Sunday, October 31, 2010

MA Election Need to Know

With three verbose ballot questions on every ballot - and more on some - we have a long, two-sided ballot sheet Tuesday. Expect a line.

Key to know are:

Governor/Lieutenant GovernorPatrick/Murray
Attorney General — Coakley
Secretary of the CommonwealthHenderson
Question 1No
Question 2No
Question 3No

There's explanations here and angst here.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Chuck Roast in Boston

It's time to whip out some Greek and Latin, like hubris and ipse dixit. Charles A. Turner overplayed both and got caught this afternoon, found guilty on all four corruption accounts — attempted extortion and three of lying to the FBI.

Chuck Turner seems to have lapsed in his folklore here. It's believe half of what you see and none of what you hear, not the other way around.

I can hear him now, saying such criticism is only because he is black. He said that about his entrapment by the FBI in taking money from a businessman for help getting a liquor license. That claim has some credibility when you consider that so far only two local pols have pleaded or been found guilty to corruption, both ex-Sen. Dianne Wilkerson and Turner black. That will likely lose its punch as former House Speaker Salvatore F. (Sal) DiMasi goes to trial on his corruption charges.

Regardless, I call arrogance on Turner.
Background material: The Globe account today has lots of detail, including the 1/25/11 sentencing-hearing date, that he's likely to lose his pension and what options the city has in replacing Turner. UniversalHub reports that Council President Michael Ross is meeting with city lawyers to make sure they proceed correctly. Turner's Council page, which may vaporize soon, is here. The Boston Herald coverage has post-verdict quotes from Turner — he's an organizer, who'll "organize in jail" if sent there and "I’m not the first person who’s innocent to be sent to jail."
He has long been great on bluster as well as leveraging his race, age, class and whatever tools he finds lying around. Unfortunately the 70-year-old Harvard grad has often done so without those messy facts or provable details.

That was certainly the case when he insisted on testifying, and being his defense's sole witness. We were to take him at his word and that would be that — ipse dixit.

With hard-to-see but still visible and audible tape of him taking what sure looked like money from an FBI informant, he needed some kind of convincing proof,...anything of substance.

Instead, he claims not to have known the man in his office and certainly not to have taken a bribe. He claims that if he took anything from him, it would not be a bribe to help him get a license. He couldn't remember the person, the meeting, the handshake and transfer...anything.

Lackaday, the jurors saw the transfer of something and heard the informant and FBI agent's testimony. Apparently they believed at least half of what they saw.

It's pathetic in a human and political sense. A Councilor I respect greatly, John Connolly, has often spoken well of Turner. Connolly chairs and Turner has been a member of the education committee. They have worked together for the good of the kids in public schools for a long time.

Turner's other often-repeated claim that 90% of city pols are dirty may be hyperbole but probably has considerable truth to it. He certainly is not the only bribable one. Short of the U.S. Attorney or FBI admitting they picked him in part because of his race, we aren't likely to know whether that played any role here.

I'm betting that even with four counts, if Turner ends up having to serve any jail time, it won't be long. However, we can be sure if he goes, his cellmates will get an earful, an education, and lessons in polemics.

Late afternoon follow-up: Council President Ross promises a hearing in two weeks and continuity for constituents in District 7.

Halloween follow-up: While I mingled with the pleasant people, Turner did what he does second best — define all in his terms. A tip of the toupee here to UniversalHub for the pointer. At his rally yesterday, he laid down the hate on everyone involved in his sting and trial and concluded he'd never resign from the Council, and wouldn't leave, short of a bullet to the head. By the bye, for all the ego and rhetoric, what he does best is look out for his district's constituents.

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Covert Candidates Play Passive/Aggressive

MA candidates throw down and throw back!

How about recalling from The Guess Who:

(No time left for you) On my way to better things
(No time left for you) I found myself some wings
(No time left for you) Distant roads are calling me
(No time left for you) Da-n-da-n-da-n-da-n-da

or the Beatles:

I've got no time for you right now. Don't bother me...
Don't come around. Leave me alone. Don't bother me...

Around MA and the nation, many incumbents who feel secure in their spots hide from debates, fora and any public appearances where they might say anything meaningful. This go has seen several particularly arrogant examples in this state where we pride ourselves on our civic traditions.

That Lynch guy in the 9th Congressional sinecure-like spot and our Secretary of the Commonwealth flipped off the public and media repeatedly and seemingly with no retribution. They clearly don't care about the little d democratic process and seem to figure if they don't have to participate they won't.

I grew up taking civics classes, reading several newspapers every day, and discussing government and politics at home, school and with friends. I have long been fond of the concept of voters making informed decisions. I could hardly wait until I was 18 so I could vote.

In 2010, in the past six months of hard campaigning, Steve Lynch and Bill Galvin repeatedly refused to attend many public meetings, fora, debates and editorial-board appearance.
Personal disgruntlement note: Over at Left Ahead!, we give guests the run of the mic for 30 to 60 minutes for our podcasts. We don't spring trick questions or surprise adversaries. Lynch and Galvin have blown us off as well, keeping with their theme of I-don't-have-to-so-I-won't. Lynch's handler, Conor Yuntis, initially said his guy would come on, but only for 10 or 20 minutes, and then totally reneged. Galvin's campaign manager brother promised soon until it is apparently too late.

We're just three blogger/podcasters who have a little weekly show. We know we're not prime-time TV or front-page daily fare. Yet, we get hundreds and sometimes many more listeners who commit to or at least start our hour-long shows. Pols like Gov. Deval Patrick, Sen. John Kerry, Rep. Mike Capuano and many others seem to have the time to present themselves to the voters. Perhaps they are less important than Galvin and Lynch.
Voters should be irritated or worse at today's long overdue pieces on Wicked Local and the Globe, that cite the State House News Service on Galvin's latest. The Secretary is pulling chief-election-administrator with his comment on why he refused to debate his two opponents a couple of blocks from his Beacon Hill office — I said I could do 60 minutes; I couldn’t possibly do 90 minutes in the middle of a workday a week before the election.

Well, they would have done an hour at Suffolk Law and, for democracy's sake, he's had more than six months of invites that he has rejected or accepted and then backed out of. The one he ducked recently in Newton combined with yesterday's led indy opponent Jim Henderson to have a quicky press conference on the invisible, mute incumbent.

Galvin has finally roused from his hiding enough to send out minions. His ads just kicked in, avoiding all substance, rather accusing Henderson of not voting in all local elections when he promoted greater turnout and lumping him inexplicably with Green-Rainbow gubernatorial candidate Jill Stein (huh?).

This Secretary job has a four-year term and by hunkering in the political basement for this campaign, Galvin may in fact go for 17th to 20th year of his tenure. The numerous complaints of inefficiency, of preventing public access to public information, of doing nothing to diagnose and cure low turnout, and of leaving the office's technology in the 1980s, remain. Neither the legislature nor the governor has demanded Galvin fix this atavistic operation.

Now the voters will go into Tuesday's final with too little basis for judgment.

Lynch is similar, although he faces re-election every two years. He has made a 9-year career of voting as a rightwinger, in effect a conservative Republican on all the big policy issues from health-reform (no), to the PATRIOT Act (strong, repeated yes), to Iraq and other war (resounding yeses), with the sole Dem/lefty graces being in OK support of LGBT and choice rights.

