Sunday, October 31, 2010

A case for Charlie Baker

I wouldn't presume to make "THE" case for Charlie - he's more than done that himself.

The argument below is excerpted from a longer piece that appears today in the MetroWest Daily News.  It's quite familiar to the thumbnail pitch I made for him way back in the beginning of July 2009 - which is of course no coincidence.  Charlie is not one of those candidates who "evolve" over the course of a campaign, changing focus and bending positions to accommodate a fickle electorate and media.  His closing argument is the same as his opening one.
When Charlie Baker first entered the gubernatorial race last year, he focused on three leading issues: jobs, taxes and government spending. Ask Charlie Baker today what this race is about and he will tell you: jobs, taxes, and government spending.
Given the amount of effort and money spent by Baker's opponents to change the subject, his focus is remarkable. Of course it helps that Baker's issues are also in the forefront of voters' minds.
For all the blame assigned by the incumbent Governor to the "global economic crisis," the seeds of our own budget problems here in Massachusetts were planted locally, at the nexus of excessive taxation, runaway spending, and the impact of both on jobs and the economy. As Baker notes frequently, the operating model of state government is broken and the Patrick Administration has failed to fix it. Consequently, the Commonwealth is staring at an estimated $2.5 billion structural budget deficit.
Baker is uniquely qualified to take the reins of government at this crucial time. His resume reads like a deliberate amalgam of ideal experiences for a state chief executive: high-level, substantive roles in both state and local government, combined with an enormously impressive track record in the private sector, where as CEO Baker took Harvard Pilgrim from the brink of bankruptcy to the highest ranked health plan in the nation.
If the past four years have taught us anything, it is that in a time of uncertainty and crisis Massachusetts needs a competent and decisive CEO, not a motivational speaker...
We are fortunate that a candidate with Charlie Baker's unparalleled experience, leadership ability and political courage has stepped forward and requested the opportunity to tackle the Commonwealth's vexing economic problems. Baker will reduce spending, reform government and spur job creation - without reaching again for our wallets.
The whole thing is here.

Meanwhile, my daughter makes the case her own way - emphatically.

Charlie Baker is exactly what the Commonwealth needs.  He is going to be a fantastic Governor.  Get out there on Tuesday and vote for Charlie Baker.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Under Governor Patrick, state government is POSITIVELY a mess

It's been an interesting final week in the Massachusetts gubernatorial campaign.  The issues that have dominated the discussion and the news coverage - jobs, taxes, spending, government excess - are exactly the issues that Charlie Baker has been campaigning on relentlessly since day one of his campaign a year and a half ago.  Today, it's welfare

Do you think any of these are the things Deval Patrick wanted to be talking about, with his record of massive job losses, eight tax increases, $3 billion in increased spending and a huge, looming budget deficit?  Not likely.

So what does Governor Patrick, the guy who claims to be so proud of his record of over four years, choose as his closing argument to the voters?  Here's the Herald this morning: "Patrick’s campaign is trying to turn Baker’s anger against him, with a new ad accusing him of having a negative attitude."

And right there you have this whole campaign in a nutshell.  While Charlie Baker has been talking all the way through in frank terms about the many vexing problems facing our state in tough times, and rolling out proposal after detailed proposal to deal with them, Governor Patrick - who is responsible for some of those problems and has merely ignored others - has been stubbornly refusing to discuss his plans to fix those problems and trying his level best to turn the election into a personality contest.

Baker has "a negative attitude."  Ponder that for a second.  I have never really been able to grasp that as a free-standing criticism.  The Commonwealth's many jobs, tax and spending-related troubles are not "positive" issues.  They are not the stuff of casual jokes, back-slaps and broad grins.  Since he started raising taxes and draining the rainy day fund fully a year before the start of the economic downturn, the Massachusetts economy under Deval Patrick's stewardship has taken a decidedly negative turn.  Despite Patrick's 'mending and moving' mantra, a healthy majority of the voters consistently tell pollsters that Massachusetts is moving in the wrong direction - a negative assessment.  Charlie Baker is simply reflecting the predominant feeling out there among the voters.

And of course Baker's is a positive agenda.  Reducing taxes, cutting the size of government and its spending, reforming the runaway pension system, getting people back to work.  These are all very, very "positive" imperatives.  Baker talks about these ambitions forcefully, often with some heat.  That isn't negativity - it is an outward manifestation of his passion and will to tackle the tough issues that need to be tackled.

But if it will get Governor Patrick to start talking substantively about the issues, perhaps Baker could tweak his message just a little bit.  Might I suggest: "Under Governor Patrick, state government is POSITIVELY a mess." 

That work for you, Patrick people?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Governor Patrick on taxes - through the years (and two new dead-heat polls!)

I dunno.  Maybe Patrick deserves points for consistency, in a way.  When it comes to taxes, he's been consistently full of it.

Two new independent polls showing a dead heat, by the way.

State House News (subscription only) has the race at 40-37, with majority saying Commonwealth is on the wrong track, and majority disapproving of Patrick's job approval.

Rasmussen puts the race "closer than it has been all year," 46-44, with Charlie Baker surging.

The RGA's closing ad is a fun one too...

RGA TV Ad: Massachusetts - Deval Patrick "Satisfied" from Republican Governors Association on Vimeo.

Get out and vote!

Deval Patrick and Ameriquest - this was not "vetted" last time

Ah, so late in the game.

Rumors have been floating around for months that a forthcoming book on the central role played by Ameriquest in the sub-prime mortgage scandal would shine a less than flattering light on the role played by then-private-citizen Deval Patrick as a member of the five-member Ameriquest board.

Well, the book came out this week. Titled The Monster - How a Gang of Predatory Lenders and Wall Street Bankers Fleeced America - and Spawned a Global Crisis, by investigative journalist Michael Hudson, it arrives basically as rumored- not that more than a handful of voters will have a chance to know that before casting their ballots four days from now.

