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^ some points, often not clear, versus the big picture sharply : Martha Coakley and Charlie baker at massachusetts TLC Forum in cambridge yesterday

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The battle is joined, and the result of first clash is quite clear, at least to me : Baker wins.

The Globe this morning opines that neither candidate satisfied the attendees at the Massachusetts TLC Forum at Microsoft’s Complex in Kendall Square, Cambridge. Their reporter must have been at a different Forum than I witnessed. Baker’s answers wowed many, reporters included.

But first, Martha Coakley, who spoke before Baker did. A gentle presence, trying hard to be friendly, Coakley provided a rambling commentary that I found difficult to follow even though I am required, as a journalist, to pay close attention. She spoke rapidly, often giving legalese answers to policy questions; even when thrown a soft ball — a question about non-compete contracts, which she as Attorney General, has dealt with recently — she laid out no basic principles and offered no conclusion. Should our state allow them, or not ? Coakley did not say.

Coakley spoke most clearly when she said that she would continue Governor Patrick’s commitment to the state’s biotech and technology industry. Most of her other answers with a discernable message involved laying out her plans for education and for bringing at least some measure of Boston-Cambridge technology to the western part of the state. Here she cited her growing up in North Adams — a city that has long struggled with declining economy — and knowing just how technologically unconnected much of “the west’ continues to be.

then it ewas Baker’s turn. In his opening, and in answers to “Q and A,’ baker connected the future success of Massachusetts technology business to “aligning education with the communities it serves,” to creating affordable housing fior young techies to live in — so that they don’t just move away to where housing costs much less — and to making it easier for businesses to start up and expand. as Baker said, “if there’s an easy way to do things in state government and a complicated way, we do it the complicated way every time.’ He added, “I’d like to create a technology group and ask it come up with a new model for state government’; and “it shouldn’t take ten years for a business to get perrmits that in other states take six months.”

Baker spoke clearly, in sentences quotable (as you have read above) and authoritative, precise, doable, delivered with confidence by a man relaxed yet passionate. Like Coakley, he laid out his education plan, his reform of government priorities, his region by region focus (and knowledge), and illustrated how the technology community’s work fits into, or can be made to fit into, the whole.

i have seen Baker often, all year long, speaking to large audiences and small in all manner of settings. Alwyas he speaks well and convincingly, but his Forum presentation was the bsst yet that i have seen.

I did not watch the Springfield debate, but I followed people’s tweets of it, and from what was tweeted, there were few surprises. Except that Coakley has — finally — embraced an agenda; gone in the vagueness, the refusal to commit or state a ;position. It’s likely not enough. She has points to mael that baker does not make, and there are indeed differences in the two candidates’ priorities; but Coakley offered no overall vision, no urgency of administrative accomplishment — she sounded more like a candidate for the legislature than for governor — whereas Baker offered the big picture as well as the details within it.

The one surprise that I learned of belonged to Baker, who bluntly called out the anti-gay rhetoric of right-wing candidate Scott Lively and thereby committed himself all-in to a support for gay people that some Coakley supporters have misrepresented about him even though thy know better.

So much for the first battle. there will be more. Perhaps the debates will move the eight to 10 percent of voters who polls say remain undecided. My own view is that debates do not decide most elections. Last year, in the Boston Mayor race, Marty Walsh was often at a loss for words, in the second debate embarrassingly; yet it mattered not a whit. I doubt that the debates will shake up this race either. It is quite clear by now who Martha Coakley is or is not and who Charlie Baker is or is not. Voters as yet undecided will likely make their decision on grounds both complex beyond pundit analysis or simpler than any palpable reason.

The campaign now controls the candidates, not they the campaign. Who steers its current better will win.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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^ not out of touch at all : Charlie Baker touches city voters for real

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Recently the charge has been made by some supporters of Martha Coakley that Charlie Baker is “out of touch.” This is a strange charge to make, stranger still when made by supporters of the candidate who has seemed to me — and I have seen Coakley at dozens of Forums all year long — the most out of touch candidate of all those who ran in the two party primaries. What can these Coakley supporters possibly mean ? And why do they say it ?

The charge is made because, first, Baker has had a way of liking important policies but not supporting them all-in. His inclination to quibble thus and make fine distinctions rather than embrace the paid sick leave referendum ion particular gives Coakley supporters their chance. As I have written in an earlier article, as a candidate you can’t make fine distinctions. do that, and people get the impression that you’re not committed. So you have to do all-in. This, Baker has until recently looked reluctant to do.

That has changed, but only recently, and for voters who do not follow the governor campaign every minute of every hour, the progress, day by day, in Baker’s speeches may not yet have registered. Thus the “out of touch’ change has some legs.

Tat sid, if “out of touch’ is the most negtive thing that opponents can say of Bker, he’s in pretty good shape. I think he ISn pretty good shape. Here’s why :

When it comes to policy priorities, Baker offers a program comprehensive in scope. Coakley ofers a few ciomnmitments to two or three interest groups. Baker is campiagning to all our voters, Coakley only to certain activists.

It’s a problem for a candidate when, five weeks before election day, he or she has to campaign to activists. They should already be aboard — long since. But for Coakley, most are not aboard. With 35 days to go she’s still trying to win activists to her side. Not to mention donors.

