1 reformers and intimidators1 Speaker DeLeo fights

^ (L) The Governor’s MBTA Panel looks intimidated, as well it should (R) Speaker DeLeo defends his power

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While most of us focused on the sad events in Baltimore these past days, much of high significance has been going on right here in Massachusetts government. I’ll list some of these events and opine about them :

1.Reform of the MBTA has taken its seat in the legislature’s lap, and the prospects do not look good that the recommendations in Governor Baker’s Panel will survive the politics. The T’s uions have made it clear they will accept no change whatsoever in their contractual privilege, their work rules, or their financial operation. The House will almost certainly approve the panel’s administrative reforms and its financing suggestions, but the state senate has a different agenda from the rest of Beacon Hill and probably will not.

We will have MBTA reform. the public insists. But it will probably have to be done by the Governor acting unilaterally : receivership.

2.Speaker Robert DeLeo has moved powerfully to assert the House’s primacy in the legis lature. He refuses to accept Senate President Stan Rosenberg’s moves to win equal power for his branch of the legislature, and he seems to have almost unanimous support from his members, even the GOP and the Progressives. The sentiment I hear from House memers of all sorts is that they are proud of the Speaker for asserting the House’s primacy so forcefully. Proof that this isn’t just lip service comes by way of the several unanimous votes the house has given to budget bills that in prior years would have been quite divisive. Who could have imagied that the House would unanimously — even the progressive members from Cambridge, Brookline, and Somerville — adopt Governor Baker’s $ 38.1 billion FY 2016 udget, complete with cuts ?

Sooner or later Seate President Rosenberg is going to have to face that Governor Baker and Speaker DeLeo have forged a striking unity of policy objectives and that he will look the obstructionist if he doesn’t accede to that pact. Meanwhile, Baker and DeLeo are demonstrating what I have been saying for the past 15 months : Massachusetts works best when the Democratic Speaker and non-Democratic Governor agree upon a course of action.

3.The committee pursuing the Boston 2024 Olympics bid has shake itself up enormously and risen from disaster. A month ago “Boston 2024” looked like the Deval Patrick administration in exile, a political rescue farm rather than a huge civic enterprise. No loger. Boston 2024 has added a galaxy of sports stars to its board; those sports figures now lead the discussion. Did it really take John Fish and his team this long to figure out that a sports event should be spokespersoned by sports people ? I guess it did.

meawhile, the opponents of Boston 2024 keep on keeping their objection mode. Having been trumped on the spokespeople front, they’re now pointing to siting miscues — the MBTA repair yards and several real estate developments in Columbia Point cannot be used, and the proposal to use them looks like very poor planning. But of course, what looks like poor planning is simply a proposal that needs adjustment, as happens in all major projects. Miracle men might get such a immense project right the first time on every detail, but human beings aren’t miracle men. So ? Adjust the plan, Problem solved.

But not for the No crowd. They’re even bringing back their first argument, that Boston 2024 will lose money leading to taxpayer bailouts. This despite the Committee’s readiness to finance the etire project other tha permanent infrastructure improvements.

One gets the impression that the No people want the Olynpics to fail. they really do sound like party poopers. The new oston coming into being dioes not eed — cannot use — party poopers. It needs bold optimists and happy risk takers. The Olympics committee seems ready now to forge ahead quickly.

4. But we shall see. Governor Baker has now suspended the Boston Convention Authority’s
$ 1 billion expansion, which depends for its financing on state bonds. The halt also stops some very big construction projects in the Seaport district. I understand the Governor’s view that taxpayer money should not finance private investment, but stopping the dynamism — the momentum — of the Boston building boom doesn’t strike me as a happy consequence of his decision. We need more building momentum, not less.

5.The Governor has begun aggressively to replace the members of almost every State administrative board with people of his choosing. All governors do this, but Baker is doing it across the board and quickly now, even as he initiates admiistrative review of all state regulations.

This sort of momentum I fiully approve. Baker needs to make it clear that it’s his call now, his agenda, his way of doing things, his expectation that the taxpayer will get a full dollar of effective government for every tax dollar spent.

We deserve nothing less. To give less is to disrespect everybody, the taxpayer and the person being served by tax dollars. In his campaign last year, Governor Baker said he’d compete for 100 percent of the vote. By his across-the-board, top to bottom reforms, he is doing exactly that.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


1 Hillary as candidate

^ Hillary Clinton : correct on the issues even if corrupt ?

