Election campaigns are good for government as they attract attention to the issues of the day and give them a good airing out for voters. Berkshire County won't be having any such campaigns this fall (Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle, June 8), leaving residents to live vicariously through the mud-filled campaigns that have already begun across the western border and can be enjoyed, or tolerated, courtesy of Albany television stations. (We need access to more Massachusetts stations, but that is another story and editorial.)
This is not the fault of the Berkshires' five-member Democratic delegation. The lack of opposition is in effect an endorsement of their job performances. Candidates from the Green-Rainbow Party provided some competition in recent years, but the party never found its intended niche in the state. First District Democratic U.S. Representative Richard Neal of Springfield has essentially been re-elected, as no primary challenger or Republican challenger for the general election emerged by the filing deadline.
The moribund nature of the Republican Party in Berkshire County and Western Massachusetts is the real issue. This was not always the case, as First District U.S. Representative Silvio Conte of Pittsfield, state Senator Jack Fitzpatrick of Stockbridge and his successor, Peter Webber of Pittsfield, and state Representative Shaun Kelly of Dalton were respected across party lines and routinely re-elected. Those days, however, are retreating into history.
Only 10 to 12 percent of Berkshire voters are registered as Republicans. Voters in traditional blue collar manufacturing cities like Pittsfield and North Adams tend to vote Democratic, as do the New York City-oriented voters of South Berkshire. And Mr. Conte, elected 16 times to Congress by Berkshire voters, was the kind of liberal-moderate Republican now rendered all but extinct, purged in the cause of ideological orthodoxy.
With the exception of the brief tenure of Acting Governor Jane Swift, a North Adams native, recent Republican chief executives did nothing to ingratiate themselves with Berkshire voters. In contrast, Democratic Governor Deval Patrick, a part-time resident of Richmond, has helped further build the Democratic brand in the county. Recent Republican governors also did little beyond lip service to building their party across the state.
Then there is the major problem of Washington, D.C. The Republican Party establishment blocks and dismantles worthy programs and constructive efforts, while blaming President Obama, who proved to be extremely popular with Berkshire voters in two elections, for everything except failing to find the "real killers" in the O.J. Simpson case. (That may come yet this 20th anniversary season). Tea party nihilists hate government without thinking through the ramifications of their hatred. Massachusetts Republicans pursuing office must not only distinguish themselves from Democrats, they have to distance themselves from their own party.
The one thing that could affect this dynamic would be the election of Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker in November. Mr. Baker, who ran as an angry tea partier four years ago and lost to Governor Patrick, is now running essentially as an affable Democrat -- he has even endorsed a hike in the minimum wage. If he can pull off this strategy, and then begin rebuilding the party at its roots as Republican predecessors William Weld, Paul Cellucci and Mitt Romney did not, Berkshire and state Republicans could possibly be heard from in 2016.
That is a presidential election year, however, which means that Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and a few tea partiers to be named later will be outdoing each other with outrageous ideas, blunders and declarations guaranteed to go viral that are also guaranteed to put off voters in Berkshire County and Massachusetts. There is a long, treacherous road to relevance ahead for Berkshire Republicans, prisoners of their D.C. counterparts.