Baker has moved way beyond that. He has activists by the thousands — look at the huge size of his donor list — and is grappling now with all the voters.

To be sure, much of Baker’s policy platform is controversial, and yes, I disagree with Baker’s view that businesses create jobs : consumers do that. i also don’t see welfare as an arena for schemers looking to game the system. I see it as a haven for the very unlucky among us seeking to get from today to tomorrow because that’s what it means to have no money at all to call your own. But there’s far more to Baker’s appeal than controversial positions :

1. Baker clearly wants the job, wants it badly, is excited by the prospect of doing the job. it shows, everywhere he goes and to whomever he speaks. Coakley campaigns as if reluctant, as if she were running onloy because State House insiders are pleadiong with ger to win so they can keep their jobs. My impression may be unfair; but it is the impression that i get, nonetheless, from Coakley’s diffidence and vague talk and from her body language.

2.Baker is campaigning to the cities, all of them, and it’s in and from the cities that the massachusetts economy arises and where our state’s culture and passion get their impetus. The cities are also where our state’s diversity of people and lifestyles flourish. Baker is city campaigning with enthusiasm; he’s enjoying doing it. Coakley has only occasionally been seen in the state’s cities and, when she appears, is more likely than not t0o be escorted by politicians mostly. Baker, being the Republican nominee, has no politicians to cloak him when he campaigns in urban neighborhoods. it’;s just him, his running mate Karyn Polito, and the voters. People like that. They like it much more than seeing a candidate wearing a cloak of politicians.

No candidate who campaigns they way Baker is campaigning in our state’s cities can be out of touch. Just the opposite, when that candidate is also well attuned to the issues — and grasping better every day how to word them — and facing city voters with no protective ring of big names.

Baker’s campaign right now is the very essence of “in touch.” The out of touch olks are those who don’t see it.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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^ a default campaign, even with some good advocacy, isn’t likely to be enough : Martha Coakley

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Martha Coakley, currently our state’s Attorney General, is running for Governor as advocate. It fits her current office. The attorney General is the state’s advocate.

So far, so good. Good, too, are the issues that she advocates : women’s pay equity and full access to reproductive rights; workers’ rights and “RaiseUp”; respect for all immigrants; and strong support for universal (or at least targeted) pre-kinergarten education. Until Massachusetts can bring all of the people whose prosperity depends on these advocacies fully into our economy, our state will ciontinue tro lag and to be an unjust society.

It’s also true that our Governor is, as i have written, a kind of walking, breathing ballot referendum, an advocate first and foremost ; because the real power in state policy rests with the Speaker of the House, who controls all legislation absolutely, no matter what the Governor may want ; if the Governor isn’t an advocate, what power does he or she have to match or even affect the power that the Speaker wields ?

Unfortunately, Coakley’s a campaign lacks all the other attributes needed to make her advoaccy effective : a Democrat, she siuffers from having to compete with an overwelmingly Democratic legislature utterly controlled by the Speaker. the 63% of Massachusetts voters who aren’t Democrats do not get felt at the power table by a governor whlo is a Democrat. Witness the fate of Governor Patrick, eloquent though he is, almost every time that he advocated legislation that the Speaker didn’t like.

2.Coakley offers no plan at all for reforming state administration. The Governor may have only advocacy power over state policy, but he or she controls how state policy delivers. Under Governor Patrick, state administration has frequently failed — misapplied priorities, poor budget decisions, local aid monies withheld, technological backwardness, and a complete lack of contractor smarts (as shown by the 200 million dollar collapse of the Health Connector). A total transformation of state administration, its culture and its systems, is vitally needed. Of this entire topic, Coakley says nothing.

Our transportation infrastructure has reached the breaking point — we all know this. But so has our state administrative infrastructure. This, we see less of, because almost no Democrat wants to criticize the Patrick administration’s governance failures; but the collapse is there just the same. Those who read the Coakley plan have to cross their fingers and hope that she sees the problem, because no evidence of it is apparent in what she make a priority.

3.Lastly, i see no evidence in Coakley’s plan, or in her campiagn, that Progressives, some of whose issues she advocates, can expect any greater success in the legislature than they achieved under Governor Patrick. Even Patrick couldn’t get drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants done, or in-state tuition for them . Governor Patrick speaks well of the $ 15.00 an hour service worker drive, but it remains unfinished business. On women’s issues, is there any that Patrick has not advocated strongly and to good effect ? Then there’s clean energy. Can the diffident Coakley be a more successfiul advocate or clean energy prograns than the eloquent Patrick ? From Baker as governor, progressives might actually be able to win a few. Certainly many reforms advocated by Don Berwick, the campaign’s most progressive candidate, mirror some of Baker’s goals, especially in the area of easing small business regulation and cutting back the soaring costs of health care and curbing the over-centralization of the state’s hospitals — this last, an issue on which Coakley seems committed to the wrong side.

The Coakley campaign also lacks money and it lacks commitment by activists. How could it not ? At her party’s nominating convention, Coakley barely managed to avoid finishing third to Steve Grossman and Berwick. She is her party’s leader mainly by default, A default Democratic nominee offers less than a strong prospect for dealing with an unassailably strong Speaker of the House.

