Friday, November 26, 2010

You say potato, I say... "criminal investigation"

So late last week, Speaker Bob DeLeo (a first supporting actor in the probation scandal that continues to roil Beacon Hill) announced that Rep. Thomas Petrolati (a leading man in said scandal) would not run for reelection to his top House leadership post.

Then yesterday, fresh back from a trip to the Olde Country, Senate President Therese Murray sounded a Tim Cahill-esque defense of Mass Dem style patronage, declaring the subject matter of the Ware Report to be "part of the duties of our office."

So all good, right?

Not quite. Having grown a hefty pair of metaphorical stones someplace between January 19 and November 2, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced today that both she and the US Attorney are moving forward with criminal investigations based on Ware's findings.

"Just part of my job" might cut it in the court of public opinion, but when the top law enforcement officials in the Commonwealth on both the state and federal levels are looking into "pervasive fraud," the many legislative Ds named in that lengthy report need to worry about the considerably more fickle courts of law.

President Murray says potato...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

We have become comfortably numb

Amidst the sturm und drang generated by the probation scandal, another prime example of cynical self-dealing by an elected official that would ordinarily be given the full front page treatment (in the Herald, at least) is getting much less notice.  This one has already resulted in the abrupt resignation of the just-overwhelmingly-reelected Sheriff James DiPaola of Middlesex County, a guy who apparently, um, retired already, just prior to said overwhelming reelection... without bothering to mention his retirement to the voters or anyone else.

Why would the good Sheriff do such a thing?  Why does a guy who has already retired need to resign?  I'll let the State House News Service (by way of the Herald) try to explain:
DiPaola quietly filed for retirement days before the Nov. 2 election, in order to begin drawing a $98,000-a-year pension. Because state pension laws permit retirees to run for elected office without forfeiting their pension, DiPaola’s reelection would have enabled him to receive his pension, in addition to a $120,000-a-year sheriff’s salary.“I made a black and white decision based on finances instead of my moral compass to run for re-election and to apply for retirement,” DiPaola wrote in his letter. “Once this decision was made public and I discussed it with Globe reporter Sean Murphy my first reaction was to defend the Law. Sean made a statement to me which really hit home. He said ‘You know Sheriff if you do this it will be Your Legacy and not any good you have done.’ I realized then that he was right.”
Ultimately, DiPaola abandoned his plan and opted to retire instead. According to state law, when DiPaola officially retires – he’s eyeing a Jan. 6, 2011 departure – Patrick may appoint a successor to serve until the next biennial state election, scheduled for November 2012.
So in a nutshell, Sheriff DiPaola secretly filed for retirement just prior to reelection in order to collect both a full pension and a full salary.  Pretty ugly stuff, no?  The original Globe report (which ran Sunday) is even more squirm-inducing:

DiPaola, a 57-year-old Democrat, had quietly filed retirement papers on Oct. 28, looking to exploit a section of the state pension law that allows retirees to run for paid elective office without losing their pensions. All he had to do was not accept a paycheck until his new term began in January.
That gambit, which even his own employees seemed unaware of, would have increased his annual income by $98,500 for doing the same job he’s been doing since 1997.
“I’d always be remembered for this, for double-dipping, that that would be my legacy,’’ he said yesterday, crediting a Globe reporter’s question for his spark of conscience. “From a financial perspective it was great. It was legal. But I tossed and turned all night. I did put myself first this time, and I don’t want it to end that way.’’
He continued, “I asked myself, ‘Is this really worth it?’ ’’
DiPaola, who is giving up six years’ salary worth $738,000, concluded it was not.
“This is black and white, and there is no cagey way to get around it,’’ he said. “I had a feeling in my stomach.’’
Yeah.  Any kid ever caught heading out the pharmacy door with a pocket full of un-purchased candy knows that "feeling" the Sheriff had in his stomach, and the Globe is awfully generous to describe it as a "spark of conscience."  Oh s__t!!! is more like it.  This is a guy who very deliberately gamed the system in order to add $98,000 to his already generous $120,000 salary - for what would have been an eventual total of three quarters of a million clams in ill-gotten gains - whose "conscience" didn't trouble his tummy until a Globe reporter called him on the scheme.  Had that call not occurred, it's a good bet the guy would be browsing the web for a boat or a vacation home rather than packing it in and calling it a career. 

I already used the word "cynical" above, but cannot think of a better descriptive.  DiPaola did what he did in order to collect a salary and a pension for the same job.  He did this knowingly, deliberately, despite the multiple investigative reports and resulting pension scandals that have roiled Beacon Hill (if not a cattle complacent electorate) over the past couple of years.  Cynical works, but falls short.  So does arrogant.  And brazen.

And what is the reaction on Beacon Hill?  Governor Patrick initially deemed DiPaola's scheme "absolutely outrageous," but has since softened his tone, telling the Globe that DiPaola is a "fine man [who] has done a fine job in office," and praising the Sheriff's "wise decision" to resign.  This "fine man" just almost succeeded in gaming the pension system (that the Governor praised himself endlessly for reforming over the course of the recently-concluded campaign, by the way) to the tune of almost a million taxpayer dollars.  And the "wise decision" was made for him, by the Globe.  Give me a break.

