Aren’t we special? Dissecting Massachusetts exceptionalism

When it comes to our place in the American political order, Massachusetts exhibits no small amount of self-regard. We regularly tick off our long list of firsts – reaching back to the first public schools, parks, and libraries and, in more recent times, to our sanctioning of same-sex marriage or blazing the trail for the Affordable Care Act. But we have also gained national recognition for racial enmities and a legislative process that is often second to none in its lack of transparency. 

It doesn’t always look like a single coherent story, but a new book takes a stab at bringing together its component parts, whether they seem to have us stand out for good or ill. The Politics of Massachusetts Exceptionalism: Reputation Meets Reality takes on everything from the state’s political culture to the workings of its three branches of government and its place on the national stage, providing one-stop shopping for an understanding of Massachusetts politics. 

Seven local academics contribute chapters to the new volume, including the book’s editors, Jerold Duquette and Erin O’Brien, the guests on this week’s Codcast.

“When it comes to being arrogant about politics, Massachusetts has seniority,” said Duquette, an associate professor of political science at Central Connecticut State University, only partially tongue in cheek. “Massachusetts has developed institutionally the way we sort of assume the framers of the US Constitution wanted the United States to develop. So that makes it sort of an interesting case study, not just in terms of state politics, but in terms of American politics in general.” 

A hallmark of that, said Duquette, is our fidelity to the Madisonian ideas of the separation of powers and co-equal branches of government, something that has maintained a strong role for the Legislature in relation to executive power on Beacon Hill. 

And whether it was the Republican reign in the 19th century or the Democratic domination of recent decades, much of our history has been marked by one-party rule, a phenomenon that the book says has made battles between insiders and outsiders, rather than ideology, serve as the main fault line in state politics. It’s also allowed for a fairly smooth relationship in recent years between Republican governors and an overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature. 

All of that has tended to make our politics less rancorous, say Duquette and O’Brien. “Of course that stability has some very significant pros and cons,” said Duquette. 

Despite a history of generally progressive policy advances, the insider orientation of our political order has often made us a laggard when it comes to government transparency as well as political participation and representation. 

“We made it hard to vote because the people who got elected by those procedures don’t want to change them and there’s no party competition in Massachusetts,” said O’Brien, an associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She said there has been “real improvement” on that score, however,  in recent years.

When it comes to women in elected office, we are “middle of the pack of the 50 states and last in New England,” said O’Brien. Meanwhile, people of color continue to be underrepresented in political office across the state relative to their share of the population.

Are we on the cusp of big change in the way politics is played in Massachusetts?  

Pointing to things like the election of Ayanna Pressley to Congress and Michelle Wu as Boston’s mayor, O’Brien says, yes. “That old order is breaking down. I do think it’s changing,” she said. 

Duquette isn’t sure that breakthroughs by members of groups that have long been outsiders necessarily herald a change in way politics is practiced. “It’s not clear yet whether we are going to have different people, same story, or different people, different story,” he said. “I think we really do have to wait and see a little bit on that.” 




DeLeo adjusting well: Robert DeLeo, the longest-serving speaker in state history, seems to be adjusting to his new job as a Fellow for Public Life at Northeastern University. His office is a lot smaller and he wields far less power, but DeLeo says his new job giving guest lectures, offering  career advice to freshmen, and arranging guest speakers is gratifying. “I absolutely love it here. I just really feel right at home,” he said weeks before the 50th anniversary of his graduation from Northeastern as a member of the class of 1972.  Read more.

Power shift: The demand for electricity from the New England power grid fell to its lowest level ever recently, due in part to the emergence of home solar. A new pattern is also emerging, with the lowest demand for grid power coming in the afternoon (when the sun is out) and not at night. Read more.

Theoharides takes new job: Kathleen Theoharides, who oversaw offshore wind development as a cabinet secretary of Gov. Charlie Baker, takes a job overseeing US offshore wind development for a German company. Read more.


Double deeds excise tax: Kimberly Lyle of the Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corp. and Joseph Kriesberg of the Mass. Assn. of Community Development Corps. call for doubling the deeds excise tax to address the twin crises of housing and climate change. Read more.

Staying put: Brian Doherty of the Mass. Assisted Living Assn. says a tweak of state law to allow assisted living facilities to provide limited medical care (checking blood sugar, for example) would allow more people to stay put rather than transfer to a nursing home. Read more.

Right to counsel: Charles Gagnon of Volunteers of America of Mass. says a right to counsel should be provided to those facing eviction – particularly for veterans. Read more.




Some state lawmakers are seeking to require public university health centers to stock and provide medication abortion. (MassLive)

A Globe editorial takes the state Senate to task for avoiding a roll call vote on sports gambling, which it recently gave a thumbs up to. 


With the help of a state grant, Adams, North Adams, and Williamstown hire a single human resources director to serve all three communities. (Berkshire Eagle)

Worcester city officials debate whether the city needs more – or fewer – gas stations. (Telegram & Gazette)

The plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking to close the ailing Springfield courthouse reach a deal with the state, the details of which are not yet public. (MassLive)


New and highly potent synthetic opioids, led by fentanyl, have flooded the illicit drug supply and are behind many of the state’s overdose deaths. (Patriot Ledger)

Boston area wastewater coronavirus levels are on the rise again. (Boston Herald)

Rapid COVID tests are now available as part of insurance coverage for most plans. 


The Biden administration says it is partnering with the nation’s internet providers to offer reduced-priced, high-speed plans to low-income Americans. (NPR)

Rep. Jake Auchncloss and Rep. Liz Cheney co-author an op-ed calling for bipartisan resolve to support Ukraine. (Washington Post


Boston Mayor Michelle Wu endorsed City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo in the Democratic primary for Suffolk County district attorney, a move that drew an unusually sharp rebuke from his primary opponent, DA Kevin Hayden, whose campaign spokesman expressed surprise that the mayor “believes a novice attorney with zero public safety experience should be the top law enforcement officer in the county.” (Boston Herald

Harvard professor Danielle Allen recounts the challenges she faced as a political outsider running for governor of Massachusetts, and says voters aren’t as sharply divided as some would have us think. (Wall Street Journal


Boston University imposes its largest tuition increase in 14 years, bringing annual tuition up to $61,050. (MassLive)

The head of the state school building assistance authority is mounting a campaign to have new school construction projects steer clear of potentially toxic materials in carpeting and other classroom materials. (Boston Globe

UMass Lowell professor Julie Chen, the only local finalist for the job, is expected to get the nod today to be the campus’s new chancellor. (Boston Globe


Utilities and environmentalists disagree about whether increased reliance on natural gas is the best alternative to fossil fuel use. (Salem News)


The Telegram & Gazette lists top takeaways from the State Ethics Commission hearing on whether state police and prosecutors improperly altered the arrest report of a judge’s daughter. 

A prisoner dies in State Police custody after being arrested on a charge of OUI-drugs. (MassLive)