Thursday, February 27, 2014

Falchuk pitches himself as smart, brave reformer

Ready for a new political party in MA? Well, Evan Falchuk is.

Ancillary stuff: He secured Political Designation status for the United Independent Party (UIP). The link on the Secretary of the Commonwealth's site goes to Falchuck's campaign one. By the bye, a designation requires signatures from 50 registered voters, does not require any number or percentage of votes cast to continue, and its members may not vote in a primary. However,  in theory, if a candidate for governor met the stringent requirements, public-financing matching funds would be available.

We at Left Ahead are dickering with his folk for a chat. Meanwhile, he appeared at Suffolk Law's Rappaport Center roundtable and has a campaign site.

At Suffolk, he stood out for several obvious reasons. He has a great shock of dark hair, perhaps suitable for one of the Hong Kong Cavaliers in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. More meaningful though, he is a personable campaigner. Unlike the typical of these roundtable guests, he did not arrive just at the 12:15 PM showtime. Instead, he worked the room, introducing himself, shaking hands and encouraging interaction.

Smart, brave reform

Placing himself in a netherworld — below the support and primary risk of a party, and separate from an independent candidate per se — Falchuk stands out with a good theme. I enjoy a sharp slogan and he delivers with smart, brave reform.

His platform on the campaign site details all that comprises. That theme lets him weave all related topics back to it. He also showed his one true routine of snark at the roundtable after starting with saying he was like other voters in being tired of having to choose the lesser of two evils. For motivation, he said, "When I go and I see candidates say why they are running for governor say, 'I'm ready' or 'I want to prove that I an redeem myself from some prior failure,' I say, 'That's interesting for you, but what does that have to do with any of  us?'"

His reform refrain goes to three key areas — politics, economy, and government. He gets to play the populism card in each area.

For example, in campaign finance, he definitely is in the money-is-not-speech clique. That includes a Constitutional amendment, in effect voiding Citizens United. For this commonwealth, he cited what he says is a built-in 15:1 advantage for big-party candidates. That is, the laws and regulations allow $15,000 per year per candidate for party folk and $1,000 for others, including him and his UIP. He calls this "a corrupt system."

For taxes, we are one of seven states with a flat tax. In our case, it is in our constitution (Article XLIV). He calls it "inherently regressive when it comes to the disposable money people have." He'd like to see an amendment changing that, plus a tax-modernization commission to update MA to a 21st Century tax code.

Refreshingly, he did not push the stereotypical fraud-waste-and-abuse buttons on spending. Instead, he said much of MA's money was misallocated. He cited such areas as funding for the homeless, and pledged a line-by-line examination of where money went.

On transportation, he had a couple of strong statements. For one, the train tracks in the Pioneer Valley were now straightened out and good enough for Amtrak. He'd like to see commuter trains moved there as the MBTA replaces them, to be used for local transit out there. For another, he's big on the South Coast rail project. He said it "has become a political hot button issue. It ought not be. We should go ahead and build it."

Health-care costs were as big an issue with him as with other gubernatorial candidates. He had a different view of the root of the problem — the continuing consolidation of hospitals into big systems, which then set prices as suits them. He took AG Martha Coakley and the whole Democratic administration to task for watching this happen and doing nothing. He pointed to the current effort of Partners to take over South Shore Hospital. He would like to stop that and decrease the geographic monopolies here.

He also noted that then Gov. William Weld and Charlie Baker (current candidate for governor and Weld's Secretaries of Health and Human Services and Administration and Finance) deregulated the health-care industry. That, Falchuk, says has led to 72% of market being controlled by a few health-care systems.

Not coincidentally, among his credentials is the past 13 years in executive positions at Best Doctors, Inc.

In education, he was the same and different as other candidates. He sees too much emphasis on teaching to standardized testing. He thinks government has a role in making sure kids get the skills they'll need from school. Where he diverges is in what he thinks students should come out of schools with, including:

  • independence
  • resilience
  • critical thinking skills
  • grit
  • knowledge that they can overcome obstacles

Those of course are much harder to measure than math proficiency. Those goals like so many he cited would require presenting them to a smart group of advisers, legislators and officials to ask the best way to get to them.

Getting there

Falchuk is relentlessly optimistic and enthusiastic. He definitely counts on his populist message to suck in voters. He noted that America from the beginning was "an experiment in government." He listed the problems and possible solutions, concluding "There is not a king or queen who's going to come down and do it for us. We have to do it."