For his part, DiPaola's contrition came hard.  His initial response to the Globe was more pugnacious: "There is nothing evil about it. I don’t see it as grabbing something. I’m supposed to say no to it?"

DiPaola's point, of course, was that the system and the political culture in Massachusetts pretty much set a million dollars in unmarked bills on the table in front of him, and then turned its back and started whistling.  "I'm supposed to say no to it?"  The Globe's breaking news blurb on Sunday announcing DiPaola's abrupt decision to resign was unintentionally hilarious (and a little Yoda-esque) in its attempt to describe this all-too-common state of affairs here in Massachusetts: "Elected officials who collect pensions have almost always retired for some time before seeking office."

What?  They're supposed to say no to it?

So now Governor Patrick gets to appoint DiPaola's successor, and his choice will serve nearly the full two-year term to which DiPaola was so recently reelected.  And gosh, where else would a Democratic Governor in Massachusetts look for qualified candidates than in... the legislature.  The name floating to the top of the limited speculation that has taken place thus far is Representative David Linsky of Natick, who has expressed interest in the position and told the Herald that "his 14 years as an assistant district attorney in the Middlesex County District Attorney’s office had prepared him to take the reins of the correction system in the state’s largest county."  

(Un)coincidentally enough, Rep. Linsky was also touting his prosecutorial bona fides the last time he rippled the surface of the news cycle, nearly two years ago when he moved into what Linsky proudly deemed "the biggest office in the State House" as part of then-newly-elected Speaker DeLeo's leadership team.  According to the MetroWest Daily News, "House Speaker Robert DeLeo [had just] named him chairman of the House Post-Audit Committee, which has broad powers of investigation and oversight. He requested the committee because of his background as a prosecutor, Linsky said."

How is this for a fun line, in retrospect?  "He has consulted with the speaker on areas he would be interested in investigating, but won't say what they are."

Nearly two years later, the House Post-Audit Committee's website gives no inkling as to what those "areas" were that Chairman Linsky was "interested in investigating."  Nor a quick Google search.  Here's a safe bet: neither the probation department nor systemic pension abuse were on Linsky's list.

My increasing fear is that we in Massachusetts are too accustomed to this sort of thing.  Subjected to what has become an unrelenting flow of scandal from our government, we are losing (or have lost) the ability to be shocked and the inclination to react appropriately.  Rather than the outrage and recrimination that could/should reasonably be expected to follow the outing of a scheme by an elected official to double-dip to the tune of three-quarters of a million public dollars, we get a modicum of measured criticism accompanied by a deluge of praise for the outgoing, decidedly un-disgraced Sheriff. 

With apologies to Pink Floyd, we hear no more AAAAAAAAAAAH!  We just feel a little sick.

Elections Have Consequences: Squeezed

Explanation: This is the first in what I expect to be a periodic ongoing series that I'm calling "Elections Have Consequences."  Posts in this series will be exclusively about topics that indisputably would not have arisen but for the Commonwealth's decision to maintain the status quo in the November 2010 elections... 
 
I love orange juice.  It's one of the few things that I have to have every day, and that  I will go significantly out of my way to get if none is readily at hand.  Ordinarily I'm a Tropicana Pure Premium guy (some pulp).  Every now and again though, I indulge in some fresh-squeezed at a little market where I sometimes stop for coffee on the way to work.  This truly is an indulgence; a decent-sized cup of the stuff runs me roughly three times what my usual Tropicana (which is no bargain itself, mind you) costs.  But there really is a difference.  The stuff tastes just magnificent.  And - added bonus - signage near the display informs me that the juice is squeezed locally, from oranges grown "sustainably."  I have no idea what that means in the context of orange production, but it sounds good and takes a little bit of the edge off of the admittedly irrational decision to spend as much on a cup of juice as I might ordinarily shell out for an entire meal. 

Anyhow, this occasional splurge is my decision - freely made.  I imagine I'd feel differently about that delicious and sustainable OJ were my state government to suddenly order me to purchase it every morning from here on out.

That's basically what is happening to consumers of electricity (so: everyone) on the Cape and Islands.  Government bureaucrats have decided that beginning some time in the next couple of years, those consumers will be obligated to purchase power generated by the long-delayed Cape Wind project - at roughly twice the cost of electricity generated using natural gas. 

How does that make sense?  Well, the Department of Public Utilities (the state regulatory body that this week gave final state clearance for the energy purchase deal) is quite clear on that, as quoted by the Globe:
“The power from this contract is expensive in light of today’s energy prices,’’ the 374-page DPU decision says. “It may also be expensive in light of forecasted energy prices, although less so than its critics suggest. . . . However, it is abundantly clear that the Cape Wind facility offers significant benefits that are not currently available from any other renewable resource.’’
Points for candor I suppose.  And what are those "significant benefits?"  It's not hard to guess (again from the Globe):  "Among those benefits, the administration has long said, are cleaner air, reduced reliance on fossil fuels, energy security, and a more diverse mix of power sources."