The Boston Herald gives the book a review today in its business section, under the headline "Deval Patrick's mortgage 'Monster' - New book ties Governor to economic collapse."  Two weeks ago the story might have made some waves.  Four days from voting, though, it is likely to get lost in the pre-election shuffle.  Here's the core of the Herald article:
“The Monster: How a Gang of Predatory Lenders and Wall Street Bankers Fleeced America - And Spawned a Global Crisis,” by reporter Michael Hudson, chronicles how former Ameriquest owner Roland Arnall led a cocaine-fueled boiler room culture of predatory lenders who helped create the subprime mortgage crisis that caused the Great Recession.
As a Justice Department lawyer, Patrick first met Arnall while investigating his company. The book said the $4 million penalty that Patrick exacted allowed Arnall to use $1 million of the money to pay off interest groups and, according to author Hudson, Arnall and his company “came out smelling pretty well.”
The future Bay State governor was quickly won over by the cunning billionaire, according to the book. Patrick eventually landed a very lucrative spot on the board of Ameriquest’s parent company and later backed Arnall for an ambassadorship.
Leave aside the unavoidable questions that ought to be asked of a Justice Department lawyer who first heads up an investigation of a predatory lending company, and later makes millions serving on its board.  Such an arrangement would never fly were the candidate in question less beloved of the Fourth Estate.  The real issue here - or what would be the real issue, were the book released with some simmer time prior to election day - is this: Patrick claimed in 2006 that he joined Ameriquest's board to help reform the company, and told the Globe that " the company is using the [charges of predatory lending] as an opportunity to raise the bar for the entire industry." 

To say things didn't quite work out that way would be an epic understatement.  As it turned out, Ameriquest sold over $45 billion in sub-prime loans to Lehman Brothers and other Wall Street firms, contributing directly to Lehman's collapse and, shortly thereafter, the housing bubble explosion that took down the economy. 

Team Patrick's reaction to all of this is predictable and understandable.  As reported in the Herald, Patrick's campaign spokesman dismisses the book, saying it does not "raise any issues that were not vetted and addressed when the governor ran in 2006."  That is manifestly untrue, but for Patrick campaign purposes four days before the election the evasion will more than suffice.

I fully realize that at this point, this post is little more than a ventilation by a Baker supporter who has been continually frustrated by the persistent exaggerations, misrepresentations and outright untruths propagated for a year and a half about Charlie Baker's supposed role in the Big Dig.  Ameriquest, the melt-down, Patrick's role in any or all of it... all of this is far too complicated to be digested and analyzed before Tuesday.  But if you've read this far, I'll leave you with this final, poignant irony:

"The Monster" is, to date, the definitive account of Ameriquest's role in the global financial meltdown - "the book" on the sub-prime mortgage scandal, in other words.  Even though it deals with a subject of truly immense breadth and scope, "The Monster" mentions Deval Patrick a dozen times.

Conversely, "the book" on the Big Dig (written by former Patrick Transpo Secretary Jim Aloisi) mentions Charlie Baker exactly... zero times.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Globe endorses... a return to recession

The Boston Globe this morning endorsed Deval Patrick for a second term.  As far as newsflashes go, this one is right up there with "dog chases car," Favre announces retirement," or "Favre announces un-retirement."  On a predictability scale of 1 to 10, this one goes to 11.

But the Globe did manage to print something truly newsworthy today, buried in the body of its otherwise predictable endorsement.  In the midst of its praise of Patrick's "blended approach" to matters fiscal (which less spin-susceptible observers than the Globe recognize by its traditional name, "tax and spend"), the Globe drops this bombshell observation: "greater tax hikes would push the state back into recession."

Well congratulations, Globe.  You just endorsed a renewed recession.  

Yesterday Charlie Baker held a press conference at Fenway Park (which is featured in his latest ad), where he predicted that if Patrick is reelected, he will move to hike the income tax from 5.3 to 7 percent.  The assertion sent Patrick, Lt. Gov. Murray and their allies into high dudgeon, but Baker wasn't just throwing numbers at the wall.  His prediction is based on a common sense evaluation of the state's current economic situation, overlaid with Patrick's well-established history of tax hiking.  As Baker explained at his presser (reported by the State House News):
“To solve the $2 billion deficit the state faces next year without any reforms or restructuring to deal with the $2 billion problem the governor doesn’t acknowledge exists, you would have to raise the income tax from 5.3 to 7 percent,” Baker said. He added, “The governor hasn’t proposed anything, but what he has done over the past four years is raise taxes.”
The obvious and most effective response for the Patrick people would be to explain how the Governor plans to close the $2.5 billion hole he has blown in the state's operating budget without further increasing taxes.  Instead of doing that, Patrick's people again waved around their precious Big Dig memo, and trotted out Lt. Governor Murray to repeat the administration's standard line on the topic: "No plans to raise taxes"  - the same line Patrick used to fend off similar (accurate) predictions by Kerry Healey in 2006, eight tax hikes ago. 

Hit with a particularly pointed attack, Patrick goes with misdirection and evasion where a little bit of information would be much more effective.  This is a particularly curious response in light of the fact that the Governor will be required to file a balanced budget plan in less than sixty days.  Surely there is a rough draft kicking around somewhere.  And surely more than a few voters would find information about how Governor Patrick proposes to address that big ol' budget gap to be useful in finalizing their plans for next Tuesday.

Patrick's adamant refusal to provide any insight whatsoever into his budget plan strongly suggests that Baker is on to something; that once he is reelected Patrick will revert comfortably to form and return to his tax-hiking ways...

... which, according to the editors of the Globe, will "push the state back into recession."

Yet another reason to get to the polls Tuesday and cast a vote for Charlie Baker.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Baker wins final debate

I'm in the bag for Charlie and have been all along.  But Andy Hiller isn't.  Here's his "Instinct" about last night's final gubernatorial debate, in which Charlie Baker took the offensive and landed multiple hits on Governor Patrick concerning the topics most on the voters' minds this year: taxes, jobs and government spending.  Hiller's conclusion?
Governor Patrick is proud of the decisions his administration has made, and wants to stay the course, while Charlie Baker thinks Beacon Hill needs big changes right now, if not sooner.  It couldn't be much clearer.
Winner: Baker
If you missed it, then take some time between now and election day to watch the whole thing here (with thanks to the Patriot Ledger).  

