Tuesday, November 09, 2010

SOC with a Mighty Wind

I should be jolly about getting nearly everything on my MA-election wish list. Instead, I fret about the Secretary of the Commonwealth (SOC).

The other one over the guardrail was not a big surprise. The majority voted YES on question 1, to void the new 6.25% sales tax on alcoholic beverages. I subsequently read and heard (just yesterday on public radio in fact) that a lot of voters didn't understand that the $1 million plus to alcoholism treatment programs would be the loser for their 40¢ on a six of craft beer.

SOC though was a bit of a puzzlement all around, including:
  • Media, print, broadcast and online, as a group failed abjectly in issues coverage
  • Endorsement showed a gross ignorance of candidates and platforms
  • While all other statewide offices got full hearings, SOC had no single debate or forum
  • Other reform, sweeping change candidates (Grossman for Treasurer and Bump for Auditor) won, leaving Henderson as thee only progressive sort orphaned
  • Four years ago, reformer Jon Bonifaz failed through the Dem party process, as did Henderson in an end-run as an independent
  • Incumbent SOC Bill Galvin was the sole statewide candidate rewarded for his inertia and passive aggression
  • No one, including party officials, the Governor or the General Court seems to have the slightest interest in improving this office
Also oddly, few seemed to love or respect Galvin. Instead, looking at the newspaper endorsements, it's safe to assume they were busy with the most visible races and fairly ignorant of what Galvin does, and has or has not accomplished.

Yet, the GOP's Bill Campbell and indy Jim Henderson were out and about. The latter in particular broadcast his platform and reforms in person, in press releases, on the internet, and at any newspaper who'd have him. The press had every opportunity and did not do their job here.

Indeed, that seemed to be his plan. Galvin did his best never to appear with a competitor. His campaign site was terrifically slow to update anything, leaving only a flurry a week before the election. That site had zero content representing any platform or issues, and avoided claims of office successes or advances — anything opponents or media could question or contradict.

In lieu of knowledge



So, what can we see in and learn from the endorsements that papers did make? First note that the region's largest paper, the Boston Globe, avoided any nod in this race, while waxing effusively over many other candidates for statewide and even local offices. Likewise, the Democratic party didn't mention Galvin, nor did candidates pitching the whole party slate.

What did hit newsprint included:

Wicked Local's Needham paper — had lots on statewide races, but a paragraph on SOC.
For secretary of state, we endorse Democrat William Galvin. The 16-year incumbent has managed the many disparate departments of his office effectively, and we can see no reason to fix a system that is not broken. While we think his Republican challenger, Bill Campbell, is a worthy candidate, we believe that his idea to reform election law by requiring voter identification at polling places is flawed, and we agree with Galvin that such reform would backfire, deterring people from voting.
Gloucester Times — likewise had much on other races and patched together most of Galvin's talking points from his solo appearances.
Secretary of State: William Galvin has held this post since 1995, has compiled an impressive record of accomplishment, and deserves re-election. Under Galvin's tenure, the ranks of registered voters in Massachusetts have expanded to more than 4 million. Yet the state's elections have been well run and free of any proven claims of fraud. Remember the notorious punch cards that plagued the presidential election in Florida in 2000? Galvin had rid Massachusetts of them three years earlier.
Boston Phoenix — four years ago ripped Galvin in endorsing B0nifaz, gave a why-not nod to Galvin this time (below in its entirety tucked in a gang endorsement).
Insiders joke on Beacon Hill that Secretary of State WILLIAM GALVIN is the dark prince of State House politics. Galvin certainly knows his way around the back rooms, but he runs a tight and — most important of all — professional ship. Vote to re-elect Galvin.
Berkshire Eagle — tried the hardest of anyone to find justifications.
The secretary of state's office only gets noticed around election time, but it has a wide purview that incumbent Democrat William Galvin has made use of for Massachusetts' benefit. Mr. Galvin has streamlined the paperwork process for businesses that must deal with his office's regulations. As chairman of the Historical Commission he has secured tax credits for Pittsfield's downtown initiatives, most notably $300,000 for the Colonial Theatre restoration. As the state's enforcer of campaign finance laws, he has investigated lobbyist abuses, including those involving his party, and fought for tougher regulations. With the census coming, he conducted an aggressive voter registration campaign to help protect the state's legislative delegation. His Republican opponent, William Campbell, has made no convincing argument for change in his under-the-radar campaign. The Eagle endorses William Galvin for re-election as secretary of state.
Eagle Tribune — ended a recap of Galvin's talking points with a bizarre statement that his two opponents hid from the voters when it was Galvin who refused to participate in debates, fora or other joint appearances.
William F. Galvin has been secretary of state in Massachusetts since 1995. In that time he has compiled an impressive record of accomplishment. Under Galvin's tenure, the ranks of registered voters in Massachusetts have expanded to more than 4 million. Yet the state's elections have been well run and free of any proven claims of fraud. Remember the notorious punch cards that plagued the presidential election in Florida in 2000? Galvin had rid Massachusetts of them three years earlier. Galvin has been a leader in the pursuit of investment fraud, and the various agencies under his purview (Elections Division, registries of deeds, the Massachusetts Historical Commission, etc.) are models in terms of customer friendliness. His Republican and independent challengers, on the other hand, have conducted virtual stealth campaigns and have not earned the voters' consideration.
Wellesley Townsman — was at the same editorial meeting with candidates and copied other Wicked Local wording. They ended the brief mention with their own regressive, anti-reform conclusion.
For secretary of state, we endorse Democrat William Galvin. The 16-year incumbent has managed the many disparate departments of his office effectively, and we can see no reason to fix a system that is not broken. While we think his Republican challenger, Bill Campbell, is a worthy candidate, we believe that his idea to reform election law by requiring voter identification at polling places is flawed, and we agree with Galvin that such reform would backfire, deterring people from voting.
South Coast Today — showed their perennial conservative bent, but at least presented a set of reasons for maintaining the status quo.
The sitting officeholders, Attorney General Martha Coakley and Secretary of the Commonwealth William F. Galvin, enjoy the advantage of incumbency, an advantage that sometimes carries the wrong people into office. In this case, however, both have done a good job for the public and merit re-election. None of the challengers has convinced us they could do better.