So Cape Wind's energy, like my boutique OJ, is squeezed locally and produced sustainably - and as a result it comes at a significant price premium.  Unlike my OJ, Cape Wind's power will not taste terrific or help the residents of the Cape and Islands ward off the common cold.  And the consumers in question won't have the option to decline the high-priced purchase and keep drinking Tropicana - or frozen Food Club for that matter.

"But wait!" I hear the shaggily bearded fellow in the back saying.  "Cape Wind is necessary for the state to meet its renewable energy targets!"  True enough.  As the Globe reports, "The DPU decision was made, in part, because Cape Wind is necessary to meet a state requirement that utilities buy 25 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2030."  Of course that target wasn't writ by the hand of God - it was established pretty much arbitrarily, by the same meddling bureaucrats who now cite the target to justify the pending mandatory purchase of over-priced power.  It's the all too common self-fulfilling regulatory policy/mandate cycle: "We have to do X because we said we have to do X."

 "Hang on!" hollers the mu-mu cloaked woman down front.  "Folks understand the need to move away from fossil fuels, both for the environment and for reasons of national security."  True that.  But Vermont currently purchases delicious, sustainable power from Hydro-Quebec for six cents per kilowatt hour, less than a third of the projected cost of Cape Wind power.  When compared to more cost-effective renewable sources of energy, the case for Cape Wind actually becomes weaker, not stronger.

"Fearmonger!" screeches the college kid in the Che Guevara t-shirt.  "The Globe said Cape Wind will cost consumers less than $2 per month!"  True again.  But only because construction and operation of the facility is going to be heavily-subsidized by both the federal and state governments.  So not only are Cape and Island consumers forced to pay more than they should for power, the rest of us are going to help them do it.  Those of us who live elsewhere will buy the fresh-squeezed, but we won't even get to drink it!  But let's not underestimate the impact of that estimated $2 per month.  According to the DPU, that will add up to an estimated $420 to $695 million total cost to consumers over and above what they would otherwise pay for energy over the course of the contract.  That's a lot of OJ.  And "estimated" is a key word here - if past is prologue, then the "estimates" associated with Cape Wind will continue to be significantly below eventual actual costs.

All for what?  Let Governor Patrick tell you:
“This project is all about our clean energy future, and today that future is closer than ever,’’ Governor Deval Patrick, a champion of the project, said in a statement yesterday.
Such soaring sentiment is sure to warm the heart cockles of the small businesses that are already on the edge, at least in part due to the Commonwealth's highest-in-the-nation (before Cape Wind!) energy costs.

Charlie Baker liked to say Cape Wind is the wrong project at the wrong time at the wrong price.  Deval Patrick, who never lets cost to the taxpayer get in the way of a feel-good press conference or a happy talking point, has persistently maintained that the exorbitant cost of Cape Wind is "worth it" -a sanctimonious pronouncement from on-high that was predictably echoed by Patrick's appointees on the DPU in their decision this week.

Elections have consequences.

Friday, November 19, 2010

About this probation scandal thing...

The most surprising aspect to me about this whole 'corruption in the probation department' thing is my own reaction, which can be fairly summed up with a yawn, a shrug, or both.  Having spent a few years working in Massachusetts state government, the three hundred plus page special counsel's report detailing political cronyism, pay-to-play, and even blatant unlawful conduct within the department charged with keeping us safe from criminals who serve their sentences out in the world strikes me as a big, fat, "so tell me something I didn't know."  Water is wet.  Snow is cold.  Massachusetts state legislators salt their shiftless friends and family in union-protected jobs for life all over state government.  Heck, anyone who reads Howie Carr every now and again knows that.

I should pause here and say that if you do not know what I'm going on about, or you have only a vague sense of it, you should stop and first read the Globe's coverage today.  Here's the nub of it:
The state’s highest court, firmly embracing a special counsel’s conclusion that the state Probation Department is riddled with fraud and “systemic corruption,’’ ordered court officials yesterday to move swiftly to fire the probation commissioner, suspend his senior lieutenants, and ask prosecutors to weigh criminal charges.
“Such abuse and corruption are intolerable,’’ members of the Supreme Judicial Court said in a statement.
The court’s sweeping move to reclaim the probation agency came after it unsealed damning findings by the independent counsel that the probation agency, led by Commissioner John J. O’Brien, “committed pervasive fraud against the Commonwealth’’ that went on for years and involved dozens of employees.
The independent counsel, Paul F. Ware Jr., concluded that O’Brien and his senior executives oversaw a hiring system that was rigged “on a grand scale,’’ conducting thousands of phony job interviews when the positions had already been promised to politically connected candidates.
Ware found that O’Brien had completely politicized the 2,000-employee department, giving jobs to candidates backed by state legislators while illegally pressuring employees to contribute to campaigns of key allies, such as state Representative Thomas M. Petrolati and state Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill.
[As a side note: will you look at that?  State Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill's name again mentioned in connection with a scandal involving cronyism and pay-to-play government.  Who ever woulda thunk it?]