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Two days ago I lunched with one of Massachusetts’s major political presences. The conversation turned to electing our next President.

Who will it be ? Why ? On what issues ? All of these questions and more, we discussed. But fairly quickly our talked turned to the negatives : the Republican candidates are too far to the right; Hillary Clinton is the very essence of corruption. We decried having such a subtractive choice.

Unsaid by either of us was the implication that it is crucially important who the president is. But is it ? Of the 44 people who have held the office, not many have been “great.” Quite a few have been mediocre, several miserable. Yet the nation survived.

Still, most of the many Presidents who flunked or merely got by held office long ago, before the world beyond our borders came calling and before the national government had to address an economy (and a population) vastly more complex than what existed in 1789 or even in 1889. Today, it matters greatly that a President not flunk. Presidet Wilson, in 1915, could bungle a war in the Caribbean and screw up a foray into Mexico; George W. Bush, in iraq in 2003-07, bungled huge consequences.

Because so many Presidents, much less mere presidential candidates, have less than greatness in them, the argument for small, innsignificant Washington government has some cogency — though it’s never the argument the small-government people raise. ew of us, however, would want to discard strong Federal protectios and programs on the pretext that a President might be less than msterful. And so we hope, we beg, we insist, that the next President heed a call to greatness, as one President — JFK — once put it.

Against the call to greatness, the corruption in Hillary Cloiton looms larger than a similar corruption loomed in Warren Harding, in 1920, or in U. S. Grant, in the 1870s. Looms also because the Clinton corruption travels a worldwide orbit of mega-deals and sovereign wealth chits.

My friend and I chafe at this prospect. Yet what is the alternative ? A dozen Republicans all lean so far to the right that only a ideological true believer can get aboard; and neither of us is a true believer in anything except the nation as a whole and all of its people, immigrant or not, undocumented or documented, poor or not, of whatever skin color and lifestyle.

For that, there seems to be no true believer candidate except — in words, at least — the Corrupt One.

Corruptly correct on the issues : can you live with that ? I suppose so; but we deaserve better.

These are dark times for the next presidential choice.

Yet there may be a recue. Big business has recently shown, in indiana, that it will take a stand against bigotry and discrimination and that it has the clout to win that battle. It does. Big business has the money and it has millions of employees; it has a worldwide reach and thousands of powerful local reaches. Big business is, perhaps, the single most significant interest abetted by the Constitution and protected therein. The Constitution was written chiefly by a merchant aristocracy to promote and regulate a strong, unified economy.

So : cannot there arise a big business candidate, from the business establishment that values and demands inclusion and openness, that rdecognizes business’s moral responsibilities to us all, that has the power and will to win the battle ?

My riend and I await such a candidate. Until he or she appears and says so, we remain discouraged by having to select among a palette of candidates more likely to embarrass than enhance the national morale, or headed toward flunking the test, not ace-ing it.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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^ Governor Baker ; with boston City Councillor Tim McCarthy (L) and at Grace Church of All nations (R)

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The new CNN poll that finds Governor Baker with a 74 to 8 favorable / unfavorable rating — 64 percenr favorable even in Suffolk County — sends several messages that political activists should heed.

First, being likeable matters. Respecting everyone, whoever he or she may be, matters. Attending to the actual problems of governance matters. Voters elect a goverbor to get things done, and to do the thinghs that a clear majority of voters want. Baker gets that and has made it his signature, just as he did in the campaign. Voters also get that, and are now doing their job of reform : supporting the likeable reformer.

Second, partisan politics must attend to what they are tasked to do : choose candidates for the voters to vote on. The official Democratic party’s spokespeople have criticized Governor baker, a Republican, since day one; criticized the failures, or missteps, that every politician makes (because — surprise ! — even politicians aren’t perfect!) Must a political party always and only oppose, oppose, oppose ? Not that the Republican party’s officials smell any wiser when they address Democratic office holders.

Let the media’s editorialists do the criticizing of ongoing governance. There, it doesn’t taste like special pleading.

