Reputation Of Mass. In 2013: Most Liberal, Libertarian, Libertine State?

In Massachusetts we will soon vote on issue referenda and candidates, but unknowingly we might also be determining the reputation of our state.

If recent polls are right, voters will approve assisted suicide and medical marijuana, and reject Sen. Scott Brown, the only Republican in our congressional delegation. And soon it will be decided what casinos open here.

In 2013 Massachusetts might be viewed as the most liberal, libertarian and/or libertine one-party state in the union.

We have been seen as the most Democratic state since 1972, when we were the only state to go for George McGovern for president. We’ve been called “the people’s republic” and “Taxachusetts.” But this new reputation would be more cultural, social and ideological.

You might say, “Awesome! Let’s keep our claim to fame as the most progressive state.”

But can you appreciate that some people might think that the mix of casinos, pot, suicide, and a one-party state will undermine a family-friendly, business-friendly, tourist-friendly reputation? Indeed, some might imagine something like the dark, decadent vision of “Pottersville” in the Jimmy Stewart film, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Pottersville has been described as “home to sleazy nightclubs, pawn shops and amoral people.”

It’s unfair to say that all these efforts to change laws and traditional values are “liberal.” Many liberals oppose having casinos; they view gambling like a regressive tax since it hurts the poor most. Some liberals are opposed to the assisted suicide referendum – Victoria Kennedy called it “cruel” and Dr. Ira Byock, a political progressive and an end-of-life specialist, argues that doctors writing lethal prescriptions “does not seem like progress to me.”

Some liberals are wary of legalizing marijuana for medical use because they know “medical” can mean almost anything, like stress and hypochondria, and in California some marijuana shops have become fronts for illegal distribution of drugs and money laundering.

Casinos, legalized marijuana and patient suicide might be more libertarian or libertine than liberal. But in a one-party state controlled by liberals, surely people in other states will view it as all part of the same outlook – “live and let others gamble, get high or die.”

There are passionate arguments for and against these referenda issues. You can easily search online to find articles and advocacy websites so you can make up your own mind.

But, in any case, shouldn’t we be aware that we might change the reputation of our state?

When a “Frankenstorm” is coming, meteorologists in the media anticipate what might happen and warn us. But our political leaders have not said a word about how several political fronts may collide and change our state’s reputation. Yet is it not predictable?

Imagine if Gov. Deval Patrick had been asked during his campaign how he would try to improve the state’s image. Would he have said anything like this in reply?

“I have a vision. To attract businesses and tourists, and encourage families to remain here instead of moving away, I’ve got a 4-point plan: 1) Open a few casinos. 2) Open assisted suicide bureaus. 3) Open marijuana stores for ‘patients.’ And 4) Elect only Democrats so we will have an absolute one-party monopoly. Thank you.”

Those seem to be the governor’s positions, yet would he – or any leader in this state – connect those dots as an “optimistic vision” for our state?

Most politicians think it’s healthy to have a one-party state if it’s their party in charge – even if it means multiple House speakers resigning in disgrace, a congressman arguing that he’s clueless about a gambling ring operating out of his household, and a young heir of a famous family refusing TV debates with an opponent for an open congressional seat.

Such politicians preach the virtue of democracy while trying to prevent real competition and debate. They remind us of something Upton Sinclair said: “It’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

Most people in Massachusetts understand the importance of protecting the environment. They know that an ecosystem is interdependent so we should view it as fragile because any little change can set off a chain reaction of extinctions. Yet some environmentalists are not as cautious about making changes in the human ecosystem. They don’t realize that well-intentioned measures to bring “dignity” to death, “family-friendly” casinos, “medical” marijuana, and one-party “democracy” can produce unintended consequences. But, as in many experiments, a mixture of safe elements can produce combustible results.

Perhaps you think it is unfair to raise the question of our state’s reputation. After all, there won’t be a ballot question asking: “To change the official image of Massachusetts, do you favor these four measures…?” But if we do change the state’s identity in a way that makes us less family-friendly, business-friendly, tourist-friendly… please don’t be too surprised or indignant. It’s not as if it were a bad storm that appeared without warning.

Todd Domke is WBUR’s Republican analyst. For more political commentary, go to our Payne & Domke page.

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  • HumphreyPloughjogger

    Reefer mad lie: “in California some marijuana shops have become fronts for illegal distribution of drugs and money laundering.”

  • Sinclair2

    I always enjoy Todd Domke’s writing and comments.  He’s refreshing, civilized and a real Republican with his feet on the ground.  He’s not a crackpot conservative who instigates conspiracy theories and veiled racism while promoting ideology to solve real world problems. 

    In this article, he neglected to mention the mix of liberal, moderate and conservative Democrats who dwell in this state.  Ray Flynn and Stephen Lynch are a few of several conservatives who come to mind.