If you have some time this weekend, you might also want to read the entire special counsel report.  Sure it's 337 pages long.  But as several outraged Republican legislators have noted, it reads like a sordid political thriller of the kind that might well be made eventually into a movie.  Or at least a made-for-television movie.  The Globe also did us the favor of distilling down the report's high(low)lights.  It's hard to choose a favorite, but I suppose if I absolutely had to it would be this one:
 "I didn't think he was an appropriate candidate because he was a convicted felon." - --Regional Supervisor Ellen Slaney on Doug MacLean, who was later hired.
"Later hired" by the probation department, mind you.  Talk about the ultimate work release program.  I suppose one upside for Mr. MacLean was that his job at probation made it easier to keep in touch with his old cell-mates...

That one is my favorite for cynical chuckle value, but to sum up the whole mess this one probably does the job better:
"Mr. O'Brien would get his funding, and the legislature would get some jobs, isn't that right?"
"Yeah, I would say so, yeah"
Mr. O'Brien, for those playing at home, would be the long-time, politically connected head of the probation department, buddy and neighbor of the aforementioned Treasurer Tim, by the by (another boy from Quincy!).
 "His funding" refers to nice, fat cash infusions from the state budget, even in lean times, to fuel O'Brien's patronage hiring empire.  Here's an excerpt from the State House News Service's coverage that lays bare just how far said empire extended into the upper levels of legislative leadership:
The list of the most frequent sponsors for probation jobs reads like a who's who of top Beacon Hill politicians, including former Speaker of the House Salvatore DiMasi; former Senate President Robert Travaglini; outgoing Senate Ways and Means Chairman Steven Panagiotakos and members of his committee Sens. Stephen Brewer, John Hart, and Marc Pacheco, along with former chairman Sen. Mark Montigny and Judiciary Committee members Sen. Thomas McGee and former Sen.Robert Creedon.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Speaker Pro Tempore Thomas Petrolati, identified in Globe reports as a master of patronage within the agency, were also mentioned in the report.


Though Petrolati did not crack the top ten of lawmakers most frequently found on the so-called sponsor list, witnesses testified the Petrolati would sometimes call in with names of favored candidates. "That, plus additional evidence, suggests that Petrolati's involvement in patronage hiring within Probation is far greater than the Sponsor Lists demonstrate," Ware wrote in the report.


Petrolati, along with O'Brien and former House Speaker Thomas Finneran, all invoked their Fith Amendment right not to testify to avoid self-incrimination. Petrolati previously appealed a subpoena to testify to the Supreme Judicial Court, claiming Ware did not have the authority to compel testimony from lawmakers, but was denied. A call to Petrolati's lawyer was not returned.
Nobody should be heard to claim surprise at the partisan homogeneity of that group.  To observe that all of the Beacon Hill leaders caught up in this latest and greatest scandal are Democrats is to engage in rote redundancy, for obvious reasons not unrelated to the voters' infuriating insistence on perpetuating the monopoly these people hold on power in the Commonwealth.  This point, though inherently partisan, really has nothing to do with partisanship.  Total one-party control leads to this sort of *$&%.  It just does.  Always and inevitably.

As usual, I could go on and on here (I’m working on my verbosity – honest, I am).  There’s a pregnant little anecdote toward the end of the report about a politically wired probation officer who was caught red-handed passing confidential court information to her criminal friends (she posted photos of herself partying with her convict pals on her Facebook page!  Doesn’t get better than that!).  Her punishment?  She got transferred to a different court.  She was protected from firing, you see, by her union.  God knows I could riff on that for a while…

But here’s the point I’ve been working around to.  It’s connected to my own blasé reaction to this whole probation mess:  This weekend, the Machine Democrats who run Beacon Hill aren’t worrying so much about their connections to the probation department.  That cat is well out of the bag, and while a number of prominent Ds are called out in the report, they have a ready-made fall guy in the unfortunate Mr. O'Brien.  What the Machine Ds ARE thinking and worrying about intensely is how they are going to shield the rest of state government from the sunlight that has just illuminated the rot permeating O'Brien's single department.

On that point is might be useful to ponder for a moment how this whole thing played out.  This summer the Globe set a group of investigative reporters on the trail of John O’Brien.  Their initial reportage, coming as it did in the midst of an election year featuring allegedly restless and discontented voters, triggered an immediate call by the Supreme Judicial Court for a full, independent investigation of the probation department.  That investigation produced the report that is roiling Beacon Hill this week.  That sequence of events raises a number of related questions:
One might ask, for example, why it took a group of reporters to expose years of widespread and apparently quite well-known corruption, involving dozens of high-profile office holders; or why we have a state auditor if the taxpayers have to rely on journalists to root out this sort of thing.

One might also ask whether such rampant and pervasive bad conduct could possibly have gone on for so long were our state government not controlled stem to stern by a single, mono-partisan, integrated political machine.