Third, Baker has proven to be smartly knowledgeable as well as politically adept. I can’t recall the last Governor who had both, to anything like the degree Baker has shown. Baker can discuss health care issues and state administration with an authority emphasized by the clarity of his addressing. He never talks down to anyone, either. He treats average voters as entitled — and they are — to hear the complexities, to know the difficulties, to think about feasiuble solutions.

Baker has one other attribute worth noting. It’s a gift that he shares with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh : the ability to be a very 1990s-ish, even 1980s-ish guy, almost locally a son of, and at home in the old-line, White-dude world, yet at the same time entirely comfortable with people of color and among gay and even transgender people. And to go among these communities without any self-consciousness about his White-dude persona. It still awes me to listen as Baker — and Walsh — voice, with conviction, the wants and hopes of voters culturally so different from them.

This last is crucial nonpartisanship that allows politics to breathe again, to be useful to all people, to win back the confidence of voters who rightly look upon the usual politician as a liar, or a fraud, or an excluder of all but the party faithful.

I’ve seen many, many politicians who are not at all comfortable campaigning to or among people different from them. One wonders why they enter politics at all. Why not just stay home ?

It’s kind of a miracle that we in Massachusetts have political institutions that enable this level of nonpartisan agenda. We actually have two : ( a ) our municipal elections are not party matters and (b) we have forged what almost amounts to a separate political party for the election of Governor : what I often call the “GoverorGOP.”

Readers of this column know what the “GovernorGOP” is. It’s made up of all those who choose to elect a Governor who is not the Democratic party nominee. as 63 percent of Massachusetts voters are not enrolled as Democrats, the “GovernorGOP” speaks for a clear majority. Many enrolled Democrats also belong, because in Massachusetts almost every political activist is a Democrat; the label means only “I am an activist,’ nothing more. Many of those activists behave like ordinary voters ; they vote for and support the better candidate regardless of label.

It also works because so few Massachusetts voters enroll as Republicans. Supporting the “GovernorGOP”‘s candidate does not empower the Republican party, in a state where the entire legislature has a veto-proof Democratic majority.

What voting for the “GovernorGOP” does mean, though, is supporting reforms that party Democrats either cannot politically advocate or do not choose to, even though a clear majority of ordinary voters insists.

So it is right now. The Governor is moving to transform the administration of our public transportation; to change the culture of state budgeting; to reform the relationship between the state and our 351 cities and towns; to promote economic development and the education and innovation motors that drive it. He has the wind of support at his back, the Speaker of the House at his side (or very good reasons that deserve an op ed of their own), and his own persuasiveness and likeability making it happen.

Ordinary voters want this. They’re being heard; they almost cannot believe it. Talk with them; you’ll hear the difference from how things have sounded these past several years. Voters almost feel it worthwhile to participate again,.

This is why I say that, contrary to all political expectation, Baker’s approval numbers mioght very well go up even further, not down.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


Accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (R) is shown in a courtroom sketch on the first day of jury selection at the federal courthouse in Boston

^ confronting us with basic moral questions : Dzokhar Tsarnaev, convicted killer

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We say it now : the jury assessing Dzokhar Tsarnaev’s punishment, for his actions in the Marathon bombing two years ago, should vote for life in prison — not for death.

Our view does not seek to attach itself to the stirring opinion published two days ago by the Richard family, who their eight year old son in that bomb blast, although we are glad to find ourselves not alone. Indeed, we urge you, dear reader, to read the Richard Family’s op-ed as soon as you can. Yet we have our own reasons :

The usual argument for not imposing a death penalty on convicted criminals is the possibility — even the likelihood — of wrongful conviction. Certainly that’s a strong argument, one that police misconduct and prosecutorial abuse renders crucial — as we are now seeing in hundreds of cases from dozens of jurisdictions.

That argument has no bearing, however, on the Tsarnaev case. He has admitted his guilt, and done so quite freely. Copious video evidence bolsters his admissions. Here is no forced or fraudulently induced confession.

Instead, Tsarnaev requires us to face the simple question ; should our nation’s jurisprudence include a death penalty at all ?

