Geoff Diehl thinks we need to be more like South Dakota

South Dakota is growing! Photo (cc) 2006 by Pete Markham.

The Boston Globe’s Samantha Gross attended a fundraiser for far-right gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl and has written a highly entertaining report. I think we can all agree that we’ve had more than enough of Ernie Boch Jr., who hosted the event. But there’s one piece of Gross’ story that I want to pick up on — the presence of South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who wants us to know that her tiny state is growing.

She shook hands, posed for photos, and touted South Dakota’s low unemployment rate and population growth in a speech to attendees inside Boch’s ‘auto salon,’” writes Gross. Later in the story comes this:

“The states aren’t as different as you’d think,” Diehl said, referring to ruby red South Dakota. “The big difference is their state is actually gaining population. I want to make sure we catch up to what they are doing as far as listening to people and deliver for the state of Massachusetts.”

Well, then. According to U.S. Census data, the population of South Dakota grew between 2010 and 2020 from 814,180 to 886,667, an increase of 72,487, or 8.9%. Impressive! But Massachusetts, starting from a far larger base, added 482,342 people over the same time period, growing from 6,547,629 to 7,029,917, or 7.4%. In other words, South Dakota added a Framingham. Massachusetts added more than two and a half Worcesters. (According to Census estimates, we did experience a slight blip downward between 2020 and 2021, but it’s hard to know how seriously to take that given it was in the midst of the pandemic. Even if it’s accurate, our population is still much higher than it was in 2010.)

No big deal (see what I did there?) if Noem doesn’t understand that Massachusetts is growing. But what’s Geoff Diehl’s excuse?

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Healey’s ascension coincides with the dispiriting collapse of politics in Mass.

Maura Healey. Photo (cc) 2015 by Charlie Baker. Yes, that’s what the photo credit says. Yes, I realize that’s Baker on the left-hand side of the frame.

State Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz’s withdrawal from the gubernatorial race on Thursday underscores the astonishing collapse of politics in Massachusetts. This is a state where politics has traditionally been a year-round sport. In the past, an open governor’s seat would have attracted multiple candidates. Instead, Attorney General Maura Healey will run uncontested for the Democratic nomination and will probably beat either of the two Republicans who are running.

The Axios Boston headline this morning puts it this way: “AG Healey on track to be Massachusetts’ first elected female governor.” In June. Nearly five months before Election Day.

Contrast what’s happening today with 1990, when Gov. Michael Dukakis retired. Three prominent Democrats sought the nomination — Boston University president John Silber, Attorney General Frank Bellotti and Lieutenant Gov. Evelyn Murphy. Although Murphy ended up withdrawing, Silber beat Bellotti in a closely fought race. Silber, in turn, was defeated by former federal prosecutor Bill Weld, who won the Republican nomination by beating House Republican leader Steve Pierce.

More recently, in 2006, a relatively unknown former Justice Department official, Deval Patrick, won the Democratic primary for governor with less than 50% of the vote against businessman Chris Gabrieli and Attorney General Tom Reilly. That November, Patrick defeated Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey and several independent candidates, the most prominent of whom was the late businessman Christy Mihos.

So how did Healey end up running unopposed for the Democratic nomination? There are some unique factors at play. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker took his time in announcing he wouldn’t seek another term, which gave a significant advantage to the well-known, well-funded Healey. Former Boston Mayor Marty Walsh decided he’d rather stay in Washington than run for governor.

I worry, though, that we’re all losing interest in politics. Healey is first-rate, smart, personable and progressive. After her, though, who? U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley? Boston Mayor Michelle Wu? Maybe. Both are at a relatively early stage of their political careers — especially Wu — so perhaps we just have to give it time.

As for the Republicans, who have produced a slew of governors over the years to act as a moderating force against the dominant Democrats, the situation is sad indeed. Two Republicans are running for governor this year. One, state Rep. Geoff Diehl, is a full-blown Trumper. The other, businessman Chris Doughty, is trying to position himself as a Baker-style moderate — but he opposes abortion rights and has taken stands that suggest he supporters deeper tax cuts than Baker would support.

For those of us who’ve been following Massachusetts politics for years, it’s a dispiriting time. I hope it’s just temporary.