To the obvious question of where he expects to find victory, he quipped that he only had "to get more votes" than the other candidates. He said he expected to go out and earn them, to convince voters in all his appearances that he could achieve what they all want.

For the two major parties, he added, "I never think of it as taking votes from anyone. I have to earn every single vote."

From my distance, I surmise that the future of the UIP and whether it will exist apart of Evan Falchuk depends entirely on how he pulls in November.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Indy McCormick Goes for MA Gov.

Cross-post note: This first appeared at BlueMassGroup.

Following a recent post here linking to chats with three Dem candidates for MA governor, a comment asked about the independents. The first Left Ahead did was today with Jeff McCormick.

Click at the player on the bottom to hear the half hour with him. In addition, he recently appeared at Suffolk Law's Rappaport Center roundtable. His 13-minute self-intro there appears as a video on Suffolk's site here.

My diary draws on both his chat today and on the roundtable.

Not Mitt

First, there are bound to be the obvious comparisons with Willard Mitt Romney. McCormick too has been very successful in MA as a venture capitalist (21 years with his Saturn Partners). 

Very much unlike Romney, he grew up blue-collar in upstate NY, to college on scholarships, and did not have a rich, politically and corporate connected father. He claims to have arrived in Boston with $800 to make his fortune, which he did. Unlike Romney, there is no delusion when he says he's self-made.

Superficially, McCormick was a lacrosse champion in HS and at Syracuse. He has a chin that could be a weapon and a great jawline. Those are important only in that they serve to reinforce his self-confidence and well-thought-out positions. I never for a moment felt he was jiving me.

Voters and donors have not been kind to independent gubernatorial candidates here. The few original governors came to office before parties, but maybe only Henry Gardner in 1855 fit the category. Although, as part of the Know-Nothing Movement, he was sort of in a party and managed to beat a popular Whig by a landside.

At the moment, McCormick figures he can appeal to enough voters, particularly the 53% of unenrolled ones. He seems to think it might not be as hard as some of his professional accomplishments. When asked about whether he's hitting the public meetings and diners, he's in his element. "I'm really comfortable in diners, much more than in ballrooms," he said. "I can relate to just about anyone."

Jobs and Jobs

His stump speech starts with asking voters to associate his campaign with Jeff for Jobs. As background, he cites such VC successes as Boston Duck Tours, Twin Rivers Technologies, and Constant Contact. 

He honesty figures he can make a culture change on Beacon Hill to bring some of that mindset. He thinks he can do a reset there. "We need to teach people to get out of their comfort zone," he stated with great confidence in his ability to do so.

He claims to be part of team in his VC career and said, "No one is voting for a CEO." Instead, he wants the legislators and administration to do the kind of problem solving he favors. He cites ME's US Sen. Angus King as saying when people see you are solving problems, they want to join you and that’s an easier way to govern. 

He offers a familiar and well articulated outline for job growth. He does rely on some accepted but un-implemented ideas, such as no dumb taxes on technology when you want that sector to grow, having an easy flow from high school into voc-tech or community colleges or four-year schools making sure people are learning for jobs that will be there when they finish. Listen in and check is campaign site for specifics.

He needs to be a little careful in his frequent use of business clich├ęs. At Suffolk, for one example, he spoke of opening the kimono for sharing proprietary information. On the other hand, he is on solid ground, particularly in a sports-loving area alluding to Wayne Gretzky's comment on his icy success as being able to skate not to where the puck is but rather where it will be. McCormick sees his jobs proposals as doing that for workers and future workers here.

Why and How

We did deal today as he did last week at Suffolk with some of the very obvious areas. For one, why walk away from his highly profitable VC biz? Another is how to deal with a long boat of Dems, plus several Republicans and likely more independents.

For the why, I don't know how many millions he has, but I'm sure he could coast on that forever; likewise I'm sure that is not in his nature to coast at all. Instead, he readily agrees he'd take a huge economic hit to be governor, but that the challenges would be likely more than he has faced and he'd look forward to them.

He is confident enough in his approach and ideas that he thinks they can hold sway in the campaign. He figures there will be a shakeout (my term) as the campaign progresses. Then, "when everyone knows us equally well," he'll stand out as the right choice.

Update: Autoplay on Blogger started this regardless of settings. That's annoying. I removed the embedded player. Instead, click here to listen.  