Both try-to-find-me candidates have been receiving tepid endorsement snippets buried among effusive plaudits for candidates who appear publicly. Consider for one, the silly Phoenix one for Galvin, in its entirety:
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.

...or the Globe's he's-not-terrible for Lynch:
Stephen Lynch, representing parts of Boston and its suburbs, withstood a primary challenge from the left by touting his independence from Democratic leaders; now, his lightly funded GOP opponent, computer technologist Vernon Harrison, is arguing, improbably, that Lynch is too liberal for the district. Lynch is a much better fit than Harrison.
Apparently, they and others keep these short because they don't know much about the spectral candidates' performance or positions. That's no way to run a newspaper or a democracy.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

MA Sec'y Home Stretch - Rain But No Tears

After the incumbent Secretary of the Commonwealth, Bill Galvin, blew off the last chance for a public debate by reneging on the Suffolk Law forum, independent candidate Jim Henderson held a press conference today when the debate should have been happening. Here he is in the well in front of the State House with some of his supporters.
Seemingly under the terrible weight of inertia of the office holder who won't debate, Henderson has remained pragmatic and cheerful. He speaks of him and his followers doing what they can.
As well has addressing his own aims for the office of Secretary, Henderson had some verbal support. He read an endorsement from software entrepreneur Paul Egerman, who has had his problems getting information from the Secretary's offices. Also, Stephen Buckley (left) appeared and detailed how Galvin's office refused to help him when the Department of Children and Families (formerly DSS) would not respond to repeated requests for a copy of their policies and procedures. He said because the DCF would not put their refusal in writing, Galvin's staff refused to act.
In what surely must be happenstance and not malice, Galvin was sort of present. Maybe 100 feet away on Beacon Street at the risibly named (General) Hooker Entrance to the Statehouse, was a sign asking "What's Under The Golden Dome" and reading that Galvin "invites you to find out!"

Readers here know that I support Henderson, have endorsed him, and think his positions on public access to our data, on finding out why half of us don't vote at all, and most certainly on using computer technology of this century like nearly every other state.

While I have been known to donate to parties and causes, I have a policy of not donating to individual candidates. That is particularly important because of the weekly Left Ahead! podcast I participate in with Ryan Adams and Lynne Lupien. I like to keep it clean with anyone we may have on the show.

At today's conference in the intermittent drizzle, Henderson remained in control of his frustration. While catercorner from the FOX affiliate, they did not get media coverage.

That continues to amaze and Galvin seems to play on the topor of the Globe, Herald, broadcast media, as well as the Phoenix. Four years ago, the last time Galvin was up for re-election, he did the same routine of avoiding debates and limiting public appearances. Back then, the dailies at least were all over him for it.

They seemed to have learned their lessons and are being well-behaved little kids this time. Back then, the press was exercised, but the voters were not. The media seem too gun-shy this cycle to do their job.

The difference this time is that it was over in 2006 with the primary when John Bonifaz, the reform candidate, lost the Democratic slot. Now, Henderson knew that was the wrong approach and will appear in the general election, as will GOP nominee Bill Campbell. Like Bonifaz, Henderson offers promise of big improvement and massive change.

So much as been made of the gubernatorial race, including 19 debates or fora, that some races have become so much litter blown around the darkened streets. The other statewide races though — Treasurer, Auditor and Attorney General — earned their own spots with many fora and much press coverage. The candidates raged and sneered at each other, and made themselves available.

Without Galvin's participation in the democratic and campaign processes, Secretary did not make its own promotion. Combined with lethargy of the media, all that seems left in the air are Campbell's gentle comments, Henderson's strong platform, and Galvin's inertia.

Many including Henderson have noted the twisted humor of Galvin being the chief administrator of elections in Massachusetts...and not participating.
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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Galvin: Ask Me No Questions

He lives!

Perhaps two dozen citizens in Hanson sighted (and heard) the rare Secretary of the Commonwealth, Bill Galvin, on Sunday at 3 p.m.

Meanwhile, his opponents were in that quasi-debate forum thingummy so popular nowadays. At Lasell College, GOP nominee Bill Campbell and independent Jim Henderson went face to face and position to position. As promised in coverage of that, when I got a DVD of Galvin from Whitman-Hanson Community Access TV, I took notes for this post.

I also clipped the Galvin section from WHCA's vid and uploaded it. This is only 9 minutes. Note that WHCA does not approve of this relatively low-rez process and original is spiffier. This bastardization was my work. None of Galvin's content is missing.

One might well wonder why one candidate was solo at a candidates' forum and two of them were on stage at another. According to the other candidates for this office, Galvin knew exactly what he was doing. The League of Women Voters with their Brookline and Newton branches had spoken with the Hanson Democratic and Republican Town Committees about the scheduling conflict, as well as with the candidates for Secretary. Galvin, who is infamous for limiting public appearances and avoiding debates, picked the time when he could appear alone and unchallenged.

Moreover, the moderator plugged Galvin in first, while the order of this longstanding forum is to start from the bottom of the ballot, which may well have gotten to Galvin about the time the other two candidates arrived from Newton. As the agreeable moderator put it, "We are making one exception on the speaking order today and that's Secretary of State Bill Galvin who's running obviously statewide and has probably more commitments than we all do. So as a courtesy to Secretary of State Galvin, I would recognize him at this point for an opening statement."

He didn't appear to kiss him though.

Galvin's stealth campaigning has worked for him since 1994 when he first took the office. Just because he is chief administrator of elections in the commonwealth doesn't mean he advocates open, vigorous campaigns.

Open and shut

The chair slouching crowd chuckled when the (unidentified) moderator Charley called for questions from the audience right after Galvin finished his opening remarks...and immediately told him to make his closing remarks.

The gist of Galvin's remarks were 1) he did not address any of the criticisms of his opponents and 2) he thinks he's been doing an excellent job at real hard tasks.

Specifically, he started with the timely topic of elections. He cited MA having over 4 million registered voters, adding "We have had remarkable turnouts in the elections we've had." He also said,"We've removed all the impediments to registration that made it difficult for people in the past to register." In that vein, he said his office provided the 2,000-plus polling places with the necessary equipment — "remarkable progress" in his terms.

Making it personal, he concluded this part that for elections, "I'm very proud of my record." He went farther into "pleased and proud" that he thinks he has a reputation for fairness and providing the help necessary for candidates and those seeking to put questions on the ballot.

Next, he touched risk management in finance and securities. "Massachusetts has led the way among the states in reining in the excesses in the financial services industry," he said. "I've been able to return hundreds of millions of dollars back to Massachusetts residents who have been defrauded. We not only have a strong body of laws in Massachusetts we we also enforce it."

To personalize this, he said he's had "the difficult time of talking to people who've lost all kinds of money," on Bernie Madoff-style scheme and simply losses of 401K and similar plans. Here too, he graded himself highly — "I believe I've done a good job. I think the responsibilities I've been charged with are handled well."

He'd like some help here, calling for reforms at the federal level. His idea would be to allow those with 401K plans to dip into them in emergencies without paying any fiscal penalty. He noted that 401Ks were originally an afterthought when many people had pensions, but now they tend to be "the primary way people prepare for their retirement, for the later years." As such, federal law should be more flexible in giving people access without penalty.

