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Bay State blues; Scant hope of partisan balance on Beacon Hill.

COLUMN: IN OUR OPINION

Candidates' nomination papers for seats in the Massachusetts Legislature have been filed, and it's clear that voters in the nation's bluest state will be feeling even bluer this fall.

Once again, most Central Massachusetts legislators will face either no opponent or a challenge only from within their own party, guaranteeing a continuation of the unhealthy imbalance of party power on Beacon Hill.

Reflecting widespread disenchantment with both major parties, half of the state's 4 million voters decline to enroll in either. Of those who are enrolled, however, Democrats outnumber Republicans three to one.

Democrats already have overwhelming majorities in the House, where 141 of 160 members are Democrats, and the Senate, which counts just five Republicans among its 40 members.

In 2006, Republicans won just nine contested races for the Legislature, with several incumbents barely outdistancing Democratic challengers. This time around, the GOP is contesting just 58 of the 200 available legislative seats, a dismal 29 percent.

A key element of the Democrats' success has been effective party-building on the local level. Lacking an effective political farm system, the Republicans are hard-pressed to find seasoned challengers to compete effectively for legislative and statewide races. Those who do step forward have had a hard time attracting financial support for what voters often rightly conclude to be long-shot campaigns.

Some of the state's political landscape can be attributed to the power of incumbency, which transcends party affiliation. Many of the Republican legislators, after all, are firmly entrenched in their districts as well.

But the widespread voter alienation and the population losses Massachusetts has experienced in recent years - as well as the state's high cost of living and reputation as less-than-welcoming to business - cannot be wholly separated from the seven-to-one majorities that prevail for Democrats on Beacon Hill.

Massachusetts will undoubtedly remain the bluest state in the union for some time to come. While it's too early to predict whether independent-minded voters will widen or shrink the power gap this fall, the health of the state's democracy demands that they give every candidate, and particularly those in the minority party, a close look and a fair hearing.
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Title Annotation:EDITORIAL
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:May 4, 2008
Words:358
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