Five Massachusetts Conservative Victories of the 2010s

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Do you think of Massachusetts as the most left-tilting state in the country?  Many people do.

Yet during the past decade conservatives in Massachusetts have scored some surprising victories.  Here are five:


5.    More Massachusetts Women Saying No To Abortion

Even though the overwhelming majority of Massachusetts politicians support Roe v. Wade, one bright spot for conservatives is the Bay State’s rapidly declining abortion rate.

As Massachusetts Citizens for Life reported a few months ago, the state’s abortion rate dropped by 24 percent from 2011 to 2018 — faster than the 20 percent rate drop the entire country experienced in that same timeframe.

The decline in abortions brought Massachusetts down to 13.5 abortions per 1,000 women age 15 to 44 in 2017, matching the national average. (Back in 2011, Massachusetts had a higher rate than the rest of the country (17.8 per 1,000 in state versus 16.9 per 1,000 nationwide).)

Are ultrasound images winning the day?  If it looks like a baby …

While Massachusetts does not have many politicians fighting for the pro-life cause, there are 29 crisis pregnancy centers in the state which show women they have more options than ending their baby’s life.


4.    Voters Repeal Automatic Gas Tax Increases

In 2013, the Democrat-dominated Massachusetts Legislature passed a law increasing the state’s gas tax by 3 cents a gallon and then automatically increasing it indefinitely in the future at the pace of inflation.

The Beacon Hill establishment supported the tax-increases-forever, including legislative leaders, then-Governor Deval Patrick, and all the major Democratic candidates for governor in 2014. (Patrick actually thought the tax hike wasn’t high enough.)

But some Massachusetts residents decided to take it to the voters, through a statewide referendum.

Those hoping to keep the gas tax hikes intact vastly outraised those who wanted them gone, as Ballotpedia points out. The pro-gas-tax NO on One Committee raised $2.9 million and had strong support from asphalt and construction companies, whereas the Committee to Tank the Automatic Gas Tax Hikes raised only $98,448.

Yet in November 2014, voters rejected the automatic gas-tax increases by a margin of 53 to 47 percent.

Proponents of the successful referendum included then-Republican state Representatives Geoff Diehl of Whitman, Jim Lyons of Andover, Shaunna O’Connell of Taunton, Ryan Fattman of Sutton, and Kevin Kuros of Uxbridge. (Fattman is now a state senator. O’Connell plans to leave shortly to become mayor of Taunton. The rest are not currently in the state Legislature.)

According to Transportation for Massachusetts, the successful repeal is expected to save Bay State taxpayers more than $1 billion over the course of a decade.


3.  No Government Mandates on How Many Nurses A Hospital Has To Have

Even though Massachusetts voters tend to support candidates who want to expand government intervention in health care, they drew the line at a measure that might have led to shortages of nurses.

In November 2018, a ballot question asked voters to assign per-patient limits for nurses, a feel-good measure that would have strained hospitals by forcing them to hire more nurses than they need.

The Nurse-Patient Assignment Limits Initiative drew the endorsement of Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders. It was also backed by many Democratic politicians in state and the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which contributed $11.96 million in hopes of getting it passed.

However, the proposal would have cost consumers dearly. The independently-run nonpartisan Massachusetts Health Policy Commission found it would have driven up health care costs in the state by $676 to $949 million annually.

This was too much for Massachusetts voters, who overwhelmingly rejected the proposal. Ultimately, 70 percent said no.


2.    Voters Reject Assisted Suicide

Massachusetts isn’t one of the American states that allows physician-assisted suicide, thanks in part to an unlikely electoral victory in 2012.

A Yes vote for on a so-called “Death With Dignity” ballot question was leading by 31 percentage points – 60 to 20 percent – in late May 2012, less than six months before the general election, according to a poll.

Another poll, in mid-August 2012, less than three months before the election, had Yes up 58 to 24 percent – about 34 points.

Advocates for the disabled, the Massachusetts Family Institute, and the Roman Catholic archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, were among the opponents of the ballot question arguing that life is precious and mustn’t be undermined by suggesting suicide as an option for the seriously ill and those who may be depressed.

