Thursday, June 30, 2011

Summertime, and the living is easy

The Patrick/Murray administration announced yesterday that our esteemed Governor and Lieutenant Governor are embarking on a summer “listening tour.” They’ll be taking time out of their busy schedules to talk with the public, to listen to our frustrations and our concerns. Well that’s not a bad idea. Surely they will be going to all parts of the state, to hear from people who are still struggling in this economy, to talk to those citizens from whom they might not usually hear – right? Let’s take a look at their itinerary: Lenox, Boston… Martha’s Vineyard?? You have got to be kidding me.







"Governor, can we talk?" Patrick to hit the Vineyard
Let’s start with the obvious – going to the Vineyard on a summer weekend and calling it a “listening tour” is a little silly. Then there’s the Governor’s Friday afternoon stop in Lenox, which is conveniently right next to his Richmond mansion. Considering the amount of time the Governor spends at his Sweet P Farm, holding a town hall event out there isn’t so much ‘getting out to hear from the people’ as it is ‘talking to your neighbors.’ Do the taxpayers really need to fund a “conversation tour” for the Governor in Lenox when he could probably just stop by the grocery store and accomplish the same thing?

Not to mention, these cities and towns seem hardly representative of the state as a whole. A quick look at their local unemployment rates reveals that they are all doing fairly well, at least compared to the state. Their unemployment rates are comparable to or lower than the state’s seasonally unadjusted rate of 7.4% (town-by-town data is only available as seasonally unadjusted). To be fair, the Governor’s office hasn’t yet announced the location of their South Coast visit, and that is likely to be a town with high unemployment (Fall River is at 14.9%). But with dozens of Massachusetts communities with unemployment still above 9%, it’s unbelievable that our Governor and Lieutenant Governor are primarily visiting communities with unemployment under 7%.

And really? Arlington? Northampton? Boston? Lenox? If this were a campaign bus tour for Patrick, it would make sense for him to visit these liberal strongholds. But this isn’t a campaign event, it’s being paid for by the taxpayers. Excluding the South Coast and Martha’s Vineyard because the administration hasn’t announced the location of those events, Patrick and Murray are going to eight communities. Patrick won five of those communities in 2010 and Charlie Baker won three of them (Patrick also won all of the South Coast and Martha’s Vineyard). Patrick’s average margin of victory in those eight communities was 23 points. That includes his losses in three communities. Patrick only beat Baker by six points statewide.

How Deval Patrick and Tim Murray can say with a straight face that this “conversation tour” is about “governing the whole state” is beyond me. It seems to me like the taxpayers will be paying for our Governor and Lieutenant Governor to visit only those parts of the state likely to tell them what a great job they’re doing.

UPDATE: The Administration has announced their South Shore location: Westport. As expected, Westport does have high unemployment (11.2%), although not as high as Fall River and New Bedford. With Patrick winning Westport by "only" 9 points in 2010, his average margin of victory in the nine announced communities drops from 23 points to 21 points.

UPDATE 2: It seems like Patrick is taking advantage of this "statewide" tour to raise a little money for his campaign and himself. His Lenox event will be followed by a fundraiser at his Richmond home and his Salisbury event will be followed by a book signing in Newburyport.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Governor Patrick: Leading from Beyond

It is not unusual to find in our Governor faint echoes of President Obama's defining traits.  This week brings yet another example.  Whereas in foreign affairs the President is contentedly "leading from behind," in the Commonwealth's ongoing budget debate Governor Patrick is "leading from beyond."  Beyond the Commonwealth's borders, that is.  And not really leading at all.

All the trappings, none of the leadership (AP Photo)
As Daisy noted yesterday, it seems clear the Commonwealth is about to begin fiscal 2012 without a budget plan in place.  According to the State House News, Massachusetts is one of ten states without a 2012 spending plan in place.  Why?  Well, it's hard to say, our esteemed legislators preferring to do our business behind closed doors and all.  Folks in the know(ish), however, have suggested - not for attribution! - that the main sticking point is the significant differences between the House and Senate plans for dealing with municipal employee benefits.  For a refresher on those differences, click here (House) and here (Senate).  Capsule summary: the House plan would finally start to fill in the massive gap between promised future benefits and anticipated revenues; the Senate plan would throw some wall paper over that hole and hope that nobody leans on the wrong spot.

So where's the Governor in all of this?  Well, last week he was in DC testifying before Congress about national health care reform.  Oh, but before that he stopped in Philadelphia where he did a little fundraising for his federal political action committee (the one set up to support national health care reform).

Fiscal 2011 ends June 30.  Today is June 28, and Governor Patrick is... heading back to Washington, DC, this time to attend the 2011 Bio International Convention, "a gathering of biotech leaders from across the globe."  Now,  no fair minded person would question the crucial importance of our chief executive's attendance at THE preeminent gathering of, um, biotech...  I can't even finish the sentence.  What the H-E-double-hockey-sticks?  We're one of 10 states that can't get its budget act together in time for the start of the new fiscal year, and our Governor is heading off on another junket?  What next?  Comic-Con?

I guess we should feel lucky that at least the Governor's book tour seems to have, um, ended.  And why does that make me think of this bit from Spinal Tap?
Ian Faith: The Boston gig has been cancelled... 
David St. Hubbins: What? 
Ian Faith: Yeah. I wouldn't worry about it though, it's not a big college town.
Another guy who disappears at crunch time
In truth and in fairness, Governor Patrick is not in fact sacrificing his leverage over the ongoing budget negotiations by leaving the Commonwealth at the eleventh hour, because he hasn't any leverage to sacrifice.  Exaggerating, am I?  Consider this: Monday the "Big Three" (Patrick, DeLeo, Murray) held their semi-regular "leadership" meeting.  Afterwards, the Big Two (DeLeo, Murray) met the press, whilst the littler third remained out of sight.  According to the State House News, DeLeo and Murray were asked about the ongoing negotiations, and each answered, basically, that they have placed matters in the hands of their respective budget committee chairs.  This prompted an obvious question, and a telling response:
Murray said Patrick didn't weigh in on the specifics of budget negotiations but did ask about progress.
"He talked to us about when we think we'll be done, and we think we'll be done fairly shortly," Murray said.
Great.  So instead of exercising some leadership in perhaps the most important debate of the year, instead of grabbing the wheel and driving, the Governor is the kid in the back seat asking, "are we there yet?!?"  Hey, at least he's keeping tabs on the schedule.

Fact is, Governor Patrick lost any chance he might have had to be a factor in the budget negotiations back in the Spring, when he pointedly declined to weigh in on what already then was clearly shaping up to be the primary sticking point between the two chambers.  One chamber for serious municipal reform.  The other for milquetoast, paper "reform."

Gosh, wouldn't it be great if we could have a third player in all of this?  Someone vested with, I don't know, "executive" authority?  Maybe somebody elected statewide, with access to staff and resources and a bully pulpit?  Someone who, with just a modicum of effort, might manage to sway public opinion toward one side or the other, and with it enough legislators to make a difference?

Five years in to the Patrick/Murray Administration, I'm not sure Massachusetts even remembers what leadership looks like any more.  But I'm sure Governor Patrick will really make a splash this week at the Bio Convention.


Monday, June 27, 2011

On "balanced and on-time" budgets

As July 1 rapidly approaches without a final budget from the Massachusetts Legislature, it seems that another one of Governor Deval Patrick’s favorite lines is in danger of becoming invalidated. Patrick has been very fond of bragging that he’s delivered “balanced, responsible and on-time” budgets each year he’s been in office and that this is “not something many other states can say.” This line always made me laugh (in a ‘if I don’t laugh, I’ll cry’ kinda way) for a couple of reasons.