39 days remain until election day. Coakley has maybe three weeks left to get her act fully in gear, to broaden her vision, to raise sufficient money, to take command of the governor as chief executive, to convince people that she isn’t simply a “default Democrat.’ If she does these, she might win ; because her advocacies really do matter and, on immigration and workers’ rights, reflect deeply felt needs. But if she doesn’t broaden and intensify her command of things, she won’t come close at all.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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^ too many nuances, too much rockstar ; the Baker campaign needs to re-gear

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Yesterday David Bernstein, my old Boston Phoenix colleague and now one of Boston’s premier political reporters, tweeted a Boston Globe story — one that i had missed — about Baker changing his leading advertising consultant. Bernstein noted that this is an unusual move or a candidate to make with election day so close. He is right about that.

The move may or may not signal distress within Baker’s inner circle : but it well might. Baker has for months now been campaigning like he’s already the Governor. This is a big mistake, because governor he isn’t. He’s a candidate.

It’s unsettling to watch : wherever he goes, media greet him like a rockstar; their attention aggravates the mistake.

He addresses the issues like a Governor — gives nuanced answers, parsing rather than passionate. He says what he thinks he’ll actually be able to get the legislature to agree to, not what he’ll go all in on behalf of

But all-in is what voters want from a governor. Martha Cakley’s advocacy of universal pre-K is all-in. Her call for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is all-in. Her uncompromising advocacy for womne’s helath care, equal pay, and workers’ rights are all-in. Can Coakley get most of this done ? Unlikely. Can she even get any of it through the legislature ? Probably very little. But the voters want a Governor who goes all-in, because they know that if their chief executive doesn’t make as loud a noise as possible, nothing at all will change.

Baker does go all-in on two topics, but they don’t help much. He;s all for repeal of the indexed gas tax and he waxes intense about transformation of state administration. The first is a negative, and very rarely do negative policies carry an election day. As for transforming state administration, as badly as it’s needed, the issue motivates very few. If this issue moved many, Deval Patrick would have put his mind to it and dropped the all-in I have a dream rhetoric,

He hasn’t.

Time and time again during this election, Baker has made a statement, on a major issue — think the Hobby Lobby matter and the Buffer Zone law — that sounded temperate, where intemperance was called for; or cooling things off, where heat was what the voters want. He seems not to grasp that a governor candidate must be a kind of walking, breathing referendum question. The voters want to know that their would-be Governor is committed to their interests, not merely “think-tanking” things and ranking the difficulties of this or that.

A lot of Baker’s diffidence has to do with his assumed dependence, for part of his vote, on the 11 percent who identify as GOP. Many of these reject the very ideals that almost all the rest of us passionately want. Baker is trying like the dickens to keep these voters from staying home.  My own suggestion would be — except that now it’s really too late, sadly — that he should just seize the majority — not concede it to a weak, often vague, glib candidate like Coakley ! —  and if the rejectionists stay home, so what ? After all, if Baker wims, at least 82 percent of HIS vote will come from voters who do NOT reject what we all want.

Baker’s tall with movie star looks, he basks in media cameras; and the gets an Oscar winner’s share of it. He’s become great at people politics : talks neighborhood, reaches out to neighborhood guys (guys, yes; but shows less knack for the gals), campaigns tirelessly. He climbs fences to shake a voter’s hand.

All good; but without the passionate advocacy of what almost all of us want, he risks falling short. It would be the state’s loss as well as his..

Why isn’t he yet an advocate ? He supports most of the advocacy issues that Massachusetts voters care a klot about, from expanding the EITC and raising minimum wage wages to marriage equality, women’s health care, and an expansion of pre-kindergarten education. But he doesn’t go all in. He quibbles, he makes exceptions, he balances interests.

That maybe works for a governor. It does NOT work when you’re only a candidate.

UPDATE 11:00 A.m. 09/26.2014 : at a rally last night in Revere, baker went all-in on his major points : better schools, a fairer economy, “doing the job’ as chief executive. all in and with passion. He sounds like a candidate now. And noon too soon.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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^ optimism ; Charlie Baker as the attitude guru

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As I look closely, very closely, at the statements made by Charlie Baker and by Martha Coakley, at the section headings in their plans, at which interest groups their positions mirror, I look in vain for recognition of ALL the people.

Martha Coakley’s plan headings, and her campaign army, represents much of organized labor, its issues and its priorities. Charlie Baker’s plan headings, and his explications and policies, reflect the priorities of organized business groups, while his ground forces represent the anti-tax activists who have pressured state government for at least three decades.

Baker’s education plan, which emphasizes charter schools and “innovation,’ suggests that he would entrust much of the state’s schooling to business groups — an issue in last year’s mayor election and still an issue, as Democrats For Education Reform (DFER) learned the hard way. Meanwhile, Martha Coakley’s embrace of and by the state’s uncompromising teachers’ unions contradicts the state’s education reform plans , so vitally needed as the workplace revolutonizes even as i write.

Martha Coakley talks a lot about workers’ rights and economic inequality, and she is right to focus thereon. Meanwhile, Baker addresses joblessness and workforce development to get people out of work back to work. Are these interests really that mutually exclusive ?