    State image?  I’m not concerned.  I’m not planning on a business or vacation trip to Alabama, South Carolina or Oklahoma and getting caught in conversations defending our fair state.  We’re eclectic and progressive.  I’m proud to be a Democrat especially since the Republican Party has swung so far to the right and is not inclusive.  It’s so disappointing to see mostly white faces while watching the Republican National Convention.

  • grogan

    Mr Domke, thanks for this.  It’s rare that any commentator, blogger or whatever you may be in this case, takes on a 30,000 ft view of things. Everything, particularly during this part of the political silly season, is just so myopic. Interesting food for thought. 

  • Info

    Massachusetts citizens – it’s great to be openminded – but don’t be so open as to let your brain fall out of your head!

    “Millions of Massachusetts residents would
    potentially be eligible for medical marijuana under Question 3,” boasts a
    Colorado attorney who’s opened a new office here in Boston looking to profit
    from November’s vote.  His web site states that the catchall phrase in the
    proposed law “other conditions” allows for maladies including “chronic pain and
    mental conditions – such as anxiety and depression”.  Coming from
    Colorado, he would know.  Currently there are over 100,000 medical
    marijuana cardholders in Colorado.  95% of them were issued for maladies
    in the “other condition” category.


    medical marijuana in other states has helped attorneys like this generate huge
    profits, citizens are experiencing buyers’ remorse.  Just this summer, Los
    Angeles City Council unanimously voted to shut down all pot dispensaries in the
    city because of increased crime, violence, addiction, and neighborhood decay
    they are causing.  A co-author of the original medical marijuana ballot
    measure in California now says:  “Most of the dispensaries…. are
    little more than dope dealers with store fronts”.  


    say if passed, Ballot Question 3 would be the tightest, safest medical
    marijuana law in the country, but a look at the six-page bill proves
    otherwise.  The proposal would allow 35 marijuana retail stores in the
    first year and more would be allowed in future years – there is no limit to the
    number of stores in the law.  In 1996 Los Angeles began with a few dozen
    too, but ballooned to over 900 in a decade.  In Denver, pot shops
    outnumber McDonalds and Starbucks combined!


    the law, marijuana cards will have no expiration date, undefined dosing limits,
    no minimum age, and no requirement for parental consent.  Put this all
    together and it means any child could get a medical marijuana card for a
    self-diagnosed pain, and have a life-time membership to a pot store without his
    or her parents knowing. 


    will be able to have an undefined two-month supply of marijuana on their person
    or transport it in their car.  An ounce of marijuana is roughly 100
    joints. A 60-day supply in the State of Washington is 24 ounces plus 15
    marijuana plants.  According to these numbers Ballot Question 3 would
    allow a person to carry over 2400 joints at a time – that’s a lot of pot! Given
    the black market value of the drug and the current economic times, that amount
    practically begs an individual to sell it for personal, illicit profit. 
    And this is what we’re seeing in Colorado.  In Denver this year, 74% of
    teens in treatment for addiction report getting their marijuana supply from a
    medical marijuana card holder an average of 50 times.  And research shows
    that those who become marijuana dependent during adolescence and continue to
    adulthood have an 8-point drop in IQ. For context, that puts a person of
    average intelligence into the lowest third of the IQ range.


    3 allows anyone over the age of 21 with no special training or medical
    qualifications to own and operate a pot store.  It also allows for anyone
    over the age of 21 to grow marijuana even if they are a convicted drug felon.
     Under Question 3 these non-profit dispensaries would not be subject to
    property or sales tax no matter how much money they bring in even if their
    operators are making hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.  In
    California pot stores can bring in over $20 million annually in cash


    under-funded Department of Public Health would be mandated to create and manage
    the mini-drug enforcement agency needed to regulate this big business
    industry.  Yet with no tax revenue collected, this becomes another
    unfunded mandate for the state of Massachusetts.


    We know what is happening in other medical
    marijuana states and Ballot Question 3 is the MOST UNRESTRICTIVE law this side
    of California.  Massachusetts would be the only state other than
    California that gives a single physician the sole discretion to determine what
    conditions should be treated with medical marijuana.  And there’s no limit
    on the number of recommendations a single physician can make.  It is this
    leniency that has drawn out the worst in doctors in other states.  In one
    case in Oregon a single doctor signed 35% of all medical marijuana card
    recommendations in one year, amounting to an average of 29 per day at $200 per


    people say, let’s pass this law and then fix it if it doesn’t work.  What
    they don’t know is that the severability clause included in Section 17makes it
    virtually impossible to repeal if it does not work out well for the
    Commonwealth.   Using the advantage of severability language,
    the newly enriched medical marijuana trade makes it expensive and difficult to
    amend passed ballot referendums.  We’ve learned this from other states
    including neighboring Rhode Island, where an attempt by their Department of
    Public Health to tighten up their medical marijuana law was met by a lawsuit
    filed by the ACLU – a group funded by drug legalization interest groups.