In his immediate closing, he hit on two topics, redistricting and foreclosures. He portrayed each as an example of his vision and fairness.

Noting that when the U.S. Census data are complete, MA will redraw every precinct and ward line, starting with precincts, then wards, and finally legislative and Congressional districts.

He said he was in charge of starting this and claimed he'd do his best to see it happens fairly. "Now in the past that has been a very political process," he said "And unfortunately it's led to situations in this town where the town is divided between two congressional districts. It's also led to some very unfortunate experiences in the legislature. We've seen areas where districts make no sense."

He noted that the very term gerrymandering arose in Massachusetts. However, he said this time, he'll propose that "it shall at least initially (be done) by a bipartisan commission that makes a recommendation or recommendations with the objective to make certain that communities are protected and preserved and not divided, wherever that's possible. Redistricting should not be political."

He said he takes his part in this "very seriously. That's something I'm eager to work on, but it's also something I see as getting the building blocks for fairer districts in the future."

He put himself into the heart of foreclosures, even though he is not related to mortgage and banking regulation directly. Instead, he said that he has responsibility for registry of deeds in the majority of MA areas that no longer have county government.

As such, he says he has been concerned at the recent revelations of flawed foreclosure documents and procedures. "It's a problem for those who are victim of a flaw foreclosure," he said. "It's a problem to the bigger market that's going to make real estate less likely to be sold because of all the uncertainty in the marketplace."

He added that two years ago he asked the legislature to correct a related problem, that we are one of the few states without formal judicial process for foreclosure. He said our system predates the Civil War and that "as a tenant you probably have more rights than you do as a property owner."

In addition to requiring those who would foreclose to provide valid documentation "I think it would mean that the banks would have to keep good track of their paperwork, those they sell the mortgages off to."

Galvin said the legislature did not act on his proposals two years ago, "(b)ut I think in light of what we've seen, in light of what we're now experiencing, in light of the damage this could well do to the real estate market, not just to those who are in foreclosure but others, it's very important we address that as well in the coming legislative session."

One hand clapping

I am sorry I could not be Hanson for the manifestation. I'm sorrier that Galvin avoided the likely single chance for serious verbal challenges.

He certainly did not address any of the questions and criticisms from Henderson and Campbell. There are those matters of election-day registration, extended voting periods, moving primaries into August to let us comply with federal requirements for ballots to overseas troops, modernizing and computerizing public records so citizens could access them as they do in other states, and whether the 50% or less voter turnout that Galvin calls "remarkable" is good or bad remarkable.

In the most literal sense, Secretary Galvin did appear in Hanson and he did speak to the public. Avoiding his opponents and not taking any questions don't seem to be Democratic or democratic though.

We at Left Ahead! continue to ask him to join us before the election, with offers of any day, any hour, just call in. We're waiting.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Fretting Local MA Picks

Come November 2nd, I'll be busy working a polling place for the city. Before then, I need to come to terms with awkward voting decisions.

Fortunately, most picks in this crucial election are easy. Statewide, Patrick/Murray, Coakley, Grossman and Bump aren't even in question. They are strong and proven, while their opponents are inadequate and lacking in necessary vision.

Among my other endorsements, a key one that rends me is Jim Henderson for Secretary of State. I'm certainly voting for him. I fear though that the vast majority of voters have paid no attention to this race.

A body at rest tends to remain at rest. Inertia in the person of incumbent Bill Galvin could well win this contest.

Other than the huge factor that there is a sitting Secretary, this race parallels that for Treasurer. I am for the candidates who represent much needed change, overhauling these disused offices for the benefit of the citizens.

I have a Henderson sign on my lawn. That stirs conversations with neighbors. I chat him up with friends. I'm sure I've gotten converts. Yet, how many of me are out there doing this in a down-ballot slot? Sigh.

Far, far worse for my big and little D Democratic psyche is the Ninth District race for the U.S. Congress. Both for much of my long-term residence in Jamaica Plain and more recently in Hyde Park, my Congressman was Stephen F. Lynch. I've blanked him before and certainly can't vote for him this time.

He is unquestionably a DINO. He has voted as a right-wing Republican on all the big issues, as a champion of the Iraq war and the PATRIOT Act, and doing his best to stop health-care reform. He has a D after his name, but why and to what effect?

I campaigned for and endorsed Mac D'Alessandro in the primary for the Ninth. In the general, the GOP's Harrison and the unenrolled Dunkelbarger are no better than Lynch, perhaps even clones.

Riding Rocinante

Here is my real windmill tilt. I'll throw away my vote by writing in D'Alessandro.

On paper at least, keeping a nominal Democrat in the seat might be a slight advantage when it opens again. Certainly the voters had a clear choice in the primary and took the winger over the progressive by something like 80 to 20%. Perhaps Lynch will be safe there for another election after this one for reasons I can't fathom. Yet, replacing him with an actual Republican would likely make zero difference to Massachusetts.

In this case, this will be a protest vote, which is not my wont. That makes me sad.

Henderson at least has a sliver of a chance, particularly if the major media come out soon endorsing him. I've wondered throughout this campaign why the major papers and broadcast political types, and even the second-tier ones like David Bernstein of the Phoenix have not been on Galvin for ducking debates and allowing for full democratic process. They have really failed us this time for this race.

I am generally Spock-like in my rationality. Risking a vote as in these two are not like me; I am my mother's child in that.

In the end though, Henderson belongs in the Secretary's office and I cannot in good conscience vote for Lynch.

Tags: massmarrier, Massachusetts, election, endorsements, candidates, Secretary, Congress

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

MA Endorsements Right Here!

Fret not. Follow my lead through the unusually long November ballot.

See and smear the ovals for:


MARTHA COAKLEY 46 Coolidge Rd., Medford Democrat

JAMES D. HENDERSON 38 Brandymeade Cir., Stow Unenrolled

STEVEN GROSSMAN 30 Huntington Rd., Newton Democrat

SUZANNE M. BUMP 409 North Plain Rd., Great Barrington Democrat

For the ballot questions, the three everyone will get, 1, 2 and 3, choose NO.

Now I suppose you want reasons. Of course, you can search here by candidate name or office. You can also go to Left Ahead! and listen to our shows with many of them.
Mine-alone note: Left Ahead! as a trio rarely endorses candidates, preferring to retain some impartiality. These are my calls.
Governor/Looey. Patrick/Murray have done a remarkable job in very tough times. They can unroll a long scroll of accomplishments, most obviously deep education, ethics and transportation reforms, as well as implementation of overdue near-universal health care. When the entire nation and nearly all the industrialized world faces severe financial trouble, this administration has melded economies with judicious spending to make our recovery track much faster than others. We can't take a flier on vague pledges to do better by the unproven.

The Republican Baker offers a terrifying résumé of situation ethics. In GOP administrations here and as head of Harvard Health, he has a non-stop record of overspending, hiding his deeds, creating unemployment all around him, and nearly doubling health-insurance rates. He's toxic.

Green-Rainbow's Stein has some solid, largely heartfelt planks. She doesn't have a wide vision and does not inspire an iota of confidence that she could handle the whole job.

