Acting's a Big Part of the Party Chair's Job, which Puts McGee at Disadvantage

Monday, September 19, 2016

A week ago yesterday, Tom McGee announced he would not be a candidate this November for a second four-year term as chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party.  The election of the chairman and other party officers will take place the week after the presidential election in November.

A longtime member of the state Senate from Lynn and son of a late House Speaker renowned for helping anyone down on his luck, McGee announced that decision in an email to members of the party’s state committee and others.
Befitting the man, who is the embodiment of decency, the message from McGee was warm, optimistic and personally engaging. 

“Over the past three years,” he wrote, “I know our work electing Democrats has helped countless people across the state.  I’ve often talked about my grandmother and the values I learned from her.  After helping organize shoe workers in Lynn, and during the darkest days of the Depression, she went to work for the Roosevelt administration to continue fighting for working families.

“The values we share as Democrats are the values my family instilled in me.  The Democratic Party is part of who I am.  I have been a proud member of our party my entire life and was first elected to the State committee over 40 years ago.”
Noticeably absent from that message, however, was a specific reason why McGee decided to walk away from the party chairmanship once his term is up.

Prior to the announcement, there was at least one report in the media that McGee could face opposition from two candidates who were at least partially motivated by what they perceived as McGee’s reluctance to criticize and to challenge Charlie Baker, our Republican governor, in public over Baker’s policies and actions.

On September 2, the Boston Globe’s Jim O’Sullivan, formerly a star at the State House News Service, reported that one possible candidate against McGee for the chairmanship, Eileen Duff, a member of the Governor’s Council, “appears to be trying to latch onto dissatisfaction within the party over McGee’s leadership style.”
O’Sullivan wrote, “According to people who have spoken to Duff, part of her pitch has been that she can approach the chairmanship as a full-time job, arguing that McGee has been conflicted by his legislative role.”

O’Sullivan wrote, “Other Democrats have complained that the party has not been aggressive enough in opposing Republican Governor Charlie Baker.  That unrest burbled up at the state party convention in June, when some activists criticized party leadership for not having a plan to hold the governor accountable.”
I don’t think McGee has been conflicted by his legislative role.  It is a legislator’s duty to oppose the governor if he or she believes the governor is attempting something wrong-headed or just plain wrong, and there have been several occasions during the past 21 months when McGee has criticized the governor publicly.  It’s just that, for a certain category of Democrats, McGee hasn’t criticized the governor nearly often enough or hard enough. 

These Democrats are looking for someone who can act outraged at a moment’s notice, someone who can call a press conference on 30 minutes' notice and emote on cue about how awful the governor is and how bloody important it is that he be defeated in 2018.
If McGee thought the governor was awful, or doing something awful, I’m sure he could do that, but if he didn’t truly feel it, he couldn’t fake outrage -- or any other emotion for that matter.  McGee, to his everlasting credit, is no actor.

So, is McGee giving up the chairmanship without a fight because he fears the faction of his party demanding more outrage?  Hardly. If he ran, he’d be an odds-on favorite for re-election no matter who was running against him.  You can find friends of McGee everywhere in Massachusetts,  enemies nowhere.  
My guess is that he is simply not enjoying the job enough to want another term, or that, having done the job for four years, he feels it’s time to give someone else a shot at it.



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