First, state law requires the Legislature and Governor to pass and sign a balanced budget. So, Patrick is really bragging that he followed the law. Other states’ laws might allow them to pass an unbalanced budget, but Massachusetts state law does not. If you’re aware of that fact, it’s really not that impressive an accomplishment. But Patrick is clearly counting on the fact that the general public doesn’t know this and will say, “gosh, Patrick has balanced the state’s budget every year, he must not be that reckless, wasteful taxer-and-spender that those mean ol’ Republicans keep telling me he is.” Relying on or exploiting the public’s lack of knowledge on an issue in order to make oneself look better is just the sort of cynical political posturing above which Patrick claims to be. The fact that he seems so darn nice while he’s doing it makes me want to weep many bitter tears of frustration.

The other part of Patrick’s statement, about delivering budgets on time (i.e. before the fiscal year ends), is equally laughable, even if it is technically true for now. First of all, when it gets down to crunch time like this, how much does Patrick really have to do with whether the Legislature approves the budget on time? Maybe he is working behind the scenes and urging legislative leaders to hurry up, but ultimately the ball is in their court right now. Secondly, is this rushed, secretive process that the state seems to go through every June really something to brag about? Six legislators are meeting behind closed doors to hash out the details of a roughly $30 billion budget. As it comes down to the wire, one has to wonder just how closely the members of the House and Senate will have looked at the final budget before voting on it. If I were the Governor, I’d want to distance myself from this process, not praise it.

By the way, I am deliberately not touching the “responsible” part of Patrick’s budget bragging, as Dan has addressed that hilarious claim elsewhere.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Top 10 Reads of the Week – June 24, 2011

Obama vs. ATMs: Why Technology Doesn’t Destroy Jobs – Russell Roberts (Wall Street Journal)

The story goes that Milton Friedman was once taken to see a massive government project somewhere in Asia. Thousands of workers using shovels were building a canal. Friedman was puzzled. Why weren't there any excavators or any mechanized earth-moving equipment? A government official explained that using shovels created more jobs. Friedman's response: "Then why not use spoons instead of shovels?"

That story came to mind last week when President Obama linked technology to job losses. "There are some structural issues with our economy where a lot of businesses have learned to become much more efficient with a lot fewer workers," he said. "You see it when you go to a bank and you use an ATM, you don't go to a bank teller, or you go to the airport and you're using a kiosk instead of checking in at the gate."… Read the Rest

Why the Jobs Situation Is Worse Than It Looks – Mortimer B. Zuckerman (US News)

The Great Recession has now earned the dubious right of being compared to the Great Depression. In the face of the most stimulative fiscal and monetary policies in our history, we have experienced the loss of over 7 million jobs, wiping out every job gained since the year 2000. From the moment the Obama administration came into office, there have been no net increases in full-time jobs, only in part-time jobs. This is contrary to all previous recessions. Employers are not recalling the workers they laid off from full-time employment.

The real job losses are greater than the estimate of 7.5 million. They are closer to 10.5 million, as 3 million people have stopped looking for work. Equally troublesome is the lower labor participation rate; some 5 million jobs have vanished from manufacturing, long America's greatest strength. Just think: Total payrolls today amount to 131 million, but this figure is lower than it was at the beginning of the year 2000, even though our population has grown by nearly 30 million… Read the Rest

The Democrats’ Culture of Corruption – Mark Hemingway [Weekly Standard]

Anthony Weiner undoubtedly felt pressured these last few weeks to resign his House seat over his dishonesty and online sexual indiscretions. The leaders of his party, everyone from President Obama to House minority leader Nancy Pelosi on down, were publicly in agreement that he should go.

But from Weiner’s vantage point, the question must be asked in all sincerity: Why should he be the one to resign?… Read the Rest

Libya and America’s Commitment Problem – Jonah Goldberg [National Review Online]

Suddenly and sadly, the Libyan war may be one of the most consequential adventures in recent American history.

Libya’s not important because it is vital to our national security. Nor is it a particularly significant country. It’s important solely because the Washington establishment, led by President Obama, made it important… Read the Rest

You’re Now Free to Move About the Country – Slowly – Brian Palmer [Slate.com]

Two different manufacturers unveiled supersonic jets at this year's Paris Air Show, eight years after the Concorde stopped flying. The introduction of the new planes got the Explainer thinking—why hasn't commercial air travel gotten any faster over the last few decades?… Read the Rest

Military leaders know Obama’s decision is a disaster – Robert Kagan [Washington Post]

The press is reporting that the top military leaders have “endorsed” President Obama’s Afghan troop withdrawal decision. With all due respect to the fine reporters, that is not the news. Under our Constitution, military leaders have no choice but to endorse the president’s decision after giving him their best advice. They could resign, of course, but to have the entire senior military leadership resign over a president’s decision contrary to their advice would be a disaster, and not least for the troops on the ground… Read the Rest

The War Against Girls – Jonathan V. Last [Wall Street Journal]

Mara Hvistendahl is worried about girls. Not in any political, moral or cultural sense but as an existential matter. She is right to be. In China, India and numerous other countries (both developing and developed), there are many more men than women, the result of systematic campaigns against baby girls. In "Unnatural Selection," Ms. Hvistendahl reports on this gender imbalance: what it is, how it came to be and what it means for the future.

In nature, 105 boys are born for every 100 girls. This ratio is biologically ironclad. Between 104 and 106 is the normal range, and that's as far as the natural window goes. Any other number is the result of unnatural events… Read the Rest

Why Obama is Likely to Lose in 2012 – Karl Rove [Wall Street Journal]

President Barack Obama is likely to be defeated in 2012. The reason is that he faces four serious threats. The economy is very weak and unlikely to experience a robust recovery by Election Day. Key voter groups have soured on him. He's defending unpopular policies. And he's made bad strategic decisions.

Let's start with the economy. Unemployment is at 9.1%, with almost 14 million Americans out of work. Nearly half the jobless have been without work for more than six months. Mr. Obama promised much better, declaring that his February 2009 stimulus would cause unemployment to peak at 8% by the end of summer 2009 and drop to roughly 6.8% today… Read the Rest

Obama is a Master of Ambivalence – Michael Gerson [Washington Post]

Since the beginning of his swift political rise, Barack Obama has fashioned himself a unique historical figure. With his latest speech on Afghanistan, he has finally become one.

What other American president has employed a public argument so transparently political — the need to “rebuild our infrastructure” and “find new and clean sources of energy” — to explain his choices as commander in chief? What other president has deployed the words “fidelity” and “unwavering belief” — citing examples of military tenacity and courage — to announce a policy of premature retreat? What other president has more dramatically claimed “a position of strength” while more effectively conveying an impression of weakness?… Read the Rest

Is Obama’s Oil Dump a Political Ploy? – Editors [Investors Business Daily]

With Democrats' poll numbers in the dumps, President Obama has decided to release some of the U.S. strategic petroleum reserves to cut prices at the pump. Problem is, its only real "strategic" purpose is politics.

The White House announced Thursday that for only the third time in history, the U.S. would release 30 million barrels of oil from the national stockpile… Read the Rest

The Funniest Thing I Saw This Week


'Green Lantern' To Fulfill America's Wish To See Lantern-Based Characters On Big Screen

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Thursday Evening Miscellany: Of snitchin', fuzzy math, the Gov's debt to Whitey, and MA's own Insane Clown Posse

Catching up with my local news after a busy start to the week...



No Snitchin'! As part of their legislative ethics revamp package rolled out this week, House Republicans proposed a "snitch rule," requiring any legislator with knowledge of unethical conduct by his or her colleagues to, well, snitch.  Which  calls to mind this iconic movie ending (the violence-averse should skip to the 35 second mark).  Of course a snitch rule would not have prevented Sal DiMasi's transgressions, since we all know that noooooobody else in the D caucus had aaaaaaany ideeeaaaaaaa what was going on with that Cognos contract.  The Republicans have "invited" Democrats to support their reform package.  Somehow - call me a cynic if you will - I suspect the only snitching that is going to happen in connection with all of this will be Ds snitching to leadership on other Ds for thinking about signing on to the Republican proposal.

