpayer Protection Pledge. This is sent to every federal and state candidate, and incumbent, running for office and is intended to protect taxpayers against candidates who promise to hold the line on taxes and then vote for tax increases once elected. The Pledge was originally designed to prevent congressional Republicans from caving in to tax hikes like they did in 1982 and 1990, but now prevents other Republicans and tax-friendly Democrats from around the country campaigning one way and then voting differently when in office.

Norquist likens this to protecting the brand, mostly Republican. Norquist told Real Clear Politics: “… we branded the modern Republican as the Party that would not raise your taxes. Branding is important. Coca-Cola spends a lot of time, quality control branding Coca-Cola. Everybody knows what’s in Coca-Cola. And so you can buy a bottle of Coke, take it home, you don’t have to ask what’s in it, or read the ingredients, or ask your friends about [it]. You just take it home, you drink it.”

“If you get two-thirds the way through your bottle of Coke and you look in and there is a rat head in what’s left in your Coke bottle, you do not say to yourself, ‘You know, I’m wondering whether I’m going to finish all of the rest of this particular bottle of Coke this evening.’ You begin to wonder whether you’ll buy Coke in the future, you go on local TV and you show the cool rat head. Coca-Cola has a very large problem worldwide. It damages the brand. Republican elected officials who vote for tax increases are rat heads in the Coke bottle. They damage the brand for everybody else.”

That’s why it’s important for Republicans to act like Republicans. Whether it’s taxes, or spending, or defending the Constitution, when Republicans don’t act like Republicans, we have to ask: “Are they damaging the Republican brand for everybody else?”    

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