We say : NO. Killers may kill; but killers violate the law of life itself, of ultimate things. We who enforce civil peace among people should step back from meeting the killers on killing fields. I of course speak of civil society, not war. in war, the rules of civil peace have been swept away. But that is the point. We cannot open the door to sweeping away the rules of civil peace. These need to be kept closed, or the psyche of our society risks anarchy.

we saw that i the atermath of the bombin gs, when angry mobs sought to prevet the body of Tamerlan Tsarnaev from bdeing properly buried. This spectre took us abck all the way to Euripides’s play ANTIGONE, written 2500 years ago : the same situation precisely — naked vengeance versus the moral law.

We cannot participate in vengeance. We must participate in the moral law. Punish Dzokhar Tsarnaev for his actions, yes, most definitely ; there must be serious consequences for killing people. But has life in a prison anything moral about it ? Yes it does, because even prisoners can think, have brains and minds, think about things, ponder, maybe even repent, perhaps even come to confront and parse what they did and why it was wrong to do.

The criminal who will soon to be put to death can also ponder and parse, but he or she is just as likely to become defiant; to fight vengeance with spite. For even condemned killers have wills, egos and pride, misplaced perhaps biut nonetheless operative.

Pride and will, fight back and defiance stand less chance in a prisoner facing an entire life of plenteous time to think, ponder, parse; even — maybe — to condemn him or herself and seek out a new self. I see no reason why Dzokhar Tsarnaev should not be given that long life of painful self-confrontation ahead of him. .

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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^ developer Kevin Norton explains his 20-unit condominium proposal to Hyde Park neighbors at last night’s BRA design review meeting

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How hot is Boston’ s real estate market ? So hot that even in Hyde Park, one of the city’s least trendy neighborhoods, development beckons. Last ight the BRA hosted a development proposal meeting or a project known as 1081 River Street,. It will be 20 condominiums, in a neighborhood hardly yet stable, and the developer has suggested selling the condos for $ 250,000 for one bedroom units and $ 375,000 for to-bedrooms. These would be edgy prices even in Roslindale; for Hyde Park they’re still quite a reach. Nonethelsss, Norton, at the meeting, expressed confidence in his prices. “The market is hot, ‘ said he.

It is; on there are few condo units for ssel in southwest Boston, and those that do come onto the market go quickly. If Norton’s 20 units were or sale today, they might well go rapidly even at his sky-high prices. But the most significant indicator of Boston’s real estate hotness is Kevin Norton himself. At the meeting, he told the fifteen or so people attending that 20 units is by far his largest project yet; that he’s built four to eight unit projects, and all of those on the South Shore.

Norton has owed the land or four years, he said. That’s how long it took for its location to support a development that could sell at a workable price. East of Cleary Square is a chancey area to build in; close by to it are some rough sites with high crime, and the traffic on River Street can be oppressive. But none of that now seems to matter; Boston’s real estate market hotness is trumping all difficulties, all conditions, all that has been.

Accordingly, Norton has taken a huge step up finanncially. From eight units to 20, from Quincy and Rockland to Boston itself. He has bet his still small-level financial history on a project that will likely cost triple or more the numbers he has previously committed to.

Personally, I am glad to see young developers stepping up to Boston real estate with such confidence. At the meeting there was much caution, much worry about the changes that Norton’s development will bring,for traffic and in population density; but change is life.

It is understandable that people who have become accustomed to a way of life want it to continue. But neighorhoods do’t have that luxury. Not to change is to stay the same. In a dynamic society such as ours, staying the same means falling back, relative to other neighborhoods — falling ack economically above all. Nobody can consciously want that.

And so constancy has to give way, has to accede to change, big change, new things and new people, new conditions, as developers and buyers create their new enviro and condition. that Boston is doing all this dynamically is a good thing,. That Boston is building boldly, spurring property values, beckoning new people to new lives, is our city’s blessing.

The alterative is to be left behind. Thanks to risk takers like Kevin Norton, that won’t happen. Even Hyde Park — perhaps the City’s least dynamic region, so far — will no longer be left behind.

—- Mike Freederg / Here and Sphere


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^ Rich Davey, Boston 2024’s CEO, can save the Bid or be the poster boy for its collapse. it’s really in his hands to do  — assuming he realizes it.

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Sometimes you turn a lemon into lemonade. Other times, you turn lemonade into a lemon.