My thoughts, in rough chronological order:

  • Moderator Charles Gibson's first question went subtly to the core deficiency of Governor Patrick's four years in office, comparing the "poetry of campaigning" to the "prose of governing."  Unfortunately, while Patrick continues to demonstrate his unrivaled prowess as a campaign poet, we didn't get much useful prose out of  his four years in the corner office.  With Patrick, the reality is better described as "poetry of campaigning" and "platitudes of governing."
  •  Patrick's signature fuzzy math was on unusually stark display during the initial exchange about jobs and the economy.  For Patrick, the latest jobs report showing record job losses in August and September are somehow good news.  Subtraction is addition.  The Governor's math flips, though, when it comes to spending.  Even though overall state spending is up three billion dollars under Patrick's watch, he insists - stridently - that his administration cut spending.  Addition is subtraction.  
  •  One of Patrick's worst moments came when Gibson pointed out the overall job losses under the Patrick Administration (roughly 100,000).  Ordinarily Patrick is savvy enough to start an answer to a question like this with an earnest expression of empathy for the jobless.  Off his game, Patrick reverted immediately to victim mode, blaming the "global economic meltdown" in a snippy retort to Gibson.  Truman had "The Buck Stops Here."  Patrick has "It's Not My Fault."  Pretty much the opposite of leadership.
  • Perhaps sensing that he'd made a mistake and appeared weak, Patrick quickly tried to salvage the moment, stating that the people want someone who will "step up" and "make tough decisions."  That is true, no doubt.  Unfortunately for Patrick, the voters have plenty of experience with Patrick's default "tough decision."  He raises taxes.
  • The round of softball questions toward the middle of the debate seemed to catch the candidates off guard - none more so than Dr. Stein, who was too flustered even to name her favorite actor, or what book she is currently reading. 
  • Perhaps because of the format, Patrick was mostly unable to simply plug excerpts of his stump speech into his responses, as he ordinarily does seamlessly in these things.  His few attempts to pull it off fell flat.  
  • Unsurprisingly, Patrick got creamed on illegal immigration.  Nobody outside of a Patrick rally crowd believes enforcement of the law creates a "climate of fear," as Patrick insists enforcement of immigration law would do.  Failure to enforce the law creates a climate of lawlessness.  Duh.  
  •  It took some cojones for the Governor to accuse Charlie Baker of "saying one thing and doing another."  A lot of people remember a certain candidate Patrick insisting that he had "no plans to raise taxes" back in 2006.  Eight tax hikes later, it seems Patrick is perfectly comfortable saying one thing and doing another.
  • Speaking of taxes, the best moment of the night comes toward the end, as a split screen captured an excellent and telling exchange between Baker and Patrick on taxes.  Baker pointed out, correctly, that Patrick's only response to the looming $2.5 billion structural budget gap is to deny its existence.  Patrick has put not a single proposal forward to deal with the problem.  Baker then concluded rationally that Patrick will again raise taxes.  Patrick reacted vehemently, snapping, "you've never heard me say that."  Charlie pointed out that at an event several weeks ago, Patrick said he's like to see enactment of a progressive income tax.  Patrick denied it.  "I was there Charlie.  I know what I said.  You weren't there."  Baker grinned.  "I've seen the video."  Patrick winced, hesitated (mentally cursed the creator of YouTube), then murmured, "it's a clip taken out of context."  Boom.  
 Patrick and Cahill scored a few hits on Baker early on, in an exchange about a 1998 memo that then-staffer Baker wrote to his boss, Governor Cellucci, as he (Baker) headed out the doors to the private sector.  Here Patrick is counting on the complexity of the issue (Big Dig spending in the context of overall state spending with an overlay of federal spending) and the natural hesitation in Baker's responses to questions about something he wrote 12 years ago (honestly - do you remember the details of what you were doing in 1998?) to create the impression that Baker has something to hide.  Baker handled the question and the ensuing attacks well.  His response makes sense and is intuitively correct: It is ludicrous for Patrick and his allies to insist that Baker's short-term involvement with the Big Dig over a decade ago is of paramount importance in the current race, when the Governor himself is busy denying the existence of a massive budget deficit that looms just over the horizon.  "I hope someone has sent you a memo about that," was Baker's retort to Patrick's attack.  Exactly right, but in all likelihood nobody has sent such a memo.  Patrick's staff is too busy cooking the books to make a $2.5 billion shortfall into a small "surplus" to spend any time conveying hard truths to the boss.

Overall, a lot of Patrick-friendly analysts will insist - as they always do - that Patrick "won" last night for not losing.  That isn't true this time.  Charlie Baker succeeded in repeatedly exposing the soft underbelly of Patrick's campaign: his insistence, contrary to all evidence,  that things are getting better; and his stubborn unwillingness to acknowledge - never mind address - the state's huge deficit, which is the single biggest problem that the next governor will face right out of the gate.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Isn't that special?

The State House News reports this morning that in the past three weeks alone, the Massachusetts Teachers Association has spent approximately a million bucks on ads "in support of" Governor Patrick:
The Massachusetts Teachers Association has backed Gov. Deval Patrick with $1 million in ads in the past three weeks, according to campaign finance records. The union spent $987,251 on a “media buy” on Oct. 14 in support of the governor, eight days after a separate web site and media buy worth $170,000, according to independent expenditure filings with the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance.
Anyone who has seen those ads (meaning anyone with a TV and a pulse) would have to agree that the union's effort would be more accurately described as concerted character assassination of Charlie Baker.

A million dollars in three weeks.  To raise enough money for that kind of spending on his own behalf, the Governor would have to squeeze maximum legal contributions out of two thousand individual donors.  Since Patrick has been heard to boast that the majority of his contributions come in increments of $50 or less, it bears pointing out that he'd need to collect twenty thousand such contributions to equal the amount of money spent on his behalf in less than a month  by one of the Commonwealth's most political and polarizing unions.  That's a lot of phone calls and rubber chicken those union bosses just spared our Governor.  And that's just one of the many unions lined up behind Patrick.  There are a lot of effects when a special interest group tosses out a million bucks worth of 'cause' - here's a timely reminder of just one of them, from a 2006 Patrick campaign operative who has jumped ship over the Governor's charter school machinations.

