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Democratic Party leader Matt Barron leaves party over neglect of rural areas

  • MATT BARRON MATT BARRON



For the Gazette
Thursday, February 16, 2017

CHESTERFIELD — A prominent member of the state Democratic Party for four decades has resigned and left the party due to what he says is the party’s blatant failure to address rural concerns.

Williamsburg resident Matt Barron, who has been a Democratic Party member for 41 years, including the last 18 years as chairman of the Chesterfield Democratic Town Committee, said the inaction by Democratic leadership in Boston toward smaller communities is concerning to him.

“I did this after nine years of growing frustration at the inability of the party to compete for rural and white working class voters,” Barron said. “The results of the Nov. 8 election really drove this situation home to the entire nation.”

Barron said he has been extremely frustrated with the Democratic leadership in Boston consistently taking the western part of the state for granted, and he says this has led to a growing loss of support for the party in rural areas.

“Boston looks to western Mass and sees these sapphire blue towns that they think are so loyal and Democratic, but there is a lot of dry rot here,” Barron said, adding that in the commonwealth, the predominantly blue state is looking more like “Swiss cheese” in the rural areas, with pockets of Republican support taking hold.

Messages left for Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, and Augustus Bickford, Massachusetts Democratic Party chairman, were not returned Thursday.

Democrats invisible

Barron also noted the Berkshire, Hampshire and Franklin Senate district ranks first in the number of towns without a recognized and legal Democratic Town Committee, with more than a third of the 52 communities missing a local committee.

“This sends a loud and clear signal that rural Democrats are invisible to the Massachusetts Democratic Party leadership,” Barron said.

According to Barron, the absence of a concerted effort to build comprehensive grassroots strategies in rural areas has left him both confounded and extremely disappointed.

“Any farmer will tell you that trying to harvest a crop without applying any nutrients to the soil is a fool’s errand,” he said. “In politics, failure to extend any care and feeding to the grassroots results in poor harvests of votes.”

This problem, he says, is not confined to Massachusetts. Across the country, a lack of basic rural electoral infrastructure for Democrats is giving Republicans a foothold in rural regions that had previously been Democratic.

“Trump was able to turn out the rural white working class vote that hasn’t been done since 1984,” he said. “But there is still no sense of urgency in the Democratic Party to embrace the ideas that will make them more competitive in rural America.”

Democrats, he argues, cannot expect to be a viable national party if they only hold predominantly urban turf.

To be more competitive in rural areas and produce the margin of victory that Democrats need in their elections, Barron says the party must employ a “hyper-local comprehensive rural strategy” that actually reaches rural constituents and effectively addresses rural issues. Those include rural health care, roads, bridges and access to broadband.

“You have to go to the county fairs and talk to people about these things,” Barron said, emphasizing that the reliance on the internet and social media is not a good strategy for rural America.

Barron noted that when politicians say “go to my website for information or assistance,” it does two things. First, it prevents many rural voters from getting that information as they have no internet access. Secondly, it reveals a complete lack of understanding of one of the biggest issues in rural areas today — the unavailability of broadband.

Social media strategy bust

For further evidence that the social media strategy is missing rural voters, Barron noted that on Election Day, the “Rural for Hillary” Twitter page had a total of only 783 followers.

“There is a lot that we can do, but the party needs to understand how far their money would stretch if they just put some into rural America,” he said.

According to Barron, things like targeting rural radio and newspapers must be part of the strategy.

“In rural America, it is less than $10 for a 60-second radio ad. That is like the price of lunch,” he said. “They need to understand how cheap and cost-effective it is to reach rural people where they live.”

In addition to venturing out into the country and talking directly to constituents, Barron says rural areas need increased representation in government.

During his time on the Chesterfield Democratic Town Committee, Barron organized other Democratic committees in towns where they either had never existed or had not existed for many years, including in Ashfield, Chester, Conway, Cummington, Goshen, Huntington, Plainfield, Savoy, Westhampton, Williamsburg and Windsor.

In 2014, he authored a proposal to create a Rural Subcommittee for the Massachusetts Democratic Party.

Now Barron, who owns his own political consulting practice, says he will work with U.S. Senate candidates and incumbents to illuminate the amount of work they have done in rural areas and to help them strategize proactive rural campaigns.

“I’m in the process of preparing proposals for Democratic senators that are up for re-election in 2018 who are very strong advocates for rural America,” Barron said.