Baker too offers reforms for workers ; supporting a higher minimum age and expanding the earned income tax credit. But on the matter of paid sick leave, where Coakley supports the referendum question (Number 4) on November’s ballot, Baker says he ‘supports the concept”:but nor the specific question ; which is precisely the language used by organized business groups opposing the ballot question.

Frankly, I have no choice bit to reject all of this special pleading. My decision to support Baker is based on promises that almost everybody will benefit by ;: his vow to transform state administration, create transparency and demand effectiveness, so that tall the people of Massachusetts can get the services we have entrusted the state to offer us.

Beyond that one promise, for which Coakley offers no equivalent, the two candidates offer pies and mudpies — worthy goals, but also wrong-headedness; attention to some people, no mention of others. I especially dislike Baker’s piecemeal approach to full transgender civil rights and his plan’s assumption that people seeking public assistance are schemers trying to game the system. And of course is view that jobs are created by businesses, rather than by consumer demand, is as false economics as can be. But Coakley doesn’t escape my dislike either. She offers no path to school improvement, fudges immigration issues, goes blank on gun control, and doesn’t seem to have heard of “innovation.” Beyond her advocacy for workers’ rights — her strongest campaign point — she’s she candidate of things as they are.

Special pleading as it is, i’d rather Baker’s obsession for business than Coakley’s world of Pangloss. Baker may be able to nudge his business buddies toward fairer wage and benefits laws. Service workers need these ! Baker knows it.

He will almost certainly partner with Building Trades unions, the Hotel and Hospitality Workers of Local 26, and maybe even the IBEW : how else to keep the Boston building boom going and to extend it beyond Route 495?

These unions are as business-friendly as it gets. Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci knew this. Baker learned his political craft from them.

Baker might even be able to coax his Club of Executives into school classroom culture and curriculum reform. It probably won’t be what I’d ideally like — for school reform I much prefer what Marty Walsh and John McDonough are implementing in Boston — but at least with baker there will be change and discussions for further change. Whereas with Martha Coakley there will be “same old stuff.”

i suppose that’s what a major election eventually grinds down to. The two opposing collections of interest groups command the talk, enlist the ground troops, and force each candidate to offer but half a loaf which by all rights should be whole. But having thus forced, their fuel is exhausted, and the election proceeds to contest action against inertia.

All, of which means that after the new governor is elected, citizens will have to keep the pressure on full bore, or else an advocacy campiagn will become a special pleading administration. We cannot settle for this.

NEXT : what the new governor will have to do by way of taxes, and why

—- Mike Freedberg / here and Sphere


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^ bold plan, inviting much controversy : Charlie Baker shakes things up

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Charlie Baker’s “Let’s Be Great Again, Massachusetts” Plan highlights fewer issues than Martha Coakley’s plan but addresses these issues in great detail. Where Coakley speaks cautiously and generally, Baker gives specifics, boldly inviting voters to agree — or to not agree. So far, so good. It’s what a candidate for our state’s highest office should do.

That said, there is as much in the Baker plan that voters may well decline — and should — as there is of policies voters should agree with.

First, however, let’s talk about Baker policies that voters all ought to say “yes” to :

Baker vows to transform state administration : to give us “a state that we can be proud of,” as he puts it. It’s a promise that, having all the managerial experience a governpr could need, Baker can surely keep. In his words :

“The people of Massachusetts deserve a state government that’s as thrifty and hard-working as they are. Unfortunately one-party rule on Beacon Hill has led to a lack of transparency and accountability. Recent scandals prove the Commonwealth needs an independent Governor who knows how to lead and manage large, complex organizations and will be accountable to no one but the people.”

On this issue, Baker’s on solid ground. The failures at DCf and the 200 million dollar collapse of our state’s health care connector cry out for administrative transformation of our governance. So does the frequent confusion and disconnect between the Govern0r and the legislature on crucial issues such as transportation funding. And can anyone forget the software tax that, once the media pointed it out, was quickly repealed ? This was no way to enact laws that govern how we live, work, and budget.

Of all this, there’s not one syllable in Coakley’s plan.

Baker also embraces marriage equality and women’s reproductive rights, without reserve — as he must, and always has. Today, these are no longer an issue in Massachusetts, but for a candidate running as a Republican they are very much a voter concern. Baker takes no prisoners on these basic rights issues. As he puts it :

Marriage equality : “Charlie supports marriage equality. For Charlie, the issue of marriage equality isn’t political, it’s personal. In 1983, Charlie’s brother Alex first came out to Charlie and his family. For the past ten years, Alex has been married to his husband Butch.”

Reproductive Rights : “Charlie is pro-choice. He supports and will protect a woman’s right to choose in Massachusetts. He will oppose unnecessary and burdensome regulations intended to make it more difficult for women to access health care. Additionally, in light of the Supreme Court’s decision on the state’s “buffer zone” law, Charlie supports the passage of new legislation that will protect both the first amendment and women’s right to access health services. Charlie supports the state’s parental notification law.”

(NOTE : this statement was posted before our legislature passed a new buffer zone law. Bakers’ wife and running mate both attended (and his running mate joined leaders on stage at) the huge NARAL Rally in Boston to protest these two Supreme court decisions.)

Baker’s plan to reshape state business tax policy so that small businesses can grow — particularly in depressed cities beyond Route 495 — also has smart appeal.

