Between 1990 and 2003, Republicans in Massachusetts have barely been able to field as many as seventy-five candidates for the state legislature. While former Republican governors Bill Weld, Paul Cellucci and Jane Swift did little to build the state party and ignored the need for grassroots activism at the legislative level, Governor Mitt Romney has made party building a top priority in 2004.
Governor Romney has been very effective in recruiting candidates for the House and Senate, said Matt St. Hilaire, regional field coordinator for the Republican State Party. This year we have 131 candidates on the ballot. Thats the most weve had since 1990.
With the democrats holding a super- majority in the House and Senate, St. Hilaire continued, Governor Romney cant sustain a veto right now, leaving the democrats with too much power at The State House. What we need in the House are 54 Republican representatives to sustain a veto. Right now we only have 23. That means we have to pick up 31 more seats just to even the playing field and get a two party system that really means something in Massachusetts.
St. Hilaire also says that with GOP Senator Joanne Sprague resigning, the party needs to win at least eight more Republican races to capture a total of fourteen Senate seats and stop a supermajority.
Governor Romney is very dedicated to reform in Massachusetts, St. Hilaire continued, But its hard to do that when the democrats can override every decision he makes because we dont have enough Republicans in the legislature. The Governor has shown he is serious about getting more balance in the House and Senate by recruiting candidates and initiating a fellowship program to help those candidates on the campaign trail. Hes providing another layer of support for the party at the grassroots level.
Romneys fellowship program pairs recent college graduates with GOP candidates throughout the state. Fellows are paid a $2,000 stipend and are given free housing where they room with other fellows. Their duties include organizing the daily events calendar, setting up and running fund raisers, meeting with people in the district, putting together campaign literature, listening to the voters, doing research and mobilizing voter participation.
Andover Republican Deborah Jones who is facing incumbent State Senator Susan Tucker, (D) Andover, was assigned Ilana Lewenberg, a Boston University Graduate from New York City. Jones said having a fellow on board with the campaign is a tremendous help. Ilana is like my right arm in this campaign. Its a godsend to have her here on a full time basis. It makes a huge difference in the amount of work I can get done.
For her part, Ilana says being in the Republican fellowship program with Jones is an honor and great experience.
I got really lucky when they assigned me to Deborah Jones, Lewenberg said. Shes so wonderful. She is really working hard and she keeps me very busy. As a fellow for the Romney team, Lewenberg and the 21 other fellows in the program work full time managing their respective campaigns.
I think the program is making a major difference at the grassroots level, Lewenberg said. Our candidates know that they have someone who has been trained, someone who knows about campaigning full time and can focus only on their campaign. That way, if they do have other responsibilities, like a job they cant take time away from, or family obligations, someone is always on the job and things dont get overlooked.
Lewenberg also said that living in an apartment with the other fellows is an added bonus for them and the candidates they are supporting.
Living with the other fellows offers us an opportunity to learn more about the process. When we come back to the house after a campaign event, we swap stories about what we learned. We compare notes. Its a great atmosphere, a really exciting working relationship. We are always helping each other out, adjusting to what we learned as the campaign goes on.
Lewenberg said one of the greatest assets has been working with Maria Marascos fellow Kate Smith. Marasco is running for State Representative in the 18th Essex district against first term incumbent Barbara L'Italien.
Maria has run for office before so we are all learning a lot from her and Kate. Plus, she added Maria and Kate are running a State Rep. campaign in our senate district, so we find out about campaign events from her and we get to double the effort. Working together, we cross-reference what we learn about the voters in the district. We really are working together as a team.
Kate Smith echoed the enthusiasm of Lewenberg.
I was looking for an opportunity to get involved, gain some experience and learn about the influence of politics on public policy. This has been an invaluable experience. This was a great chance for me to see how politics effects policy, how it is made, and sometimes not made.
In some ways it has been an adjustment for me because Im not from the area. I dont know the nitty gritty, who the inside players are, but sometimes thats an asset too, because I have more of an unbiased opinion on things. Maria is such a pro at this and Ive learned so much from her, I am glad I can give her an objective point of view as well. We work really well together.
Maria Marasco said that she wishes she had a fellow working on her campaign the last time she was on the ballot.
The Governor really has to be commended, Marasco said beaming. He is bringing reform to the State House and building reform in the party at the same time. Not only is he giving a great opportunity to these young Republicans, he is growing the party from the ground up and putting his money where his mouth is, she said.
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