That’s what the Boston 2024 Olympics committee definitely seems to be doing. Hosting the 2024 Olympics should be Boston’s ticket to big changes — and I do mean big. I see no downside at all, and much upside, if the Games are hosted correctly — atop a Metro-wide plan that prepares the ground, renovates it, re-imagines it — and staffed by all and sundry in this beautifully diverse city.

At first, the Bid committee seemed well attuned to get there : big vision, big plans, inclusive, enthusiasm, ad all of it private funded. At first, the opponents — few in number — seemed petulant at best, anarchic at worst, a clique of agitators merely. Bid committee leaders Dan O’Connell and John Fish presented authoritatively at those first Bid Group meetings; they impressed me with their mastery of the issues and details.

The O’Connell dropped out, to be replaced as Bid CEO by Rich Davey. Alongside Davey came a claque of political operatives associated with either Governor Patrick or Mayor Walsh. The Mayor himself went all-in for the Bid, confronting opponents at meetings and sending his top operational guy, Joe Rull, to the Bid staff as its operations man. Walsh’s moves took us back into 2013’s heated campaign for Mayor, in the key of “unions versus ‘new Boston’.” It was not pretty, and it created an organized opposition to Walsh that he seemed to dismiss.

And then, in a move stunning in its poitical deafness, Patrick himself was brought aboard as the Bid’s top spokesman.

Had no one in the Bid group noticed that we have an rew Governor now, and that he might not like to see the Olympics Bid group deploying a kind of 2018 re-election opposition ? And that he might thereby not feel comfortable supporting the Bid ?

John Fish, too, who looked so commanding a presence early on, now looks more and more sidelined by the politicals and at a loss to recapture the dominance he began with. His company stands to gain much good will, and some ancillary business, from the Bid if won. But what at first seemed just reward for a civic-minded business leader has now been made to look like political patronage. Whoever had a hand in reducing Fish to a sidebar needs to step way, way back NOW.

Blowing the politics of the Bid was bad enough. Creating the impression, to the public generally, that Boston 2024 was simply a vehicle or paying big bucks to political operatives was worse. And then the Bid plan details began to get looked at, and what we have seen has not been nice. The Dorchester Reporter, especially, has done classic journo work showing how specific Bid plans contradict proposals already in place and BRA-approved : the Olympics village to be sited on Columbia Point requires taking by eminent domain 462 apartments approved just last week as well as other buildings whose owners had no idea that they were on the takings list.

I’m guessing that the Columbia Point situation is not the only one like it. After all, owners and developers aren’t going to stop presenting plans to the BRA simply because the Olympics Bid committee is talking up their stuff. Why should they ? There’s a building boom afoot in the real world.

Even less is the building boom likely now to rethink its plans in light of Boston 2024’s very public missteps. I sense that Mayor Walsh is pulling back from the brink. Once doggedly opposed to submitting the Bid to referendum, he now agrees to allow it.

The final nail in Boston 2024’s popularity coffin has been the report by Governor Baker’s MBTA reform panel. In it, every aspect of the T’s management and finance has been put to the question and, as Joan Venocchi pointed out today in the Boston Globe, the T manager — and later, Massachusetts Transportation Secretary –for much of that period of misfiring was the same Rich Davey who now CEO’s the Olympics Bid. His appointment looks purely political — yet another Deval Patrick man aboard the Exile Train.

This impression may well be unfair. I’ve see Davey in action at many meetings. He is knowledgeable, aware, passionate, and attentive to the max. He’s ot happy captaining a Titanic.

Davey needs to change course entirely, rethink his mission. The Olympics Bid can be saved, should be saved, should win. But it won’t even survive to Bid selection date (in 2017) if Davey doesn’t transform the entire operation. I therefore offer the following suggestions :

1. lay off the political operatives. Many are fine people, some are friends of mine. But they are being mis-deployed; their presence alone sends a wrong message.

2. hire public relations people from the private sector. Boston is filled with smart, young, networking stars whose personal rolodexes trump those of just about any political operative. I know several such PR people — most of them women — and I would trust them with almost any major project I can think of. Many already guide major City projects. Davey sould get to know them and hire all that he can get.

3.hire a diverse staff of people not politically known. A good place to look would be the many self-help and charity organizations that keep Boston’s communities of color alert to the future and attuned to surviving the present.

