The decision by Gov. Charlie Baker not to seek re-election effectively has brought to an end an era in Massachusetts politics.
Although Massachusetts voters typically have split our legislature and governorship between Democrats and Republicans for much of the past 80 years — with Democrats controlling the legislature and Republicans the governorship — the basic differences between the two parties were fairly minimal.
Republican governors typically were seen as fiscally more conservative than their Democratic counterparts, but there was general agreement between them on social and other issues.
Most importantly, Republican governors and Democratic legislators were able to work together to achieve far-reaching goals.
For example, it was Republican Gov. John Volpe who fought for a sales tax in the early 1960s in order to support city and town governments that were unable to meet the huge increases in the costs of local education because of the influx of students during the Baby Boom era.
Gov. Volpe previously had served as the State Commissioner of Public Works and oversaw the expansion of the state highway system during the 1950s that allowed our state to expand beyond Greater Boston, most notably the Route 128 Belt that became known as America’s technology highway in that era and that fueled Massachusetts’ growth into the last half of the 20th century.
Forty years later, Republican Gov. Mitt Romney joined with the Democratic legislature to craft the Mass. health insurance law that became the model for Obamacare, making health insurance affordable for all residents.
In the 1990s, the weekly breakfast meetings between Republican Governors Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci with the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate were instrumental in creating an atmosphere of collegiality on Beacon Hill.
These Republican governors understood the essential role that government must play in order to move our society forward.
By no means did they agree on everything with their Democratic counterparts, but they were able to disagree without being disagreeable. Moreover, Democratic and Republican leaders shared a common vision for our state. We realize that everyone loves to complain and gripe about everything, but the bottom line is that Massachusetts ranks among the best in the nation in just about every meaningful category, from education to health care.
However, that era is over. Those who lead the Republican party today have views that are far beyond the mainstream of our state’s residents, whether on social issues such as a woman’s right to choose or political matters — the GOP’s candidates for Governor and Secretary of State openly have voiced their support for the idea that the outcome of the 2020 presidential election was not legitimate and are avid supporters of Donald Trump.
The virus that has infected the politics of the rest of the country has made its way here. It would be nice to think that this change in the political climate in Massachusetts is temporary. But unlike the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no vaccine on the horizon.