The road less traveled
Distance from Boston is an obstacle to statewide office
GREATER BOSTON IS the breeding ground for the state’s top politicians. Going back to 1900, three out of every four constitutional officers came from within 25 miles of Boston. Go out 50 miles, and the percentage rises to 85 percent.
Most analysts say the state’s political axis tilts toward Greater Boston because that’s where the voters are, but lawmakers believe the longer commutes from western Massa-chusetts and Cape Cod may be responsible for the lack of geographical diversity at the upper echelon of state government. Overriding a gubernatorial veto, the Legislature in Feb-ruary approved a pay-raise package that included a $65,000 housing allowance for the governor, ostensibly to make it easier for candidates from outside Boston to run for office.
When W. Murray Crane became governor in 1900, there weren’t a lot of roads to Beacon Hill that he could use from his western Massachusetts home in Dalton. In fact, there weren’t cars.
During his years in the State House—the independently wealthy Crane, whose family owned the paper company that prints US currency, was lieutenant governor from 1896 to 1899 before serving for four years as governor—he would stay at various hotels and clubs in Boston and travel back to Dalton to be with his family as often as he could by train, according to his great-granddaughter Josie Greene of Newton.
Between Crane’s last day in office in 1903 and nearly 100 years later in 2001, when then-Lt. Gov. Jane Swift took over as acting governor for Paul Cellucci, there were no other governors from the Berkshires. In fact, of the 34 governors to serve since 1900, only two others—Calvin Coolidge from Northampton and Foster Furcolo from Longmeadow—lived more than 50 miles from Beacon Hill.
Swift, who hung a portrait of Crane in her office when she was governor because of their Berkshires connection, says the problem in electing people west of Worcester isn’t distance as much as population and political support. “There’s lots of barriers to running from a distance from Boston, chiefly a lack of a political base and lack of financial resources,” she says. “Those issues are much bigger than travel.”
“Boston has always been sort of the political nexus of Massachusetts,” says Shannon Jenkins, chair of the political science department at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. She says it’s easier for a politician to make a statewide name if he or she lives in the major media market in the state. “People from all over the state feel it’s an unfair advantage,” she says.
Political consultant Doug Rubin, president of Northwind Strategies, says most of the elected officials are from Boston because that’s where the voters are. “The area within 25 miles of Boston is where most of the votes are—particularly in Boston and Middlesex County—for Democratic primaries,” Rubin wrote in an email.
Swift, who came from North Adams and was the first pregnant governor in the country, said living out west was a lifestyle choice that would not have changed with a housing allowance.“We found we preferred to raise our children back on the farm where my husband’s family grew up,” says Swift, who had siblings in the Boston area she would stay with on those nights she did not travel home.
The pay raise bill included a housing allowance only for the governor, even though the state’s other constitutional officers face the same issue. Since 1900, 35 percent of all constitutional officers have come from Boston or Cambridge and nearly two-thirds have come from within a 10-mile radius of Boston. The average distance to the State House from the city or town where each of the elected officials lived is 22.5 miles.