He proposes eliminating the inventory tax. That will help. So will extending an income tax credit to low income families without children. Baker also supported the minimum age increase passed two months ago, and he supports paid sick leave for workers (though not the specific paid sick leave referendum, claiming that it is too inflexible for some small businesses to meet). His workforce development program will — if properly administered: but that is Baker’s forte — boost workers who face layoffs, or who are out of a job seeking to get one again, by giving them a way to stay technologically current.

And now to the facets of Baker’s plan that voters may well take issue with:

His plans for welfare — “transitional assistance” — seem unrealistic. Forcing applicants to seek work as a pre-condition of receiving benefits greatly misreads the huge difficulties most people in this situation live with — poor workplace skills, lack of education, low self-confidence; often a single parent household with many kinds to tend to, mental health issues, chaotic homes — that make a “job search requirement” an almost impossible barrier. It is hard enough to live on the edge of domestic disaster without also having to face economic disaster unaided. Baker seems to think that people seeking assistance are schemers looking to game the system. Much waste this past year, by demagogues on the right, of “EBT fraud,’ and legislation was adopted that will re-impose a photo ID for EBt cards, that even Governor Romney gave up on as being not worth the administrative effort.

It’s not good to see Baker committing to this view of what poverty is like.

He seems to think that people living outside the workforce can be spanked, hustled, pressured to get into work. If only it were so. it isn’t.

(Baker has made a huge campaign effort to reach the state’s communities of color, and of immigrants. i would have liked to read, in his plan, at least some of the feedback he must have received all through the heart of Boston. maybe we’ll see it in October…)

The only feasible ways that I see for people living by public assistance, because it’s all they can handle, to move into the workforce are (1) dramatically improve education in poor communities, whose schools usually get short-funded and draw the least qualified teachers and (2) require communities to hire youth workers and family mentors and to encourage citizen intervention groups, especially sports programs and after school sessions. Of this one reads only hints in Baker’s plan — he talks of “safe, secure communities” — although, to be fair, there isn’t even a hint of any such in Coakley’s plan. For her, people living on public assistance evidently don’t exist.

Coakley’s Plan has much to say , however, about people who already have jobs : raising wages, protecting their right to form unions, enforcing laws against wage theft and non-payment of overtime.

Of that, there is nothing in Baker’s plan. He doesn’t even mention the word “unions.” Even politically, this is a mistake. Unions today are much stronger than they were four years ago, and Baker knows that he must have some union support — and he is actively seeking it. Can’t he at least mention the wage and rights issues that workers are looking to unions to secure for them ?

Baker talks a lot about job creation and uses tax policy and strong education reforms to bring it about. All good : but jobs are created not by tax benefits and schools but by consumer spending. Consumers create a full two thirds of the economy. If people don’t have more money to spend,the economy can’t grow. This is why economic improvement starts with the minimum wage increase that Baker supports — and by securing to service workers the $ 15 hourly wage that they now seek. Make that happen, and you won;t have to tax-cajole businesses to add jobs. On their own they’ll hold job fairs and train wotrkers for the 1000s of jobs they’ll need to add to meet consumer demand.

They’ve done it before. They did it in the 1990s.

This is common sense. W hen it comes to state administration, efficiency, transpareency, and technology, Baker has common sense aced. Why not common sense about economic and workforce policy ?

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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^ the candidate of caution : Martha Coakley

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We applaud the two Governor candidates or having, and publishing, their plans for Massachusetts governance. I shall examine both plans in some detail and connect each to the candidate’s capability of accomplishing them. Today I look at Martha Coakley’s plan.

Coakley’s plan has several headings : Jobs and the economy; Education; Health care; Civil Rights; Energy and the Environment; Public Safety and Gun Control; transportation; Women; Housing; immigration; Worker’s’ Rights; and Veterans. All good, all much to be talked of and worked upon. I did not see any section on reforming the Criminal justice and prison system, or on rebuilding the Department of Families and Children ; but perhaps these are covered in the full-length explications that she has appended to her Plan’s sections as displayed at her website.

Unfortunately, the brief statement of principle attached to each heading in Coakley’s plan reads maddeningly vague. For example, this is what Coakley states as her principle for providing health care :

“Massachusetts has long been a national leader in providing high-quality, affordable health coverage to our citizens; the Commonwealth is home to some of the best hospitals in the world, and our companies are on the cutting edge of medical innovation. Our goal today must be to balance that world-class level of access and quality with affordability, and to recognize the importance of caring for those with behavioral health issues with the same commitment with which we care for those facing challenges to their physical health.”

Nobody could possibly disagree. But neither can anyone learn much about what steps Coakley would take to do the job she has outlined here. Even in a statement of principle, one ought to set orth at least some policy priority, or specific initiative. Much was made, by other Governor candidates during the Primary season, of allocating more state resources and administration to community clinics, and less to the huge mega-hospitals that former governor Mike Dukakis, for example, openly complained of at a Candidate Forum on Health care. It was well argued, by Don berwick especially, that community clinics provide better health care targeted to specific patients, at significantly lower cost. Of this debate one reads not a word in Coakley’s Health care statement of principle.