    November 6, 2012, by voting No on Question 3 we are not closing the door to our
    chronically ill in Massachusetts; instead we are simply saying this is not the
    right law for what we would like to accomplish with compassionate care.

  • Franko

    The state has diversity within one party because of the Democrats big tent annd inclusiveness. Also I would like to think that we have the seen the results of failed right wing, trickle-down economics and abuse of our military. Notwithstanding, Romney’s wimpy governorship, Cellucci and Weld were standouts.

  • T H

    Thank you for mentioning a couple of prominent progressives who are opposed to the Question 2 assisted suicide measure. Here are a few of the other Democratic Party leaders who have come out against it:   4th Congressional District candidate Joseph Kennedy III, State Senators Eileen Donoghue and Richard T. Moore, and State Reps James Arciero, John Rogers, Colleen Garry, Angelo Scaccia, Nick Collins, Robert Dubois, David Nangle, and Ed Coppinger.

  • Sinclair2

    There are over one hundred colleges and universities in Massachusetts.  This leads to thousands of families visiting these schools with side trips for tourism.  It’s also a gold mine for corporate recruiters seeking new grads.  This state is also fertile ground for start-ups.  One could go on and on. 

    I can’t imagine this states “identity” changing for the worse.  Five or so years ago, you could have included gay marriage to your list of concerns about state image.  And by the way, when traveling to other states, most people refer to us as coming from Boston, not Massachusetts. 

  • Abr

    I’m sure there are good reasons to vote against those referendum questions. No doubt someone can articulate a good reason to vote for Scott Brown. But worrying about how the state is perceived is an absurd reason to cast any vote.

  • Bluefishpatty

    I was sitting at the bottom of a cliff the other day..when all of a sudden…something hit the ground! I was startled….I looked up and saw small furry little animals falling down like rain…
    They were lemmings,…. you know…furry, little rat like creatures that follow each other to their doom. I sat there…watching them hit the ground..some bouncing and thought I wonder if there are any Lemmings that don’t think this is a good idea? I figured that probably there were..but the others had been so brainwashed into keeping a tradition.. their fall gave them the freedom they really wanted ……

  • Circusmcgurkus

    Does the reputation of the state matter?  Sure.  Bay staters welcome everyone and are more than happy to show off our marvelous Commonwealth from gorgeous Cape Ann to magnificent Berkshire County to surprising Pioneer and Blackstone Valleys to historical South Coast to storied Cape Cod and Islands and back again to the birthplace of this great nation in our capital city.  Tourism is one of our greatest industries and with good reason – Massachusetts is a gem!  As the economy stabilizes here, many who visit see this as a terrific place to live at any age from college student to families to retirees.

    Putting aside the horrible idea of casinos which are just too putrid to mention and are not a ballot initiative, no one – no one – visits or fails to visit a state based upon ballot initiatives.    Indeed, we travel to explore and learn about something different from ourselves, not to live in a world of homogeneity.  Lots of people who believe in marriage equality visit states that have failed to enact marriage equality.  Both LGBT families and those who believe in a more “traditional” family all feel quite welcome here in the Cradle of Liberty.

    While many of us lament the paltry number of Republicans in this state, we are also appalled at the national Republican Party’s position on values very much at the heart of our state: freedom,  diversity, inclusion, LESS government intrusion into our bedrooms and MORE government involvement in climate change.  Mr. Tisei and Mr. Brown are both fine and moderate men, but we fear the influences of the national party more than the individuals who are running.

    If the Republican Party would come closer to the center on “social issues” and embrace that we do not live in 1789 – we now have vast needs for regulation to protect the resources we have including breathable air and drinkable water, I think a lot of people would be open to discussing smaller, more efficient government and other traditional Republican ideals. 

    The outrageous political scandals of the last several decades prove that we need more diversity on Beacon Hill.  Many of us crave a two party state.  But, if the Republicans want to regain any level of power in this state, they need to stand up to their national party, confront them on unacceptable discrimination, and moderate positions in the platform.  If Republicans believe that they have something to contribute to Massachusetts by serving the state in Congress, then they need to reject Grover Norquist and all of the other unelected individuals who influence that party’s policies. 

    If reputation is an issue, perhaps the Massachusetts Republicans need to review which reputation means more to them: their beautiful state or their hideous party platform.

  • Michael Hachey

    A person got paid real money to write this “analysis.” Think on that, gentle reader.

  • razorfish

    Todd Domke may be on to something here. Massachusetts is, in many respects, a great place to live, BUT, for some reason, the Commonwealth has been losing population for years. We’ve lost two Congressmen as a result of the last two US Census surveys. Kinda makes you wonder.

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