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Baker Sticks With Familiar Tunes

Suffolk Law's lunch series with gubernatorial candidates is at once inconvenient and worth the trip. Yesterday's showcased almost-certain GOP nominee-to-be Charles Duane Baker Jr., known to all here as Charlie.

Check 'im out: Suffolk's Rappaport Center is very efficient about posting vids of these sessions. Yesterday's with Baker is here.

Pic note: Any photos I run in this blog are Creative Commons. You are welcome to them, just make one mention of Mike Ball if you use one.

I won't recap his show in detail. Use the like above to hear it all.

At these luncheon thingummies, some of the usual suspects are inevitable. The moderator will invariably call on the special-interest types to get their predictable questions in the air. The candidate format is 10 minutes to pitch and self-intro, then about an hour for Q&A (no speeches, thank you very much).

We who attend regularly know there'll be a tobacco tax/smoking cessation one from an anti-cancer advocate. Almost always, a land-conservation guy will tunnel down to an obscure law that needs enforcement or tweaking. Former AG Scott Harshbarger will try to get a commitment to hold a vote to overturn casino approval. These brief hazing incidents don't seem to bother the candidates, whom I suspect have been warned beforehand.

By the bye, Baker would be happy to have a plebiscite on repealing the casino approval. He doesn't see such gambling on top of the lottery as a wise or viable economic-development strategy.

The overwhelming impression Baker left yesterday is that he's not making promises of big changes. He's not giving other contenders targets. Likewise, his campaign site is sparse, asking for money and not providing any platform yet.

He returned repeatedly at lunch to the same few, neither controversial nor innovative, concepts. For example, his biggie, which he iterated three or four times, is that:
  • He has visited many MA towns
  • In each, everyone agrees on which public schools wew best
  • Therefore, good education is not limited to a few wealthy communities
  • Further, the conclusion is to analyze what a good school does and replicate in lesser schools
That's old and obvious stuff, but he loves it. He is clearly proud of his insight and you'll hear that repeatedly during his campaign.

Likewise, you'll hear repeatedly that his parents were on opposite political poles. He and siblings grew up hearing Dem/GOP debates at meals. He uses that as a metaphor suggesting he learned how to get workable compromise across political divides.

As close as he got to controversies or strong positions were:

  1. The recent state budget should not have touched the rainy-day fund
  2. Local municipalities need to streamline permitting and otherwise make starting or expanding businesses easier
  3. A three-year college degree would lower costs
  4. We somehow need to align health-procedure costs so the range is not huge among facilities
  5. He doesn't want recreational pot
  6. MA cities need to each stand on its own and not see itself as a satellite of another city, particularly Boston

Again, he offered no sweeping, inspiringly named program or set of planks. In this second go at governor, he still pushes himself as a pragmatist who rises above party affiliation to get stuff done. He admits to being in the Weld/Cellucci model, a social liberal and fiscal conservative. (Hey, that sounds like most MA Dem pols.)

In a shallower, yet obvious, note, he has been in training. He used to look too much like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters. As a fellow pasty-faced white guy, I empathize.

He's toned and trimmed. He looks healthy and pretty for 57. He has an unfortunate taste in shirts and ties (lose the pastels, which accent your sallowness, Chuck), but seems vital enough.

In 2010, Gov. Deval Patrick beat Baker, but only by six points. The new, improved contender seems to figure it's his time. Failing in a race for a major office never stamps LOSER on your forehead here.

I'll be intrigued to see whether he clings to his pragmatism/collaboration ideal. If the Dem candidate has big ideas and big promises, he may have to be less spongy.

Scotland Joins the Equality Party

Are you happy to see me or is your sporran just full?

Scotland becomes the 17 nation to legalize marriage equality yesterday. By a vote of 105 to 18, its parliament approved same-sex marriage, to begin in October.

While there are a few Muslims there, the two major churches — the majority Church of Scotland (the Kirk) and the minority Scottish Catholic Church — made the usual weak and unsupportable arguments. In the debate though, the prevailing argument was that there were plenty of protections for religious sorts and no church or cleric would have to host or officiate in SSM. Anti-gay types know that's a red herring, but they can't seem to stop themselves from emotional indulgence.

Those unhappy types put forth a variety of unnecessary amendments, which failed. This law ended up slightly differing from many others in countries and U.S. states. It requires religious organizations who want to let their clergy perform SS ceremonies to first opt in to doing that.

England and Wales had previously approved SSM. Their citizens can marry under that as of March 29th.