This guy's judgment blows.  I don't pretend to know enough about the wind energy siting legislation currently "stuck in committee without a scheduled hearing date" to have a firm opinion on its merits.  I know Governor Patrick called it a top priority last year, but hasn't said anything much about it lately.  I know Senate President Murray tried to cram it through informal sessions last summer, but likewise hasn't had much to say recently.  And I know people in the communities developers are eying for wind energy generation facilities oppose it, claiming that the legislation will override local decision making authority.  The most important thing I know, though, is that the bill's primary sponsor is Rep. Frank Smizik, who last week described convicted felon Sal DiMasi as "a wonderful man" who "did a great job as Speaker."  So I'm not sure Smizik is the guy who we should trust to formulate the Commonwealth's wind energy policy.  His judgement blows.

Do The Right Thing.   Rep. Brad Hill (R-Persistent) has filed legislation called Melissa's Law every session for the last ten years.  The Melissa in whose honor the bill is named was 27 years old in 1999, when she was kidnapped, raped and murdered by a man who the state had designated a "habitual violent criminal" and then - you guessed it - released on parole.  Every session for the last ten years, Melissa's father has come to Beacon Hill to testify before the Judiciary Committee in support of the legislation named for his slain daughter.  And every session for the last ten years, the committee Chair has refused to so much as release the bill for debate.  With so much renewed attention to the issue of paroled "lifers"in the wake of the murder of an off-duty Woburn police officer a few months back, it probably is not surprising that Melissa's Law might have some life this time around.  There is room for legitimate debate over whether the bill's "three strikes" provision (three felonies = life without parole) ought to apply only to violent offenses.  But the point there is the word "debate."  Chairman O'Flaherty should do the right thing and release the bill for debate.


Addition by Subtraction.  Each budget cycle, Governor Patrick and his allies on Beacon Hill tell us they have "cut through the fat" of state government, and are now "into the bone."  Come to think of it, I over-use that metaphor myself, but only when quoting him.  Yet by some budgetary alchemy beyond the comprehension of mere non-politicians, somehow overall spending continues to increase year after year.  Now we have another example of Beacon Hill's miracle math.  If you don't click on another link in this post, click into this excellent piece from the Pioneer Institute's blog.  Here's a taste:
Even after dozens of rounds of layoffs and promises of cutbacks state employment continued to be a growth industry in Massachusetts through the recession, according to analysis of data from the Comptroller of the Commonwealth and from the Human Resources Division. Several state departments, after a dozen or more layoffs, actually ended up with an increased headcount.

Under the threat of massive budget shortfalls in 2008, Governor Deval Patrick promised a slashed budget and “painful” reductions in state staffing numbers. In total, he said 1,000 jobs would be eliminated, spanning a variety of services and departments.

While the governor admitted the cost would have tangible impacts on everything from RMV wait times to services for the disabled and deaf, the proposed cost cutting measures were widely praised as necessary: Revised projections predicted more than a billion dollars in reduced revenue in 2008 alone, and the private sector has suffered in even greater measure. In the first quarter of 2011 alone, 190,895 workers were laid off nationally in mass layoffs.

But despite the promised cutbacks and restraint, local and state government in Massachusetts have, except for brief dips, expanded their full time equivalent employees.

Addition by subtraction is easy... so long as you skip the subtraction part.

The Gov Owes Whitey a Thank You Note.   Why, you ask?  Well, if Whitey Bulger hadn't fallen for an FBI "ruse" last night in Santa Monica, more than a half dozen souls might have noticed that Attorney General Martha Coakley released a report on health care costs that pretty much blew a fist-sized hole through the gut of Patrick's cost containment strategy.  If  you only click on two links in this post, let the second be to this excellent blog entry by former hospital exec Paul Levy, explaining exactly why Patrick's so-called "global payment" system cannot control costs.  And then you can go back to your speculating about just what was the "ruse" that lured Whitey from his west coast love nest/armory.  My money is on a guy in the street with a bullhorn yelling "extended early bird special!"  Bulger is a retiree, after all.


Insane Clown Posse.  Remember the Governor's Council?  Readers of this blog may have had cause to think about that eccentric assemblage for a nanosecond or two when I wrote about them last month.  Well, they are up their usual shenanigans again.  At this week's meeting, two long-time antagonists on the council descended (again!) into what the State House News called a "screaming match" over recent public statements made by one Councilor about the other: 
Councilors Thomas Merrigan and Marilyn Devaney escalated their war of words Wednesday, engaging in a screaming match and ignoring Lt. Gov. Tim Murray's calls to restore order during a meeting held just steps from Gov. Deval Patrick’s office that ended with three judicial nominees winning lifetime appointments.

The shouting between the two councilors, Democrats who have frequently – and increasingly pointedly – been at odds over Gov. Deval Patrick’s nominations, startled visitors to the Council Chamber, including members of the governor’s staff on hand to witness the altercation.
Bear in mind, these people vet every single person appointed to a judgeship in Massachusetts. They are literally the gatekeepers to the judiciary.  They evaluate nominees based on, among other things, temperament.  And yet even in the context of a public hearing, with press in the room, they cannot manage to behave like adults.  Here's my favorite part:
“This is wrong,” Devaney shouted as Merrigan continued to read his remarks.

“You’re wrong,” Merrigan shot back.
"You're a dooty-head!" yelled Devaney.
"You're a dooty-head!" Merrigan rejoined.
 I made up that second part.  Or did I...?

These guys should run for Governor's Council.  You know, to restore some decorum.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Maine on Tax Cuts: "YES WE CAN!"

[Ed. Note: Libby's first post!]

Over the next week, legislative leaders on Beacon Hill will be putting the finishing touches on the state budget. The clock is ticking to finalize the negotiations and send it to the Governor for his review and signature before the start of the next fiscal year that begins on July 1st.

As these negotiations continue, the one thing we know for sure is that the final budget will not contain any tax relief for businesses and taxpayers since none of the budget versions filed by the Governor, House or Senate included tax cuts. Bay State leaders want us to believe that tax cuts are not possible given that the state is dealing with a $2 billion structural gap in the budget. A gap that they claim is due to the loss of Federal stimulus funds. Never mind that they had four years and more than $7 billion in Federal and state rainy day money to plan for this day instead of pushing the problem off year after year.


I for one get very irritated when I hear the people in charge of spending our money say that they have cut spending to the bare bones. It is true that programs have seen some across the board cuts (higher education, local aid, senior prescription advantage to name a few) but there has been no thought behind these cuts. Instead of changing the way the programs are administered to create savings, across the board cuts have become the norm and they have been particularly slow to address meaningful reforms. For example, the state recently announced a new approach to fund homelessness programs as the number of families living in motels across the state hit a record high of more than 1,500 this past month.

This is great news but what in God’s name took so long? This has been a problem for four years costing you and me more than $50 million to house families in motels. There has been no sense of urgency to make changes to this program and many more as they spend our money.

As recently observed by a Boston Channel investigation,
In the past four years, taxpayers spent $431,229,362 on programs to help the homeless. Of that, $50,533,079 paid for motels according to the department of Housing and Community Development.
Maybe our leaders on Beacon Hill should take some lessons from our friends to the north of us in the state of Maine. They got serious about making reforms to their budget and proved to all of us that tax cuts are possible – even with a budget gap and the loss of federal funds. Led by the newly elected Republican Governor LePage, the state’s new budget approves $150 million in tax cuts - the largest tax cut in state history.