Or one might ask whether the Globe just happened by sheer luck to stumble onto the one and only area of state government where cronyism, unqualified hires and jobs-for-contributions are the accepted modus operandi; or whether it might just be time for a more comprehensive governmental enema.

That last, of course, is the question that the Beacon Hill Machine is fervently hoping today that people do not ask – because the answer is obvious. The Beacon Hill Machine has survived eruptions like this one before. It will survive this one - if its leaders can contain the damage to the probation department (and maybe one or two legislators); and if nobody with any pull (and by "pull" I mean "subpoena power") gets it into his or her head to conduct similar independent investigations of other areas of state government.

And in that regard, the Machine is thanking its lucky stars – and the hapless, helpless voters of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts – that people like Charlie Baker, Jim McKenna and Mary Connaughton, each of whom promised to aggressively go after this kind of thing, are still on the outside looking in.

On the other hand, the Globe got a lot of mileage out of its investigation of the probation department. With a few months of rest under its belt, perhaps their investigative team is ready to dive back in to the Beacon Hill swamp? Given how many times in the past four years various departments of the Treasury have come under scrutiny for questionable hiring and procurement practices, that might be a dandy place to start.

UPDATE:  A little contrition in the face of utterly damning indictment apparently being too much to ask, the Machine is pushing back.  Read today's comments by DeLeo deputy and top House budget official Charlie Murphy and weep.  Here's a taste:
Murphy noted that Ware could not prove that any individual legislator explicitly asked for campaign contributions in exchange for probation jobs, which could constitute illegal bribery.
“Is there any evidence to suggest that jobs are for sale?” Murphy said. “Did Paul Ware say in his report that any legislator got money for jobs? There answer is no. He didn’t. It is not there. He says there is a statistical probability of something like that – a chance. That’s not evidence. And he was very clear to state that.”
Murphy also strongly defended Representative Thomas M. Petrolati, the No. 3 official in the House, who has been called “the patronage king of Western Massachusetts,” for his success in placing supporters on the Probation Department’s payroll. Murphy said he still has confidence in Petrolati, and there is nothing wrong with legislators trying to find jobs for their constituents.
“Phone calls were made to help people, and I’m not going to apologize for that,” Murphy said. “That’s what people do. … And that’s what he’s done, apparently.”
Of course, what Ware actually said in the report - repeatedly - was that he did not try to "prove that any individual legislator explicitly asked for campaign contributions in exchange for probation jobs," because any such effort would have strayed far beyond Ware's mandate.

Since Murphy is basically throwing down the gauntlet and inviting an investigation of the legislature's role in the probation scandal, however, perhaps Team Ware's retention ought to be extended and their mandate expanded.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

On the mend and on the... never mind.

Here's a not-so-random collection of headlines that have appeared since the voters of Massachusetts cast their votes for the status quo on November the second:

Economists: Growth slowing in Bay State, nationally
The Massachusetts economy may not recoup jobs lost during the recent recession until 2013, according to a new economic forecast.
Governor Patrick to push for in-state tuition for illegals
Boston.com photo
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick on Tuesday vowed to adopt the rest of an advisory panel’s immigration reform recommendations, including pushing for in-state tuition for illegal immigrant students at state colleges, during his second term.
Governor eyes free junior college
Gov. Deval Patrick said Tuesday he believes the time has come for free public education for the first two years of college.
Jet-setting Therese Murray raises eyebrows
Senate President Therese Murray — who vowed to focus on Bay State job creation after narrowly beating back a GOP challenger — is packing her bags for an eight-day jaunt to Russia in her second European excursion this year.
Murray jetted to Ireland this past summer during the heat of the legislative session and she’s been invited to Finland.
Mass still leads Northeast in violent crime, survey shows
A broad survey of the state’s health trends has found that Massachusetts continues to lead the Northeast in the rate of violent crime, that less than half of primary-care physicians accept new patients, and that the poverty rate has increased slightly.
Mass-based Raytheon reports post-election layoffs
Massachusetts-based U.S. defense contractor Raytheon is laying off employees just days after Gov. Deval (deh-VAL') Patrick denied asking it to delay terminations until after state elections.
Raytheon's announcement Tuesday follows more than 1,000 layoffs made by other Massachusetts employers since the Democratic governor's Nov. 2 re-election.
 Genzyme cuts 185 jobs in Massachusetts
Genzyme notified 127 workers of layoffs yesterday and said it will not fill 58 open positions. The cuts were in job functions across the board and affected workers at Genzyme sites in Framingham, Cambridge, and Waltham, spokeswoman Erin Emlock said.
Biogen to cut 650 jobs; close offices in Waltham, Wellesley
Biogen Idec will slash about 650 jobs - 86 in Massachusetts - as part of major cost-cutting moves announced today.
The biotech company, which moved over the summer to new headquarters in Weston, said it will reduce its work force of nearly 5,000 by 13 percent. It currently employs 2,000 people in Massachusetts.
Biotech aid falls flat
The state’s $6 million handout to biotech giants Genzyme Corp. and Biogen Idec didn’t prevent those firms from issuing 270 pink slips in the Bay State last week - raising doubts about Gov. Deval Patrick's ambitious plan to create 250,000 life sciences jobs in 10 years.
 Politics at play in Mass. layoff timing?
One of the major selling points of Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick's re-election bid was the state's jobless rate, which stands at 8.4%, more than a full point lower than the national average.
But within one week of the election, several Massachusetts companies, including Raytheon, Genzyme and Biogen Idec announced layoffs adding up to more than 1,000 jobs.
So to sum up: The Governor, safely ensconced for the next four years, is quickly giving in to his most liberal policy and spending impulses; the Senate President is off a-junketing on the taxpayers' dime; and some of the Commonwealth's highest-profile employers are opting to move out rather than "mend" with us here in Massachusetts. 