The next time Patrick brags about standing up to the unions, someone should ask how he managed that while  sitting in their pockets.

More endorsements for Charlie Baker - and a howler for Governor Patrick

Endorsements are rolling in for Charlie Baker from across the state.  Each is worth a read in full,  so click on the links. Some excerpts:

Lowell Sun: Charlie Baker is...
Baker didn't buy his title of CEO at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, he earned it. His leadership transformed a near-bankrupt company into a profitable one, and Harvard Pilgrim went on to be ranked the nation's best health-care plan for five consecutive years. Baker did it without a state or federal bailout. Still, the Patrick camp criticizes Baker's job-cutting decisions at Harvard Pilgrim, ignoring the fact that Baker's strong management and tough choices produced a more efficient and higher-quality enterprise for healthcare consumers.
Where has the Patrick administration achieved similar results even on a smaller scale? It hasn't...
Massachusetts desperately needs a champion like Charlie Baker in the corner office, not a charmer like Deval Patrick. Baker is The Sun's choice for governor on Nov. 2.
Sentinel & Enterprise: Charlie Baker for Governor
Sending Charlie Baker to the governor's office will help restore fiscal sanity to Beacon Hill and give taxpayers a chief executive who is looking out for them, not the special interests that depend on government's unchecked growth. Baker has common-sense ideas that will help the state and municipalities, including:
* Streamlining the onerous permitting process for companies wishing to do business here, and cutting corporate taxes to stimulate job growth. Baker knows that Massachusetts cannot keep watching college graduates leave the state for good jobs in other parts of the country.
* Proposing legislation allowing cities and towns to join the state's Group Insurance Commission without union approval.
* Implementing substantial reform that will address the $22 billion unfunded liability in the state pension system.
* Halting the unions' iron grip on state construction projects and public contracts.
* Demanding proof of legal residency for those receiving state benefits.
* Targeting welfare abuse, in which recipients have been able to purchase alcohol, tobacco and lottery tickets with their benefits.
* Ending the tax-and-spend culture on Beacon Hill.
On Nov. 2, the people of Massachusetts have a chance to put someone in the governor's office who understands that every nickel in the budget is not the state's money, it's the people's money. That person is Charlie Baker.
Worcester Telegram: Baker for Governor - Massachusetts Needs a Change of Direction
The time is right for Massachusetts voters to return a Republican to the governor’s office, restoring a measure of political balance to Beacon Hill by electing Charles Baker and his running mate, Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei. Mr. Baker’s business experience as CEO at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, along with his financial experience serving under Gov. William Weld and Gov. Paul Cellucci, have prepared him well for taking on the challenges facing this state in the next four years. He has laid out a detailed and persuasive blueprint for pressing for the fiscal discipline and deep structural reforms to the business of state government that have eluded Massachusetts for far too long.
Eagle Tribune: Baker will get Massachusetts growing again
Change starts with electing a governor who's not satisfied with doing things the way they've always been done, who knows that minor reforms are not enough.
Changing the entrenched political culture of Massachusetts starts with electing Charlie Baker as governor.
Of course these days an editorial endorsement is not worth the paper it is printed on if it does not make a compelling and honest case in support of the endorsed candidate.  Each of the pieces excerpted above passes that test.

In contrast, the Boston Phoenix's endorsement last week of Governor Patrick stands as an unintentionally hilarious example of the opposite extreme.  Of course it comes as no great shock that Boston's "alt weekly" paper (which I enjoy reading, by the way) endorsed Patrick - the only slight surprise, perhaps, is that the editors did not go all in and endorse Dr. Jill Stein.  But in striving to get beyond the Chris Matthews, "thrill going up my leg" standard of editorial sycophancy the Phoenix reached too far and unleashed what must be deemed a front-runner for howler-of-the-cycle honors:
When push has come to shove, Patrick has proven himself to be a steely-eyed budget manager.
Of course it goes without saying that the Phoenix's standard for "steely eyed" budget management likely encompasses anyone who falls to the austerity side of Dan Snyder, but come on.  Governor Patrick is many things: a great speaker, a loyal friend, a snappy dresser and accomplished interior decorator with refined taste in automobiles.   But a "steely-eyed budget manager"? 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Deval Patrick thinks you are stupid

Deval Patrick thinks you are stupid.  Really, really stupid.  This comes from the State House News Service yesterday evening:
Despite tax collection growth of only 1.5 percent and a huge lift from tax increases and one-time revenues, Patrick administration officials on Wednesday declared they finished fiscal 2010 with a $163 million surplus.

The fiscal 2010 budget, worth $27 billion when signed by Gov. Deval Patrick in June 2009, included more than $1 billion in new taxes and deep local aid cuts and was followed up with hundreds of millions of dollars in added spending through supplemental budgets.

In a statement laced with self-congratulatory comments about the administration's budget management, Administration and Finance Secretary Jay Gonzalez declared the surplus Wednesday, less than a week after Patrick signed a mini-budget that closed the books on fiscal 2010, which ended June 30.

Gonzalez said the administration would carry into fiscal 2011 $94 million of "unallocated reserves," fund Patrick's life sciences initiative at $10 million and deposit $9.4 million into the rainy day fund.

"These actions are made possible thanks to the Governor's responsible fiscal leadership and the spending controls he put in place actively managed," Gonzalez said. "These actions are also looked upon favorably by the financial community, which has continuously affirmed our responsible fiscal management through our credit ratings."...

The fiscal 2010 budget relied upon $2.5 billion in one-time revenues, mostly federal stimulus law funds, which along with the tax increases were not mentioned in the Gonzalez statement.
So after "balancing" the state budget using (a) huge draws from our savings account (the rainy day fund), (b) a winning lottery ticket (one-time federal stimulus funds), and (c) a pile of money pilfered from the our wallets (over a billion in tax hikes), Governor Patrick has the audacity to ask for your congratulations - and  your vote.

