A racial benchmark, with race not a factor
AFTER ROILING the nation’s political waters in January with Scott Brown’s election, Massachusetts made history in the midterms with barely a ripple. Governor Deval Patrick, the nation’s second-ever elected African-American governor, became the first such governor in US politics ever to be re-elected.
Nit-pickers could say this was not the most difficult distinction to achieve. The other elected governor, Doug Wilder of Virginia (1990-94), could not run again because that state does not allow consecutive terms. Only two other African Americans have ever held the office. P.B.S. Pinchback of Louisiana was appointed to fill out the final month of a disgraced predecessor during Reconstruction. David Paterson rose from lieutenant governor in New York to the top office in 2008 when Governor Eliot Spitzer was felled by a prostitution scandal. Paterson, wounded by miscues and ethics questions, chose not to run for a full term.
That should not take away from what happened here. The beauty of Patrick’s reelection was that this racial progress was not mentioned in election-night newspaper or wire coverage. Race played no controversial role in the conduct of the campaigns. The tone of the contest was about which candidate offered the most palatable management style for the Commonwealth. In a four-person field, in a state that has not, in general, fared as badly as many other states during the recession, Patrick won with a 49-percent plurality. This was in a nation where Republicans took governorships away from Democrats in seven swing states that were won in 2008 by President Obama: Iowa, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
The degree to which the acrid midterms did not infect our governor’s race was reflected by its top loser. In his concession speech, Republican Charlie Baker silenced his supporters when they booed at the mention of his congratulatory phone call to Patrick. “Hey, hey, he won fair and square, OK?’’ Baker said. “We fought the good fight folks, we did. We did. But it’s important that all of us get behind the governor and do all that we can to make sure that he succeeds in pulling our economy out of the doldrums and getting us back on the right track. We are all still the people of the great state of Massachusetts.’’
That represented a polar opposite of the national GOP animus toward President Obama, as crudely expressed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. He told the National Journal, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.’’ That was quite a display of partisanship, declaring Obama’s defeat as the top Republican goal in a nation wracked with almost 10 percent unemployment and with the loss of nearly 5,800 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and at a time when the country is falling behind much of the world in the industries that make the world go ’round. Does anyone remember a ranking Democrat saying during 9/11 that the single most important goal for the Democrats was to get rid of President Bush?
In contrast to Baker’s graciousness, Patrick fumbled the olive branch. Patrick said, “I haven’t been at this business so long that it doesn’t humble me beyond measure that people set aside what they’re doing to take up your cause, our cause.’’ He could have set aside a humble moment to congratulate his defeated opponents by name. He did not, referring to them only as “the other candidates.’’
In other races besides the governor’s, Massachusetts resisted the Tea Party undertow. While many Republican victories around the nation were fueled by promises to cut social spending and make tax cuts permanent, voters here resoundingly rejected slashing the state sales tax, which would have blown a $2.5 billion hole in the state budget.
Voters did repeal the state sales tax on alcohol, which will force Patrick and the Legislature to find $110 million in funds for substance treatment programs. But keeping the general sales tax marked Massachusetts as a rational state in midterm voting. Baker asked his supporters to get behind the governor. In voting to keep the sales tax, the voters of Massachusetts got behind themselves.
Derrick Z. Jackson can be reached at email@example.com.