It's shaping up to be another long four years.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A week later...

... and I have some thoughts.

A couple of warnings to begin, though.  First: I have not read a lick of post-election coverage, so some or all of what follows could be unknowingly derivative.  I make no claim to original wisdom.  Second: I am still pretty angry and disgusted at how things turned out here in Massachusetts.  So if you are a person who tells the pollsters that you think politics ought to be all sunshine, puppies and rainbows, please stop reading and click here.  We'll both be better off.

 I was going to lay off this blogging thing until the acid in my gut stopped churning.  Then I remembered why I started this exercise in the first place - catharsis.  So it may be that the churning won't stop until I allow a little bile to spill. 

In no particular order, then, my thoughts - worth precisely what you pay for them:

The Cahill thing.  I have to get this one out of the way first.  Yes, Tim Cahill got Deval Patrick reelected.  Whether that was partly or completely his intention all along I have no idea.  But that was the irrefutable end result of his participation in the race.  Incumbents with job approval ratings ranging from the high thirties to the low forties do not get reelected - especially not in a "change" cycle - without a significant assist.  Cahill provided that assist.  He did so in countless ways beyond his obvious mathematical impact on the end result: by focusing the bulk of his early spending on Charlie Baker (contrary to conventional wisdom, it was Cahill who ran the first negative spot of the campaign - a web ad that un-subtly accused Baker of being in the pocket of the health care industry); by forcing Baker and his allies to devote time, attention and money to fend off his attempts to poach from Baker's natural constituency on the right; by sucking up a full share of airtime in each forum and debate, playing the role of Patrick's debate binky made famous by Christy Mihos; by filing his ridiculous lawsuit (settled without fanfare within hours of the polls closing, by the way), and saturating several 11th hour news cycles with baseless and increasingly fantastic accusations.  The race this year was completely and totally different with Cahill in it than it would have been without him, and those differences inured almost entirely to Patrick's benefit.

None of which is to suggest that Tim Cahill did not have a perfectly valid right to leave the Democratic party and run for Governor as an "independent," mind you.  Or that he did not have a perfectly valid right to stay in the race, even after his campaign became a grotesque exercise in daily self-parody.  Of course he did.  It's a free country, and Cahill had the money to stick it out to the end. 

About that money though...  A Globe investigative team did a good job detailing how Cahill amassed his $3 million campaign war chest, detailing pay-to-play fund raising techniques that were spared prosecution only for lack of a smoking gun.  The Globe even ran an editorial back in March titled "Cahill donations raise specter of pay-to-play government."  Then... they pretty much let it drop.  And the rest of the Fourth Estate largely gave Cahill a pass, even going so far as to condemn the Republican Governors Association for running ads pointing out the very same allegations of misconduct by Cahill that the Globe had previously deemed front page news.  Speaking of Cahill's money...

The public funding thing.  One of the most head-slammingly perplexing things for me about this cycle is the public's collective lack of outrage at the fact that Tim Cahill, who began the cycle with far-and-away the fattest bank account, took three quarters of a million dollars in public campaign funding last month to infuse his foundering but still flush campaign.  He then proceeded to use a not-insignificant portion of that public funding to pay the lawyers who handled his frivolous lawsuit against his turncoat erstwhile consultants, an exercise that was transparently designed to generate enough smoke and dust to cover up the fact that Cahill had illegally coordinated another million bucks in taxpayer spending in the form of lottery ads intended to enhance his public image.  Public reaction: yawn.  Unbelievable. 