Independent Cahill seems befuddled by both job demands and direction for the office.

Attorney General. Coakley has done as good a job as AG as any in recent memory. McKenna is all winger bluster — hold down immigrants, stymie the federal health-care law, and use cops like a big, wildly swinging club. No thanks, Jim.

Secretary. This office is long, long due for modernization to serve the citizens. Henderson is the only one with a specific set of proposals to overhaul access to public records and increase voter participation. Galvin has long seemed like a place holder in this office. Campbell has a limited set of modest proposals, like demanding that every voter produce ID every time. Let's go with the vision here.

Treasurer. The other race that offers a positive revolution requires Grossman. Polito has long portrayed herself as one-trick pony — a rich person who won't take a pension. Yawn. Grossman announced early how he would use the state pension funds to make safe investments designed to create thousands of jobs and speed us into full economic recovery. Again, let's go with vision.

Auditor. No candidate here offers the wide ranging improvements that Henderson and Grossman do, but Bump is the clear choice. Connaughton is also a one-trick candidate, chanting that she's a CPA. Well, CPAs are the underlings in this office for good reason. Bump knows how to measure, analyze and act on findings. Physics professor Fortune has a good name for a fiscal post, but not the expertise or experience here to trust him with this job. We need a real manager and leader in this office — Bump.

Question 1. No would keep the tax on alcoholic beverages. If you truly want to save $6.25 on $100 of booze, wine or beer, you could drive to New Hampshire and illegally drive it back, even if that cost you as much in gas, not counting time. This is a small hit in line with nearly all states and a fair way to share the economic pain in these tough times. No on 1.

Question 2. A yes would repeal the deal-cutting incentives for private developers to provide set-asides for affordable housing when they build. This has had small effects in our few large cities, but huge impacts elsewhere in the commonwealth. Keeping this in place is the only available spur to provide housing stock for all. No on 2.

Question 3. No would maintain the current sale-tax rate at 6.25% (considerably lower than other states in the region, except for New Hampshire, which tends to make it up in high property taxes and other fees). Yes would drop it to 3%, causing unbelievable deficits or forcing the legislature to tell the voters to get lost. Going for this would be the height of irresponsibility and would be terrifically destructive to our quality of life. No on 3.

Tags: massmarrier, Massachusetts, election, endorsements, candidates, ballot questions

Monday, October 18, 2010

Sec'y Down-Ballot on the Dow-Low

Semi-mirabile dictu! For a half of a miracle yesterday, the elusive, reclusive Secretary of the Commonwealth appeared and spoke...just not at the same time and place as his two opponents.

The League of Women Voter of Newton truly tried to host a Dagwood sandwich of local and down-ballot statewide candidates yesterday at Lasell College, Secretary Bill Galvin was a no-show, as was AG-would-be Republican James McKenna. However, Secretary candidates the GOP's Bill Campbell and independent Jim Henderson held forth, disagreeing civilly.

With only a few weekends in the last month, the inevitable conflict occurred. The Democratic and Republican Town Committees of Hanson and Whitman scheduled their candidates' afternoon on the same day and time. Hence a half miracle in Hanson.

Galvin apparently decided he could ask to be first up in Hanson at 3, knowing his opponents were at the quasi-debate in Newton. He still won't debate, but he did appear, so I hear.

The kindly folk at Whitman Hanson Community Access TV recorded their version, replete with the Galvin sighting. They don't yet have their online video server (soon, soon), but promised to provide a disk. I'll report.

Meanwhile in the arena, Henderson and Campbell gave and took well. They are pleasant fellows. They share some goals for the office, but they have more differences than similarities, which they clarified yesterday.

As for Galvin, his campaign website reminds me of a hymn of my youth, from the Gloria Patri, with the lines, "As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be..."

It is very out-of-date, contains no platform, list of accomplishments or other reasons to re-elect him for another for four years. More important, it gives nothing to analyze or criticize. It simply states that he is Secretary of the Commonwealth, and that's that, all you need to know.

His strategy of no debating and not giving the public or opponents a visible target might well win again. While candidates for the other major down-ballot races, Treasurer and Auditor, are fierce and frequent in their public encounters and pronouncements, they have the huge incentive lacking in the Secretary context — no incumbent. Their battles are for a yet-unknown someone to be king or queen of the hill, with no one there to defend it.

At Lasell, Galvin appeared only as a ghost. Moderator Risa Nynam of LMV Brookline passed along his line with a straight face. She said he could not appear because of a scheduling conflict. She never mentioned that it was of his own making and intent.

For their part Campbell in his intro and Henderson in passing noted Galvin's absence. The former said he was disappointed and "the voters deserve better."

Here, I must give an abbreviated version of my anti-forum rant. Let us not confuse these tightly time- and content-controlled pieces of theater with debates. This is the pre-chewed food of politics. Candidates are herded down their chutes with a few questions and given short periods to deal with often complex topics. Then each gets an even shorter time for additional comment, jocularly called "rebuttal," as though it was real exposition.

Yesterday, being an LWV event, it was even more tightly controlled than a TV or radio version. The first two office contests were cancelled for lack of an opponent. Moreover, both Campbell and Henderson were well in advance of their 3 p.m. showtime. The League could well have started at 2:30 or so and say, "We have a gift of extra time and will give the candidates additional room to answer and ask each other questions."

Well, no. The League is schoolmarmish in the main and its members often quite literal in what they insist is evenhandedness. It wouldn't do to treat one set of candidates the slightest bit different from the next. Even if the voters would benefit from the extra information and opinions, that wouldn't be fair now, would it?

So, for their parts, the Secretary candidates remained amiable, even as their positions clashed. I am sure that they could have a beer and personal conversation, even without President Obama's facilitation.

He said he said

Same-day-registration. This brought a yeah and a nay. Henderson is a strong believer in election-day voter registration and Campbell firmly opposes it. Henderson says the under-50% MA voter turnout is appalling, that this would encourage more voters, and that fraud is between minuscule and non-existent. Campbell is Woburn town clerk and holds that we need zero tolerance for even the slightest potential of fraud. He did not respond to Henderson's comment that he did not know of a single MA clerk who had uncovered fraud.

Early voting. Henderson would like to see a longer voting period, as many states have, allowing citizens to go to government offices and vote in the week or two before the final day. Campbell sort of agreed, but said he would prefer to try to move elections to a Saturday for greater voter convenience. (Neither mentioned religious sorts who have issues with Saturday travel.)

Military ballots. Both agreed that MA needs to come into compliance with the federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, requiring that registered voters in the armed services get their ballots at least 45 days before elections. Campbell took the chance to note that Galvin's office did not do this and said it was because the Secretary had not made it plain to the legislature that it was necessary. Both candidates agreed that switching the primary to an August date, perhaps early in the month, would do the trick and cost the public nothing additional.

Public access to public information. Henderson has campaigned strongly on bringing the office into this century in terms of using data bases and computer technologies. He noted that other states let citizens get such online information as whether someone claiming to be a registered security dealer actually is. He pointed out that here one is to call the Secretary's office during normal business hours and get that information orally from an employee. He called for a simple Google-style search of the public information. Campbell was spongier with this topic, agreeing though that the public information laws were vague and confusing, leaving government employees unsure of what data they could share upon request. Henderson said the proper approach would be to put all databases not precluded by law online and let the citizens determine what is useful and necessary, an open-data initiative, as he put it.

