Thursday, January 1, 2015

Looking beyond the Munson-Nixon line

(written 11/10/14)

This spring the New York Times featured a fabulous interactive map that used Facebook data to show where support for each Major League Baseball teams is strongest. Not surprisingly, Rhode Island is filled with Red Sox fans and we are just one shade off the deepest shade of red clustered around Boston. In the middle of Connecticut there is a line where pink borders gray and the two fan bases meet. This area is cleverly nicknamed the “Munson-Dixon line” after Yankee catcher Thurman Munson and Red Sox dirt dog Trot Nixon.

I thought of the Munson-Dixon line came to mind on Tuesday night as across the country U.S. Senate seats went from blue to bright red, and it was clear that the pendulum of American politics was swinging to the right. Along with trans fats and reality TV, Americans love a government that is balanced and the party of the sitting president almost always suffers midterm losses. Several people have noted that the GOP wave seemed to stop short in New England: Scott Brown failed to win a U.S. Senate seat in New Hampshire and not a single Republican was elected to statewide or federal office in Rhode Island, despite having some stronger-than usual candidates. While the results are clear: Governor-Elect Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor-elect Karyn Polito are the only newly elected GOP statewide or federal officeholders in New England, the analysis is not so obvious. Even in deep blue Rhode Island, there has been a slight shift to center.

While Rhode Island elected a slate of Democrats to statewide office, the two at the top of the ticket were not only unendorsed by their own party, but survived bruising primaries in spite of stiff and vocal opposition from big swaths of traditional Democratic voters. Governor-Elect Raimondo is best known for shepherding pension reform through the General Assembly and building a coalition strong enough to go toe-to-toe with the powerful public employee unions. Lieutenant Governor-Elect Dan McKee is also no darling of the teachers’ unions as he made a name for himself as an education reform advocate leading the effort for Mayoral Academies. Pension reform and education reform are not traditional paths to victory for most Democrats, particularly in Rhode Island but I think that these candidates and their wins show a somewhat centrist streak in the new Rhode Island Democrat, particularly around issues of fiscal policy and public education.

So while the political map shows Rhode Island as a deep, deep blue state, I think that the calculation is too simplistic. Beginning on January 6th, we’ll have leaders who have looked beyond their own Munson-Dixon boundaries for ideas and solutions to complex public policy problems. I think we can all be fans of that.

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