State Sen. Bruce Tarr was elected Senate minority leader earlier this month, but he might as well have earned another title — lone juror.
Tarr leads a caucus of just four Republicans in the 40-member Senate, making him, more often than not, the dominant voice of the losing side.
On most party-line votes in the Senate this session, he will likely rise in opposition, passionately lay out his party's views, then sit down and watch them be defeated at the hands of the outnumbering Democrats.
"When you're in the minority party, every day when you walk in this building, you know you're never going to win on an issue based on the sheer force of brute numbers," said Tarr, whose district includes Ipswich, Hamilton, Wenham, Middleton and Boxford.
"It's just never going to happen. So you know every day you come in you have to make compelling arguments, you have to know the rules, you have to build coalitions and you have to be willing to stand on principle when that's called for."
Tarr is about two weeks into his new leadership post, which brings with it a roomier office, a $22,000 stipend and greater media exposure (in the last month, he's been booked on both New England Cable News and Fox 25, as well as talk radio).
But Tarr must also find a way to work successfully with Democratic leaders if his party is to have any chance of advancing its ideas this session. He also faces the daunting task of helping rebuild a state party that failed to make the kinds of pickups that Republicans across the country celebrated last fall.
Moments after being sworn in for a ninth term as state senator, Tarr joked that the Senate's four lone Republicans are nimble enough to hold their meetings "in a phone booth, an SUV or even a fuel-efficient subcompact."
Though it's small in numbers, Tarr insists his party can still have an impact on Beacon Hill.
For an example, he points to the state's beleaguered Parole Board.
Only hours after Gov. Deval Patrick was sworn into a second term two weeks ago, Tarr quarterbacked a press conference with state senators from both parties calling for an immediate moratorium on Parole Board hearings in the wake of the fatal shooting of a Woburn police officer.
That may have turned up the pressure on Patrick, who favored waiting until the completion of a review into the release of the officer's alleged killer, Dominic Cinelli. Last week, with the review completed, Patrick announced a series of shake-ups to Parole, including the resignations of the five board members who signed off on Cinelli's release.
"I'll leave it to the governor to say what impact it had," Tarr said. "But I think anytime you have a group of 20 legislators in a bipartisan fashion making a request, it can't help but have a significant impact."
Tarr insists Republicans won't merely obstruct Democratic proposals; they will present their own alternatives.
"To us, it's important to not just stand on the floor and say, 'The cost of health care is too expensive,'" Tarr said. "That's certainly true, but we also want to be able to say, 'Here are the things we can do to attack that cost.'"
While Republicans doubled their numbers in the House during the fall elections, they failed to win a single state-wide race, even during an election year plagued by an economic downturn, high unemployment and a steady stream of controversy, from the patronage-laden Probation Department to the wrongdoings of state legislators themselves.
As one of the top Republicans in the state, Tarr now bears a share of the responsibility for rebuilding the party.
"We have to work harder in having (voters) understand our ideas and the positive things we're putting on the table," Tarr said. "... There's no substitute — no substitute — for hard work and reaching out and connecting with the people of the commonwealth. Good ideas by themselves won't do it. The notorious failings of others won't do it. The glue that connects that effort is the work and commitment of the individuals in our caucus and the folks that support us."
Tarr, who just turned 47, has been in the state Legislature since 1991, but would not speculate on any future plans for higher office.
"In politics, you never say never," Tarr said. "From time to time, we all think about things of that nature, but I bridle those thoughts because there's a lot of work to be done, and right now I need to be focused. Right now, my focus will remain on the task at hand and the people I represent."
Staff writer Chris Cassidy can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ChrisCassidy_SN.