How did they accomplish this you ask? By changing the way state government does business including imposing a hiring freeze for state employees; reforming welfare to make the state program more in-line with federal standards such as establishing a five-year time limit on benefits (which, by the way, MA does not have); and rolling back the pension program to cut the unfunded liability by $1.7 billion. Here's the Sun Journal:
The budget proposal that received overwhelming support in the Legislature cuts taxes for nearly all Mainers, imposes a lifetime cap on welfare recipients, restricts some immigrants’ access to social services and reduces the unfunded pension liability by $1.7 billion.
Governor LePage signed the budget but said it only does half the job, particularly on welfare reform. This is a signal that there will be many more changes happening in Maine that will benefit the taxpayers in that state.

So note to our leaders on Beacon Hill: Yes we can afford tax cuts, if we really try.

Welcome Libby!

What explains this strange new phenomenon of my smarter-than-I friends' sudden willingness to contribute to my humble blog?  Something in the water?  Do they know something I don't know about the profit potential of online spleen ventilation? 

Don't ask me.  She chose it.
Whatever it is, I feel fortunate that Libby Lucia (Twitter: @libby_lucia) has joined Daisy in the jump from 140-character observation to more extended analysis of all things MA politics and government, and that she chose to do so here.

Libby's inaugural post (on the wonders possible with Republican leadership) will go up momentarily.  Please welcome her, comment freely, or write her directly at: libby.criticalmass@gmail.com.

Not... going to... write... about.... CAHILL!

I know I promised I was done with my ranting about former Treasurer Cahill and his stalking horse gubernatorial candidacy.  I even titled my previous Cahill post "The last thing I'll write about Tim Cahill" in an effort to lock myself in.  The thing about this casual blogging deal, though, is there's really no accountability.  If I wanted to I could just go back and delete that promise.  But I won't, which in a way is sort of noble.  So there.  I am breaking my promise nobly.

And anyhow, this rant is more about the press's coverage of Cahill than Cahill himself.  I'm not even sure Cahill himself still exists, though a friend reports seeing him at a parade recently, mixed almost anonymously in with the curbside crowd.

I'll keep it short.  The Globe's front page headline today is: "Files link Cahill to lottery's '10 ad blitz."  Well, no $%@#.

You remember those ads.  The ones that went something like this: "The Massachusetts Lottery.  Best managed in the nation.  Managed conservatively by a tall, independent ex high school wrestler from Quincy with a crooked yet somehow endearing smile. A guy you might want to support for higher office, to thank him for being such a darned great lottery manager."  The ones Cahill insisted had nothing to do with his campaign.

Last October, the headline could have read "Emails link Cahill to lottery's ad blitz" (oh wait!  One did!).  Or, "Common sense links Cahill to lottery's ad blitz."  Aside from the fact that Cahill apparently had a one-on-one meeting with the lottery's ad agency back in August '10, there really is nothing new in the Globe's 'revelation' article today that was not easily discerned from the facts available to the press corps back in October 2010.  You know, around the time when Cahill was spinning into his final Kamikaze dive.

So what's next?  A front page article revealing that Cahill wasn't really an "independent," or a "fiscal conservative"?  Or that his campaign blatantly ripped off Scott Brown?  The long awaited expose of his failed smoothie empire? Photos proving he threw out that half-a-tomato?

Rant over.  And that's the last thing I'll write about Tim Cahill...

today.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Associations

I have mentioned before that a good friend has known Speaker Bob DeLeo since they were kids, and vouches for him as an ethical straight-shooter.  So I personally have cause at least to hope that whenever Speaker DeLeo decides to hang it up, he will do so as the first Massachusetts House Speaker to retire free of prosecutorial compulsion since 1990 (I know I keep using that - it just never fails to impress).

That does not mean he ought to be able to shrug off questions raised over the weekend about the extent to which now-convicted former Speaker Sal DiMasi sponsored his rise to the big chair. 

Here's the State House News Service Sunday (republished by the Herald):
House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s office continues to duck questions about sworn testimony in the DiMasi trial indicating that in 2007, Salvatore DiMasi, then speaker of the House, strategized to ensure that DeLeo would be his successor.

During the trial, Dino DiFronzo, a longtime political ally of DiMasi, testified that he met with DiMasi and DeLeo in December 2007 at the firm of DiMasi’s accountant, Richard Vitale, to discuss strategies to ensure that DeLeo would capture the speakership after DiMasi left office.

The hour-long meeting, DiFronzo said, was about “when Sal was going to be leaving” and “figuring out how Bobby could become – how Mr. DeLeo could become the next speaker.”
Nobody should feign indignation at the notion that in politics those at the top are always thinking about succession.  It's a legacy-preservation thing.  Nor is it a shock to learn that those on the next few rungs down are always trying to climb.  There is no scandal in the fact that DeLeo, whose close relationship to DiMasi was well known and longstanding, was part of an inner circle who knew long before anyone else that DiMasi was pondering his exit from government as early as Christmas '07.

Speaker DeLeo's problem here is two-fold.  First, there are his statements at the time.  Again from the SHNS:
“[DiMasi] has told me personally and told the world publicly that simply isn’t true. Therefore, talk of what happens after he leaves office is far, far premature,” DeLeo said in an email to the News Service in December 2007. “Nonetheless, as a result of these rumors, other rumors have started about the political future of some members including myself. The simple truth is that three years ago I was honored to be nominated as chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means and my devotion to that charge has only strengthened since. My loyalty is to my constituents, to the Commonwealth, to the House of Representatives and to the Speaker as a member of his leadership team and it is not divided further.”
The last part of that is true: inasmuch as DiMasi was apparently on board with the effort to elevate DeLeo, DeLeo was not in truth scheming to take his place.  But the first part?  More like... untrue.

And the second problem for Speaker DeLeo is the fact that the revival of this story from Decemner 2007 only highlights for the scandal-weary public just how close a relationship the current Speaker had with the former Speaker, now convicted of federal corruption and extortion charges.  

"Some day, and that day may never come..."
Again, there is no inherent sin in that relationship.  Nearly everyone has a mentor - and in legislative politics (where the role is more often described as a "Godfather") having one is almost a prerequisite to ascension.  Then again, if you go get your hair cut by a guy whose scalp tattoo is bisected by a purple, spiked mohawk, you shouldn't be surprised if you don't come out the other end with a coiffure like Mitt Romney's.

So it isn't surprising that Speaker DeLeo is ducking questions about 2007, and hoping/trusting that the looming budget and casino bills will push the story quickly to the background.

What piqued my interest about DeLeo's reaction to the questions raised by the State House News and the Herald was captured in the SHNS's headline: "DeLeo stays silent on succession meeting, says he earned every vote" (the Herald's online edition has a type-o, by the way.  The original is "vote," not "note").

What exactly does that mean in this context?  "Earned every vote"?

For some reason that wording cast my mind back to early 2008, when a comment by then House Rules Committee Chair Angelo Scaccia (D-Guileless) really stuck in my craw.  Defending the House Democrats' practice of "debating" budget amendments behind closed doors, Scaccia told the State House News on April 15, 2008: "Members like that because they can go in and debate their issue in front of the gentleman from Ways and Means and his staff and if it makes sense and there's money, they'll put it in."

"The gentleman from Ways and Means" at the time, of course, was Bob DeLeo.  Again, that unfortunate Godfather imagery: House Dems filing into a private anteroom, presenting their budget items to 'the gentleman from Ways and Means,' who either granted their requests or turned them away - all safely hidden from public scrutiny.  Given that we now know that DiMasi and DeLeo had hatched a succession plan several months before Scaccia's frank and revealing comment, one wonders: is this how DeLeo was "earning" those votes?

"Some day, and that day may never come, I'll ask you to cast a vote for me.  Until then, accept this line item as a gift..."

In fairness, what Speaker DeLeo actually said last week in an interview with WCVB-TV was, "I will tell you that in terms of my becoming speaker, it was me and me only who went out to each and every member to seek their support. I’m the one who got every single vote to be speaker of the House."  I'm not sure that clarifies things much. 