ID from everyone. They differed on whether people should have to show ID every time they vote. Campbell returned to his theme of preventing even the slightest possibility of voter fraud and strongly favored everyone showing ID every time. Henderson drew attention to the elderly, homeless and others with out such standard proofs as current driver's license or utility bill. He returned to his theme that fraud is not a real problem and we would be inconveniencing many for no benefit. He also has the position that creating or buying fake ID is common, as we see among thirsty teenagers. He asked would we want to equip each of over 2,000 polling places with equipment to verify ID, at $1,000 or more each?

Securities enforcement. Campbell used this topic to criticize Galvin's office for what he said was an "overemphasis" and a hostile policy. Henderson noted that this policing might be distracting the Secretary's staff from more important tasks, such as safeguarding personal citizen data and not repeating the release of key private information of many thousands of us as happened several times.

Voter turnout. This sounded very much like a progressive v. conservative split. Campbell said voters are responsible for registering to vote on time, another reason why he opposes election-day registration. Henderson said Galvin had not grown turnout and not made any effort to find out why voters do not show. He added that he would make it a priority to visit throughout the state to discover the underlying issues and see what could be done to increase participation. Again, Campbell returned to, "I don't think we should do anything to open the door to fraud." However, he did suggest we shorten the registration period from the current 20 days to 10.

In their sprint of a one-minute closing statements, Campbell said he had the skills and experience and would make the office "more responsive in many ways." Henderson said he offered the overdue "chance to change the very nature of the Secretary of the Commonwealth's office" and to get citizens more fully engaged in democracy.

Gratuitous comments

These LWV's functions do provide a kick, perhaps in my case, puerilely so. Advancing the democratic process, exposing citizens to pols' positions, and trying to increase voter participation are very noble and very American. Must the League's methods be so literal and rigid?

Some little touches yesterday reminded me of junior high. See the light bulb array above. The timer lady who sat below the stage where the moderator and candidates would see the all-important green, yellow and red lights seemed to have an amateurish science project on her little table.

The lights were in fake gold bathroom vanity sockets. a honking thick, rope of wire harness connected the array to a huge switch box with three wall-style light toggles, also color coded.

The timer and moderator were mindlessly efficient. Not only was there scant time for the candidates (1 minute for opening, 90 seconds for each to answer the prepared question, 30 seconds for each to follow up if he chose), but the moderator cut candidates off in mid-sentence and in several cases mid-word. Of course that short changed the audience, but this clearly was a rules-are-rules bunch.

Incidentally, only about 18 showed in the massive auditorium. I had the sense we were all family, friends or reporter types, again like junior high plays. However, Newton cable TV (NewTV) video recorded. At some point, ideally before the election, this session and others from the day should be available. If I find out details, I'll update this post and create an additional one.

That presents another amusing piece of LWV's drama. They and maybe NewTV allowed no photography, voice recording or video recording during this allegedly public session. In addition, Nyman announced sternly, when the recording becomes available, anyone presenting it must show it in its entirety, no editing or shortening.

Sit up straight, don't chew gum, and pass your homework up the row to the front of the class!

Despite the League's anal-retentive bent, I strongly suggest attending their events as you can. Particularly candidate presentations are often one of the few chances you'll get to hear them, even if debating is out of question. I suppose the LWV has joined our broadcast media in assuming we are all creatures of little brains and short attention spans.

Thursday Update: WHCA send a DVD and I report on Galvin's appearance here.

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Altruism? Bah!

Sitting in training for Boston elections wardens and clerks, I got a dose of I-want-mine overhearing the more elderly group in plastic seats across the aisle. What they want and need is deserved reality and anyone who differs or does not deliver is worthy of best.

The immediate issue was the Social Security Administration's announcement that they would not bump payments in 2011 with a COLA (cost-of-living adjustment). That rationale that the Consumer Price Index has not triggered this boon had not satisfied my neighbor. To him, this would be not have been welfare or a gift on any level, rather payment of a debt.

Hence we can look into the basket of entitlement. It also contains the bastardization of the concepts of altruism, camaraderie and national sharing.

The rampant disdain with which generations slur each other with entitlement knows no rationality. Each cohort seems to hold to the double pretense that 1) they suffered and struggled and 2) the following generations merely want to take, take, take, without earning.

We find that the Korean War Era sorts, now in their 70s and 80s, have been the drivers for the AARP's demands. The concept to much of their literature and lobbying has been that it is morally wrong and indefensible to have the retired share the national pain, even following the devastating financial turmoil of recent years.

Those of us in the big, ole Boomer cohort might speak up, to our peril. We might remind the KW sorts that it has been the Boomers who have funded the seemingly endless benefits for both them and the WWII types with ever-increasing slices of income in withholding taxes as well as working longer and harder as a group than they ever did.

That gets reactions ranging not very far but including rage and denial.

Greediest Generation

Amusingly enough, it was the WWI and WWII generations who pegged the KW folk first with that epithet of the Entitlement Generation. The Tom Brokaw-dubbed Greatest Generation of WWII folk slandered their KW siblings and their own children with that, as the vast majority of the latter did not fight in or around Korea. Many WWII types stayed in and did though. Moreover, the younger KW folk did not struggle through the Great Depression, in that their parents and grandparents watched out for them and fed and housed them.

So the charge is that the KW generation wanted the glory and national sense of obligation that the WWII one demanded and got from a grateful America. The KW people don't seem to agree in the slightest. To them, everything they get is richly deserved.

Most of them worked and lived in that post-WWII America with its fantasy of a never-ending economic growth spiral. At least for white America, this was a time of padded positions, payrolls and pensions. After all, wouldn't we all keep getting better and better off — a banquet with no bill?

Fortunately for them, the Baby Boom provided decades of climbing payroll and Social Security taxes to support the rapacious desires of its elders. Many of both WWII and KW era folk are double and triple dippers, that is they took long-term military pensions, Social Security and Medicare payments, and private pensions.

Meanwhile, it has been Boomers and following generations or subgenerations that miss out. Vastly fewer companies offer any type of pension, they are supposed to work longer days for many more years to keep SS and Medicare funded, and they did not wildly procreate in a fantasy of a never-slowing growth spiral. Simply they don't have a huge group of their own children to ride on for the rest of their live.

There is a strong argument to make that the Greatest Generation in part and the KW one entirely should better be called the Greediest Generation. That is, too much is not enough and it better not slow down or stop. If there is pain to be shared, that should happen to others, to younger Americans.

Another amusing twist is how Entitlement Generation is such a great migrator. It is the hot potato of insults. From KW to Boomer to Gen Y to Millennials, everyone seems to claim it is the guys after them who are the lazy bums, undeserving types.

Give Me Mine

We may be ending the outrageously irrational stereotype picked up by Gen X and Gen Y types of the Boomers as destroyers. The meme seemed to be that Boomers had the good jobs and wouldn't give them up to the rightful new owners. Of course, that overlooks inconvenient facts, including that 1) the Boomers had to worker longer hours for more years since anyone after we stopped being an agrarian nation, 2) they paid and continue to pay for the preceding generations' needs and wants, 3) as a group, they simultaneously financed most or all of Gen X and Gen Y schooling while caring for their own aging parents, and 4) are looking a retirement without those niceties such as pensions.

