As I was cleaning out my basement this weekend I stumbled upon a pile of ghost-written pieces I'd penned for Massachusetts Republicans back when I worked for the party a quarter century ago.
Among the collection was one published in the Attleboro Sun Chronicle for the thirty-something chairman of the Norfolk Republican Town Committee, Daniel Winslow, who, just this week, threw his hat into the ring for the Senate seat vacated by now-US Secretary of State John Kerry. Small world!
"A wit once said that statistics can be used to show that of those who contract the habit of eating, very few survive."
I always liked that opening. But the column, published way back in 1990, is dull by today's hyperbolic partisan standards, asking as it does that readers slog their way through a Grimpen Mire of numbers and accounting tricks that were used by Massachusetts Democrats at the time to argue the state's tax burden wasn't 4th highest in the nation as advertised, but only 34th.
Leave aside whether the Bay State deserved its "Taxachusetts" moniker, it's hard to imagine Republicans today even trying to make the kind of empirical, fact-filled argument I did back then. Instead, all we would hear from Republicans is that Massachusetts, like the nation, "has a spending problem not a revenue problem."
This is one reason why news Danny Winslow is running in the special election for Kerry's US Senate seat is being applauded by those inside the party as well as out.
As Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh writes this week, inside Boston's State House the 54-year-old Winslow is considered a "creative, energetic, occasionally impish ideas merchant."
As an example of Winslow's "beyond-the-box thinking," says Lehigh, was his proposal to allow the University of Massachusetts to offer three-year degrees as a way to make college more affordable. Winslow has also proposed converting the high-occupancy lanes on I-93 into ones where the toll charge could vary with traffic volume so as to offer a predictable quick trip to and from town.
As for "impish," says Lehigh, Winslow once stacked jars of Marshmallow Fluff outside the office of Governor Deval Patrick's budget chief in order to illustrate Winslow's contention that Democrats needed to do more to cut the "fluff" from the state budget.
When it comes to criticisms of the other party, I think you'd have to agree that Marshmallow Fluff ranks a distant second to "Obama is a Fascist."
It is hard to imagine Winslow inviting someone like Ted Nugent to the State of the Union address, as Republican Rep. Steve Stockman did, announcing he was "excited to have a patriot" like Nugent join him in the House Chamber - a "patriot" in this case being someone who was checked out by the Secret Service for threatening during the last campaign: "If Barack Obama becomes the president in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year. If you can't go home and get everybody in your lives to clean house in this vile, evil, America-hating administration, I don't even know what you're made out of."
It's true that Winslow is known for his publicity-seeking stunts, says Lehigh. But unlike what we're used to seeing from Republicans, those antics "are almost always good-natured."
The more serious point Lehigh wants to make is that Winslow's willingness to step forward doesn't just rescue Republicans from the potential embarrassment of not fielding a credible candidate for the high profile Senate seat now that presumed front-runners Scott Brown, former gubernatorial contender Charlie Baker, former Governor William Weld and former Bush 43 chief of staff Andy Card have all taken passes.
What Winslow is doing benefits the entire state, says Lehigh, because Massachusetts, like all states, "needs the clash of ideas that a competitive two-party system brings."
And it is a "clash of ideas" that isn't just with Bay State Democrats but also among Republicans themselves as the GOP takes stock of where it is and where it is going after failing to win a national majority in five of the last six presidential elections.
As Lehigh reports, when Winslow spoke to reporters outside the State House he took pains to stress that Massachusetts Republicans are "a different kind of breed from the national Republicans."
Winslow, said Lehigh, put a premium "on reaching across the aisle in search of commonsensical compromise."
As a self-described social moderate and fiscal conservative, Winslow said his focus would be on the deficit, immigration reform, and "economic sustainability and climate sustainability."
To Winslow, in other words, global warming is no hoax.