The other coordination thing.  Okay look.  I get it.  This is the ultimate sour grapes suck swamp.  The notion that Deval Patrick and Tim Cahill had some secret pact to take down Charlie Baker and get Patrick reelected is the disgruntled Massachusetts Republican's second shooter on the grassy knoll, our Area 51, our silent black helicopters.  I get it.  But... ponder this: Doug Rubin was Tim Cahill's Massachusetts political guru until 2005, when he broke off from Cahill to become Deval Patrick's Massachusetts political guru.  Operatives born and raised in Rubin's political network populated both the Patrick and the Cahill campaigns this year.  So the likely scenario here is not that the Governor and the Treasurer held secret Russian bathhouse meetings to plot strategy, but rather that the various Rubin people salted through both campaigns - friends who have worked together in the past and will again in the future - quietly made sure that (a) Cahill stayed in; and (b) Cahill trained his fire on Baker (while loosing the occasional scattered fusillade in Patrick's direction to keep up appearances).  That is essentially the charge made by ex-Cahill running mate Paul Loscocco a week or so after his bitter divorce from team Cahill, to which Rubin issued a mushy denial that relied entirely on the ad hominem ("consider the source!") logical fallacy.  By that point, of course, the press had settled firmly upon its preferred narrative for the Cahill/Loscocco split, with Loscocco cast as the bad guy.  If he'd run from a building with clothes aflame yelling "fire!" the press would have searched him for matches.  I have a little bit of special insight into this one in that I know Paul well enough personally to trust that - a year-long bout of apocalyptically poor political judgment notwithstanding - the man is no liar.  But given the circumstances surrounding Loscocco's allegations and his apparent inability to provide evidence to back them up, the press and the public can be forgiven their unwillingness to take him at his word.

I look at it this way: if Doug Rubin, a smart, aggressive political operator, had 'his people' inside the Cahill campaign and didn't in some way leverage those relationships to the benefit of his candidate, that would surprise me far more than the proposition that he did do so.  Unless someone wants to argue that the Cahill campaign itself constituted one big in-kind contribution to the Patrick campaign, there's no legal issue there.  So if Rubin did it then good for him.  It worked.  The really curious thing to me is that given the reality of the Rubin dynamic in both campaigns, nobody in the press seemed interested in tugging on that thread.  As for the obvious question - why would anyone working for Cahill deliberately help Patrick by keeping Cahill in the game? - the answer that has been suggested to me is equally obvious: job security.  Tim Cahill isn't going to go to work for the Patrick Administration.  But it will be interesting to see how many Cahill people find their next paychecks coming from the Commonwealth.  Maybe some enterprising reporter will keep track.

The Scott Brown thing.  Did Scott Brown cost Charlie Baker the election?  Kind of.  Not in any way he or anyone else could control, of course.  And not in a way that puts him in line for any blame.  It is still a profoundly good thing that state Senator Scott Brown became U.S. Senator Scott Brown last January.  In my darker moments this last week I've grasped back for a memory of the euphoria that accompanied that unexpected win, and find it still there.  But there can be no doubt that the Brown win awakened the formidable Massachusetts Democratic machine.  Had Senator Kennedy lived another year, that machine would have stumbled groggily into this cycle as unprepared for the 'wave' of voter discontentment and anti-incumbent fervor as were its sister Cylons in most of the rest of the country.  As it was, our machine sobered up, got in shape, and brought its A-game into the fall.  Which brings me to...

The union thing.  The Commonwealth's labor unions - especially its public employee unions - were the levers and the pistons driving that reinvigorated Democratic machine this year.  Unions provide Democratic campaigns with a pre-organized volunteer base, crowds for their rallies, door-knockers and phone-dialers for their Get-Out-The-Vote efforts.  But the real advantage the labor unions bring to the table is their totally unique ability to raise vast sums of money for their political efforts by compulsory extraction from their members' paychecks.  Cycle after cycle Republicans rail against the manifest injustice of this state of affairs - not only for the candidates who are targeted by the unions, but also for the not-uncommon union member forced to contribute involuntarily to the campaigns of candidates who he personally opposes.  Such railing is impotent screeching into a void.  So long as the Democratic party controls this state from top to bottom, there is less than zero chance that the situation will change.  It is what it is, as they say.

Just because the complaint is a frequent one, however, and it tends to emanate only from losing campaigns, does not mean it is not wholly valid.  The unions in this state give one side - the Democrats - an auxiliary campaign apparatus that in many cases is as strong as or stronger than their actual campaigns.  They effectively free Democratic campaigns from the restraints of spending and fund raising limits.  And they give candidates like Governor Patrick (im)plausible deniability with regard to the vicious attacks that the unions routinely launch on their behalf. Which brings me to...

The temperament thing.  I have two words for anyone who argues that "temperament" was the deciding factor in the contest between Charlie Baker and Deval Patrick (no, not those two words.  I'm not that bitter): Barney. Frank.  The decades-long incumbent with all the charm of a cornered wharf rat trounced Sean Bielat, a young, intelligent, affable Marine who never dropped his broad smile, even when given the crazed paparazzo treatment by Frank's significant other.  Strangely enough, the press corps that obsessed over the "likability" factor in the gubernatorial race never bothered to ask voters in the 4th Congressional which candidate they thought "has the temperament to serve in the U.S. Congress."  And thank God for small favors - if ever there were a more meaningless, vacuous poll question than that one, I cannot call it to mind.

Vacuity notwithstanding, political pundits, pollsters and columnists who routinely tut-tut and bemoan the relative lack of substance in our political campaigns were fully on-board with Governor Patrick's effort to turn this year's gubernatorial race into a personality contest, talking and writing relentlessly about Baker's perceived charisma deficit when compared to the "cool and gentlemanly" Patrick, while giving Patrick a pass for his steadfast refusal to talk policy specifics.