Blessedly former Rep. James Fagan (D-obnoxious) took advantage of his deposed/liberated status to provide a more frank assessment of the DeLeo succession process than one assumes he would have offered had the voters not sent him packing last November: "It was very clear that DiMasi was clearly in the tank with Bobby DeLeo, not only personally supporting him and really twisting people... That became pretty apparent towards the end [of the speakership fight]."

For some reason this makes me think of the time years ago when I was selling Cub Scout wreaths door to door in my neighborhood, and one neighbor's Doberman convinced me to leave his property.  His argument was similar to what I suspect Sal had to say to House Ds who weren't initially inclined to support Sal's designated successor.

Again, none of that means Speaker DeLeo is destined to share the fate of his last three predecessors.  He rose through the ranks of a grubby system and picked up some stains along the way, sure, but I have yet to see anything that contradicts my friend's first-hand assessment of the man's essential character.

It does mean, however, that the Speaker should probably dial back the righteous indignation when reacting to suggestions that the DiMasi scandal represents anything more than an individual failing.  “This was definitely not business as usual – and it is a slur on every hardworking public servant to suggest otherwise,” he said last week in reaction to news of the DiMasi verdict.

For some reason that made me think of the time when I was a kid and, cutting through a cow field on my way home I slipped on/fell in something that my friend called a "pasture pie."

Monday, June 20, 2011

Beacon Hill has overpromised and underdelivered - again

My first official blog post! I’m very excited about this opportunity and grateful to Dan for allowing me to contribute to his awesome blog. [Ed. note: the gratitude is all mine - CD]
___

Promise

As Beacon Hill gears up for yet another casino debate, we will surely start hearing about the many wonderful benefits of expanded gaming for Massachusetts. Millions - no, billions! - of dollars will flow into the state’s coffers! It will solve all our budget problems! Create thousands of jobs! Bring peace and prosperity to our great land!

Hyperbole and too-good-to-be-true promises are nothing new for Beacon Hill, of course (and probably any legislature). But before Massachusetts goes ga-ga for gaming, the New England Center for Investigative Reporting is out with a report on another major piece of legislation which should make us even more skeptical of the sweet nothings DeLeo et al will be whispering in our ears.

NECIR takes a look at the 2009 transportation merger which rolled multiple agencies into one Department of Transportation. At the time, the public was promised that this merger would save the state billions of dollars by eliminating duplication and cutting waste. Legislative leaders were throwing around estimates of projected savings of $6-6.5 billion over 20 years. And the Patrick administration projected a reduction of 300 employees.

The reality? The cost savings estimate has been dialed way back to $2 billion over 20 years and a grand total of 31 net positions have been eliminated. NECIR found that DOT has actually added 457 new employees since the merger. To be fair, many of these positions are project-specific and the positions will be eliminated upon completion of the project. But for now, we're still paying for them.

...and delivery
One aspect of Transportation Secretary Jeffrey Mullan’s explanation for why their payroll estimates were off strikes me as curious. He says when he estimated a reduction of 300 employees, he did not “anticipate that the Congress would pass the stimulus program, and that drove headcount.” Hmmm. Well, Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in February of 2009. Governor Patrick signed the transportation legislation into law in June of 2009. I’m sure Secretary Mullan and the Administration had done their estimates and projections months earlier, but in the four months between the passing of the federal stimulus program and the signing of the state law, Secretary Mullan didn’t feel like piping up and saying, ‘hey, this might change our projections a little’?

So the much-hailed transportation merger will probably only save about one-third of what it was projected to, and - at least for now - has not led to the reduction in payroll the Administration claimed it would. Unfortunately, this report is just another reason in a long list of reasons why the public should take everything that comes from Beacon Hill with a large grain of salt.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A certain commonality

There's a certain common characteristic running through this gallery on Boston.com today of infamous MA pols and their various interactions with the criminal justice system...

I can't quite put my finger on it.
Ah, yes. That's it.

OK, this post is kind of cheap and easy.  Even obvious.  Of course every major Massachusetts political scandal in recent memory has involved a Democrat.  That's a bit like pointing out that every traffic accident on the Pike last week involved a car.

I mean, ideological bias aside, just as a matter of journalistic balance how hard do you think the folks at Boston.com tried to find a Republican to include in that list?

In response to each new entry on the growing list of MA D scandal, some apologist can always be counted on to observe that political corruption and scandal are bipartisan.  And that is true.  But not here.  Here, our scandals tend to involve the folks who control our government, top to bottom.  That's the Democrats.

While it might be cheap and obvious the slideshow is a nice visual reminder of the political reality our collective voting habits have won for us.  The pictured pols' offenses range from the very serious (Sal DiMasi and Diane Wilkerson with their pocket-lining and abuses of power, and Anthony Galluccio with his drunk driving), to the ludicrous (James Marzilli, with his late night harassathon through the streets of Lowell) and seemingly everything in between.

Apologists and partisans can also be counted on to insist that these scandals - each of them - are all "personal," or "individual."  They represent isolated failings, you see, not a systemic problem.  That is true as to some of them.  Galluccio apparently had a personal (and all-too-common) drinking problem.  And Marzilli's transgressions - thankfully - were about as singular (and singularly weird) as they come.  But as I noted just the other day,  the fact that no Massachusetts Speaker has left office with a clear criminal record since 1990 does not represent merely three individual failings.  In Massachusetts, the Speaker rises from within.  He climbs the ladder, slowly, over a period of years or even decades.  The Machine makes him, elevates him, feeds his ego and protects him.  Three speakers in a row?  That's systemic.

There's this guy who lives in my town.  Our politics could not be more different, and we are both equally passionate about our own ideologies.  Over the last couple of years, though, we have become friends even as we've sparred over issues local, statewide and national.  He is a very good guy - a good soul - whose opinions just differ from mine.  We do frequently find common ground in our lamentation and condemnation of exactly the sort of behaviors that are spread out across the Boston.com slideshow today.  I have no doubt that he abhors them as much as - if not more than - I do.

And yet...  when push comes to shove on Election Day, my friend pulls the D lever.  He does not vote for the crooks.  But his votes - and those of who knows how many Democratic activists like him - give the crooks (and the hacks, and the myriad other varieties of deviant reflected in that slideshow) the infrastructure, the ground troops, the veto-proof majority they need to maintain their absolute control of government. 

Likewise the Globe.  Sure, its investigative team routinely turns in an excellent expose of one area of D-dominated government or another.  A lot of what we know about the shadier parts of Beacon Hill, we know because the Globe trained a light, however temporarily.  But just like my friend, when push comes to shove (and, maybe more importantly, on a day-to-day basis) the Beacon Hill Ds can count on the Globe to be in their corner. They are like NATO to the Democratic Machine's Qadaffi - ostensibly there to make things better; in reality just providing air cover for the status quo.

"Let's all get together at the next state convention." [Boston.com photos]
The universe does not appreciate hubris, so a part of me worries that making too much of this handy little online reference invites Republic malfeasance... but I couldn't resist.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Jobs numbers: mixed messages from the Patrick/Murray Administration

Angry Daisy
 UPDATE: I'm re-posting this to the top of the 'roll, because Daisy has a good back-and-forth with Secretary Bialecki starting up in the comments field.  Also, Daisy correctly notes that the Globe's full treatment of the job numbers, in the paper today, is considerably more even-handed than was the initial blurb criticized below.

 ORIGINAL POST (6/16):

My wickid smaht friend Daisy (who I am trying to convince to blog with me at CriticalMASS) is foaming mad today because once again the Patrick Administration is picking and choosing its jobs numbers, and Boston.com is happily parroting their spin under a "staff" byline.  She has a point.