And that isn't the worst of it.  As the excerpt above notes, the self-congratulatory statement issued by Patrick's campaign spokesman - sorry, by his Secretary of Administration & Finance - neglects to mention the $2.5 billion (with a B!) in one-time funds used to arrive at the aforementioned "balance."  In more reality-based context, this is known as a "structural deficit" - a huge budget gap yawning before us next year, when the bills continue to come due and there are no longer any one-time revenues on which to fall back.  Brad Jones, as usual, hits it on the head (again from SHNS):
House Minority Leader Brad Jones called the News Service to complain that the administration's surplus claim ignored "huge structural deficits" in state government and the heavy use of one-time revenues that factored into the surplus calculation.

"I don't know anybody who has that many sets of rose-colored glasses to get from here to there," Jones said. "This victory lap is mind-numbing. When you raid your savings account, when you don't put that in there you try to create a false fiscal picture."
Governor Patrick will appear on a debate stage with Charlie Baker this evening in Springfield.  Tax dollars to doughnuts, before three minutes go by he will ask the moderator for a moment to "announce some good news."  Then, without the slightest hint of shame or any mention of that $2.5 billion hole in the road immediately ahead, Patrick will congratulate himself on achieving a "budget surplus." 

What Patrick will really mean is:
I think you are stupid, Voters.  Not "you sometimes have a hard time figuring a fifteen percent tip on the dinner check" stupid, mind you.  I mean, really, really head-slamming-into-the-wall stupid. "Follow the GPS when it tells you to turn left into a pond" stupid.  Don't let me down.
If there is another interpretation to be made of the ruse Patrick and his taxpayer-funded flacks are trying to pull here, I'd love to read it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Boston Herald endorses Charlie Baker

The first of the major newspaper endorsements in the Massachusetts gubernatorial contest is in, and it goes to Charlie Baker.

Long gone are the days when the mere fact of an endorsement - whether by a media outlet, a celebrity or another politician - could sway significant blocs of voters.  Of much more importance now is the quality of the argument set forth in support of the endorsement.  On that measure, the Herald's nod scores high.  Some choice excerpts:
This state desperately needs a new direction and the kind of innovative thinking that can save taxpayers money and deliver better services. It needs the kind of leadership that Charlie Baker can provide.
No novice to state government, Baker served the Weld administration first as secretary of Health and Human Services where he helped reform the state’s welfare system, and then as secretary of Administration and Finance, a post referred to as the “deputy governor.”
More than a decade ago he took over the then bankrupt Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and turned it around, building loyalty among its customers and health care providers.
Now Baker wants to turn around state government, changing the way its 100-plus agencies operate, eliminating duplication of services, cutting the payroll - all so that he can also cut taxes...
Baker is a strong supporter of real education reform and the role charter schools should play in it. He has pledged to have the state adopt the Secure Communities model that allows police to check on the immigration status of those arrested on criminal charges. And he wants to give cities and towns real powers to control their own health care costs.
He has the kind of sharp mind that sees simple answers to often complex questions...  When the fiscal crisis hit, it was an opportunity to make some long overdue tough decisions. That moment still exists. But only Charlie Baker has expressed the willingness to use the bully pulpit of the governor’s office to make those tough choices. He should be given that chance. The Herald is pleased to endorse his candidacy.
Read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A few reminders about the Patrick years - not just the early ones

Here we are (finally) in the home stretch run to Election Day 2010, and one of the many implausible memes running through media coverage of the Massachusetts gubernatorial race is the notion that Governor Patrick had a "rocky start" to his first term, but later "hit his stride."  The latest example appeared prominently in the Patrick profile/hagiography by the Globe's Frank Phillips that ran yesterday.

In evaluating the accuracy of the claim, though, it is useful to consider the timing of its initial appearance - way, way back in... September 2010.  Up until then, there wasn't much of a distinction to be drawn between Governor Patrick's early performance in office (the infamous Caddy and drapes kerfluffles, the Ameriquest phone call, the eve-of-indictment endorsement and robo-calls on behalf of corrupt Senator Diane Wilkerson), and his equally sorry performance in the second half of his term (his proposed gas tax hike (2009), his disastrous and ham-handed attempt to ensconce political supporter Marian Walsh in a six-figure patronage position (2009), the very public trials and tribulations of Patrick's hand-picked Secretary of Transportation Jim Aloisi - the real 'architect of the Big Dig' (2009)). 

Point is, the notion the Patrick-friendly press is currently peddling - that the Patrick years have been marked by steady improvement - is simply false.  He has been a mess all the way through.

Patrick came into office riding unrealistically high expectations.  He almost immediately disappointed; and he continued to disappoint throughout his term, making a lot of high profile political blunders and also less noticed but much more important policy mistakes.  Thirteen tax hikes proposed, eight enacted; repeated, destabilizing mid-year budget revisions; half-measure "reforms" in the Commonwealth's pension and transportation systems that allowed Patrick to check a couple of political boxes, but left the thorniest parts of those dense and costly thickets untouched.

There is no mystery underlying Governor Patrick's steady decline in the polls over the course of his term.  He has been an ineffective Governor, and was rationally judged as such.

Until... well, until he hit the campaign trail again.  That's when those "he's hit his stride!" columns and comments started popping up in the Globe and elsewhere.  But the "stride" Patrick has supposedly hit has nothing to do with competent or responsible governance; it is all about politics and campaigning.  Here's what I wrote last month, under the title "Campaigning and governing are not the same thing":
Unfortunately (or fortunately if you, like me, were never much a fan of either Deval Patrick), there's no way to elect Candidate Patrick.  A vote for inspiring Candidate Patrick gets you... four more years of feckless Governor Patrick.  The guy who abandoned Candidate Patrick's promise to reduce property taxes, and instead raised every tax he could get his hands on.  The drapes and Caddy guy, Beacon Hill patron to Marian Walsh and Jim Aloisi, late-career endorser of felon Diane Wilkerson.  The guy who can't seem to get a budget plan anywhere close to right, who increased the state workforce by thousands in his first year.  A guy whose "transportation reform" left the toll-takers in charge of the Pike, whose "ethics reform" by-passed the patronage culture that still controls Beacon Hill, and whose "pension reform" left intact a system that pays a state pension to a guy in jail for stealing from the state.

