The benefits of a single-party state
January 18, 2010
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When the mass media throws around the term “single-party state,” they’re usually referring to a tyrannical regime in Africa or Southeast Asia, like Syria or Myanmar.
Here on The Basil Report, however, when I refer to a “single-party state,” I’m talking about Massachusetts. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The state, of course, is headed by a Democratic governor, Deval Patrick. (Though that could change in November.) Ninety percent of the Representatives at the State House are Democrats, including Wayland’s representative, Tom Conroy. Only Hawaii and Rhode Island have larger Democratic majorities for State Representatives. Republicans, including Wayland’s Scott Brown, fare little better in the State Senate, where the Democrats currently have a majority of 87%.
On the national level, until Ted Kennedy’s recent death, Massachusetts had two Democratic Senators in Washington. Every Bay State representative in the U.S. House has been a Democrat since 1997.
And, my personal favorite: Massachusetts was the only state to vote for Democrat George McGovern over Republican Nixon in the 1972 presidential election.
To be fair, Massachusetts has had a Republican governor for 17 of the last 20 years. However, the legislature (since the late 1950s) has always been dominated by the Democrats.
This would seem to fly in the face of the American value of moderation and centrism. And yet, ever since the Democrats gained a full stranglehold on the state with the election of Governor Deval Patrick in 2006, the state legislature has been astonishingly successful in passing reform after reform.
This last week, for example, the legislature pushed through a comprehensive education overhaul to help the state, and possibly Wayland, qualify for $250 million in federal stimulus money and try to shrink the education gap between different socioeconomic groups.
The Democratic members of the State House have been having this type of legislative success for years. Even when former Governor Mitt Romney vetoed certain sections of the health care reform legislation in 2006, they overrode him.
However, the real reform started early last year, when the Democrats began to put their supermajority to good use. Starting with a restructuring of the state pension system to prevent pension abuses, the legislature then plowed through transportation reform to reduce transportation inefficiencies, an ethics and campaign finance crackdown, and a sales tax increase to help with the budget deficit. The legislature also acted quickly to reform Senate election laws after the death of Ted Kennedy, allowing for an interim replacement.
Perhaps our dysfunctional national government should learn from this. Due to a congressional procedural mechanism called the filibuster, today it requires 60 votes – rather than the simple 51 mandated by the Constitution – to pass any significant piece of legislation, including the current health care reform. This problem is not one that past generations have overcome; filibusters only became truly common after the 2006 midterm elections.
Right now, there are exactly that 60 Democratic Senators, meaning every single Democrat has to be on board to pass a major piece of legislation. I fear that next year, after Democrats likely lose some Senate races in the November mid-term elections, Congress will come to all but a standstill.
Before that happens, Congress could embark on filibuster reform. It could reduce the number of Senators needed to override a filibuster, which has been done before, in 1975. Others have suggested more creative solutions, like having the number of Senators needed to override a filibuster decrease after each successive vote on the same bill.
Whatever the solution, Congress needs to reform the filibuster, and fast. In a government where legislation can be more easily passed, as Massachusetts has seen, reform happens.