^ “we must all move in the same direction” : Governor Baker as GOP party leader, speaking last night at a meet & greet supporting two of his 55 state committee candidates

—- —- —-

Right now, a new Massachusetts is being created  by two political men : Mayor Walsh of Boston and Governor Baker. As E. J. Dionne points out in his eloquent review of Nick Littlefield’s memoir of Ted Kennedy, his late boss, leadership means having a clear idea where you are going plus the dogged political skills to get there. Kennedy had both, was a master of them. Much the same could be said of Baker and Walsh.

They have almost no competition against them. Almost all the political attention these days is on the Federal government in Washington and on the loud shouting filling one’s ears about it. As a result, Massachusetts as an arena of politics has been all but emptied, leaving Baker and Walsh free to fill state and city with what they want.

Walsh faces desultory opposition, yes; but only in the matter of the 2024 Olympic games did that opposition find critical mass. Walsh has learned from his mistake and is now advancing big, big changes one little step at a time, steps all but invisible and hard to see as important even when seen.

Baker’s reforms of state governance, by contrast, are unveiled to great press conference fanfare. They are major and have huge implications for how Massachusetts is governed, yet they elicit scant objection because, as Baker says, “the work we’re doing looks boring.” Exactly: being boring, in the arena of reform, is part of Baker’s political skill. Baker must smile when critics say he has no big vision, or that he only attends to little fix-its. Do they not see that attention to detail is crucial to the reconfiguration Baker is bringing to the entire discussion of how Massachusetts should work ?

Walsh is a Democrat, Baker a Republican. Here I see a difference between the two men. Reforming the state’s Republican party is an integral part of Baker’s reform of state government – I will explain why a bit later in this story. Walsh’s remaking of Boston, on the other hand, has little to do with Democratic party affairs. This, too, requires explanation. Let me begin with Walsh and the Democrats.

In Massachusetts, Democrats make up about 36 percent of all voters, but party members hold almost three quarters of elected offices — and in Boston, all of them. Whatever “Democrat” may mean in the loud national shouting match, in Boston it simply means that you’re an activist — nothing further. Walsh and his opposition all belong to the same political party, and thus to no party in the reform of Boston fight. The business and labor partnership, and the business and education collaboration, that Walsh is putting in place have nothing to do with who will be the next President. Nor does Walsh ever justify, or argue for, his major reforms in terms of Democratic party direction. Nor need he. Boston elections are nonpartisan.

On Beacon Hill, almost the same ubiquity of Democrats prevails despite elections therefor being by party. Thus party identity matters hardly more for legislators than it does for Walsh, and one hears, at Democratic party gatherings, very little talk of policy or agendas when state, not Washington DC, is the topic. Democrats, outside the Boston core, do not seem focused on state elections, or geared up, or very sophisticated about the tasks of electing. And why need they ? Whoever of them wins, it will be a Democrat, whether the campaign be skillful or not. A recent forum that I attended, in the contested race to choose a state committeewoman from the Salem-Peabody-Beverly-Danvers District, neither candidate gave much of an answer to the question, “what does a state committeewoman do ?” How could they ? A Democratic state committee member mostly stands aside and watches her district’s dozens of Democratic candidates for office battle it out.

In the Republican party just the opposite holds true. Republicans make up about 11 percent of Massachusetts voters. A small party must prioritize, and in our state, that has meant, these past 45 years, concentrating all forces on electing a Governor. This dynamic has always been present; but Baker is taking it further. Just as he has moved to reform state administration toward effective, accountable work, so he is demanding the same of the Republican state committee. He is actively supporting 55 candidates (out of 80 total districts) under the rubric “we need to all pull in the sane direction.”

By which Baker means, support his agenda and be a ground game for his re-election. He doesn’t say that his opponents have advanced agendas different from his, even opposed to his, but the clear implication is that he sees these as obstacles to his success as Governor. He is right. Republican activists feel the push of the national party’s limitless rejectionism; but Baker cannot afford to be a radical rejectionist. Nor is it his style. Unlike Mayor Walsh, who sometimes lets his passion for change get ahead of him, Baker is the most disciplined, most skillfully cautious leader I have seen in decades.

His takeover of the Republican state committee is, however, anything but cautious. It’s a big gamble. He will probably succeed — though the 200 people he attracts to meet and greet events for his 55 candidates are far outnumbered by the 6000 to 12,000 voters who will take a Republican ballot in each of the 40 committee districts. Most of these voters will know nothing about what a state committee is or does, and not much more about the candidates — except that the Governor with a 75 percent favorable rating wants them on his team.