And due to term limits, the second four years sought by Candidate Patrick would come without even the promise of an eventual return of the version of Patrick that some voters seem to like!
Patrick's campaign down the stretch is all about resurrecting in a plurality of voters some minimally sufficient vestige of the irrational exuberance that propelled him into office four years ago.  The near-tent-revival atmospherics of Patrick's event with President Obama last Saturday is as good a measure as any of just how crucial Patrick's campaign believes it is to eclipse the reality of Governor Patrick with the showmanship of Candidate Patrick.

Meanwhile, the chattering class is giving Patrick's effort an assist by relentlessly characterizing Charlie Baker as "angry" - the overbearing bully to Patrick's sweet little kid in the back of the room, just minding his business and doing his best.  There may be some truth to that, at least outwardly.  Patrick is the Zen Master when it comes to floating serenely above the fray, while his party and union allies engage in gutter fighting with a ferocity and tenacity to rival anyone in the arena.  And Baker, a first-time candidate more accustomed to the no-nonsense business world than to the mostly-nonsense political one, openly acknowledges that he is frustrated - and yes, sometimes "angry" - with what he has seen from the Patrick administration, and with the manifest impacts of Patrick's policy decisions that Baker sees every day on the campaign trail .  It is a credit to Baker that he has been unwilling to cede to the armchair experts in the press and artificially moderate his tone.

Patrick exudes an artificial serenity, deliberately calculated to intoxicate the voters and make them forget, if only for a day, the many failings of his first term in office.  Baker's tone, in contrast, is genuine.  He is angry - but not with Candidate Patrick, that sweet, harmless little kid just doin' his best.  Baker is angry with Governor Patrick, and with what four years of Governor Patrick have meant to the Commonwealth.  Higher taxes.  Increased spending.  Busted budgets, three hundred thousand people out of work, steadily increasing property taxes, an out-of-control, abuse-riddled pension system.  On and on.

I think a lot of voters are pretty angry about that stuff too.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Well knock me over with a feather!

Turns out Tim Cahill really did illegally coordinate a million bucks in taxpayer funded lottery ads  to benefit his campaign for governor.  And gosh, it looks like his ridiculous lawsuit, and all his yammering about a vast, anti-Cahill conspiracy this week amounted to nothing more than a smokescreen intended to cover up that illegal activity, at least until after November 2.  Here's the AP:
Court documents released in the lawsuit filed by independent gubernatorial candidate Timothy Cahill appear to show a coordinated effort between Cahill’s campaign and the Massachusetts Lottery, which Cahill oversees as state treasurer.
Cahill accuses his ex-staffers of engineering the defection of his former running mate, who endorsed Republican Charles Baker. A judge Wednesday ordered three former aides to give statements about what they shared with Baker.
In related documents, copies of e-mails showed apparent coordination in the airing of government-paid television ads that laud the Lottery’s management under Cahill. In one, a Cahill pollster tells the former campaign manager to immediately get the Lottery to put out ads showing it to be the best in the country.
And here's the Globe:
The publicly funded ads are, by law, intended to promote the Lottery and not Cahill’s campaign. But the emails show Cahill’s campaign advisers discussing when the ads should run and what they should include.
“Get the Lottery immediately cutting a spot and get it up,” Cahill campaign adviser Dane Strother, wrote to four top campaign aides on July 27, according to emails released as part of a lawsuit Cahill filed against his former aides last week. “Needs to focus on the lottery being the best in the country and above reproach.”
Two days later, after receiving an email titled “how do we get the lottery ads ball rolling?” Scott Campbell, another Cahill top campaign aide, wrote to the campaign manager, Adam Meldrum, telling him, “I’ll check.”
“I think the first thing is to figure out what/when/where/how we want to do this… with Lottery people,” Campbell wrote.

The press is right now digesting the pile of emails the court ordered released today.  I've seen them.  They leave no doubt whatsoever that Cahill and his campaign did the deed, and that Cahill has been out on the stump lying about it all week (up to and including at a candidate forum this morning).

Next we'll find out he didn't really give a crap about that half-a-tomato.

Keep digging, Governor

On the day that Charlie Baker announced his campaign for governor over a year ago, the Massachusetts Democratic party uncorked its disingenuous 'Big Dig' attack in an effort to kill Charlie's effort at inception. Three weeks before Election  Day, anyone watching TV or reading online news sites knows that the Governor's argument has evolved not at all.  A huge portion of the Democrats' spending (both here in MA and from outside groups) is dedicated to beating into your head the utterly false proposition that Charlie Baker "ran" (or "managed" or "funded") the Big Dig.

The fundamental problem with the Big Dig attack on Charlie is and always has been that it overreaches wildly.  As Charlie has explained ad nauseum, as Secretary of Administration and Finance in the Weld Administration when the federal government cut back Big Dig funding, he developed a financing plan to cover the federal shortfall - which amounted to ten percent of the total project cost.  From those facts, Governor Patrick and his allies extrapolate the charge (in its most frequent, broadest and ugliest form) that Charlie "ran the Big Dig."

It is telling that so much time, money and energy has been devoted to the promulgation of a demonstrable falsehood.  That fact alone speaks volumes about Patrick's dearth of positive arguments in favor of his reelection, and to the Democrats' inability to develop persuasive arguments against Charlie that are grounded in truth rather than lies and wild exaggerations.

Now to my point: this morning I had the very enjoyable experience of sitting in the audience at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce's candidate forum.  When Patrick again tossed out his "Charlie ran the Big Dig" attack, the audience responded with audible moans, groans and hisses.

It must have been jarring for Patrick to realize that not only is the attack not working; it is starting to annoy people who have been paying attention to the race.

The best unintentionally hilarious line of the forum, by the way, came from Tim Cahill: "I don’t know any relation to snowcones, but this candidate is not melting before Nov. 2."

Also, a prediction: In his opening remarks, Chamber president Paul Guzzi noted the remarkable miner rescue currently happening in Chile, and commended this latest demonstration of humanity's determination to "never give in, never give up."  I have a sawbuck that says within 24 hours, Tim Cahill will have publicly likened himself to a Chilean miner.  Any takers?