That strategy made perfect sense for Patrick.  Burned by his failure to deliver on a series of campaign promises he made in 2006, the Governor was determined not only to refrain from issuing any campaign promises this time around, but also to avoid putting forth any substantive policy proposals whatsoever.  Hence, the personality contest which, in a year when any challenger would be expected - even obligated - to indict Patrick's first term, was the rational and correct strategy for team Patrick to pursue.  Shame on the press for playing along.  On a closely-related note...

The negativity thing.  Policy criticism is not "negative campaigning."  Identifying the many serious problems facing the Commonwealth right now (and putting multiple proposals on the table to deal with them) is not "running Massachusetts down."  It just isn't.  That line of argument, relied upon by Governor Patrick almost exclusively in the closing days of the campaign, is condescending and insulting to the voters' intelligence.  That's all I  have to say about that.

The Connaughton thing.  Mary Connaughton's loss in the Auditor's race to Suzanne Bump has quickly and correctly come to encapsulate this cycle for shell-shocked Massachusetts Republicans.  Bump, a wholly typical job-seeking career pol who was caught in blatant tax avoidance skulduggery within a month of election day somehow managed to turn an accounting degree (which only Connaghton had), the only credential relevant to the Auditor post, into a sneering attack line.  That, folks, is a political world turned upside-down - partly explained by...

The collective masochism thing.   Over the past 4 years, Massachusetts could hardly have been given a more thorough schooling in the perils of total one-party control of government.  Multiple tax hikes, government dysfunction, blown budgets, growing deficits, emergency cuts.  Diane Wilkerson, Sal DiMasi, Marian Walsh, Jim Aloisi, Anthony Galluccio, Jim Marzilli.  And yet still - STILL - when provided a slate of quality candidates perfectly tailored to restore a semblance of stability and balance to the mess, the voters opted for the status quo.  This was less a conscious decision by the majority, I am firmly convinced, than a failure to adequately counter the Machine discussed above, but no matter.  We get the government we deserve.

The Patrick thing.  All complaints aside, there can be no doubt whatsoever that Deval Patrick has something special.  I do not understand the connection he is able to forge (and re-forge) with voters, but the existence of that connection is indisputable.  Massachusetts Democrats who are justifiably exultant in their win this month will no doubt soon turn to nervous anticipation of the next round, when they will have to find a way to compensate for the enormous and singular advantage that Patrick's campaigning skill gave them in the last two cycles.  National Republicans would do well to study Patrick's 2010 campaign intensely.  Massachusetts voters felt in 2008 that we'd already seen the movie then playing out on the national stage; Obama 2012 is likely to strike us as an equally derivative work.  And by the way, if in the next year or so some semi-prominent national Democrat abruptly breaks from the Democratic party to announce a run for the presidency as an independent fiscal conservative... well, any lingering questions about the genesis of the Tim Cahill experiment will have been answered.

The Baker thing.  Charlie Baker would have been an excellent Governor.  More, he would have been precisely the Governor that Massachusetts needs right now.  Whatever transpires in the coming months, I'm not going to be backed off of that contention.  In politics as in the Highlander, there can be only one victor.  But if Governor Patrick Take Two suffers nearly so precipitous a fall as did Governor Patrick Take One, it will not be long before the voters of Massachusetts ask themselves whether in their zeal to push back against the national Republican wave, they deprived themselves of a unique opportunity to hire exactly the right man at exactly the right time... and whether that man might be persuaded to give it another go in four years.

The last thing.  I knew once I started I would have a hard time stopping. So I'll end with this thought: Governor Patrick can go one of two ways in his second term.  Either he will set out to prove his detractors wrong, using the unexpected gift of a second term to repair his governing legacy and the Commonwealth's budget by restraining both his own spending inclinations and the worst excesses of his political allies; or he will revert to the form we grew all too familiar with following his first electoral victory.

I hope for the former while expecting the latter.

There.  I feel much better now.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Jeez, Massachusetts

Just when I thought we were starting to understand each other.

Congratulations to the candidates who won yesterday.  Condolences to the many excellent candidates who ran hard and lost.

And a huge thank you to Charlie Baker, a truly excellent human being who would have been a truly excellent governor.  Whatever he does next, he'll continue to be a world-beater.  All of us - even those who voted for one of his opponents - should hope he remains engaged in civic life here in Massachusetts.

I'm going to leave this blogging thing alone for a while, for fear that if I indulge myself in even a tiny bit of spleen ventilation I won't be able to stop the flow.

Time and perspective...

In the meantime, I thought these two maps were interesting - Boston.com's map of the 2006 results, compared to the 2010 version.  Gov. Patrick dropped eight percent... but that eight percent apparently accounts for an awful lot of geography.  Make of these what you will.  My analyzer is fried (and self-evidently unreliable).

2006
2010

Tuesday, November 2, 2010