4.rethink the “walkable Olympics” rubric. Siting the big Olympics buildings in Boston itself invites tripping up developments already under way. I think especially of the Fort Point neighborhood, where constant development looks to be jokered by Bid Committee plans. Locate at least some in outlying communities, even in Gateway cities.

5.Plan for a referendum. Embrace it and frame the campaign for it, including a fully detailed promise not to use public funds except for infeastructure.

6.use Mitt Romney publicly in support. A president Romney isn’t, nor a Deval Patrick Democrat; but a Olympic Games master he is.

Rich Davey, the rest is up to you.

—- Mike reedberg / Here and Sphere


1 Stan Roseberg speaks1 Baker budget 2016

^ “Senator Stan” : much more than a fly in Governor Baker’s soup

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What superficially look like purely institutional battles on Beacon Hill threaten the new Governor’s game plan. Already we are seeing how the new State Senate President, Stan Rosenberg, in his move to break the Senate free of control by the Speaker of the House, is blocking a Governor Baker reform : his state employee early retirement initiative.

A few days ago a group of eight Senators expressed dislike for Baker’s early retirement initiative, which the House approved unanimously. Though Rosenberg was not one of the eight Senators objecting, I find it hard to believe that their move didn’t have his encouragement. Keep in mind that Rosenberg hasn’t only an institutional objective. He’s a committed progressive at war with a doggedly non-progressive Speaker.

That, dear readers, is the real objective that Rosenberg seeks. Breaking the Senate free of control by the House wouldn’t matter much if there were not a policy purpose. The previous Senate President, Theresa Murray, had no problem with having the House Speaker drive the legislative car. But Murray more or less shared Speaker DeLeo’s views. Rosenberg does not.

None of this would matter greatly to the voters, were it not that the Governor’s agenda can be broken by it. Baker was elected as a Mr. Fix-It. Baker would reform state administration — and could actually do it, because he and the Speaker generally agreed on what was needed. This was not just eyewash. Early on, Baker and DeLeo did reach agreement on budget matters and a no-tax agenda; and as the common wisdom has been — correctly — that if the Governor and Speaker agree, things get done, the outlook for Baker’s more ambitious reforms looked bright.

Now those prospects don’t look bright at all.

Reforms now need three to agree : Baker, DeLeo, and Rosenberg. But there seem few reforms on which Rosneberg is likely to agree with Baker and DeLeo. Example : reforming the MBTA. Baker wants reform before revenue. DeLeo may well agree. Rosenberg, however, answers to constituencies that want the MBTA to have substantial new revenue right away. That means new taxes, which DeLeo opposes, Baker too.

Agreement on other reforms looks even less likely. The MBTA, at least, has few friends; the public demands change. But what of DCF, the Opioid addiction crisis, highway and bridge repair, early education ? All will require new revenue that Rosenberg likely wants, while DeLeo and Baker do not. And what of the charter school cap ? Most voters want the cap lifted, and so do Baker and DeLeo. Rosenberg’s Senate, however, seems likely to oppose it.

Rosenberg’s rush to opposition may fail. Right now, the legislative rules dictate that when the House and Senate disagree, they meet in joint conference, where the House’s 160 easily outvote the 40 Senators. Rosenberg seeks to change this : to create joint conferences in which each body is equally represented. Rosenberg’s quest sounds very reasonable, even civic minded : but if he gets his way, out the window go the reforms that Governor Baker wants and upon which a successful term in office depend.

That would be a shame. Baker’s reforms have very widespread, majority support throughout the state. Yet there are interests who want his reforms to fail, indeed want him to fail and be defeated in 2018. Baker can probably only risk defeat in 2018 if an opponent can say that Mr Fix it couldn’t fix it. Senator Rosenberg’s moves — self seeking even if shrewd — are crafting that argument a path.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


1 Stan Roseberg speaks

^ Stan Rosenberg, Senate President : shrewd bold mover

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Noticed by few, the Massachusetts State senate is making a move of great sigificance to how our state is governed. Under the leadership of its new President, Stan Rosenberg, the Senate is working itself free of the Joint Conference system by which the four times larger House outvotes the smaller senate when conferring on legislation to be enacted.