UPDATE - Noon: I guess I gave Cahill too much (or too little?) credit by allowing 24 hours for him to come around to comparing his political self-immolation to the terrible plight of those trapped Chilean miners.  I'm told by a reliable source that  Cahill just made the comparison on Emily Rooney's program on WGBH, not four hours after Paul Guzzi put the idea in his self-aggrandizing head.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The opposite of self-aware

Treasurer Tim Cahill took a break from his slow motion train wreck of a gubernatorial campaign this morning to "talk pop culture events" on Mix 104.1's Karson & Kennedy show. 

Asked about Minnesota Viking's quarterback Brett Favre's recent struggles, the Treasurer had this to say:
I like Brett, but he should have retired.  When it's time, it's time, and Brett just doesn't understand when it's time.
 No, seriously.  I'm not kidding.  He really did.

Friday, October 8, 2010

At a loss for words

If there is one lesson I am going to take away from the Tim Cahill campaign for governor, it is this: preserve your adjectives.

Having run thorough: "crazy," "insane," "unhinged," "desperate," "loony," "off the rails," "pathetic," "transparent," "implausible," "incredible," "cynical," "shameless," "manipulative," "wacky," and "flailing" in writing about the earlier twists and turns Cahill has taken in his quest to transform himself from what he is (Beacon Hill Democrat pol) into what he wants the voters to see him as (independent "outsider"), I find my store of adjectives utterly exhausted.  My thesaurus lies in steaming tatters.

Contemplating Cahill's latest and greatest ploy to regain relevance (and apparently to keep the lid on evidence of possible illegalities in his campaign), I am forced to admit that I am literally at a loss for words.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Thursday morning miscellany

We're coming right down to it now - less than a month until Election Day (which falls on my birthday, by the way - you can give me a vote for Charlie Baker).  A few quick thoughts on the news of the day:

Maybe she lost track of the numbers?  According to a story in today's Globe, Suzanne Bump, the Democrat asking voters to put her in charge of the Commonwealth's books auditor, apparently has had a little bit of trouble keeping track of her own finances:
Suzanne M. Bump, the Democratic nominee for state auditor, considers the Berkshire town of Great Barrington her home. She and her husband vote and register their cars there. It is the address she lists on the Nov. 2 ballot.  Because of that, she receives a benefit: exemption from paying a personal property tax levied on homeowners who are not full-time residents.
But Bump and her husband, Paul F. McDevitt, have saved more than $6,000 in Boston property taxes since 2006 by reporting that a condominium they own in South Boston is their principal residence, according to tax and property records examined by the Globe.
Bump is an attorney, and she is adamant that there's nothing wrong with what she has done.  The Department of Revenue disagrees (Globe again): "'A taxpayer can only have one principal or primary residence for property tax purposes,' spokesman Robert Bliss said after conferring with Revenue Department tax specialists. 'You cannot take a property tax break in two different communities.'"

Call me crazy, but it seems to me one does not have to be either a lawyer or a spokesman for the Revenue Department to know that claiming two "primary" residences, and pocketing tax breaks on each, fails the smell test.

Bump's opponent, Mary Connaughton, understandably stresses that she - unlike Bump - is a CPA.  Bump just underlined, highlighted and italicized why, given the choice, voters ought to go with someone who has the credentials to do the below-the-radar but important job of Auditor.

Vote for me!  I'm a mess!  Tim Cahill's new argument to the voters seems to be something like this: 'the fact that all my closest campaign staff and advisers are abandoning me just proves I'm an outsider.'  So in essence Cahill is arguing that voters should support him because his campaign has completely fallen to pieces.  I've always thought Cahill's election year transformation from Beacon Hill Democratic pol to 'independent outsider' was an insult to the voters' intelligence, but with this latest gambit the Treasurer has outdone himself.

The hills are alive with the sound of... blergh During a recent forum/debate between the gubernatorial candidates, the four participants were asked their favorite film.  Governor Patrick reportedly named The Sound of Music.  Seriously.

Apparently the Governor has been reading the papers and noticing that the chattering class in this town is all abuzz of late about Charlie Baker's "anger," and the contrast with Patrick's patented cool, gentlemanly demeanor.  Okay, fine.  Patrick can be expected to play that up.  In his latest couple of campaign ads, the Governor's voice is so soft and measured he sounds like a kindly old grandmother soothing her cat.  But The Sound of Music??  What's next?  Is the Governor going to start appearing in public cuddling a Care Bear?

Personally, I do not get the sense that voters who do not make a living writing for an opinion page are much bothered by Charlie Baker's anger.  He is angry about the right things.  Taxes.  Spending.  The state bailing on the MCAS.  The different set of rules that appears to apply to Beacon Hill.  The voters are angry about those things too.

Just words?  Just words?  On a more serious note, Governor Patrick yesterday told an audience on the North Shore that "Personally," he'd "like to see a progressive income tax and not a flat income tax."  By "progressive income tax," Patrick means a tax system under which the government would decide, based on your income, what percentage of your take-home should be redirected into the state's coffers.  If that sends a chill up your spine, you aren't alone even in Massachusetts.  In 1994, given the chance to vote on such a plan, the Commonwealth's voters defeated it overwhelmingly, 70 percent to 30 percent.  As for Patrick, he assured reporters asking the obvious follow-up questions that he was just talking off the cuff, and has "no plans" to pursue a progressive income tax.  No plans.  Hmmmm.  I feel like I've heard that somewhere before.  Oh, yeah:

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

You do the math

So the Massachusetts political dust-up of the day today concerns taxes - specifically, whether reelecting Governor Patrick means additional tax increases on top of the thirteen he supported in his first term (eight of which were implemented).

