Mass GOP hopes to crack Dem supermajority on Beacon Hill

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The Republican State Leadership Committee aims in next year’s elections to end the supermajorities that Democrats enjoy in the Massachusetts House and Senate, part of a multi-prong effort to advance Republicans in various state Legislatures.

The group, which plans to spend $40 million on 2015-2016 legislative races, announced that Massachusetts would be one of its focuses from its national meeting in Boston on Thursday. The Bay State will share attention with the Illinois House, as well as Republican legislatures hoping to defend their ranks and the six chambers where the group sees the best chance to pick up a majority: the Colorado House, Kentucky House, Washington House, Iowa Senate, Minnesota Senate, and New Mexico Senate.

Long dominant in the House and the Senate if not the Corner Office, Democrats hold 125 of the 160 seats in the House and 33 of the 40 seats in the Senate where a special election is currently underway following the death of Sen. Tom Kennedy, a Brockton Democrat.

While many bills only require a simple majority, two-thirds of voting members in the House and Senate are required to override gubernatorial vetoes and to pass bond bills and land-takings. The power of Democrats in the Massachusetts Legislature was on display this week as they were easily able to overturn spending vetoes handed to them by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker.

In both the House and the Senate the clerks’ offices use a quick calculation for whether there is two-thirds support by determining whether those voting in the affirmative number at least two times those voting against a measure. In the Senate, more than doubling the Republican caucus to 14 from its current six members, which would represent an historic gain in GOP seats, would give the party the ability to consistently sustain vetoes and block other measures requiring two-thirds vote.

In the House Republicans would need to up their numbers to 54 from its current 35. In both branches the Republican Party made pickups last November as Gov. Charlie Baker, a Swampscott Republican, took the governor’s office.

“Last election cycle, Republican front groups like the Mass Fiscal Alliance dumped nearly a million dollars into state-level legislative races only to see their conservative candidates once again rejected by Massachusetts voters who want to see a real commitment to equality and opportunity from their elected leaders instead of rehashing old culture wars and cutting funding to education, economic development, innovation, environmental protection and more,” Massachusetts Democratic Party spokesman Pat Beaudry said in a statement about the group.

Since its nadir after the 2013 resignation of Westfield Republican Michael Knapik, the Senate Republican caucus doubled this year, leading Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, a Gloucester Republican, to now proudly refer to the party’s portion of the circular Senate seating as “Minority Crescent” rather than “Minority Corner.”

While Democrats outnumber Republicans in Massachusetts, the majority of state legislatures are controlled by Republicans as is Congress. The Republican State Leadership Committee, whose chairman is former Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, has targeted Massachusetts and Illinois because voters elected a Republican as governor.

The Republican Governors Association played a major role in Baker’s narrow election over Martha Coakley and even if Republicans are unsuccessful in the major challenge of breaking the Democratic supermajority, the effort by an outside group is sure to rattle Democratic targeted lawmakers.

The push at the legislative level may or may not benefit from Baker, a popular governor who has mostly avoided political punditry and has so far had a beneficial relationship with Democratic legislative leaders, often touting working relationships as a key to accomplishing his policy objectives.

The Republican effort at winning Massachusetts House and Senate seats in 2016 will also coincide with the presidential election, which increases voter turnout and tends to benefit Democrats, although the majority of registered voters in Massachusetts are not enrolled with the Democrats or Republicans.

“We’re excited that the RSLC recognizes the potential to grow Republican ranks in the Massachusetts Legislature and bring more accountability and fiscal discipline for the Commonwealth,” said MassGOP Chairman Kirsten Hughes in a statement. She said, “We’re working hard to build our ranks in the Legislature, and thank the RSLC for their work as we seek to deliver a smaller, smarter, and more accountable state government for the people of Massachusetts.”

The Republican State Leadership Committee is a political group organized under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code, according to an official at the group, who said the committee registers and reports in accordance with the laws governing states where it is active.