So, back to the election training, the 70-something near me was livid about no COLA. His only example of rising costs was that his medicine has risen from $7 a month to $9. He depended on SS; what was he going to do?

After he ranted a bit, an even older woman next to him suggested that he go to Walmart or Walgreens and get on a program that would provide his drug at $5, as she had. The denouement that illustrates another example of the KW types was that he had. He was now getting his prescription at $2 a month cheaper than before. He was marginally better off. That was not as good a story as being wronged and short-changed though.

Let us take a moment to note the consistency of his generation. Keep giving to them until it

Who shares?

All of this leads to deeply underlying questions about why any person or group should share any resources they can gain. This is that key issue of altruism.

Psychologists, sociologists, economists and even very partial philosophic sorts like followers of Ayn Rand like what they consider the obvious, common sense view of kinship and self-interest. You watch out for your own kind (class, blood, even schooling related). That's a hard stop. It's allegedly natural and the only reasonable approach to living, working, and reproducing.

We know these wimpy types, like hippies then and Unitarian Universalists then and now, exhibit the unnatural act of sharing and the more unnatural feeling of empathy.
Disclaimer: I am a long-time UU. That may explain much to many. In fairness, I should disclose that in puberty I was a Randist — Virtue of Selfishness, sexual/sexist drama and all. I got better.
Cinder-Heart Background: Wikipedia does a good job with links to altruism-related discussions. A more disturbing and immediately thought-provoking article appears in a recent The Nation on George Price. This genius of genetics caused reappraisal and ongoing discussion of why any person or group would benefit others instead of themselves exclusively.
The drawbacks to the larger society of self-interest are wide and deep.

Most obviously, looking out exclusively for yourself, your offspring, your frat brothers and such lessens society and the nation. We tend to plug in adequate or inferior folk, whether we are hiring someone, choosing a company officer or politician, or even buying one manuscript over another. Duplicated many millions of times a year, this smothers and robs us all.

Here is where altruism is at its weakest. The scientific and pop consensus has long been we watch out for our own. If our twit of a child is barely adequate for a position, we are certain to ignore the greater good of the company, shareholders and society to advance and protect our favored one.

There are a small number of less emotionally driven folk who hire and promote more rationally. Yet which of us has not been astounded by marginally competent or worse coworkers or bosses, many of whom seem installed by virtue of nepotism or similar sentiment?

Perhaps in some splendid — and rational and fair — future world, the boobs and bumblers will not displace those with better minds, skills and hearts. Lackaday, we have no cause to believe that is likely in any of our lifetimes.

Meanwhile, I suggest that whether we are engaged in work, volunteer activities or recreation that we be mindful. Appreciate the reasonable and effective you encounter. They truly are human treasures who enrich all who come into contact with them.

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Friday, October 15, 2010

Obama, Stop Squeaking

Leave it to the indecisive again. President Obama has turned DADT into Don't Act/Do Tarry.

While accomplishing far more positive than most believed possible in nearly two years, now he needs to show moral leadership and a commitment to civil rights. He needs to do more to earn the respect of Congress, the military and us voters.

His whimpering echoing of the most regressive in D.C. is at best unappealing. Don't Ask/Don't Tell failed as a policy, driving good, great, and dedicated soldiers away when we need them most. It failed in courts as illogical and indefensible. It failed by resting solely on mid-20th Century stereotypes and scare tactics.

While on paper and as a clerical obligation, the DOJ has to appeal the judicial overturning of federal law, Obama needs to speak out and not squeak out.

Consider his brief, belated commentary on the appeals and end process. Using military lingo, he made a vague promise that "This policy will end, and it will end on my watch." That implies he wants up to another two years to make good on this campaign pledge, one he could have affected immediately with an order as commander-in-chief of all our armed forces.

Instead, now he says he can't do that. He again uses some mealy-mouth drivel about how "...we are moving in the direction of ending this policy."

Yeah, sure, right. He snivels with this, as he did yesterday at a public forum. He said, ""This is not a situation in which, with the stroke of a pen, I can end the policy. I think people are born with a certain makeup and that we're all children of God. We don't make determinations about who we love." He went on to say anyone should be able to serve in the country, regardless of sexual orientation.

Not only can he end this...if he finds the gumption...he must. We know it's coming and letting it happen slowly, by default, only infuriates rights advocates, but it causes stupid and unnecessary hardships to the hundreds of soldiers with pending DADT discharge procedures under this inane law.

Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has acted, in suspending action on those discharges. He's showing leadership that Obama should imitate.

Instead our President wants a study to see how to implement stopping DADT. A study.

Having been born in Fort Sill Station Hospital and grown up knowing military lingo from folk I knew as well as in papers and history, I can give Obama a little hint about how this works. The military implements orders. They need an order first.

Hey, Barack, mediate on the words of ancient playwright Terence — Fortes fortuna adiuvat. Virgil lifted that, as have many others. It remains in our pop culture in its direct translation of fortune favors the bold.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

These Are Not The Words You're Looking For

No one means all he says, and yet very few say all they mean, for words are slippery, and thought is viscous. — Henry Brooks Adams

One might add that calling a hippo a giraffe does not give it a long neck and patchy fur. That is the lesson that the clumsy and hateful refuse to learn. In and beyond the current campaigners, the underlying message repeatedly is, "Don't quote me on what I said. Accept what I tell you right now."

Just yesterday, there was such absurdity from both Carl Palidino and Helen Thomas. As disparate as they are professionally and politically, they share a silly and irrational trait. They don't want to be called out for the obvious. They are non-wizards calling, "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain."

The would-be governor of New York, Palidino, did a series of stupid, related things in a speech to and prepared by a group of Orthodox Jews. First, he did the trained animal thing, reading someone else's speech. Second, he redacted part of it while leaving in loony and bigoted comments. Third, he wants the world to believe that just because he said those things doesn't mean he means them or that they mean what they obviously say.

He can't even pretend the recorded speech was out of context. You can get a recap and play the whole thing at the Salon post.

As my mother used to say, "For crying out loud in a bucket!" Here's a guy who believes homosexuality is not only a choice, but that it is not "an equally valid and successful option" and that kids who take diversity curricula may be "brainwashed." a bucket.

Instead of just saying afterward that he hates homosexuals and considers them inferior, he tries the oh-sorry-if-anyone-was-offended ploy, as though the fault lies with those he slurred repeatedly. His whole follow-up statement is here. Despite what he said, he's not anti-gay because he now says he is not.

Likewise, the long-term and very prickly ex-reporter Helen Thomas denies any antisemitism because, well, just trust her.

Perhaps we should go easier on a nonagenarian but for crying out loud in a bucket! In her case, she overreached in commentary on the Middle East. She started out OK with an implicit supportable position that the Israeli government has been imperialist in seizing and holding lands and oppressing residents. Then she went off.

Asked by Rabbi David Nesenoff for comments on Israel, Thomas said — in full context:
"Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine. Remember, these people are occupied and it's their land. It's not Germany, it's not Poland."

