Political Message From Massachusetts Voters To Maryland

Posted on January 20, 2010


You could say the voters get exactly what they deserve.  Massachusetts voters are probably embarrassed this morning to realize that they deserve Republican Sen. Scott Brown. That was my first reaction to the stunning defeat yesterday of the Democrat Martha Coakley, in the election for a successor to Sen. Ted Kennedy. But my first reaction was way too cynical. It’s more complicated than that.

A year ago, Americans voted for “Change we can believe in.” Congress has delivered the same old corrupt, business-as-usual. The dysfunctional U.S. Senate passed the best health care bill money could buy.

President Barack Obama’s mistake in his first year in office was placing too much trust in Congress. President Obama believed that America’s three branches of government could function effectively if given a chance. Rather than try to dictate or strong-arm Congress — which would have been old politics — Obama demonstrated his belief in change. Obama took the lead in change, turning away from executive branch domination of a feckless Congress. Congress let him down. Congress let America down.

The Massachusetts election was not a rejection of health care. The Massachusetts election was a repudiation of business-as-usual by Congress, especially the U.S. Senate.  The Massachusetts voters were reaffirming America’s demand for “Change we can believe in.”

The political take-away for Maryland incumbents this election year is simple: Change.

For starters, Sen. Barbara Mikulski could join with Sen. Jim Webb, the Democrat from Virginia, in refusing to participate in any political trickery in the Senate before Sen. Brown is seated. That kind of stuff is old politics, exactly what the voters hate.

Right now, Sen. Webb represents change, and Sen. Mikulski represents old politics. If an excellent Democratic candidate can lose in Massachusetts this year, then it is clear that Sen. Mikulski could lose to a Republican in Maryland this year.

If State Senate President Mike Miller is paying attention to Massachusetts voters, he’ll pledge to stand aside and let someone new lead the Maryland Senate. If Miller accepts change, Democrats could avoid unnecessary losses in several legislative districts around Maryland.

Congressman Frank Kratovil’s refusal to support a flawed health care bill looks prescient, the day after the Massachusetts election. I’ve previously urged Rep. Kratovil to support health care reform, but it turns out he was right not to settle for a bill that falls so far short of real change. Kratovil is one of a handful of congressman who have played basketball with President Obama. He can win re-election if he seeks more playing time on the team for change.

Gov. Martin O’Malley is already on the right track. He’s been all about change ever since he was on the City Council in Baltimore. He followed through as mayor of the city and now as governor. I’ll write more about O’Malley’s leadership as the election year progresses.

— Bernie Hayden