BOSTON — Charlie Baker’s victory Tuesday means Republicans will return to the governor’s office for the first time in nearly a decade, but the turnover at the Statehouse also could raise the status of the Legislature’s GOP minority, which has struggled for years in the shadow of Democratic leadership.
While they remain a minority, Republicans picked up two seats in the state Senate — Ryan Fattman of Webster and Vinny DeMacedo of Plymouth — and now hold six of 40 seats. They also added six new members in the House of Representatives, expanding their presence to 34 of 160 seats.
In Greater Newburyport, Republican James Kelcourse has won a House seat representing Newburyport, Amesbury and Salisbury, by an 11-vote margin over Democrat Ed Cameron. Cameron may seek a recount.
Baker’s win means GOP influence is sure to spread even beyond its pickup of seats — especially over the budget and legislative agenda.
“There’s another Republican at the table, so that changes the conversation considerably,” said Sen. Bruce Tarr, of Gloucester, the Senate minority leader who won an 11th term on Tuesday. “It gives us a strong partner in the governor’s office and means that some of the agenda items we’ve had in the past will have a powerful ally.”
Tarr said Baker knows his way around the Statehouse, with experience working with a Democratic-controlled Legislature. Baker previously served in the administrations of former Republican governors Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci.
“He understands that we need to build coalitions and achieve consensus,” said Tarr. “I don’t think Beacon Hill is going to become more polarized under Gov. Baker. I think in some ways you’ll see a much more collaborative effort.”
House Minority Leader Bradley Jones Jr., R-North Reading, said the Republican governor will help the party advance its agenda, from lowering taxes and improving the state’s business climate to increasing municipal aid.
Jones said the House’s Republican caucus supported many of Baker’s campaign proposals and will meet with the governor-elect to discuss a legislative agenda for the next two-year session, which gets underway in January.
“There are a lot of topics for discussion and a lot of decisions to be made in coming months,” Jones said.
Still, Republicans fell short of winning more than one-third of the seats in the House and Senate needed to block veto overrides by Democrats. That could frustrate Baker’s agenda.
Democratic Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, the incoming Senate president, issued a statement after Tuesday’s election saying he looked forward to working with the new governor, recalling Baker’s time as the state’s budget chief.
“I strongly believe that together we will continue this commitment to reaching across the aisle and finding common ground upon which to build consensus and ensure a responsive and accountable government,” he said.
Maurice Cunningham, an associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, said unlike when Republican Gov. Bill Weld took office in 1990, the GOP has less clout in the Legislature. He expects Baker to set the Republican agenda for the next four years, and GOP lawmakers to follow suit.
“There will be some give and take with lawmakers, but generally the governor is going to control the agenda,” Cunningham said. “Overall, I don’t think there will be too much gridlock because they have ways to work together.”
State Rep. Ted Speliotis, a Danvers Democrat and one of the longest serving lawmakers in the House, said he is looking to Baker to come up with alternatives to the state’s policy of housing homeless families in hotels and motels.
Danvers is one of the largest recipients of homeless — with roughly 8 percent of an estimated 1,600 families — and its residents have packed Town Meeting to complain about the burden on local schools and services.
On the campaign trail, Baker said he wants to reduce the number of homeless families staying in hotels to zero in his first year. He has floated several proposals aimed at moving them into permanent housing.
“We need to end that program, and I’m confident that we’ll reach consensus on that issue,” Speliotis said.
Nationwide, Republicans made major gains in the statehouses on Tuesday.
The GOP now controls 66 of 99 state legislative chambers, and the number of states controlled by Democratic legislative majorities has dropped from 14 to seven — the lowest number in a century, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures. Twenty-four states now have a Republican governor and legislative majority.
That’s not the case in Massachusetts, where the Legislature has been largely dominated by Democrats since the 1950s, even though the state has elected several Republican governors.
Tarr said despite the GOP’s small footprint in the Legislature, Baker will amplify the Republican legislative agenda, which has been largely marginalized under Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick.
“There’s a whole host of things that we’ve been trying to advance, and some have gained more traction than others over the years,” he said. “But I think the conversation begins again in January, when Charlie takes over.”
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts State House. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter: @cmwade1969.