Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mike at Mickey's

I like Mike. I liked U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano before this morning's appearance at Mickey D's in Hyde Park and like him even more afterward.

He answered — plainly — questions from 40 or 50 of us at the HP Main Streets monthly networking meeting. I am still astonished when I hear some object to his candor and some who say he is too abrasive. Perhaps because I grew up in a relentlessly honest and plainspoken family, I think he's spot on.
Background: I've been a fan for a long time and wish he were my Congressman. Even after moving from JP to HP, I still lose out; he has part of the neighborhood, but not Fairmount Hill. He has come on the Left Ahead podcast. I live blogged his Park Plaza rally for his U.S. Senate run. I endorsed him in that race.
Nearly everyone else at McDonald's seemed to like him as well. I only heard one claiming neutrality. The sensei of the local karate school, Tony Hanley, said he was there to find out what Capuano was about. More typical was my MA Rep. Angelo Scaccia (pic left), who gave a rousing introduction. He included, "He's been in the pit. He works for us." He added that "When he ran for U.S. Senate, he told it the way it was."

And today under the golden arches on HP Avenue, Capuano did not pander to the voters, did not tell them what they might want to hear. Instead he took their questions and gave true progressive answers.

Fast forward to the end of his hour-plus Q&A, I asked about his plans. First, my comment that had he won the Democratic primary for the Senate race he would have skunked Scott Brown got applause and cheers. Then, would he run for Senate next year and if not, would redistricting give him more of Boston, including all of HP?

He said he was still deciding whether to run for U.S. Senate. He said he learned that the race is all consuming as well as taking millions of dollars. Referring to his blue-collar and middle-class background and history, he added, "I don't know lots of people who can write me $35,000 checks." He said he'd announce his decision this summer.

He added that he won't enter the race unless he's sure he'd have a solid chance to win, that this has been part of political philosophy. Moreover, he said another part was that if he can't go into office and achieve 100% of what he wants to do, "you still need to get elected to do 70%." He said he's learned to work with other legislators to do that.

He also noted that Democrats here have solid majorities, but a poor record in unseating any statewide elected GOP politician. That really hasn't happened since 1978, when Sen. Edward Brooke lost to Paul Tsongas.

As for his current seat, he favored keeping it a minority-majority seat as it is, at just over 53% non-white. He noted that the district has to add 67,100 voters in the redistricting, which is happening now. He said that this could be accomplished very easily by adding more of Hyde Park and similar redrawing.

After the formal meeting, he told me that if no Congressman retires and someone has to lose a seat, it won't be he who does.

Most of the questions were about what's happening with health care, Medicare, Social Security and tax legislation. He answered specific questions as a legislator, husband of a CPA and former tax lawyer, but the recurrent theme was the obligations of Congress and each other to the American public.

He started by stating, "The country is more divided than ever." He cited the Vietnam era of his youth and the earlier period of Interstate Highway construction in contrast. While there were strong disagreements then, there were no questions about doing the necessary to ensure the commonweal.

No one questioned whether to build Interstates. Had that been up for discussion and they were not constructed, we would be a third-world country, he said.

Hard Right Turn

Likewise today, he is appalled to hear self-identified conservatives (both parties) discussing whether we should drastically reduce or eliminate programs for seniors, youth and others. In those previous times, he said, there wasn't a question about taking care of the elderly or seeing that children through college students had the chance for a good education. Congress and the public may dicker over how much we could spend how quickly, but the "bedrock issues" were never in doubt.

Now he says, many in Congress, particularly the GOP-majority House, are in effect saying what they and their parents got from the government is fine, but not for the future. On education, housing, health care, Social Security and more he iterated, "Good for me but not for you!"

Specifically on Medicare, he added, "I cannot believe this country would consider getting out of it. Does this country want to do this to the next generation of seniors?" He acknowledged that some voters also lean this way. "It's OK for you to say, 'I want to be in a country where we're all on our own.' I happen not to believe that."

To Capuano, it is appalling that the GOP house absolutely refuses to get us out of hyper-expensive wars ("Not one penny" of which is paid — all borrowed and debt). They refuse even to discuss taxes or eliminating tax breaks for rich individuals and companies or raising any taxes.

He said these nasty trends are not settled yet. "Last year we took a hard right turn. I don't know what we're going to get out of it. I know what's been proposed, but I don't like it." So far, the Senate won't pass the harshest measures the House has, but again, this is in play.

"If you want to balance the budget, we all have to kick in a little more," he said. This may be when I like him the best — when he tells people distasteful truths and explains why he thinks this way. Here he wants such fundamental solutions as:
  • Taxing corporations who hold excessive tax reserves, as incentive for investment "to get more money moving through the economy."
  • Raising gas taxes, using the money to create jobs.
  • Make meaningful cuts in defense and other currently untouchable budget areas. "You can't just pretend you can tighten your belt" with cuts to social programs.
For his part, Capuano said he was going to plug away on the things he knows and thinks are right, getting as much support as he can in Congress to achieve those. He mused, "I wish I were the emperor and if the job opens up, I'll run for it. Absent that, I'll work with others in Congress."

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