WHATEVER THE merits of individual Democratic candidates — and many of them clearly earned their stripes on Tuesday — one-party rule has created a lack of accountability in Massachusetts politics. Despite high hopes following Scott Brown’s Senate election, the state GOP mostly failed to chip away Democratic dominance, even as Republicans in most of the country rejoiced at their own good fortune.
Yet this week’s results contained one bright spot for state Republicans — their surging numbers in the House. And for the purposes of two-party government in Massachusetts, this may prove to be the most enduring result of all.
Going into the election, Republicans had 15 seats in the state House of Representatives, but will end up with at least 26 seats, and perhaps as many as 32. The House needs more dissenting voices, because in recent years power in that chamber has become increasingly centralized in the leadership. The newly elected Republicans have placed a strong emphasis on fiscal issues, a stance that positions them well to act as watchdogs as budget season approaches.
Until Tuesday night, of course, Republicans seemed poised to have a much larger impact on the Massachusetts political scene. Yet the party was shut out in congressional races — even in the 10th District, which seemed ripe for the taking. Plus, a well-respected, well-funded nominee for governor finished seven points behind the once-embattled Democratic incumbent, and promising candidates for treasurer and auditor fell short as well. The party even lost ground in the state Senate, where it had only five seats to begin with.
It’s time for state Republicans to concede that Brown’s election looks more and more like an outlier. This week’s outcomes suggest that Republicans will gain influence not in big waves of voter dissatisfaction, but by steadily strengthening their voice and deepening their bench. Among the party’s entire crop of candidates for the US House, only 10th District contender Jeff Perry served in the Legislature.
For their part, local Democratic leaders shouldn’t take the party’s big victories Tuesday as an excuse for complacency, nor should they assume voters are no longer interested in far-reaching reform on Beacon Hill. Governor Patrick won reelection in part because he had asked everyone, including public-employee unions that often provide Election Day muscle for Democrats, to share in the sacrifices needed to sustain Massachusetts through the recession.
With a bigger presence in the House, state Republicans will be better placed to press for more efficiency in state government — and to take Democratic leaders to task if they don’t deliver it.