Daily Beast's John Avlon was writing speeches for Rudy Giuliani at about the same time I was ghost-writing for Republican Governor Paul Cellucci. And Avlon is correct that Massachusetts does not always live up to its reliably liberal stereotype. Democrats might outnumber Republicans 3 to 1, he notes, but there are more Independents than registered Republicans and Democrats combined.
And so after Bill Weld was elected governor in 1990, the GOP began a 16-year run on the top executive office, with Weld being succeeded by Paul Cellucci, Jane Swift and Mitt Romney.
Yet, over the past 15 years, Northeast Republicans "have gone from dominant to endangered species," writes Avlon -- victims "of the rightward lurch of the national GOP, which alienated independent voters, particularly in the Northeast."
It only took Mitt Romney one term "to bury the franchise by 2006," says Avlon, and Romney did it by running for president and thus linking Massachusetts Republicanism with the party's toxic national brand. As Governor Cellucci is quick to acknowledge, Romney's "tacking so far to the right in the primaries was a tactic that backfired."
Of the three governors I worked for, Paul Cellucci was the most loyal to the party and the least likely to share whatever disagreements he had with it to outsiders.
Bill Weld was a quirky, whimsical iconoclast who endorsed Barak Obama in 2008 and relished his sometime fights with right wing elements inside the GOP -- like the feud he famously had with the late Senator Jesse Helms that cost Weld his chance to be ambassador of Mexico.
Jane Swift had her own reasons for wanting to see Mitt Romney humiliated in 2012 after the Mittster and his minions humiliated her by unceremoniously pushing Swift aside in the run-up to the 2002 governor's race. But Swift still plays her cards close to the vest, though I do know from their Facebook postings that Swift's chief speechwriter and chief of staff supported Obama in 2012.
Speaking to the alienation New England Republicans feel toward their own party, Swift said that "moderate GOPers" look at Olympia Snowe and others who have quit national politics "and think it is a lose-lose proposition to go to DC."
It's hard enough to win if you are a Republican in New England, says Swift, and even if you do "you can't get much done in this climate. It is for sure a Catch-22, but who wants to be the person beating their head against the wall?"
My old boss, Governor Cellucci, is a lot more confident than I am that "the moderate Massachusetts Republican mold of candidate is still very much in play."
Cellucci defines the Massachusetts GOP tradition as one that is: "Moderate on social issues, tough on fiscal issues, taxes, and crime -- and always willing to work with people in both parties to get things done."
It would be good for the country, said Cellucci, if "more Republicans and more Democrats acted like Massachusetts Republicans, which is, let's have some principles, but let's work together to find solutions to the big problems the country faces. We don't need more people in the US Senate who vote the Democratic line all the time or who vote the Republican line all the time. Instead, they should roll up their sleeves and find a way to work together to solve problems."
That is the Paul Cellucci I remember.
The shorthand description of a Massachusetts Republican as one who is "a fiscal conservative but a social liberal" has implications beyond the fact that on specific issues Yankees are hostile to taxes but supportive of clean air, clean water, a woman's right to choose and a same sex couple's right to marry.
There is an entire worldview contained in the idea that we should live and let live at the same time we pinch our pennies. And it is that worldview which distinguishes New England Republicans from Republicans elsewhere, especially in the South.
To be a fiscal conservative but a social liberal means to hold a view of the community that is welcoming to diversity, tolerant of differences, open to outsiders - inclusive -- while at the same time protective of those disciplines and habits of mind which hold the community together, such as fiscal prudence and balanced budgets -- but also support for education and social safety nets.
Unlike conservatives in other parts of the country, New England conservatives believe in a conservatism that actually conserves.
And so unlike their right wing fellow Republicans elsewhere who wield "state's" rights like a cudgel to defiantly separate themselves from the rest of the nation, Republicans in New England pledge their loyalty to a "commonwealth," which is a very different political animal.
The challenge for Republicans like Dan Winslow is persuading other New England Republicans they can support them and the commonsense, Yankee conservatism they all share without at the same time empowering the virulent right wing orthodoxy they both fear and loath.