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A Liberal's Dilemma

The 1990 Gubernatorial Race

By Chip Cummins

THEY MAY NOT BE able to tell you who will win tomorrow's gubernatorial race, but political analysts and election observers can give you a pretty good idea of who will be showing up to vote: Just about everybody.

Considering how generally disputatious the campaign has been, it isn't surprising that crowds will flock to the voting booths tomorrow. What is surprising is that a large group of these voters may not be able come to a decision until they pull the voting booth curtain closed behind them.

This group is the famed Massachusetts liberal establishment, which has been electing progressive governors and legislators for decades. But in today's election between two fiscal conseratives--Democrat John R. Silber and Republican opponent William F. Weld '66--they have nowhere to cast their vote.

"Many people perceive that there are two Republican choices this year," says Michael Goldman, a Democratic political consultant.

Of the two contenders for Dukakis's corner office in the State House, neither fits the bill for traditional state liberals. And Len Unima, a former Republican now running on the Independent High-Tech ticket, is far too socially conservative for hard-core progressives.

"The traditional liberal voter is going to have to compromise or write-in," says Glen S. Koocher '71, host of Cambridge Inside Out, a local cable talk show about politics.

The problem for these liberal voters is that Silber--despite his strong show of support for the party--fits nowhere within the state's Democratic establishment. Rather than "good jobs at good wages," the 63-year old Boston University president and professor of philosophy is promising fiscal responsibility through fiscal conservatism. Last year, Silber reportedly was even considering a run for the U.S. Senate as a Republican.

Silber has transgressed the normal bounds of Massachusetts democratic politics in other spheres as well. Although he describes himself as pro-choice, Silber has said that he considers abortion homicide, and believes a woman should be required to obtain her husband's permission for an abortion. He also opposes a proposed amendment to the state constitution allowing women access to abortion up to the 24th week of pregnancy, or at any time in cases of rape, incest or to protect the life or health of the mother.

In perhaps his most egregious lapse from the party line, Silber opposese just about every environmental initiative that has been proposed for the state. He opposes secondary treatment for the cleanup of Boston Harbor and has called stricter state auto emissions standards an unfair burden on Massachusetts. He opposes the Massachusetts Recycling Initiative, which would require all packaging in the state to be recycled or recyclable by 1996.

He has refused to guarantee the viability ofstate wetlands, and has said the state probablyneeds at least one more incinerator.

Disappointed with Silber, many state liberalshave viewed Weld as a viable alternative,encouraged by his progressive stances on theenvironment and abortion.

For example, Weld has actively voiced hispro-choice stance and has said he supports theproposed constitutional amendment.

Weld also boasts a much stronger environmentalrecord. He favors secondary treatment for BostonHarbor and supporting the newly-created Cape CodCommission limiting development on Cape Cod. AndWeld is an original sponsor of recyclinglegislation that would require 50 percent of stateproducts be made of recycled materials over thenext six years.

But applying such liberal litmus tests ascapital punishment (Weld is in favor of it) toMedicaid (he wants to trim it), left-leaners havefound the former U.S. attorney too far to theright for their liking.

"It makes for a more difficult choice on theirpart," says Paul Watanabe, a political scienceprofessor at the University of Massachusetts atBoston. "It's going to involve some compromise onthe left."

But while Massachusetts liberals can forgiveWeld for his few conservative positions, hissupport for the Citizens for Limited Taxation(CLT) sweeping tax rollback proposal is completelyunpalatable for many. Opponents of the CLT planargue that it will result in fiscal chaos, forcingthe government to abolish vital services for thestate's neediest citizens.

And so liberal voters are back where theystarted: with Silber, the Democrat.

"They're looking for an excuse to vote forSilber, and CLT is it," says Koocher.

CHAMPIONS OF progressive legislationlike Arline Isaacson, co-chair of theMassachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus,are not so quick to decide. Isaacson says the twocandidates' fiscal conservatism is the mostdisheartening.

"I wish they would, both of them, be moreprogressive in their approach to fiscal matters,"she says.

Weld's support of the CLT petition makes itdifficult for liberals to vote for him, butSilber--who has described himself as "CLT with abrain"--is not much of an improvement, saysIsaacson.

"With Silber, while it's been good to see hisstaunch opposition to Question 3, I wish heweren't so quick to agree that the answer to ourproblems is to cut, cut, cut," she says.

"All my progressive friends are saying theystill don't know whom to vote for and might notdecide until the day they vote," Isaacson says."And I've never seen that in a gubernatorialrace."

That block of undecided liberal voters mayprove crucial for Silber, who has led Weld by onlya small margin in recent polls. "Whether he winsor loses depends on whether he can attractprogressive voters," says Boston politicalconsultant Thomas Kiley.

The 1.3 million registered Democrats in thestate would seem to give Silber a large advantageover Weld, who can only rely on roughly 400,000registered Republicans. But analysts say partyloyalty is especially difficult to gauge this yearbecause so many voters are expected to cross partylines. And now, the largest group of registeredvoters in the state is Independents, accountingfor approximately 1.4 million voters.

VOTERS ON THE LEFT are not the only onesfeeling left out in today's gubernatorialelection. The ideological right, which has beenthe backbone of the state GOP during Dukakis'reign on Beacon Hill, has also been orphaned bythe campaign.

Weld won September's primary without theendorsement of the GOP state committee, a prizethat went to the more conservative House MinorityLeader Steven D. Pierce (R-Westfield).

Weld's relationship with the leadership of thestate committee is often described as shaky atbest. Before Weld's victory in September, manyRepublicans said that his resignation in protestas assistant U.S. attorney under Attorney GeneralEd Meese was a snub to President Ronald Reagan.

"The conservative, ideological Republicans area little nervous because they know they can'tcontrol Weld," says Koocher.

But the prospect a Republicangovernor--something Massachusetts hasn't seen in20 years--has placated all but the mostconservative right-wingers.

For the liberal voter, though, there is no suchconsolation. Isaacson and her colleagues in theState House lobby say they have little to lookforward to in the next four years.

But while they have resigned themselves to fatein the governor's race, they have stepped up theiractivity in legislative races, Isaacson says.

"It's going to be rough no matter who'selected," she says. "And it will be determined, inno small part, by how the state legislative racesturn out. Because if you don't have aliberal-progressive in the governor's office youdamn well better have one in the legislature."

Isaacson says her biggest fear is that theanti-incumbent fervor that characterized theprimaries will sweep liberal legislators out oftheir House and Senate seats.

"Then we'll have nothing," she says. Right: John R. Silber celebrates hisvictory in the Democratic primary.

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