This is the brief article that has Daisy in a dither - not the text so much as the headline: "Mass. unemployment rate drops to 7.6%."  Unsurprisingly, the "news" the Patrick Administration is focusing on today is that number, juxtaposed with the national rate of 9.1%.  "On the mend and on the move" and what-not.

The trouble is, even as our unemployment rate is going down, we continue to lose jobs - 4,000 of them last month.  Those two apparent realities (job losses combined with lower overall unemployment rate) suggest our workforce is contracting, as more of the long-term unemployed simply give up and drop out of the workforce.  That's hardly good news.  The Patrick Administration's spin - echoed in the Globe's headline - is exactly the opposite of what it was in months when the unemployment rate went up, but we added jobs.  Then (understandably) their focus was on the jobs, not the rate.  Now it's the rate, not the jobs.

By the way, our total workforce shrunk in May, along with the number of employed residents.  Despite all of that, perceived reality ends up a function of the headline, not the math (hence, Daisy's frustration with the headline).

It seems May's job losses came as a surprise to the Patrick Administration.  Otherwise, it is unlikely that Greg Bialecki, Patrick's Secretary of Housing and Economic Development, would have written this earlier in the week on Red Mass Group (in the comments under his initial post*):
We think the better measure of our success is the employment data: is our economy adding jobs? We think a lower unemployment rate is not necessarily the best measure of economic success. The unemployment rate may go down because people stop looking for work or retire or because people leave the state (this has been a problem for Massachusetts). We obviously do want the unemployment rate to go down (as it has been doing), but we believe that if our economy keeps adding jobs, then it will do so.
Secretary Bialecki ought to share this bit of wisdom with the Governor's Deputy Press Secretary Alec Loftus, who today is merrily Tweeting: "MA unemployment drops to 7.6 %; lowest since Feb. '09. Faster and stronger than rest of U.S. @ 9.1%."  The first two points are accurate as a factual matter, if misleading in context.  The last one, the bit about "faster/stronger"?  Not so much.  As Secretary Bialecki wrote, "The unemployment rate may go down because people stop looking for work or retire or because people leave the state (this has been a problem for Massachusetts)."

Indeed.

* I hope the fact that he unwittingly stepped on the Administration's future message here does not deter Secretary Bialecki from engaging on economic issues at RMG and elsewhere. I was surprised and pleased to see that post, and the fact that he followed it up with substantive responses to the comments it elicited. Kudos for that.

Top 10 Reads of the Week – June 17, 2011

Why Obamacare Is Losing in the Courts – David Rivkin and Lee Casey [Wall Street Journal]

When we first articulated ObamaCare's fundamental constitutional flaws in these pages nearly two years ago, our objections were met with derision by the law's defenders. Those who have been following the unfolding litigation are no longer laughing.

Three U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals are poised to render decisions on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in the coming months. Despite hundreds of briefing pages and numerous oral arguments, government lawyers have yet to address the law's most basic constitutional infirmity. Only a "general police power"—the right to enact laws alleged to be in the public interest without regard to interstate commerce or some other federal legislative authority—can support the law's centerpiece, the "individual mandate" that all Americans purchase health insurance. The Constitution denies that power to the federal government, reserving it to the states alone…Read the Rest

Semper Fly – Matt Labash [Weekly Standard]

Nearly every fly fisherman I know is a celebrator of the absurd. You have to be to spend years of your life standing in cold water, flogging it endlessly with a plastic stick, hoping to outsmart a fish with a chickpea-sized brain by duping it with feather and fur. If you’re successful and conscientious, you will punch a hole through its mouth with sharp steel, play it to hand, admire its beauty or power, then gently return it to the water to swim away freely, as if this senseless blood pageant had never occurred. It’s a pastime that rewards those who don’t examine it too closely.

When people ask for justification of such folly, I usually skip the purple stuff about communing with nature, or the genetic imperative to scratch the predatory itch, or the satisfaction that comes from holding a wild creature in a world that tames just about everything. Like most fellow zealots, I’m not interested in justification. I just need to fish. And as I’ve written before, if you spend enough time on the water, you will meet all kinds of fishermen who are dropouts and ne’er-do-wells, men bent on cheating time and ducking out of the world. But you will meet very few hopeless fishermen. For fishing forces optimism even into the soul-sick and the beaten. As the Scottish novelist John Buchan said, “The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.” … Read the Rest

The union-owned Democrats – Charles Krauthammer [Washington Post]

“Shovel-ready was not as shovel-ready as we expected,” observed President Obama this week, enjoying a nice chuckle about the unhappy fate of his near-$1 trillion stimulus. To be sure, Obama has also been promoting a less amusing remedy for anemic growth and high unemployment: exports. In his 2010 State of the Union address, he proclaimed a national goal of doubling exports within five years.

One obvious way to increase exports is through free-trade agreements. But unions don’t like them. No surprise then that for two years Obama has been sitting on three free-trade agreements — with Colombia, Panama and South Korea — already negotiated by his predecessor… Read the Rest 

Too big to win – Mark Steyn [National Review / Steyn Online]

Why can’t America win wars? It’s been two-thirds of a century since we saw (as President Obama vividly put it) “Emperor Hirohito coming down and signing a surrender to MacArthur.” And, if that’s not quite how you remember it, forget the formal guest list, forget the long-form surrender certificate, and try to think of “winning” in a more basic sense.

The United States is currently fighting, to one degree or another, three wars. Iraq — the quagmire, the “bad” war, the invasion that launched a thousand Western anti-war demonstrations and official inquiries and anti-Bush plays and movies — is going least badly. For now. And making allowances for the fact that the principal geostrategic legacy of our genteel protectorate is that an avowed American enemy, Iran, was able vastly to increase its influence over the country on our dime… Read the Rest

Coming soon: A bigger, costlier Obamacare – Ron Johnson and Douglas Holtz-Eakin [Washington Post]

Obamacare poses two great dangers to our nation: lower quality of care and runaway costs. It will stifle innovation and lead to rationing. But the overwhelming cost and the damage it will do to our nation’s finances at a pivotal moment in our history deserve greater scrutiny.

The promises Obamacare supporters have made about the ultimate cost of the program are based on highly unlikely premises. Those who support the 2010 health-care law are betting that costs will remain under control largely because its central feature — health insurance exchanges, which amount to a centralized, government-run market of subsidized insurance policies — will not be all that popular. They are counting on the notion that when the government offers “free” money, there will be few takers. This is not realistic… Read the Rest

Anthony Weiner and the National Adultery Ritual – Kay S. Hymowitz [Commentary]

If the headlines seem to tell us one thing about our culture, it is that we are living in the Age of Adultery. A steady line of prominent men have taken the walk of shame across our television screens and through our magazine and newspaper pages over the past decade or so; Bill Clinton (he says it wasn’t sex, but would even he deny it was adultery?), Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, the three Johns (Edwards, Ensign, and Gosselin), Jim McGreevey, Mark Sanford, Eliot Spitzer, Tiger Woods, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Anthony Weiner. These are just the 30-minutes-of-fame-ers. There are plenty of other minor-league cads who got their more commonly apportioned 15 minutes—San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin (said to have fathered the child of Casey Greenfield, daughter of pundit eminence Jeff Greenfield), eight-term Indiana congressman Mark Souder; no doubt by the time these words reach print, there will be others. Add them all together, and culture and politics seem like they’re all adultery, all the time… Read the Rest

Are we stumbling into another recession? – Robert J. Samuelson [Washington Post]

It's not just history buffs who now study the 1937-38 recession. The question is: Are we stumbling into a similar downturn?

Called "the Roosevelt Recession," the 1937-38 slump interrupted recovery from the Great Depression. It was "a depression within a depression," writes Stanford University historian David Kennedy in his Pulitzer Prize-winning "Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945." Unemployment rose from a monthly low of 11 percent in 1937 to 20 percent. The economy's output (gross national product) fell 18 percent; industrial production dropped 32 percent… Read the Rest

Michael Steele in a Dress? – John Fund [Wall Street Journal]

Michael Steele made Republicans cringe with his many gaffes during the two years he chaired the Republican National Committee. Now Republicans are gleefully compiling "The Thoughts of Chairwoman Debbie," a collection of the bizarre statements made by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who took over the Democratic National Committee last month.

