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Election night’s split decision


Friday, November 09, 2018

The more things change, the more they kind of don’t. That seems to be the takeaway from Tuesday’s midterm election, which wasn’t exactly the “blue Tsunami” many thought it would be. The Democrats didn’t get the Senate, but they did take back the House, albeit by a much narrower margin than what past presidents experienced in similar midterm “corrections.”

The Trump loyalists are doing their best to try to spin this as a victory, but it is, at best, a split decision, one which will actually be good news for two newly re-elected western Massachusetts congressmen.

Jim McGovern is expected to be in line to chair the House Rules Committee, while Richie Neal will likely take the gavel of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, of which he is currently the ranking member.

Neal already called his first shot this week, saying he will demand that President Trump turn over his tax returns. Trump has already said that won’t happen until an ongoing audit of those returns is completed, setting up the first of what will likely be many stalemates between the opposite ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

I know a lot of people have great hopes that this new realignment will profoundly change the tenor of the debate in Washington, but I don’t see it happening. The new blood coming in isn’t likely to replace the bad blood that still exists, meaning the same ideological turf wars will continue, generating even greater gridlock in dealing with the issues Americans say are most important to them.

The only difference is that when those inevitable log jams do occur, Trump has somewhere to point the finger, which will only serve to energize his base and increase his likelihood of winning a second term.

One person who may have something to say about that is newly re-elected Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who will head back to D.C. after a brutally efficient curb stomping of Republican Geoff Diehl, a race which was called by most news outlets about five minutes after the polls closed.

Now we get to see if Warren runs for president in two years, and, at the risk of triggering a Lloyd Bentsen comparison, there are some similarities between her win and one of her more high-profile predecessors.

After his breakout speech at the 1956 Democratic National Convention, it was pretty apparent that then-senator John F. Kennedy was going to run for the White House in 1960. But before he could, he needed a big re-election win, which he ended up getting in 1958 at the expense of Republican Vincent Celeste. Kennedy took 73 percent of the vote, which was, at the time, the largest statewide plurality in Massachusetts history.

Warren’s win was less lopsided, but still significant, and her victory speech sounded less like a thank you and more like rallying cry to “continue the fight” the next round of which may very well be waged against “The Donald” in two years.

One would expect that race to be lot more competitive than a lot of the statewide races were in Massachusetts, where Republicans once again got pretty much owned by the Democrats, with one significant exception.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker cruised to a big re-election win over Democrat Jay Gonzalez, who was clearly overmatched, and with good reason. It’s next to impossible to beat an incumbent governor with approval ratings in the 70s, especially when said governor, by most accounts, seems to be doing a pretty good job.

One would think if the state’s GOP brain trust is really serious about winning more races, they would take a hard look at why Baker has been so successful. It’s because he’s not an ideologue. The only way for a Republican to win in Massachusetts is with Democratic crossover and unenrolled support, and the only way to get that is by checking the conservative talking points at the door.

Second Franklin Rep. Susannah Whipps knows all about that. She switched from Republican to independent at the end of the last election season, and I was curious to see how that would impact her re-election, which was challenged by Democratic newcomer Johnny Arena.

It looked good for Arena in the early going Tuesday night. He jumped out to a quick lead, which eventually evaporated once towns other than his home community of Gill began reporting their vote totals. Whipps now heads back to Boston as part of a western Mass. delegation that will be decidedly more feminine than has historically been the case.

New House members Natalie Blais, Mindy Domb, and Lindsay Sabadosa, as well as new senator Jo Comerford represent the largest block of female candidates ever elected from this area, and while it will be a big change, I don’t get the sense that this new group’s legislative priorities will be a whole lot different from those of their male predecessors.

What will bear watching is how these new legislators are able to execute the “game within the game,” and how they will interact with the legislative leadership and a governor who has already shown a willingness to reach across the aisle.

There will always be a learning curve in situations like this, but there are good reasons to feel confident that this new batch of lawmakers will get the job done for the people who elected them.

I hope their federal counterparts will somehow find a way to do the same.