That said, I applaud Coakley for making Worker’s Rights a separate, specific priority. She is certainly on point to highlight the situation of workers enduring pay that is inadequate, wage theft, abuse of overtime, and reclassification as a temporary so the employer can avoid providing health insurance and benefits. She has the endorsement of many unions representing workers in situations like these ; but of what she will do to improve their lot, we read nothing in her Worker’s Rights statement of principle.

I also applaud Coakley for making very clear, in her Civil Rights statement, that her administration will protect and advance the rights of all, including everyone in the LBGTQ community. Time has long since passed for everyone to be protected and respected in the life that he or she lives. That Coakley has added “Q” to the usual “LGBT” also shows that she understands, and accepts, the “queer” or “gender fluidity” community, that has only recently come to politicians’ attention, as well as the more traditional lifestyle variants. Here she is on firm ground. It was her attorney general office that fought and won the landmark 2004 case that established marriage equality rights in Massachusetts six years before President Obama himself embraced them.

Still, civil rights is an easy cause to go all in on. Almost everyone in Massachusetts supports it. On the more difficult issues, Coakley embraces only the concept,l not any specifics. for example, this is what she has to say about Public Safety and Gun Control :

“Martha has spent her entire career in public service working to make the people of Massachusetts safer. Martha has sat with numerous families impacted by violent crimes, and prosecuted hundreds of dangerous criminals, including cases involving gun violence. She knows what works, and knows how to tackle the public safety challenges we still face; she is proud to have received the endorsement of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police, Massachusetts Police Association.”

In that statement is not one word about gun control legislation now pending in, or planned to be presented to, the legislature.

Nor has Coakley much to say, in her immigration statement, about immigrants’ major legislative goals : drivers’ licenses for undocumented people, in-state tuition, the Trust act (which many cities have adopted, but which governor patrick has finessed). At Candidate Forums Coakley refused to express support for any of these. Steve Grossman passionately endorsed all three (and was as specific as anyone could be on a whole host of other major issues that coakley skims).

One gets the impression that these priorities aren’t really priorities for Coakley; that she will gladly go all in on goals that everyone agrees with but not take on anything controversial. Conclusion: Coakley will work these more controversial matters only bif citizen protest forces her hand.

One specific that Coakley has embraced is to establish universal pre-kindergartyen public education. it’s a worthy goal, f8irst because kids benefit from the social connectedness that they get in a school setting as oppose to the isolation, from other kids, at home; and second, because if kids as young as three or four years old are in school and thus supervised, it saves parents the h8uge costs of child care otherwise incurred because they have to work. And yes, universal pre-kindergarten schooling means more teacher jobs (and custodial services), and these will require taxpayer dollars; but i think the trade-off is well worth it to parents and thus to the community as a whole. Of course, the universal pre-kindergarten initiative is hardly controversial. all the candidates at Forums that I attended support it.

Lastly, there is nothing in Coakley’s plan about reforming state administration or upgrading the state’s technology. Nor is there one word in it about local aid commitments. Granted that these are Charlie Baker’s core issues ; but they matter a lot, and to all of us, not only to Baker people, both in terms of money waste and, grievously, for state government’s many failures to carry out its own commitments. To raise these issues, of course, Coakley would have to criticize the Patrick administration ; which at candidate Forums she was careful never to do, unlike both Steve Grossman and Don Berwick, who voiced criticisms aplenty and all maddeningly accurate.

Thus the Coakley plan, like her entire campaign as i have covered it all year long, avoids anything the least bit controversial, shrinks from boldness, rings eloquent about ideals almost all of us agree upon but falls silent when difficulty portends. If caution is what you want from our Governor, Coakley offers you all the caution you could possibly want. Her Plan amounts to “continue doing everything we are now doing.” Many voters will agree with that.

NOTE : I shall discuss various parts of the Coakley ;plan separately and in further detail as the campaign continues.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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Though the new Boston Globe poll has Charlie Baker slightly behind Martha Coakley, at 39 percent to 36 percent, an examination of its details actually forecasts a Baker victory by a very narrow margin.

i say this not because I am supporting Baker — though I am — but because that’s how I see it. By almost any of the poll’s measures — and it offers plenty — the two major candidates stand almost even, but Baker slightly more favorably viewed. Let’s look at the poll particulars :

Agrees with me on the issues; Baker and Coakley both at 36 percent.

On the issues viewed as “very important” by most voters, creating jobs and fiscal responsibility, Baker beats Coakley 42 to 27 and 45 to 27.

On the two issues viewed as “very important’; by a smaller number of voters — improving education in public schools and ensuring high quality health care, coakley beats Baker 40 to 25 and 41 to 26.

On standing up to the legislature, Baker beats Coakley 37 to 31.

These measures project Baker to a narrow win, and so do the poll’s measures of favorability. On “bringing fresh ideas and perspective, Baker beats Coakley 44 to 27; and on personal likeability, Baker is viewed favorably by 44 perceht, unfavorably by 25, while Coakley is viwed favorably by 38 percent but unfavorably by 41 percent.

There is very little time for Coakley to change the way voters see this election, and she has much less money to do it than Baker has on hand to keep the story going. As of September 15th, Baker enjoyed a six to one cash on hand advantage.