The House and Senate rarely come up with the same bill, and it’s in joint conference that the two bodies adjust the differences in a piece of legislation. Changing this method of legislating isn’t the stuff of public outrage; few people know, or care to know, how our laws are made as long as they are in fact made. But, as today’s Boston Globe editorial shows, the issue can be made to arouse the public if presented as a matter of “transparency.”

Durig last year’s governor campaign, “transparency” became a major concern. Voters do not like their legislators to hide their deals in cloakrooms. So “transparency” now holds sway, not only to get state agency records easily accessible — that’s too easy, almost — but, now, to reform the legislature’s rules.

As it is those rules, as they currently exist, which actually govern Masachusetts, changing them is a really big deal.

For the past two decades, the Speaker of the House has ruled Massachusetts’s legiuslation single-handedly. A dictator wields no stronger power than the Speaker. He appoints all members of House committees and, by his body’s vote strength on joint committees, he controls the Senate as well. Nor has there een much that anyone could do aout it. House members aren’t about to challenge the Speaker, the Senate hasn’t tried, and the Governor stas outside the process entirely.

Or does he ? As the apostle of “transparency,’ and as a sort of neutral participant, being a Republican while both Senate and House hold veto-proof Democratic majorities, Charlie Baker can, by his mere presence — not to mention his administrative initiative, which works as a model for reform — demonstrates to the public the difference between legislative “dictat” and electoral accountability.

The two men of legislative power responded diferently to the comig of aker. Speaker Deleo reached an accommodation with Baker about legislative priorities. Rosenberg, on the other hand, initiated the “Massachusetts conversations” show, by which the 40 Senators traveled all across Massachusetts holding public forums at which people could come and engage the members in dialogue. It was a impressive event, a first of its kind, and i am sure that for very many, it put the State senate firmly, vividly o the map, way ahead o the more cloaked-up House.

1 Mass convos 1

^ a “commonwealth conversation” on cape Cod. Senator “Stan” in middle of photo, background.

Now comes Rosenbberg’s procedural move, powerful at a time when the State senate has become, as a body, a very visible platoon of reformers. He has challenged Speakerr DeLeo as never before. How can the Speaker not offer his own “transparency” move in response ?

He would, I am sure, like to respond on his own terms; but Rosenberg has beaten him to it. The joint committee conference looks unfair. How can the two bodies co-operate when in committee one is outvoted four to one by the other ? To this question the public is sure to put this answer : let the joint committee numbers equal. Let the House and Senate each choose three members to a six person conference.

it has to work. After all, people elect the Senate, too. Why even have a Senate if its members ca’t ever count when it matters ?

There’s also a policy compoent to this epic struggle. The Senate is mch more pr9ogressive on the issues at hand than the House. Any increase in the Senate’s input to legisaltion is sure to move our laws in a progressive direction : energy matters, criminal justice reform, new revenue for the MBTA, funding for early education, expanding the EITC, DCF reform. And a public accommodations amendment to our transgender non-discrimination law.

It’s been a good two months for Senator “Stan.” Reform and more reform. Including having Lieutenant Governor Polito officiate his same-sex marriage. Let’s see if Speaker DeLeo can top that.

—- Mike Freederg / Here and Sphere


1 Polito and Stan

^ Karyn Polito will join the two above men, St Senate President Stan Rosenberg and Bryon Hefner, in matrimony

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It was big news, this week, to read that Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito will do the honors at State Senate President Stan Rosenberg’s wedding to Bryon Hefner. It’s not every day that any Republican office holder officiates a same sex wedding. It caught out many activists who still had not forgiven Polito for her well-publicized opposition to marriage equality back in the day, and it painfully surprised the anti-equality activists who once counted Polito an ally.

I cannot recall a single decision, by an elected official, that has changed our state’s politics so utterly.

Shock aside, and wary distrust off the table as well, Polito’s move has huge implications politically. it’s had some already.

First, the story broke during the height of the battle in Indiana over that state’s enacting a “religious freedom” law whose palpable purpose was to permit businesses to deny service to gay and transgender people. I doubt the story’s timing was coincidental.

Second, and of enormous import, whether or not Polito intended such, it casts her political lot with the young, city-living and city-oriented part of Governor Baker’s coalition even as it separates her, significantly, from Baker’s aging, central Massachusetts following.