For once, the conservative side of an issue in Massachusetts had money to get the message out. The Committee Against Physician Assisted Suicide raised more than $4.7 million during the run-up to the vote. According to WGBH, its top donors included St. John’s Seminary Corporation ($1 million); Boston Catholic Television Center ($1 million); the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Boston ($617,000); the Knights of Columbus ($450,000); The Catholic Association ($420,000); and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Fall River ($50,000).

The No side squeaked out a victory, as the referendum failed, 49 to 51 percent.

While the Massachusetts Legislature continues to consider bills to legalize physician-assisted suicide, they have not passed.


1.    Scott Brown’s U.S. Senate Victory

Scott Brown was a little-known Republican state senator from Wrentham when he decided to run for the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the death of Ted Kennedy in August 2009. The Democratic nominee, Martha Coakley, who was the state’s Attorney General, was the odds-on favorite to take the seat after winning the Democratic primary by a comfortable margin.

But Brown caught fire, particularly with his television ads showing him campaigning in his pickup truck and a barn coat, suggesting a regular-guy image. He also hit hard on Obamacare, the not-yet-passed Affordable Care Act bill that was supported by Democrats in Congress but widely unpopular. Brown promised to be the 41st vote against Obamacare in the U.S. Senate, which figured to be enough to prevent a cloture vote that would allow Democrats to proceed with passing the bill.

Coakley made memorable mistakes, including dismissing to a Boston Globe reporter the idea of campaigning outside a Boston sporting event, as Brown did. “In the cold? Shaking hands?” she memorably replied, even getting the venue wrong. (Brown had campaigned outside TD Garden before a Boston Bruins game. Coakley suggested it was Fenway Park, where the Boston Red Sox play – though never in January.)

The campaign can be summed up in how the candidates handled their arrival at a televised debate at the John F. Kennedy Library at Columbia Point in Dorchester. Coakley quickly strode past all the union guys holding Coakley signs. Brown shook all their hands. Paul Kix of Boston Magazine described what happened next:  “One after another, the union members in the Coakley gear respond, ‘We’re with you, Scott. We’re just getting paid $50 to be here.’”

The most famous moment of the campaign occurred during the debate, when moderator David Gergen offered Brown one of the best set-ups in political history. The context was Obamacare, which Brown was against. Gergen noted that the previous major attempt at extending government control over health care to try to increase the number of people covered crashed early in President Bill Clinton’s administration.

Here’s what happened next:

David Gergen:  … Are you willing, under those circumstances, to say, “I’m going to be the person, I’m going to sit in Teddy Kennedy’s seat, and I’m going to be the person who’s going to block it for another 15 years”?

Scott Brown:  With all due respect, it’s not the Kennedy seat, and it’s not the Democrats’ seat. It’s the people’s seat. …”

Brown stunned experts just by cutting Coakley’s lead to single digits. He sealed the deal January 19, 2010, winning 52-47 – a relatively comfortable five percentage points in a race he once trailed by 31.

Brown was an instant national celebrity, and talked about as a potential presidential candidate in 2012.

As it happens, Brown’s victory was his high-water mark. The Democrats skirted Senate rules to get Obamacare passed over Brown’s opposition. As a senator, Brown tried to navigate through various minefields, with an eye to re-election in 2012. Never much of a conservative to begin with, Brown tacked left and right while in the U.S. Senate in a vain attempt to make himself re-electable in Massachusetts during a presidential year.

He lost to Elizabeth Warren in November 2012, 54 to 46 percent. He subsequently moved to New Hampshire and ran for U.S. Senate there in 2014, losing to Jeanne Shaheen by three percentage points. Now 60, he is currently the U.S. ambassador to New Zealand.

But Brown’s 2012 campaign in Massachusetts is still reverberating. Brown was the first to raise Warren’s using her unconvincing claims of being a Cherokee to help her advance in her career —  an issue Warren has tried multiple times to put behind her without success, and that dogs her even as she runs for president.

If Brown hadn’t won his shocking victory in January 2010, it’s unlikely that the 2012 U.S. Senate general election in Massachusetts would have been competitive. If not, would anyone now be calling Elizabeth Warren a fake Indian?