Massachusetts' Weld Could Emerge As a Strong Voice for Republicans

BAY State Gov. William Weld, recognized nationally as a popular moderate Republican leader, faces uncertain political times as he looks toward the next two years of his first term.

Republican losses in state elections last week mean Governor Weld will have a tougher time getting his agenda pushed through Massachusetts' Democratic-controlled legislature. Specifically, Weld lost his veto power in the 40-member state Senate after the loss of six Republican seats last week.

On the national level, Weld is perceived as a young, up-and-coming leader in the emerging moderate wing of the Republican Party. After the defeat of President Bush and allies of the religious right, Weld and other moderates could gain presence in the national GOP.

Others often mentioned as moderate Republican leaders include California Gov. Pete Wilson, Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar, Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson, and Michigan Gov. John Engler.

"I think [Weld] is going to be on the cutting edge with other governors like Pete Wilson of California who are essentially going to be the new faces of the Republican Party," says Massachusetts state Sen. Lucile Hicks (R).

But the next two years could be more difficult for the Bay State governor at home. With no power base in the state Senate, Weld may face a tough second half of his four-year term. Only nine GOP senators will remain in January, not enough for the 14 votes necessary to uphold a veto in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Democrats wield control of the state House of Representative by a wide margin over Republicans.

"[Weld] has two basic options," says Todd Domke, a Republican political consultant. "One is to compromise and work cooperatively with Democrats who have a different agenda than his. Or, he can go over their heads to the electorate through news coverage and in trying to apply the pressure of public opinion."

But the region's sagging economy and President-elect Clinton's big victory in the Bay State have hurt state Republicans, says Steve Grossman, chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party. He says Weld and the state GOP did not do enough campaigning this year.

The state Democratic Party hopes to take the upper hand in three key areas next year: education reform, campaign finance reform, and state legislative redistricting, Mr. Grossman says.

"Everything we do has to go through the filter of fiscal responsibility," he says. "It will require saying `no' more often than we like in order that we don't upset the fragile balance that we've seen in the last couple of years."

Weld's initiatives have kept in line that fiscal philosophy. Through his veto power, he has blocked efforts to raise taxes. Weld has also slimmed down government programs, initiated a repeal of a state service tax, and kept the budget balanced.

But Weld has remained moderate on other issues; he is pro-choice, supports gay rights, and has shown a strong commitment to the environment. Some Republicans see Weld leading a "big tent" party philosophy where centrist and moderate social views, such as abortion rights, will be included in the party ideology.

But Weld's strength in his home state will determine how he does on the national level.

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