Governor Deval Patrick issued a sharp response today to comments by Senate minority leader Richard Tisei, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, that Tisei was hearing talk of a possible tax increase after the election.
"Republican electioneering on Beacon Hill has reached a new low," Patrick, the incumbent Democrat who is in a tight reelection race, said in a statement. He charged Tisei with making "baseless insinuations" that were "both ridiculous and irresponsible."
Senate Republicans have said they will block action on a $430 million supplemental budget. Tisei told the Associated Press he was concerned the state's true financial condition was being concealed until after the Nov. 2 general election.
Let's step back for a moment and consider the context of the Governor's indignation.
  1. The Commonwealth is facing a budget gap of somewhere around $2 billion next year. 
  2. Governor Patrick has been telling us for months now (years, really) that his administration has cut "the fat" out of state government, and that further cuts will go "into the bone" of essential services.
  3. Governor Patrick brushes off the many cost-saving reform proposals that have been proposed by Charlie Baker, either claiming disingenuously to have already enacted them (pension reform) or carefully side-stepping in deference to the public employee unions (municipal health plan design).
  4. Governor Patrick routinely boasts about the "blended approach" that his administration has taken to handling the recession-era state budget, acknowledging that this "blended approach" has included some "revenue measures" (which is Patrickspeak for "tax hikes"). 
  5. Governor Patrick told voters in 2006 that he had "no plans to raise taxes."  Following his election, his "plans" quickly changed.  Over the past four years, Patrick has proposed, supported and/or signed increases in taxes on businesses and individuals; taxes on everything from a six pack of beer to a new jacket to cable television service.  Thirteen of them proposed, eight of them passed - totaling somewhere in the neighborhood of  $2 billion sucked out of the economy and into Beacon Hill's gaping maw.  Last month, Patrick again told voters he has "no plans to raise taxes."  And finally
  6. Governor Patrick has repeatedly refused to commit to voters not to raise their taxes further if he is reelected.
Patrick recently told a debate audience that he does not "see the budget as a math problem."  But the math here isn't hard.  Governor Patrick believes he has cut everything that can be cut in state spending.  He has resorted to tax increases in the past, and is proud of doing so.  And he is deliberately cagey on the question of future tax hikes.  One way or another, though, the next Governor is going to have to close that $2 billion budget gap.

Given all of that, Senator Tisei's comments about rumors of a planned post-election tax hike on Massachusetts residents seem less "a new low" than a simple statement of the obvious:

1 Governor Patrick + 4 more years = higher taxes

For his part, Charlie Baker appeared today with Barbara Andersen of Citizens for Limited Taxation to again reiterate his oft-stated pledge not to raise taxes if he is elected. 

There is a choice next month, and it is a real one.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Tim Cahill - now again as ever he was

Watching Tim Cahill over the past few days, I'm reminded of the uncomfortable feeling of vicarious embarrassment that I used to get when watching Seinfeld - the cringing, "George Costanza coming out of the bathroom with his shirt off" sensation that renders me just barely able to continue watching.

At least half a dozen times since the latest and most shocking in a series of Cahill campaign evacuations came yesterday, followed quickly by Cahill's bizarre "Winston Churchill is my running mate" press conference, I've been asked "what in God's name is he thinking?"  In the short term I don't think there's any real mystery to Cahill's knee-jerk, "you bastards ain't gettin' ridda me" reaction to all of the ship-jumping.  He's pissed.  The people who were supposed to be helping him get elected keep kicking him in the giblets and heading for the door, and Cahill is quite understandably ticked off.  Very human.

Perhaps as importantly, for the first time since polls started showing him in the single digits, the press is paying attention to Tim Cahill.  A lot of attention.  For at least a few days he'll have a constant scrum following him around, a captive audience for his new, cliche-ridden, Rocky/Rudy/Miracle on Ice stump speech.  Perched at the center of his own tiny political universe, Cahill can be forgiven for failing to recognize that the press is paying attention to him not in the way they attend to Charlie Baker and Deval Patrick, but rather in much the same way that they occasionally pay attention to that odd fellow who runs around Manhattan playing guitar in a pair of tighty whities and a cowboy hat. 

So there's no great mystery to why Cahill is stubbornly denying stark reality and staying in the race, at least for now.  As to the parallel but slightly different question - how is he staying in the race? - that one is even easier.  Cahill has a lot of money yet to spend.  So long as that remains the case (and he's about to get a big old infusion of taxpayer money to further fuel his delusion, on top of the approximately $2 million he has left of the pile of cash he built up over eight years as a pay-to-play Treasurer), Cahill can stick around.  Sure his campaign is the political equivalent of one of George Romero's zombies, stone cold dead yet still walking, but as anyone who has seen one of the Living Dead flicks knows, those things can be hard to put down.

More interesting to me than the fact of Cahill's steady shedding of key personnel is the effect of that sloughing off on the painstakingly constructed "independent" persona Cahill has spent the last year building.  Gone are the McCain consultants, imported from Arizona to transform Cahill the Beacon Hill fixture into a 'mavericky' outsider.  Gone is the fiscally conservative campaign manager.  Gone is the Republican running mate, and with him whatever remained of Cahill's Republican support.

And who is left?  Who comprised the group of angrily enthusiastic Cahill backers cheering gamely through their candidate's semi-coherent spleen ventilation yesterday?  Why, they are Cahill's original base, assembled long before he ever thought of bolting the Democratic party to side-step a primary challenge to Governor Patrick: the public employee unions (who Cahill secured early on by promising not to touch the bloated public pension system), and the surprisingly wide swath of voters who either work for an agency Cahill oversees, are related to someone who works for an agency Cahill oversees, or have realistic expectations of working for state government should Cahill be elected.  The political patronage set, in other words.

Cahill's gubernatorial campaign persona has always been awkwardly clothed in a cloak of strained contradictions, the inevitable result of his attempt to hold that quintessentially Democratic base while simultaneously striving to appeal to anti-government conservative independents.   Now, abandoned by everyone who lent to his subterfuge some slight veneer of credibility, he is both free and forced to return to his comfort zone.

Pushed to the edge of self-parody, Tim Cahill is now again as ever he was: a Beacon Hill Machine Democrat, political patron and apologist for budget-sucking union excess.  He is less the "alternative to Deval Patrick" that he wished to be than a purer distillation of the worst characteristics of Patrick's first (and hopefully only) term as Governor.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Today's events

Andy Hiller, Jon Keller and the inimitable Howie Carr pretty much sum it up (though Howie is a little rough on Paul Loscocco).  Fascinating day...

Two words re. Tim Cahill's decision to forge on (with a quote from Winston Churchill as his 'running mate'):
Un. Hinged.