"We own the economy," she said this week at a breakfast sponsored by Politico.com. "We own the beginning of the turnaround, and we want to make sure that we continue that pace of recovery." The economy, she said, "has turned around" since President Obama took office, leaving many reporters who had asked her about rising unemployment numbers scratching their heads in puzzlement. "I've really seen such a velocity of spin with so little heft behind it," one told me… Read the Rest

Republicans Return to Reality – Peggy Noonan [Wall Street Journal]

First impressions from a presidential debate are always about how things look, how people come across. Tim Pawlenty doesn't really assert, he natters. Rick Santorum is earnest, Michelle Bachmann serious. Mitt Romney knows how he looks in every camera shot from every angle: He is a master of the cutaway shot, when the camera isn't on him. He keeps his posture and maintains a kindly smile, as if he's pleased the other candidate are sharing their nice little thoughts.

But the GOP debate in New Hampshire was a big success in two ways. First, there was no obvious candidate from Crazytown, which was a boon to the party's reputation and brand, and which may help it more easily shake itself out and pick an electable candidate. In a functionally 50-50 nation and in a campaign in which Democrats hope to spend a billion dollars, this could turn into a significant benefit. Second, and more important, the foreign-policy discussion, though limited, was marked by a new sobriety. There was no spirit of adventurism, there were no burly promises of victories around the corner and lights at the ends of tunnels. It was more muted than that, more realistic, different in tone and tenor from four and eight years ago. This signaled a real shift, and a heartening one… Read the Rest 

True Job Creators Need a Voice – Bernie Marcus [Real Clear Politics]

I worked hard to make my own small company into a big one but I never could have succeeded if I had faced the avalanche of impediments that our current government hurls down upon this generation of entrepreneurs. The White House's job creation strategy is to threaten higher taxes on anyone making more than two hundred thousand dollars a year and to appoint yet another council on jobs. Does anyone really believe this will create the jobs this country needs? I certainly don't. What I do believe is that we must bring together the hard-working men and women who are on the front lines of job creation - small and medium-sized business founders and owners -- to light the way to renewed economic growth… Read the Rest

The Funniest Thing I Saw This Week

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Welcome Daisy!

So apparently my friend Daisy likes to see her "face" on the internets... 

Please welcome Daisy (Twitter: @daisybuke), who henceforth will be blogging with me here at her leisure. That's one more step on the road to my planned Global Multimedia Empire (and through it, World Domination).

Daisy is way smarter than I (for one thing, she can do math); her posts are sure to be insightful and informative.  Keep an eye out for her first, and feel free to comment and/or to email her at daisy.criticalmass@gmail.com.

Sal brings the Globe and Republicans together

Time to end the Imperial Speaker
The Globe this morning has one of those editorials that it periodically runs.  You know - the ones that cause a brief moment cognitive dissonance.  The ones that rail in perfectly rational and convincing terms against the Beacon Hill culture... without acknowledging the role the Globe itself plays in perpetuating that culture with its day-to-day, politically slanted coverage of state politics.

Never mind.  Today's editorial is pretty good. 
SAL DIMASI’S conviction yesterday for extortion, wire fraud, and other acts of corruption should spell the end of the imperial speakership on Beacon Hill. DiMasi, who faces up to 20 years in prison, is the third consecutive former House speaker to go down on federal charges. Yet even more so than the tax evasion case against Charlie Flaherty or the perjury case against Tom Finneran, the crooked software deal at issue in the DiMasi case shows what can happen when a single legislative leader controls the body to such an extent that he can wield almost unchecked power behind the scenes — and when other officials flatter him and kowtow to him as a result.
No argument here.   In fact, I feel like I've read something like that before...

One quibble.  The editors end with this admonition:
It’s time for the Democratic Party to demand reforms to curb the kind of power that enabled DiMasi to force dozens of officials — up to and including the governor — to bend to his whims.
In truth, the Democratic Party does not have to "demand" such reforms.  They just need to stop squashing the reform proposals filed by the legislature's Republicans (remember them?!) year after year. 

DiMasi Verdict: Ds should stick to 'no comment'

It is infuriating when something big happens in the public arena, something like yesterday's conviction of former Speaker Sal DiMasi, and elected officials stiff-arm the press with a terse "no comment."

But yesterday on Beacon Hill, a number of Democratic lawmakers convincingly demonstrated why sometimes "no comment" is the way to go.  Cornered by persistent reporters, they got ornery and said some mind-numbingly stupid things.

Let's start with the Globe's re-cap of Beacon Hill's reaction:
House lawmakers seemed to act as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened, cheering floor speeches and congratulating one another for passing bills, even as former speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, , a North End Democrat, became their third consecutive House leader guilty of a federal felony.

Many legislators dodged reporters, dashing into the chamber and, on their way out, scurrying away through side exits that allowed them the buffer of a velvet rope.

Public moments of introspection were few.

Some of those who spoke insisted that DiMasi’s conviction had little to do with them or the workings of state government. None offered any regret that they reelected DiMasi speaker before his indictment, but after stories in the Globe flagged some of his behavior. Most of them rejected the notion put forth yesterday by US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz that “the culture of corruption on the Hill has been dealt another blow.’’
I suppose it is understandable that the Democratic machine would reject that notion.  After all, the felony convictions of DiMasi's two predecessors don't seem to have made all that much of a "dent" in the Beacon Hill culture.  But that casual mention of the overwhelming vote taken by House Democrats to reelect Sal to the Speaker's chair in January 2009 is interesting.  To me, that vote is at least as damning of the institution and the party that controls it as the fact that three Speakers in a row have left office by way of a felony conviction.  It is no exaggeration to say that the facts under which the jury yesterday convicted DiMasi of seven counts, including fraud and extortion, were pretty much out there in the public arena, thanks to front page Globe coverage, when the Democratic caucus voted nearly unanimously to give Sal another term.  That vote included every newly-elected freshman rep, and - perhaps more to the point - virtually every member of current House leadership.

Unsurprisingly, yesterday some of DiMasi's former colleagues were particularly prickly when asked about that vote.  Here's Rep. Charles Murphy, Majority Whip, to the State House News:
Murphy also pushed back against critics, including opponents during the last election cycle, who have tried to use incumbents' votes to elect DiMasi speaker against them.

"That's a criticism I never have agreed with. When Sal DiMasi got reelected as speaker and I voted for Sal DiMasi the only thing that anybody had on him, quote or unquote, was a couple of articles in (the Boston Globe) and allegations from people, so if people suggest that I should be dictated to as to how I should vote whether it be for speaker, or legislation or whatever the case may be based on a newspaper article, well, you're talking to the wrong guy because I make my own decisions," Murphy said.
Yeah.  And in January 2009 Murphy and his colleagues made 'their own decisions' with their palms pressed firmly into their ears, yelling "La La La I can't hear you!"

Ds preparing to vote - January 2009
 Comments got even worse.  A few Dems seemed to question the jury's verdict.  Rep. Kevin Murphy of Lowell said to the Globe, "It's the jury who said he did it, not me."  Rep. Frank Smizik concurred.  "I’m not going to say he did it; I don’t know... That’s what the jury said."  Yeah... Reps Murphy and Smizik might want to take a gander at that "Constitution" thingy they swore to uphold when they took office.  There are a couple of little bits in there about trials by jury.

Some even defended DiMasi.  Rep. Ellen Story told the State House News, "I think he did a fine job as Speaker. I think this was an extraordinary circumstance that he found himself in and I'm awfully sorry he wasn't able to handle it better... I think you can't take away some of the good things he did as speaker because he had such a terrible end to his career."  Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?