19 percent of our state’s voters remain undecided. To get the narrow victory projected, Baker will have to win those undecideds by four points : 11.5 to 7.5. Can he do it ? About 20 percent of these identify as Democrats. Coakley currently loses one-quarter of Democrats to Baker, so I will award her 2.8 of these voters and Baker 1. The rest are “independents.” Baker is winning these voters by about two to one, so of that 15.2 percent I award him a 10.1 to 5.1 win.

These allocations give election day to Baker by 47.1 to 46.9.

Will the election really be THAT close ? A margin of only 4,00 votes ? I expect an actual margin a bit larger : because of Baker’s money advantage and the vast number of his individual donors — a number that continues to grow stronhly, and because he can press his precarious advantage for six more weeks. Here his lead on “standing up to the legislature;” and on “fresh ideas and perspective’ should make a difference. Massachusetts usuallly elects non-Democratic governors because the legislature is so overwhelmingly Democratic that the only way we can have a discussion of policy and administration is to have a non-Democrat in the governor’s office. It’s why we elected Bill Weld, Paul Cellucci, and even Mitt Romney (whom we tend to forget achieved the nation’s first universal health care law). The state simply works more effectively when that’s how things break at the State House.

It’s a point that, in the debates, baker’s forceful confidence and voiced perspective can fully command. That, plus Baker’s dogged campaigning in the city of Boston, almost as intense, precinct to precinct, as the mayoral campaigns of last year. If Baker does win by two points, his hoped-for 40 percent share of Boston’s 175,000 votes could well be that difference. (And what if Baker even does better than 40 in Boston ? What then for Coakley ?)

My guess is that Baker’s Boston campaign and the governance issue are worth every bit of two points on election day. Yet even a one point shift gives Baker a 48.1 to 45.9 win, a margin of 44,000 votes. That is a small margin indeed with two million voters voting, but it’s hardly unprecedented in our recent governor elections.

The Coakley campaign intends to blanket the state with late advertising whichy will probably remind voters that in 2010, Baker ran a very negative campaign that he has, fortunately, completely cast aside this time. My guess : this ad blast won’t change things much. Those voters who remember the 2010 campaign are more active politically than those who don’t, and politically active people have already made up their minds about who should be governor. Meanwhile, Baker began this campaign unknown by a full 30 oercent of this year’s voters. His 2010 campaign means nothing to them.

And let us not forget that Coakley also has a political past, one that activists have not liked at all and which is at least partly responsible for her favorability weakness today. Coakley brings up the political past at great risk to herself.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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^ Charlie Baker (top) and Martha Coakley (bottom) have similar plans, but dissimilar commitments as they seek election as massachusetts Governor

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Charlie Baker and Martha Coakley have both presented their Plan for bringing Massachusetts’s economy and social justice to a better place. All of us, except the rejectionists, agree that a plan is needed. We can’t have more state government failures such as those at DCf and the Health Connector, nor can we waste hundreds of millions of dollars, nor can we be lashed to the masts of Beacon Hill and limited to the priorities of Boston. There’s a big state out there, beyond Boston and its prosperity, that counts too and needs to be brought aboard a new “Massachusetts Miracle.” So the issuance of a forward Plan by our two prospective governors is something we should all applaud.

It’s also good news that the Coakley team understands that Charlie Baker and his running mate have grown immensely since their respective 2010 campaigns and that they now campaign as “happy warriors,” as the Coakley team puts it. Optimism is the fuel on which citizen economies run, the engine that makes citizen communities healthy societies. The anger expressed by Baker in his 2010 campaign was a mistake, and he knows it; like many people who have served in public administration but not actually run for elective office, Baker, as a novice candidate in 2010 clearly hadn’t grasped what a candidate has to be about. Now, he gets it. That’s why he seems well poised to win it.

But “poised to win” is not victory. For that, more than optimism is needed. The winner of this governor election will have to convince a majority of Massachusetts voters that his or her plan is the smarter and that he or she is the more likely to actually accomplish it, efficiently and without scandal, systemic failure, or bureaucratic fog. On that score, in my opinion, Martha Coakley hs much to prove. Having seen her at dozens of Forums, along with her rivals for the Democratic nomination, I have no confidence that she even understands the issues, much less mastered them — as Steve Grossman clearly had, not to mention the detailed analyses presented — at least in health care, which uses 42% of our state budget — by Don Berwick. Nor was my impression of her an outlier. Coakley won the votes of only 23% of activists at her Party’s convention. She barely finished ahead of the quite unknown Berwick. Clearly those who know Coakley best have grave doubts.

Coakley can yet prove them wrong. The election ball is in her court. She’s the Democratic nominee, and all she has to do is become someone she has yet to show herself to be. It can happen. Spirited campaigns force candidates to grow — or to lose.

Thus the question : “does Martha Coakley really want to Do the job she is now running for ? Really really want it ?” We know that Baker wants to do it. Administering huge organizations is what he does. and how can there be any question how badly he wants it, after seeing that iconic photo if him climbing fifteen feet of fence, at the Caribbean parade, to shake the hand of one female spectator ?

