Blue state gone purple: Is Massachusetts liberalism in decline?

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Like Danny Zuko in “Grease,” progressives in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have got chills and they’re multiplyin’.

Modern progressivism — the political movement that relies on Big Labor and Big Government to solve every problem — has, of course, dominated Massachusetts politics for decades.

But 2015 may well mark the beginning of the end of progressive dominance in the Bay State — a prospect that seemed highly unlikely a mere six months ago.

In 2014, Republican Charlie Baker won the governorship by only 41,000 votes.  But according to a recent WBUR opinion poll, 70 percent of Massachusetts voters now view him favorably. In fact, according to Steve Koczela of TheMassINC Polling Group, Baker today is as popular among Democrats as Elizabeth Warren, and “that’s quite remarkable.”

The MBTA and the 2024 Olympics were not campaign issues last November, but these issues eclipsed all other public policy matters so far this year. Those grand distractions — does anyone remember the opiate epidemic, fiscal deficiencies, and economic development? — should have favored liberals. Yet their outcomes were decidedly conservative.

With respect to the MBTA, Baker successfully won a three-year suspension of the so-called Pacheco Law, designed to protect public employees from the privatization of their services. The Boston Globe described this law as “one of labor’s most treasured protections.” But the MBTA long ago ignored an important aspect of performance: competence. (The last time you heard a liberal use the word “competence” was when former Gov. Michael Dukakis — the last true progressive — uttered it in his 1988 presidential convention speech).  And even labor-friendly Democrats on Beacon Hill soon abandoned Pacheco.

Before the USOC gave final approval to Boston’s Olympic bid, opposition to Boston 2024 became a unifying cause for residents of greater-Boston, who rightly discerned that it would be a Big-Dig redux. The cost of the Big-Dig, conceived in the early 1980s as a progressive transportation cure-all, will not be paid off until 2038. It remains the multi-billion dollar siphon that big government advocates rarely mention when soliciting scarce funds for infrastructure projects.

Then, on July 24, with an unmistakably melancholic tone, The Globe reported “Worcester County goes GOP.” Citing demographic shifts in the electorate, the Globe reported that a surge of unenrolled voters (from 137,272 in 1990 to 298,776 in 2014) has yielded a new voting bloc: fiscally conservative and socially moderate. Tellingly, these former Democrats feel “alienated,” believing the party has become controlled by “elite liberals more concerned with social issues than the issues they care about.”

On the larger stage, the Massachusetts all-Democrat congressional delegation has lost clout. In addition to having fewer House seats (nine) than any time since the founding of the republic, Massachusetts’ two Senators currently rank 83rd (Elizabeth Warren) and 86th (Ed Markey) in Senate seniority.

And now, Warren, thought to be the national progressive torch bearer, seems to have been overshadowed by New York City Mayor, Bill de Blasio, as he traipses across the country with his “Progressive Agenda,” a 13-point platform of government intrusion and regulation. De Blasio, with only a 44 percent approval rating, says “this cause will grow.” Not necessarily in Massachusetts.

Among De Blasio’s 13 action items is the new progressive flash point: income inequality.

But guess what?

Massachusetts, a state that has been dominated by liberal/progressive policies for decades, has seen income inequality consistently grow worse since the 1970s, as measured by the Gini Index. In 2012, according to Reuters, Massachusetts was the seventh-most “unequal” of the 50 states. In 1991, it placed 23rd. Bloomberg News identified fifty cities with significant income inequality: Boston ranked 11th; Cambridge 12th.  Those facts stand as a cold rebuke of progressive efforts at reengineering fairness.

Today, “#TheProgressive” is trending — in the wrong direction. For conservatives, the tantalizing prospect of its slide is, well, “electrifyin’.”

Contributing columnist James P. Freeman is a New England-based writer and former columnist with The Cape Cod Times.

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