I don’t usually write about local politics for one simple reason: I only have a couple of readers who live in Mass. The rest of you are scattered across the US–and indeed, the world; thanks largely to Tim Dunlop, I have more readers in Australia than I do in Massachusetts. That’s the nature of the internet.
But this latest development in the culture wars in Mass has larger implications than its local nature would suggest. First, let’s look at the story.
Three weeks ago, the decision of the Mass Supreme Judicial Court that banning gay marriages was in violation of the State Constitution took effect and the first legal marriage licenses ever issued to gay couples were signed by municipal clerks in the cities of Provincetown, Springfield, Somerville and Worcester. Many of those couples married almost immediately; many others waited until friends and families could gather. Rep Gov Mitt Romney, who is basically a moderate but plays to the radicals for effect (and votes), announced his opposition to the clerks’ compliance with the law as given in the SJC decision and warned them that they were guilty of flouting a law dating from 1913 that he had dug out of the tomb where it was resting comfortably and was now using to threaten any city clerk who dared to comply with the Constitution rather than with his stated position.
On Friday, May 21, Romney asked State’s Attorney General Thomas O’Reilly to stop the clerks on the basis of a 1913 law prohibiting couples from other states from obtaining marriage licenses in Mass ‘if they would be void in the state in which a couple resides.’
Romney said he expected Reilly to urge the clerks to stop issuing the licenses with calls and letters at first. If that does not work, Romney said, a court injunction might be warranted.
Reilly repeatedly stressed that under Massachusetts law, the governor has the power to prosecute all matters related to marriage without the help of the attorney general. “I want to recognize here and acknowledge that the governor of Massachusetts has special authority and jurisdiction when it comes to the regulation of the issuance of marriage [licenses], and enforcement of the marriage laws and process,” Reilly said. “I certainly understand that authority, and I respect that authority. We will take it in that context.”Romney said he has spoken to Reilly personally and that the two officials are “on the same page.”
What the Globe article carefully refrained from mentioning was that the 1913 law Romney is using as an excuse to stop out-of-state gay marriages was originally written to stop ‘mixed-race’ marriages. The SJC then had recently struck down the laws forbidding mixed-race marriages using the same reasons and referring to the same clauses in the State Constitution as the present SJC, and the State legislature promptly scurried through a loophole and passed a law preventing out-of-state mixed-race couples from ‘flooding into Massachusetts’, as one outraged Republican State Senator put it, to get married here when it was illegal in their home states.
This onerous law, ignored for 75 years and illegal by intent if not language, should have been repealed a long time ago, and probably would have been if anybody had remembered it existed before Romney disinterred it from its vault, dusted it off, and applied it to gays rather than to ‘miscegenation’. (Bigots have such harmless-sounding words for their bigotry, don’t they? ‘Miscegenation’. Such soft syllables. Almost sounds like something that happens to an undercooked pie.) For him to be using that law in this context is tantamount to an admission that gay marriage is in fact a civil rights isuue, not a ‘religious’ issue, and that Mitt is standing four-square with the bigots of yesteryear to deny a minority their rights.
The pressure, of course, is coming from radical conservative groups like the Mass Family Institute, and from the religious right who have been outraged by the SJC decision. They are key players in Romney’s constituency, having supported handsomely both of his failed senate campaigns against Ted Kennedy as well as his squeaker-of-a-win in the Gov’s race against the weak Democratic hack who was his opponent. They have a lot of influence with the Romney Admin and, as is usual with the radcons, they’re not shy about using it.
Unfortunately for them, Mass is a very Democratic state. While it’s a lot less liberal than its radcon attackers would have you know, it is definitely NOT a bastion of right-wing ideologues and bigots. The Mass GOP has in the past been fairly centrist in its leanings, an old-style moderate Republicanism that harkens back to people like Ed Brooke and Bill Weld, the kind of men (usually men) who defined the ‘fiscal-conservative/social-liberal’ model in the late 80’s and early 90’s (clarification: Ed Brooke was the first black US Senator from NE and was waaaay ahead of his time in pioneering the fc/sl model, an achievement for which he receives very little credit). They haven’t tended to the extremes and in the past have been known to hand radicals their walking papers. No more. Like everywhere else, radcons have hijacked the state GOP and used it to push moderates to the margins and their own radical policies to the center of the party platform, and like everywhere else, they have been none too dainty–or scrupulous–about how they did it.
Local Republican politics is becoming as radical, arrogant, autocratic, and unsavory as its national Big Brother. Cockroach Master Tom DeLay, from his perch as House Majority Leader, ordered the Texas State Legislature to re-district the state to favor Republicans in defiance of a tradition that only allowed re-districting after each census because Republicans happened to control that legislature at the moment and DeLay was determined to see it stayed that way. In California, the RNC used a wealthy used-car dealer, Darryl Issa, to force a recall vote on Gov Gray Davis right after an energy crisis brought on by big corporate Republican donors running energy companies in Texas had stolen $Billions$ from the state by illegally manipulating the market, causing an artificial shortfall that all but bankrupted the state coffers. They used the recall to blame Davis for the energy crisis, and when people turned against Davis because of it, they used Davis’ weakness to foist The Terminator on a punch-drunk state reeling from the Republican-engineered body blows. In Georgia, radcon-elected State Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox tried to force a school curriculum that replaced evolution with creationism, and in Colorado, they tried the same re-districting trick the Texas Republicans had succeeded with only to be slapped down by the courts.
You probably knew about those, but here’s the sort of maneuver becoming standard for radcons that doesn’t get much press: Jeff at Notes On The Atrocities lives in Oregon and reports on the machinations of its far-right Speaker of the House, Karen Minnis, who has just ordered the House to meet in a special session—without the Senate.
It’s an unprecedented move and has no legal standing. Without Senate approval, no legislation can go through. But Minnis isn’t afraid to use whatever tiny reserve of goodwill that remains to try to rend the state further apart. We will now watch the GOP spend days or weeks passing phony laws and calling Dems rat bastards–all on the government dime. (Hey, fiscal responsibility is only good when you’re cutting programs that benefit Democratic constitutencies.)
Minnis, who has a background of dirty tricks and slimy campaign tactics that would rival Saxby Chambliss’ for sleaze (read Jeff’s post for details), is typical of the rising radicalism in local GOP organizations across the country who have used Bush’s popularity and the excuse of the ‘new reality’ since 9/11 to ram through extreme right-wing programs that would be DOA if offered fairly and openly. They have crow-barred their way to power and they have no intention of letting it slip away just because the standard-bearer is self-destructing.
With his own party turning against him, the Cult of Personality that was built up around Bush over the past four years may be crumbling but its purpose has been to some degree served: radical conservatives now control not only the national GOP but many of the local party mechanisms as well. Rejecting Bush will weaken but hardly destroy them. For those who may be thinking that if we just get rid of Junior everything will be alright, think again. That’s only half the battle. The other half will have to be fought right in our own home towns.
In the words of Han Solo, ‘Don’t get cocky, kid.’ We’ve got a long way to go before we can rest.