Still, the opportunity is there. His opponents have scant power; he has a lot. And Baker’s takeover campaign offers large rewards. If he can convince rank and file Republican activists to be socially progressive, fiscally disciplined reformers, as he is, no matter what their predisposition may have been, he can plant and grow a Republican culture vastly different from the national GOP, sparking maybe hundreds of legislative candidacies — for decades to come.

More likely, however, his work will merely confirm, for decades to come, the long standing position of the Massachusetts GOP as an organization deployed for only one purpose : electing a GOP Governor. There are many structural reasons why that purpose works with all Massachusetts voters. Reforming these structures involves risks Baker would be verfy wise to avoid.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere






^ presenting the 2017 Budget : Governor Baker with Lt Governor Polito (l) and Budget chief Kristen Lepore (r)

—- —- —- —-

Two days ago Governor Baker launched his proposal for next year’s State Budget. With Lieutenant Governor Polito at his side, and with his budget chief Kristen Lepore on stage as well, he spoke at length to 100 journalists by word and by graphs.

It’s a $ 39.6 billion dollar request and covers every sort of state service — some scarcely, others more generously. There were two surprises :

First, Baker proposes to pay the entire chapter 70 reimbursement money given to school districts in which students choose charter school options — including a substantial amount of reimbursement money that the state has previously agreed to pay but has not. The budget’s total chapter 70 fund gets a $ 72.1 million boost that includes $ 20 million to fund reimbursement.

Second, although Baker’s budget adds $ 187 million to the MBTA’s contract obligations, it says nothing about Green Line expansion. When I asked where Green Line expansion (through Somerville to West Medford) stood, he repeated what he has said for the past few months : that he is awaiting the Fiscal Control Board’s recommendations how to proceed and that the estimated $ 3 billion job cost cannot stand. As he told me, “we have to take care of what we have first because a million riders depend on it.”

I’ll say more about the Green Line later in this report, as well as other transit proposals.

Another key feature of the 2017 Baker budget is its $ 206 million deposit into the Stabilization Fund — fancy name for a cash reserve available in case the State’s revenues fall unexpectedly short. Many interests, from education to transit and roads to beds for opioid addicts in treatment, would surely like to have that $ 206 million, but Baker is right to set it aside, given that even his fiscally cautious budget admits to a $ 635 million gap between expenses and revenue. (To be sure, this figure is an improvement over FY 2015’s $ 1.8 billion “gap.”)

Mas for soending mite, the budget provides some $ 30.5 million to pay for 281 new hires, including licensed social workers, to fill in gaps in coverage of the many children and parents who are, necessarily, under DCF supervision or monitoring.

Another surprise, at least for me, was to find in my mailbox, the morning after Baker’s Budget conference, that he is filing legislation to provide $ 918 million in capital funding to the state’s municipalities. I quote from the announcement :

” today filed legislation to advance job creation and economic growth by empowering communities and regions to reach their potential, expanding workforce development efforts to close the skills gap and connect residents with economic opportunities, and investing in emerging technologies to set the stage for future job growth across the Commonwealth.

“The legislation, “An Act to Provide Opportunities for All,” reflects and begins to implement several aspects of the Baker-Polito Administration’s comprehensive economic development plan, including investments of up to $918 million in capital funding for local infrastructure, Brownfields site cleanup, Gateway Cities development, development site assembly and site readiness, smart growth housing, workforce development, emerging technologies, and community-based innovation.”

Quite frequently in his first year, Baker has announced money grants to communities. Only the $ 918 million number is unusually large. Where does the money come from, to fund legislation of this sort, if not from the Budget ? Yet nothing was said of it at the budget press conference, nor was it itemized in Baker’s budget graphs. Perhaps that’s because this $ 918 million targets the education and development of a 21st Century, private sector  workforce and includes several features likely to raise red flags in the public education establishment. To quote further from the announcement :

“One of the things we are focused on in the Baker administration is creating opportunities for all residents. With this economic development plan we will ensure more people get skills, education and training to fill the jobs employers have open now and in the future,” said Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Ronald L. Walker, II. “The $75 million in Workforce Skills Capital grants will enable career and technical training programs to give students the skills they need to compete for jobs in today’s high-tech environment.”

“This economic development plan will not only help replicate what works, but will also offer critical tools to allow municipalities, higher education institutions, and the private sector to leverage partnerships in more areas of the Commonwealth than ever before,” said Education Secretary Jim Peyser. “It will also significantly expand the administration’s commitment to growing a stronger pipeline of students who will be ready to meet current and future workforce needs, especially in emerging STEM fields.”