In response to where they should go, she said, "They should go home."

Then when asked where that home might be, she concluded, "Poland, Germany and America and everywhere else."

Digging in her tennis pumps, she calls antisemitism complaints "baloney." She stands by her words, wants the world to believe there was no allusion to WWII there, and she's cool with Jews.

With both these cases and so much of the current campaign rhetoric, how many ways can you serve the same sandwich that has so few ingredients?

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Stealth City Council Electioneering

Moving to JP from downtown Boston over 20 years ago, openings for new acquaintances were often, "Where's do you eat around here?" and "Where's a good place for a drink in JP?" I got to enjoy asking because nearly every time, the answer to either was the same — Doyle's.

When we started doing both there, it didn't take long to see that it was the right place to campaign as well. Artifacts of various mayors, senators and more make the walls. Some, like Tom Menino, have their own room as well.

The oddment this morning was a pol in a pop-up race — the special election to replace District 6 Boston City Councilor John Tobin. This preliminary/final set play leapfrog with the ongoing state and national set. This is only for the neighborhoods of Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury with a sliver of Roslindale. The votes run after their counterparts, in this case, October 19th and November 16th.

That is certainly not the advantage you might think at first of being alone in the spotlight. As candidate Matt O'Malley says repeatedly, "My biggest opponent is low turnout."

While it seems that everyone, his brother and aunt have endorsed him and holds signs at his standouts, his concern is at once overly cautious and sincere. Despite candidates' incessant bell ringing and phone calls, this race is in the shadows. Plus, last month's statewide primary had pathetic voter turnout. If a similar 14% or so appear in these neighborhoods for the interspersed preliminary and general, the obvious outcome could become the what-happened?

This special has five candidates, but by normal election cycles, two would have a chance — O'Malley and James Hennigan III. The weird timing is what muddies the vision. The latter is an insurance guy who has politics by blood, but not experience; his father was a pol and his sister a long-term City Councilor. O'Malley has also never held office, but has the education and staff experience with elected officials. If you pardon, it's gilt by association. He's all shiny.

O'Malley is relentless in campaigning. He earns effusive praise from the likes of Suffolk County Sheriff, whose successful effort he led (and she was at Doyle's today in support) and current Treasurer candidate Steve Grossman, even when O'Malley resigned from running field operations to go for Tobin's spot. He applies the same wired, insomniac energy to his own.

If yard signs and sign wielders are the measures, he owns this race. Certainly if everyone who shows up at his events goes to the polls, he seems to have at least the primary.

More important, folk endorse O'Malley. It seems everyone except God and Tom Menino has spoken out for him. Those every-bodies include numerous unions, but also City Councilors. Those include John Tobin for his replacement, John Connolly and Rob Consalvo.

At today's function, Council President Mike Ross spoke up again for him. Those three current Councilors speak of how much they want to work with O'Malley and how much they expect him to do for the city.

So far, conventional wisdom has the preliminary reducing this to Hennigan and O'Malley. I agree, though repeated conversations with O'Malley have infected me with that caution he expresses.

This morning, even Christine O'Malley, one of his sisters, as well as his mother, Marianne O'Malley, were full of anticipation, but with a brush of that wariness. It seems the whole family would like it to be November 17th right now.

After a couple of posts on O'Malley's kick-off hoopla, (here and here) I still feel like a PR agent for him. I have no stake in the campaign and recently moved out of the district. That's not my intention to flack for him, but it's difficult not to note how much folk praise him.

He remains unbelievably optimistic and barely shows the strain. The only hint I noticed this morning was when he addressed nearly 100 there. He thanked them for this, that and the other. He then referenced all that has happened in the couple of months since his kick-off event.

That was just a month ago, but I can believe that he must feel like he's lived several several months since.

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Friday, October 08, 2010

Treasurer Frivolities

At the second row at yesterday's Treasurer forum (the first was for big shots), I became shallowly distracted by the obvious. Both Steve Grossman and Karyn Polito are made for caricature.

From across the room and certainly up close, Polito has teeth, obvious and beautiful teeth. She smiles freely and broadly. I suspect she spent a lot for such perfect and perfectly white teeth, and to good effect. They don't show the age-appropriate yellowing. Without displaying the brashness of a game-show host, she is comfortable with her mouth. I and likely many others envy those choppers.

Her eyebrows too are striking, like misplaced little Hitler mustaches or an NFL player's cheek paint. I confess as a blond WASP with wispy hair even when I had a lot, I admire such out-there hair.

Vulpine (fox like) is apt for Polito. Her mane frames a narrow, pointed face, giving her the visage that says shrewd in Shrewsbury.

In strong counterpoint is the solid Grossman. He is short and seems a little roughly carved, as of wood. In fact, with his large, fly-away ears, he has the charm and slight humor of a ventriloquist's mannequin. (Dummy would be the wrong term for him; he likely was the smartest person in the room.)

Gesticulation levels differed as well. I confess that I identified more with Grossman's controlled use of hands and arms. Years ago while getting a business degree, I'd get review comments about my presentations from fellow students. Typically, one would read, "Great content, but for God's sake, move!"

Grossman used his hands like a professor. He'd make points and keep arms and hands close to the table even when indexing.

Polito fit the Mediterranean stereotype of expressiveness. In addition to locking eyes with audience members, she's make broad movements for each major statement.

Apropos of nothing else, those are thoughts many of us who came from the newspaper world let career around our brain pans. Rather like the inevitable Four Seasons playing softly at a linen-tablecloth restaurant, such tertiary accompaniments don't distract from the dishes, or in this case, the words. I must note though that it is simpleminded fun.

Related: A post on the regular appearances of their ancestors is here. Commentary on the forum is here.

Would-Be Treasurers' Visions

Change is in the eye, and phrasing, of the presenter, it would seem from yesterday's Treasurer's forum at Suffolk Law's Rappaport Center. The Dem Steve Grossman is plain. He has announced a major overhaul for the office, which he details in person and on his campaign site.
Disclaimer: I feel compelled to note that whenever I write that center's name, I cringe a bit. Jerome Lyle Rappaport has been washing is name, infamous for bad urban renewal in the pursuit of greed. Some good comes out of his belated donations. For atonement though...that's another matter.
His "GOPponent" Karyn Polito clearly loves to dress in the change-agent clothes as well. I remain to be convinced.

She promised a "whole new approach." In that, she vows to slow or stop overspending, high taxes and the high cost of doing business in the commonwealth.

What's Possible?

Broken into components, little of that is in the Treasurer's power or even related to the person. For example, the Treasurer can advise the legislature and the rest of the administration on taxes and appropriations but has no power to change them. Likewise, the Treasurer, Attorney General and Auditor each has a role in uncovering waste and fraud, but cannot dictate what's appropriate appropriations.

Without constitutional changes and legislative enabling, the Treasurer really can't do what she promises. It's moderately surprising that Grossman and the media have not called her strongly on this.

Oddly enough, she tried to score big points with Grossman's approach to attacking the unfunded pension liability that has grown to over $20 billion. She had no remedy but belittled his initial proposals designed to reduce that quickly by $2 billion. For her part, she said she would withhold new expenditures until the office had a long-term strategic plan in place. Whether she could legally do that is one matter and another is how quickly and to what effect are others. Moreover, like Grossman, she would limit benefits to new officials and employees — another long-term nibble at the problem.