It ‘s also a decision to stand with business, on a matter in which business has almost always voiced the good. Businesses want all to be their customers. The mainstreaming of people previously marginalized has been very, very good for commerce, just as was true in the Civil Rights 1960s and long before. We can’t ever forget that the merchant aristocracy of Boston (not all, but most of it) provided much of the Abolitionist leadership in the 1840s and 1850s and also helped fund the costs of housing and employing escaped slaves. Today we often tend to think of business as retrograde — thanks largely to the reactionary Koch Brothers — but that impression is a false one. In Massachusetts today, almost all business is on the side of Karyn Polito’s act of grace and inclusion.

Recently I wrote about March 31’s two special state representative elections, which demonstrated for all to see the vast difference, in age, outlook, and setting, between the two winners : in Shrewsbury and Westboro, Hannah Kane’s oldish, bare majority vote; in East Boston, Adrian Madaro’s sweeping majority spearheaded by young and very young voters. Kane and Madaro both have strong ties to baker and his administration, and Baker’s win last November depended on his having both constituencies. But the two parts of Baker’s coalition are not equal. Madaro’s young city following commands Baker’s future; Kane’s oldish Worcester County voters represent Baker’s past.

I have no idea if Polito made this calculation, or whether she calculated anything, in moving to officiate Senator Rosenberg’s wedding. Polito has a big heart and relates instinctively to people, all people, as people : that simple. Her decision may well have been no more than that, a personal act for two men she considers friends.

Still, her decision has the consequences I have outlined. I suspect that she already knows this and is going all in with it. If she and Baker continue on their current path of inclusion and equality — and I think they will — they can transform almost everything about the GOP in Massachusetts — a transformation much needed, and not only by Polito and Baker.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

UPDATED 04/05/15


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^ taking notes : Governor Baker at Opioid Panel hearing

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Yesterday at Gardner Auditorium in the State House, Governor Baker heard from a stream of witnesses, most of them addicts in recovery, what the opioid addiction crisis is all about. Prominent among those speaking was Jack Kelly, whom this medium endorsed when in 2013 he was a candidate for Boston City Council. He, too, is an addict in recovery, and for the past several months he has been maybe the most prominent of those from whom Baker has heard, both during the campaign and after.

It was easy to see why Baker has turned to Kelly, whom he met during the campaign, for information; at the Hearing, Kelly received one of the day’s biggest bursts of applause as he said, “during my campaign I was constantly told to tone down talking about my addiction, but I did not tone down, be cause I was not going to tone down who I am !”

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Jack Kelly : “I will not tone down who I am !”

Within the opioid addiction community, Kelly is a hero, because he has come all the way back from what he describes as absolutely down and out, all the way back to a good job, prominent positions in city services, and his city-wide candidacy. His heroism was bolstered by the testimony of others : parents whose children have died in addiction, or who have begged for treatment only to not find beds available, or who don’t have insurance to pay for it; advocates — including addicts in recovery, many of them young, who want addiction to be treated as an illness, not a crime, and to have insurance pay for treatment; advocates for homeless addicts, the mental health basis of much addiction, the ubiquity of painkiller pills, the epidemic of deaths and pain, witnesses of the disruption and anguish by which helplessly ill addicts impede their families.

Grimly Baker listened, doggedly he took notes, all through the day’s stark speaking.

The entire panel appointed by Baker was there. It listened inntently to the pain and helplessess testified to. Attorney General Maura Healey, Lieutenant Goveror Karyn Polito, labor leader Steve Tolman, Sheriff McDonald from Cape Cod, other service providers, and — chairing the hearing — Health and Human services Secretary Marylou Sudders heard it all.

So did Suffolk Sheriff Steve Tompkins, who sat i the audience’s front row, his presence recognized and thanked by the panel members.

Unfortunately few legislators were present. This was a shame, because it will have to be the legislature that enacts most of the addiction reforms testified for. Baker can, by executive order, require some chages, but not many : for example, that drug money confiscated by police be used to fund additional beds for addicts needing treatment. Baker cannot , however, budget the substantial increase in money needed to fund treatment, nor can he order that insurance companies pay for addiction treatment. Only the legislature can do these; and with few exceptions, none was in the room to hear the harsh facts of an illness crisis that claims about 1000 Massachusetts lives every year, and maye will kill more than that this year. The toll so far is 215 by heroin alone.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here ad Sphere