Peyser’s and Walker’s statements read a lot like the capital spending and business-with-education partnership plans touted recently by Boston Mayor Walsh : plans that aroused quite a fracas among Boston supporters of teacher-led, teacher-directed public education. As I read Baker’s legislation, he means to create a new kind of education and employment path, integrating school and career. This aligns well with the purposes and content of the PARCC test that, unnecessarily, the State is now replaci8ng with an upgraded MCAS test. The replacement of PARCC by upgraded MCAS will delay implementation of school-to-career curricula by a year or two, but Baker is making smart use of the extra time to put in place a Statewide equivalent of the school to career pathway being planned by Mayor Walsh.

Baker, like Walsh, is smart to build  a new school-purpose, school-partnership pathway before taking on reform of schools themselves.  Once the new education platform stands, in both state and city, the teacher establishment will find itself having to make the leap from the old platform to the new or else be set aside. I suspect that the teachers will choose not to be set aside.

I now return to transit matters. The MBTA and Commuter rail are the one part of state services that Baker’s 2017 budget does not take full charge of. I understand, of course, that Baker wants to make sure that “what we’ve got” works well enough to gain the public’s full confidence. But the Boston region’s economy is growing rapidly; transportation is essential to it. If the T doesn’t get its necessary expansions in place, some other means of transit will do the job — probably not very well for low-income workers. These depend entirely on the T. Included in their requests, at least in my East Boston community, is to connect “Eastie” to the Airport, via a direct Silver Line link, so that our numerous airport workers can get to their jobs without having to make four (4) T transfers.

When I asked Baker if there are any Silver Line plans, his response suggested that my request was the first he had heard of it. And what of a Red Line t.o9 Blue Line connection, that some locals have proposed ? that and other T expansions — the Blue Line to Lynn — would seem essential to an ever busying Boston area economy involving a million commutes. Will Baker’s next bite of the apple, his FY 2018 budget take cognizance of these T needs ? One hopes so.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

UPDATE : As I readied this story for publication, the following Green Line Expansion e-mail came to me from frank DiPaola, the MBTA’s General manager. I QUOTE IT IN FULL. Please read it carefully :

“A Green Line Extension Update from MBTA General Manager Frank DePaola

January 29, 2016

I want to update you on the status of the Green Line Extension project. As work on determining the future of the project continues, I look forward to both informing and hearing from you. Please do not hesitate to share comments and ideas with us at

On December 14, 2015, at a joint meeting of the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board and the Board of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, a resolution was jointly and unanimously adopted that laid out the Boards’ position on additional funding for the Green Line Extension project. The resolution also incorporated key lessons learned from a recent ‘look-back’ analysis. In their resolution, the Boards recognized that, “the Green Line Extension is a long-standing commitment under the state’s Clean Air Act State Implementation Plan which has many transportation, economic development and environmental benefits not only for Cambridge, Somerville and Medford but for the greater Boston region and economy.” But, the resolution finds, “the Green Line Extension as procured and designed is not affordable or cost-effective for the MBTA given its other needs; and the existing Construction Manager/General Contractor contract documents do not provide sufficient cost reliability or risk allocation for the MBTA.”

The resolution states that “until a cost-effective, affordable version of the project has been redesigned and re-procured, cancelling the project and investing the unspent Commonwealth share of the project funding on the core MBTA system will remain an option for both Boards.” The resolution sets out a series of conditions that must be met for the Green Line Extension project to proceed, including:
•Undertaking value engineering and redesign to substantially reduce the cost of delivering the project while maintaining its core functionality. This work is already underway (some additional information can be found here).
•Developing a re-procurement strategy that will ensure that a reliable cost estimate, viable cost reduction strategies, and appropriate risk allocation will be incorporated into the GLX project going forward.
•Putting in place new project management both within the MBTA and for needed third-party professional services.
•Limiting additional Commonwealth funding and instead focusing on obtaining any needed additional funding from other sources, such as the Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization and the municipalities, landowners, and developers benefitting from the project.

Pursuant to this directive, MassDOT and the MBTA are working together to develop and execute a 90-day plan that will result in a report to both the MassDOT Board of Directors and the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board on whether and how to proceed with the project. This 90-day review will focus on four areas: (1) project management; (2) redesign; (3) re-procurement; and (4) the development of a reliable cost estimate and schedule. Preliminary information on the 90-day review can be found here.

I ask for your patience and assistance as we work through this very challenging situation. The GLX Project Team and MassDOT/MBTA as a whole are focused on addressing the issues as quickly and as thoughtfully as possible. However, we must make sure that we completely understand the current cost-to-complete of the overall project, as well as the implications of any changes to the project design.