I point the spotlight to the two candidates themselves because their plans are similar, as they must be. The needs of Massachusetts today are not hard to figure. First, everybody in the state must be mainstreamed : all facets of the LGBT community; immigrants; low-wage workers; all the cities beyond Route 495. Second, every public and charter school in the state must gear its curriculum to preparing students for the jobs of tomorrow (including vocational, non-college) and must adopt best practices in the classroom. Third, the state’s technology brain power cannot be allowed to empower Boston only. Worcester, Springfield, New Bedford, Lowell, Pittsfield, Lynn, Fall River (and more) all count, too. Boston will always be the focus, given the city’s centrality in higher education, but the outlying cities have advantages not to be passed by : cheap land costs and commercial rents, access to interstate highways or water transport, and workforces badly needing upgraded employment. Fourth, the state needs to raise up its low wage workers, somehow, even more than the recent minimum wage hike, so that everybody can spend into the economy and not need public, taxpayer assistance just to survive.

There are other needs — reforming our criminal justice and prison system, delivering health care insurance without snag, repairing the DCF, hugely transforming state government’s technology — but these win best when accomplished in the context of the four priorities that I listed above.

Both the candidates, and at least 80 % of the state’s voters, recognize what is needed. The decision in November will be made on who can be better trusted to get the job done.

One other point : the Coakley team didn’t just say that Baker and his running mate are campaigning with optimism. Coakley also intimated that the Baker team will, as she put it, “govern more conservatively” than they are saying. That’s good campaign talk, but it isn’t true. The only thing that I see in Baker’s plan that’s conservative is that he’ll demand a dollar of value for every taxpayer dollar spent. As it should be.

Tomorrow i will examine the two candidates’ plans in detail.


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^ John Barros ; emceeing Roxbury innovation community orum

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It would have been quite the item, had last night’s Forum discussion of the City of Boston’s projected Roxbury Innovation Center drawn a sizeable audience of Roxbury residents looking to get aboard or, at least, to hear more. Certainly the Orchard Gardens School Auditorium was big enough to hold 200 or more. Yet only about 70 people attended , almost all of them part of the 16 presenting teams.

Nonetheless, the project is moving ahead. Mayor Walsh is committed tlo it, his administration invested in its success. We shall see.

John Barros, formerly a Mayor candidate and now Mayor Walsh’s top guy at the Office of Community Development, emceed the Forum, assisted by Dana Whiteside, Deputy Director, and Dr. Dan Willis of G & W Associates in Dorchester. Barros is a convincing salesman for Roxbury innovation : before entering the mayor contest last year he had made a huge name for himself as an instigator of enterprise creation in Roxbury’s Dudley Square. Genially he introduced all 16 presenters and invited audience questions.

Few were asked, at least partly because there were so few residents on hand to ask them.

Very few, maybe none, of the faces familiar to me from constant attendance at Roxbury community meetings were evident in the auditorium crowd.

Yet the presenters showed confidence, some of them excitement, a few of them enthusiasm, a couple of them determination. All of these attributes will be needed.

It all comes down, of course, to money. At one point in the presentation John Barros noted that “there should be no assumption that any of the space in the Innovation Center will be free.”

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^ residents and non-residents coming together ; Future Boston and Workbar presents

One presenter, Dudley Vision Skylab — a team consisting of two determined women and one cheerful guy — noted that “Dudley Square is on the cusp of a renaissance.’ That it is. 500 employees who work at the Boston Public Schools Central Office will be moving into Dudley’s Ferdinand Building fairly soon, bringing with them spending money and an immense change of look and walk to a Square today peopled mostly by commuters passing through the Square’s vast bus station. What’s less clear is whether the spending money those 500 employees bring will attract the much larger sums of money needed to jump start the Innovation Center’s start-ups.

It really does all come down to money, and several speakers at the Forum noted that precious little gelt gets to the pockets of entrepreneurs in communities of color — as Roxbury has long been. It was also suggested, though no one chose to say it, that if entrepreneurial capital is now coming, it’s because so are Caucasian faces. At least two-thirds of the 16 presenters were Caucasian. They represent “the new Roxbury,” which is changing the area’s skin color faster than a runway model changes clothes. “The new Roxbury” has money and has access to a lot more of it. As one of the evening’s presenters of color said, “we in Roxbury can’t even afford to buy our own homes.” True : but the “new Roxbury’ can afford to, and is buying them.

I do not attribute the lack of entrepreneur capital in Roxbury today to racism. but I do attribute the neighborhood’s modest median incomes largely to it ; and the racism of that stretches back so many generations, and encompassing often inferior schools and much neglect by City Hall for decades prior to the past 15 years or so.

That era is over now, in big part because Boston’s communities of color are fully engaged politically, accepted as such in every neighborhood, and hugely integrated onto the City’;s political power structure. Unhappily, it is far easier to accomplish that than to get entrepreneurial money llowing. If the Roxbury Innovation Center does in fact happen, I am betting that “the new Roxbury’ will occupy the most of it. Certainly ;last night’s lack of resident attendees gave me no reason to assume otherwise.

Mel King, now 85 years old and in physical difficulty, attended the Forum but did not speak. i wonder what he, who has devoted most of his life to empowerment of people of color, thought of what he aw and heard…

The discussion continues. Maybe in the next phase the current Roxbury community will feel hopeful about the project, decide that it can have a solid share of its space, and join the talk.

— Mike Freedberg for Roxbury Here