Smizik again: "I'm upset because he is a wonderful man and did a great job as Speaker…It's a shame he got caught up in it."  By "it," of course, Rep Smizik means "taking tens of thousands of dollars in bribes."  Yes, a real shame.

Speaker Bob DeLeo, DiMasi's successor and the man vying to be the first Massachusetts House Speaker since 1990 to retire without a felony on his record, declared it a "slur" to suggest that the DiMasi mess represented "business as usual" on Beacon Hill - to which there are three pretty convincing rejoinders.  Their portraits are probably on the Speaker's office wall right next to DeLeo's. 

To be fair, not every House Democrat was singing from the same book.  Rep. Cory Atkins (D-Ostracized), one of the few who did not cast a vote for Sal two years ago, seems pretty pissed about the whole thing (SHNS again):
"I suspected it from the first day. I didn't vote for him because I thought he lacked character and judgment. There were things in legislation and in his behavior that I always didn't like so this was consistent with those things, but I think this is really sad because it puts a cloud over all of us and it robs the residents of Massachusetts," Atkins said.

"We're the oldest working democracy in the world, and we have sent more people from the House of Representatives to be president of the United States, to be speaker of the House to be Supreme Court justices, to be ambassadors. We have a legacy compared to none...

But then, unfortunately, even Atkins tripped back into the party line, concluding with, "this is what people think of us, and he's the exception to the rule, not the rule."  Except that, since 1990 - when the first George Bush was President - retirement by indictment has been "the rule" and not "the exception" here in Massachusetts.

Back to Rep. Murphy, who seemed to speak for the majority when he dismissively told the Globe, "I don’t think there is a culture on Beacon Hill."  I do not doubt his sincerity, nor that of his many colleagues who this week are insisting that DiMasi has nothing whatsoever to do with them, or with the institution they elected him repeatedly to lead.  They are like the proverbial frog sitting in a pot of water on the stove.  They don't feel the heat.  This is just the environment in which they exist.  "I don't think there's a culture on Beacon Hill."

Let's end with Rep. Smizik again, who wins the coffee-snort award with this gem (Globe):

Smizik agreed the public had lost faith in their leaders, but drew a different conclusion. He said the public has the wrong idea and that legislators are unpopular because they make tough decisions.

“I’m not sure it should be that reaction on the public’s part,’’ he said. “If you have an athletic event, you have teams playing, everyone loves the players. But no one likes the referees, and that’s what we have to do, be referees.’’
Riiight.  The steady stream of scandal, corruption and criminal prosecution has nothing to do with it, folks.  The public is just frustrated with its legislators because of all the "tough decisions" they make.

Like the decision to reelect Sal in January 2009...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A guy who should be governor

Understandably, public interest in a losing candidate plummets almost to zero the moment the election results come in.  As a former holder of the short end on Election Day myself, I can say from first-hand knowledge that this sudden drop - the abrupt braking from 100 MPH to dead stillness - is one of the most jarring and disorienting aspects of the whole candidacy process.

It might be an exaggeration to say public interest drops all the way to zero right away.  Your supporters are still there; some of them - the very young ones especially - are nearly as deflated as you.  And a few members of the press are tasked with asking the same question that your friends and family want answered: what's next?  That too is jarring.  Especially following a closely-contested election, you don't know what's next.  You had other plans.

Some defeated candidates all but disappear. This is the course recommended by many professional political "strategists" - you lose, you 'go away,' at least for a while.  Any continued public presence risks charges of sour grapes, pitiable denial, or both.  I've never really bought into that school of thought.  It seems to me that even in a losing effort, a major candidate has a whole lot of people invested in him (or her).  Those people don't want to see you just shrug and disappear.  They still care what you think; often they still hope to elect you to office one day.  

Others just swing right into the next campaign (see, e.g., John Edwards, who basically ran for president non-stop from the day he was elected to the US Senate in 1998 until the moment in 2008 when he found himself trapped in a hotel restroom stall, trying to get away from the National Enquirer). 

Still others take the organizational, leadership and fundraising skills honed by political campaigning and put them to use in service to a cause(see, e.g., Kerry Healey, who - as barely anyone in Massachusetts knows - since 2006 has spent most of her time and energies working in conjunction with a State Department-sponsored program to bring a modern criminal justice system to Afghanistan, and to empower female Afghan attorneys to help lead that effort). 

Charlie Baker has taken a combined approach, and it seems to be serving him well.  He has moved on with his professional life, joining a health care-oriented VC firm.  At the same time, he has remained engaged with his supporters via frequent Facebook posts and email notes.  He does not criticize Governor Patrick in the press, but neither does he feign disinterest or disengagement.  Last month, Baker put his time, his political/fundraising network, and even a number of his staff to work pulling together a fantastic tribute to retired Veterans' Affairs Secretary (and Medal of Honor recipient) Tom Kelley, at an event that raised around $300K to help send the children of fallen Massachusetts service members to college. 

Consequently, Charlie has managed to stay in the public eye - well above that zero-interest mark - without drawing those sour grapes/denial criticisms. For those of us who ardently hope he decides to give it another go in a couple of years, this is all to the good.

All of which is a lengthy preface to me telling you not to miss Charlie's article in the online edition of Commonwealth Magazine.  Titled "10 thoughts about campaigning," it is a candid, upbeat and even enthusiastic set of observations about the rigors of a statewide campaign that doubles as a good primer/checklist for anyone toying with the notion of running for office.  The article is self-critical in places (point four is an acknowledgement that he did not always manage to pay enough attention to issues that were of primary importance to some supporters but lesser importance to him, personally); other times it is apparent that Charlie's up-beat nature forces him to slide deftly past an obvious and understandable lament (the unwritten sub-text to point three, "the media will challenge you" could fill a book). 

Mostly, though, the article brims with enthusiasm for what was a grueling, frustrating, and ultimately disappointing process.  Charlie's tenth and final thought reads: 
Finally, if you give it your best shot, it will be worth it. I left a great job at a great company to run for Governor. I gave up almost two years worth of income, put over 100,000 miles on two different cars, worked seven days a week for the last twelve months of the campaign, missed more family events in one year than I’d missed in the previous twenty, and lost the election on November 2nd. But I don’t regret it.
The Real Charlie Baker [Globe photo]

I titled this post "A guy who should be governor."  That in itself might read like sour grapes, but for once I don't intend the obvious subsequent clause, "...instead of Deval Patrick."  What I mean is, the guy who wrote this article (and he did write it, by the way, from the first "The" to the final "it") is a man who should be governor, never mind who was on the ballot against him.   His lack of regret for two years of income lost, countless family events missed, and months of endless second-guessing and criticism; his genuine enthusiasm for the grueling process and the countless, obligatory rituals (even/especially the parades!); his obvious and unquestionable fondness for Massachusetts and his respect for its citizens and voters - all of that comes through, loud and clear.  This is a guy who should be governor; the kind of person voters want to see tossing a hat in the ring.

Most everyone who has ever been close to a political candidate has a similar regret, going something like this: I wish the voters could have known the real [insert candidate's name here].  The truth is, beyond local races very few voters ever know "the real" candidate.  The candidate they come to know is a weak distillation of the gauzy-positive image portrayed by the candidate's own paid media (family man! problem-solver!), the caricature portrayed by his opponents' paid media (fat cat! lobster-eater!), and whatever the voters can glean from the infinitesimally small percentage of his day-to-day activities that the press decides to cover.  That distillation rarely forms an accurate picture, and never a complete one.

This article is the real Charlie Baker (the 'air guitar' photo above is the real Charlie too, by the way).  I hope a lot of people read it.

I also hope that when Charlie wrote "But I don't regret it," he was also thinking "and I can't wait to do it again."