It does make one wonder whether she has in mind some obstructionist tricks like she used on the bills she blocked repeatedly in the last week. In the forum, she repeated several times that she was not an obstructionist in her obstruction, rather she was intent on both saving the taxpayers many millions and fighting a barely legal informal appropriations session with her parliamentary gimmick.

Unfortunately, it appears from the outside that she was engaged in a power play to show something or other in addition to her ability to obstruct the House. Also unfortunately, Grossman's rebuttal noted that the millions in question were a stimulus "gift" from the feds specifically to help cover shortfalls in essential services like anti-gang police crews, and that the bill in question would put about $200 million in our rainy-day fund as well.

In my decades in Boston, no MA Treasurer has halted government operations to make a point. Would Polito be enough of a loose cannon to do so?

What her change argument seems to use as a fulcrum is political-party affiliation though. As a Republican, she gets to play the outsider (maybe impartial) gambit. She can't stop herself here.

Party Ploy

As former head of the state and then national Democratic party, Grossman could as easily have a huge D on his chest. She loves pinning the tail on this donkey. She would have him "steeped and mired in Democratic Party politics."

To return to the cats image, Polito was often catty about party. Nothing that as DNC chair, Grossman was "earning even a night in the Lincoln bedroom."

"Unlike my opponent, who is completely tied into the majority party who is running Beacon Hill," she started one answer. She revisited that several times, enough to finally get to the normally impassable Grossman. After she had accused him enough of being incapable of objectivity, he got what must pass for angry for him.

He pointed out specifically that the DNC brought him in to clean house, which he did with vigor. He stated proudly that he is a fine turn-around manager and did what was necessary to get rid of badly acting Dems. In his best Eagle Scout terms, he made it plain he would not tolerate having his integrity challenged, even in campaign hyperbole.

Polito's underlying theme of a gang of irresponsible Democrats crushing the wise Republicans is a common one here and one she returns to repeatedly also. Mitt Romney was another in her party who used that successfully, in his case in the gubernatorial run.

The central conceit is that when any party holds the majority of legislative seats and the chief executive as well, the state suffers. Those in power will act as one, pass bad laws, waste taxpayer money and be unaccountable to voters. Of course, in this state with so many DINOs, social conservatives and self-interested pork snatchers, there is no consensus leading to the terrors GOP candidates like to present.

Yet, Polito is smart as well. She clearly knows enough election history to see the value in the slogan that only dividing the branches among parties will give the voters any control. That is an illusion and pretense, but it still appeals to the most literal-minded voters.

For Grossman's extensive proposals of change in the functions of the office, Polito gets all he's-too-radical. Her way of saying that has been, and was yesterday, that he is a social activist. Those accepted conservative code words are for someone who will sacrifice what's best for the mainstream public to advance a narrow agenda.

Getting to Grossman

Grossman felt compelled twice to correct her, as he has solo and in previous appearances. She apparently has no intention of stopping this attack. He has often said (including on his podcast with Left Ahead!) that he would be an activist Treasurer. That is, he would use our $40 billion plus in pension funds to make wise investment in fostering MA small businesses and pressure big banks who were lending to local companies to do so. Polito is likely to continue to bend that. She likes the social-activist ploy.

Back to the verifiable, both candidates claim to be prudent and swear they would safeguard the moneys under their control. In addition, Polito leaned right in promising that if an investment, even with good political aims behind it, did not pay the best possible interest rate, she'd shift it.

That leads to the obvious question of what would change other than inserting a Republican into an allegedly politically impartial constitutional office?

I think the answer is nothing really. Yet hers may be a good argument to make tor voters who feel buffeted by changes big and small outside of their control.

Grossman pledges to make many changes to speed up our economic recovery, particularly goosing small businesses and creating jobs. Polito has vague statements about things out of her control, but comes heavy on safeguarding any money she oversees. Hers is a much more soothing message for the fiscally bruised.

Bless the many in the media and academia who have brought these two together and spoken with them separately. This is an key race at a crux. The distinctions are clear enough.

Those who are afraid of yet more change, particularly they also buy into the one-party tactic, would surely be more comfortable with Polito. Those who admire what Grossman has done with his company and beyond, and who think this is a time for action, would likely go with him.

Related posts: The role of ancestors is here. Silly observations of the pair is here.

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Thursday, October 07, 2010

MA Treasurer - Battle of the Granddads

Francesco and Max live least during the campaign for MA Treasurer. In what moderator of the quasi-debate (a.k.a. forum) compared euphemistically to more exciting than teaching his 16-year-old to drive, the two candidates were fully engaged — like a pair of stranger cats circling.

Prof. Alasdair Roberts of Suffolk Law could have used a referee's whistle. He did an excellent job of keeping Dem Steve Grossman and GOP Karyn Polito focused. He couldn't keep them, particularly Polito, from running overtime per answer, but it was close enough.

This event at the school's Rappaport Center was another good argument for argument. This pair could have used the traditional format where candidates could run with a topic and go back and forth until the subject and perhaps they and the audience were exhausted.

Instead, we got the now common three-minute opening from each, a question each had a short time to answer and maybe a 30-second (30 second?!) rebuttal from each. It's like making out, but only first base, again and again and again.

It's both endearing and a bit staged that each candidate resurrects departed elders. From time to time, like on her campaign site, Polito shows pictures of a grandfather with her. At this forum, she reached back to Columbus Day 1910 (not a federal holiday until 1934, but who wants to quibble?). She said great-grandfather Francesco Polito (above left) arrived at Ellis Island to create his American dream.

Grossman revivified his grandfather, Maxwell Grossman (above right) a short time later. In 1909, he founded the family business, then Massachusetts Envelope Company.

Using the ancestors as props and examples may be a little cynical, but both candidates found these men good proxies for the messages they want to present of themselves.

Specifically, on her site and in person, Polito claims to emulate — and wish for her state — her great-granddad's ideals of paying bills on time, making wise investments, and not spending unnecessarily.

Grossman's grandfather was of the same era and apparently offered his similar values and more. Every stump speech I've heard from him includes a recounting of his last visit with his GD and the patriarch's pre-WWI values — starting his own business, living within his means, having a family, and giving back to the community.

Grossman personally can certainly out-old fashioned Polito. He clearly remains the Eagle Scout he became, much as a Marine is always one. I can't imagine him lying or evading responsibility for an error. Yet both of them speak in sampler phrases of their ancestors' transferred wisdom. That is certainly not to deride those sentiments; each concept is the minimum of what we should expect from a Treasurer. Grossman goes farther with his record of philanthropy and volunteerism, but they are pretty close in sentiment.

Coincidentally, it was singularly unconvincing for two very wealthy people to brag that they would not take a public pension for the Treasurer job. Neither needs the money and more important, neither would find a pension as any meaningful incentive to seek and serve. Of course, for many other office holders, taking such a positions means a tremendous loss of income while serving. For them, a decent pension may tip the balance to their lending expertise for four or more years.

Related: A shallow post on their appearances is here. Commentary on the forum is here.