Beyond Galvin's more well-know roles as chief elections officer and receiver of corporations' annual reports, he functions as the state's securities regulator. In that role, Galvin has been able to win reimbursement for some of the Massachusetts residents who lost money in Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme — those who invested through a broker. In all, on the Madoff matter and others, he has returned millions of dollars to the public.

Galvin's Republican opponent, William C. Campbell, says people in the financial services industry have told him Galvin has a "hostile" relationship with the industry. If that's true, it's unfortunate, but Galvin's role is that of watchdog. People who have been defrauded would surely rather have a watchdog on their side than a glad-hander.

Under Galvin, more of the public records he oversees, namely in the Corporations Division, have been placed online. Companies can now file their annual reports online and pay less to do it. Before the change, the Corporations Division would become a ridiculous "North Pole mountain of paper" at filing time, he said, and checks sometimes got separated from companies' paperwork. Now that problem is largely solved.

As chairman ex officio of the Massachusetts Historical Commission, Galvin has also been a strong advocate of the historic tax credit program, an important tool to help communities re-use historic buildings for housing or commercial enterprise.
Salem News — made me wonder whether any had ever had the slightest contact with the SOC office, with their mention of "customer friendliness."
Incumbent Secretary of State William Galvin has been a leader in the pursuit of investment fraud, and the various agencies under his purview (Elections Division, registries of deeds, the Massachusetts Historical Commission, etc.) are models in terms of customer friendliness. His Republican and independent challengers, on the other hand, have conducted virtual stealth campaigns and are not deserving of consideration.
The Republican — didn't seem to have listened to Henderson or read his platform, but remained unconvinced of any need for improvement.
Long-time Secretary of State William F. Galvin deserves re-election to another. He has been an excellent caretaker of the state’s elections, its public records and the state Historical Commission. Neither of Galvin’s opponents, Republican William C. Campbell and independent James D. Henderson, have made good cases for replacing him. Galvin deserves to keep the job.
Sentinel and Enterprise — found Galvin OK or good enough.
Bill Galvin, a heavy favorite for re-election, is a competent public servant heading an office that oversees a wide variety of services, including the Elections Division, Securities Division, Public Records Division and Registry of Deeds. We see no reason to support a change in this constitutional office.
Weekly Dig (by Media Farm) — didn't know squat and went with the daily paper endorsements.
Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin has had an iron stranglehold on the office for over 16 years and will not loosen his grip. We thrive inside the safety of his palm. After reading the endorsements of the Berkshire Eagle, the Salem News, the Springfield Republican, the Wellesley Townsman (-person?), the North Andover-based Eagle-Tribune, the Fitchberg Sentinel & Enterprise and every other paper in the state, one choice is clear as crystal: No one ever talks about the secretary of state until we repeatedly elect him..

These are endorsements?



Taken as a whole, the endorsements are shrugs of the media shoulders. That's somewhere between he's adequate, we guess, and we don't know enough to comment. The couple of longish ones seemed to work straight out of Galvin's stump speech, with no awareness of more substantial candidates' platforms.

That's no surprise as it is precisely by Galvin's design. He did not appear for debates or any forum. The one time he did go to a newspaper editorial meeting with the other candidates, he blindsided Henderson with claims that the latter had not voted enough times. Those claims are untrue, according to Henderson and besides avoid the litany of deficiencies with the SOC office Henderson campaigned using.

Moreover, the one time Galvin did appear for public record was in Hanson shortly before the election. He timed his visit to avoid the other two candidates and any confrontation. On video, he did tout his record in returning millions to MA residents defrauded in the Madoff scandal. That was a one-off event and such settlements are part of his job as similar crimes are of AG Martha Coakley's. Yet, he is happy to take full credit for this particular settlement.

We really can't call Galvin's obscure candidacy brilliant, even though most voters chose him simply because they didn't know enough to think about it. The campaign period most certainly did not serve democracy, all the more significant because SOC is the commonwealth's chief elections officer.

Sleeping Press



So there we have it after over seven months campaigning by Henderson and over three by Campbell and zero by Galvin. The media terribly bobbled this race and let Galvin play them. Even the Phoenix' David Bernstein and WGBH's Emily Rooney didn't bother.

As a disclaimer, I did bother, did endorse Henderson, did and do believe — from personal experience as well as listening to the contenders — the SOC is badly in need of modernization and reform, and spoke with Henderson on our Left Ahead podcast. Also, despite repeated pledges by his brother/campaign manager, Galvin would not come on the podcast. So, it's personal as well as intellectual.

One would suppose that the governor and legislature would make Galvin provide access to public information to the public, maybe even over that internet thingummy. One would suppose they'd insist that we join the other 37 states who did what was necessary, like moving out primary election dates, to conform with the law requiring our overseas forces get absentee ballots 45 days before an election. One would suppose many things about the SOC office that do not happen.

Galvin was re-elected to another four year term on top of his 16-year tenure. He made no promises for improvements. We have no reason to suppose he'll make use of computers for public access, or find out what he has to do to increase percentage of registered voters coming to the polls, or even admit he could baldly copy what the dozens of more customer friendly states do.

The vast majority of us sent him back to office, I think out of ignorance. He likes it like that.
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