When your new job involves navigating a minefield of unexploded egos and ideologies, you don’t start out looking to kick up divots. No wonder Steve Kerrigan doesn’t have much to say about his imminent ascendance to the job of Massachusetts Democratic Party chairman.
“I’m excited to help Democrats all across Massachusetts build on the great successes we’ve had,” he managed during a mercifully brief interview last week with Massterlist.
As Gov. Maura Healey’s choice, Kerrigan will inherit a juggernaut later this year when Gus Bickford steps down. Or rather, rides off into the sunset to heroic music after presiding over a relentless GOP butt-kicking that climaxed last fall with an electoral recreation of the prom scene from “Carrie.”
In an exit interview, Bickford cited century-old political wisdom: all politics is local. “I think we’ve done a really good job focusing on what does each race need, putting all those kind of reinforcements together, and then they’re able to put their race over the top,” he says.
And where did the Massachusetts GOP go wrong? “They didn’t keep it simple,” says Bickford. “They followed Trump, which was bad for the country and bad for Massachusetts.”
Self-destructive ideology for them, politics that actually wins elections for us. The years ahead would seem to be a partisan Candyland for the Democrats, right? Not so fast.
Kerrigan was only 19 back in 1990, when Democrats last dominated Beacon Hill as thoroughly as they do now. But he remembers the bleep-you message voters sent that year – electing the first Republican governor in 16 years and sending all sorts of obscure no-hopers to the state Senate.
Back then, voters gagged on the mismanagement of a Dukakis administration that was arrogant, distracted by the boss’s presidential ambitions and quick to dun taxpayers for more dough as the budget bled red. Two years later, more hubris from Democrats on Capitol Hill led to the eviction of two compulsive House Bank check-bouncers, Joe Early and Chet Atkins, and the election of the last two Republicans to represent the state in the House, Peter Blute and Peter Torkildsen.
Could history repeat itself?
It won’t be easy. The R is a scarlet letter here these days as never before, thanks to Trump, Jim Lyons and the gang. But a lot of bad stuff can happen over the next few years. Think continued population loss, economic anemia and failure to constrain the bloated cost of living. Think the Red Sox.
Democrats will own all of it. (OK, maybe not the Sox.) There’s pent-up demand from the party’s liberal wing for a long wish list, but no Charlie Baker any more fronting the opposition to it that many center-right Democrats also feel but would prefer not to verbalize. Healey, whose campaign extolled Bakerism while refusing to return questionnaires from left-wing pressure groups, has to try to keep the canoe from tipping over, and the forecast calls for increasing wind gusts.
No wonder Healey has reached out for someone like Kerrigan, who earned his spurs helping Ted Kennedy walk major legislation through the DC minefield while fending off the left’s impatience.
Even with the opposition in chaos, the memory of 1990 reverberates – smugness, economic downturn, a string of false steps.
And all of a sudden: kaboom.
Subscribe to MASSterList
Start your morning with MASSterList’s chronicle of news and informed analysis about politics, policy, media, and influence in Massachusetts. Plus, get an inside look at Beacon Hill’s hottest new job postings.