POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica

It May Not Be in Their Interest, But It is in Their Nature.

by David Trumbull

October 6, 2006

When I teach adult education classes on the lives of the greatest men of history --Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and such-- I place much emphasis on the character and motivation of the men, in order that, by learning from these towering figures, students and teacher may improve our character and accomplish great deeds. In this regard my colleague, Chris, uses the story of the frog and the scorpion caught in an overflowing river. The scorpion, seeing that he is to drown, begs the good-natured frog to allow him to ride out the flood on the frog's back. The frog says, "I'd be happy to help you, fellow creature of God, but you are a scorpion; it is in your nature to sting and your sting is fatal." The scorpion replies, "If I sting and you die I'll drown as well; so, you see, it is not in my interest to sting." The frog, allowing the logic of this reasoning, takes the scorpion on his back and both cross the torrent towards safety. However, half-way across the river, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog says, "Friend, why did you thus? Now you will die with me; it was not in your interest to thus kill your savior." The scorpion replied," It was not in my interest, but it was in my nature, and that is stronger."

I was reminded of this tale when the supporters of Kerry Healy were doing all they could to push Christy Mihos out of the Republican Party Primary and into the General Election as an Unenrolled candidate. They protested that they did not mean to force him out, for surely it was not in the interest of Healy to have a third-party distraction in November. But it was in their nature to conduct a party purge. Once again, nature prevailed.

The Republican Party of Massachusetts continues to shrink as the organization pursues a reducing program. Would-be candidates for office are discouraged from running by a party that provides little support for races other than the governorship. And a suicidal tactic of avoiding primary election contests is vigorously pushed. In last month's primary election, out of 200 seats in the General Court, 130 had no Republican candidate on the ballot. There were contested Republican primaries for a mere seven of those seats.

Contested primaries are important to the future life of the Party. With no name, or only one name, on the ballot, voters have little reason to vote in a Republican primary that determines nothing. Why register as Republican? Better to be unenrolled so you can vote in the contested Democratic primary. This is fatal to the party in two ways. A candidate or party could easily spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to identify its voters. Here in Massachusetts the state does it with taxpayer money (not all states have party registration), but our Republican Party, by failing to give a reason to vote in our primary election drives voters out of the Republican registration and into Unenrolled or Democratic.

And consider that Republican-leaning person who votes in the Democratic primary contest in September. Come November that voter is faced with no Republican on the ballot, or an underfunded Republican who, for lack of an interesting primary fight to cover, has gotten little press compared to the Democrat. In the Democratic candidate that voter may well see someone he has voted for already in the primary and whom he has concluded is not so bad a choice, especially against a Republican with little likelihood of winning.

And so, here we are, with Republican registration at 13 percent. No Republican candidate for two of the six constitutional offices. No Republican candidate in seven of the ten congressional districts. No Republican candidate in 119 of the 200 districts of the General Court.

Kerry Healy may yet pull off a win in November. But even if she wins, she will face Democratic super-majorities in the legislature that will severely limit he ability to do much as governor. Mitt Romney's accomplishments in the corner office have been limited to getting himself elected head of the Republican Governors Association and firing the Republican who ran the Big Dig. And the party continues to shrink.