Rep joins unenrolled in-crowd 

Athol lawmaker abandons Republican Party 

Rep. Susannah Whipps joined the political in-crowd this week, switching her party registration from Republican to unenrolled. 

Statewide, unenrolled voters – those not affiliated with any political party – are taking over. They became the largest political designation in 1990 and an outright majority in 2008. They represent the most voters in 132 of the 160 House districts. In Whipps’s central Massachusetts district, 66 percent of the voters are unenrolled, 21 percent are Democrat, 12 percent are Republican, and 1 percent belong to other parties. 

But while voters are embracing the unenrolled label, they haven’t embraced candidates who have diteched the two major parties. Evan Falchuk’s run for governor as the representative of a third party went nowhere and his bid to establish a new third party in Massachusetts – the United Independent Party — ended earlier this year when he decided to return to the Democratic Party. 

Falchuk applauded Whipps’s decision to abandon the Republican Party. “The Republican Party has become the party of Trump and white nationalists and leaders of good conscience should follow her lead and leave,” he said. 

Whipps, however, isn’t blaming Trump for her decision to leave the GOP. She is refusing to discuss her party change, but in a press release she lamented the “constant partisan attacks” in Washington while giving no indication that Trump was the reason she was leaving the Republican Party. Instead, she said, she was choosing “people over party.” 

“Serving as a state representative while not affiliating with either major political party will allow me to more effectively utilize the relationships I have developed with the members and leadership on both sides of the aisle, and will allow me to better serve all of the people of my district, without the obligation of towing [sic: toeing] any particular party line,” she said. “I want my party affiliation to reflect my position as an independent voice for the people of my district.” 

The Athol resident, currently in her second term, serves on three legislative committees and has asked to remain on them, but it’s unclear whether Republican or Democratic leaders in the House will allow her to do so. A spokesman for the House Republican leader, Rep. Brad Jones of North Reading, said he hasn’t made up his mind yet and was still researching precedents.  

Whipps hasn’t been the most loyal Republican on Beacon Hill. There have been 79 roll call votes so far this year in the House. She voted the party line on 63, or 80 percent, of them. She voted against the Republican leadership position the other 16 times, and in nine instances was the only GOP member to do so. For example, she was the lone Republican to vote for a bill preventing the use of inmate labor beyond the borders of Massachusetts and against Gov. Charlie Baker’s MassHealth initiative. 

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Charles Shannon Jr. may have been the last Beacon Hill lawmaker to jump parties. Unlike Whipps, however, Shannon, a state senator from Winchester, jumped from the Republican to the Democratic Party in December 1996 after six years in office. He served as a Democrat until he died in 2005.  

Whipps said she thinks she can navigate on Beacon Hill without being affiliated with the Republican or Democratic parties. “I look forward to having the freedom to support colleagues and candidates regardless of their party affiliation, and I look forward to continuing to work hard for the great people of this district and the Commonwealth,” she said in her press release.