Over the next months, the MBTA will be holding public workshops to hear from you on potential redesign and cost-savings strategies. We will post information about those meetings on the Green Line Extension website.

It is crucial that we approach these challenges with cooperation and collaboration. In that spirit, I urge you to share your thoughts, concerns, and suggestions at

Thank you for your continued interest in the Green Line Extension project.

Frank DePaola
MBTA General Manager





Baker endorse

^ The Baker (and Polito) endorsement : here, Ed McGrath and Janet Leombruno, state committee members seeking re-election from Senator Karen Spilka’s Senate District (Framingham and surrounding towns)

—- —- —- —-

Two months ago I wrote about Governor Baker’s decision to reshape the Republican state Committee, the body designated by Massachusetts law (c. 55, for those who want to look it up) to oversee a political party. As elections to a party’s state committee interest only party activists, the larger voting public rarely takes any interest in them. Nor would I, this time, except that reshaping the state committee of Massachusetts’s Republican party portends significant public policy consequences for all of us.

Among other duties, the state committee of a party drafts that party’s political platform — setting forth what public policy the party advocates. In 2014, some may recall, the Republican State Committee approved a platform rejecting the civil rights advances our state has made these past 15 years, including a disapproval of same sex marriage. As if that were not enough, the platform also rejected women’s reproductive rights.

The platform also rejected several economic reforms, including a higher minimum wage; but it was the platform’s stance on “social” issues that rankled the overwhelming majority of Massachusetts voters — and embarrassed Baker and his running mate Karyn Polito, who, in their Republican campaigns, asserted unshakable support for women’s reproductive rights and marriage equality.

Baker and Polito barely won election; and they were probably right to attribute the closeness of the win at least in part to voters’ rejection of the party platform.

Which is why Baker has moved to defeat those state committee people who doggedly oppose his views.

There are 80 people on the Republican state committee : 40 men and 40 women, one of each elected from each of the State’s 40 Senate districts. 55 of the 80 positions are contested; Baker has his 55, and so do his party opponents. And yes, they exist and are not going quietly away.

The Baker campaign presents a picture of him with his endorsed candidate plus a picture of the letter of endorsement he has given. It is a positive message, in which Baker applauds his endorsee’s record of party activism. Said endorsee is then free to use these photos however he or she thinks most effective : mailing, facebook posting, meet and greets (some of which Baker is attending personally) — or all of these.

It is difficult for Baker’s opposition to fight back. He enjoys a favorable rating of about 70-74 percent among all voters, much higher among Republicans. The opponents cannot directly attack Baker, but they can attack his endorsees. It’s a campaign of smear, basically, and shouting (because shouting, as we see, gets you attention). Ordinarily I wouldn’t give Baker’s opponents a chance in hell of defeating his endorsees. But as we see this year, opposition to “the establishment” is a Republican given, and can there be any Republican more “establishment” than a sitting, popular Governor  who actually gets things done on a bipartisan basis?

The state committee election takes place at our Presidential primary. Will the approximately 40 percent of Massachusetts GOP primary voters who the polls tell us support Trump vote for the Governor’s state committee candidates ? And what of the ten percent who support Ted Cruz ?

Were the state committee campaign to surface and become a huge topic among primary voters, the Governor’s endorsees might be in trouble. Except for three factors almost impossible to counter : first, few Trump voters care about the State House. They are fixated on Washington. Second, the state committee election is not a huge topic of conversation, and most primary voters will probably either vote the candidate’s home town and/or give Baker the benefit of the doubt. Third, Baker has chosen truly superior candidates, activists well known in their community at large (some of them current or former holders of elected public office), people who, like Baker, campaign to all the voters. It will be very difficult for candidates for whom the 80-person state committee is their entire political universe (more dwarf star than universe) to compete with opponents so well known beyond the tiny hallways of state committee affairs.

I said, earlier, that this fight has significant public policy consequences. It does. That Baker wants a party platform aligned with his agenda is just common sense. Why should he tolerate being sniped at by his own party’s bosses ? Speaker DeLeo controls the House utterly; Senate President Stan Rosenberg has working control of his legislative body. If Baker is to bring his full power upon the two legislative drivers, he has got to wield the same level of control over his Republican party. He and only he must speak for it.

During the current legislative session, Baker has not won all the reforms that he sought. In part, he fell short because he holds only partial control of his party (including some Republican members of the House). In addition, Baker has ducked a civil rights issue, public accommodations protection for transgender people — and allowed himself to look weak — at least in part because he lacks it.

Understandably he does not want to make his campaign to control the state committee a referendum on transgender people’s rights, opposed as these are by many GOP activists. He thinks, correctly, that he could well lose his big gamble — one that no Massachusetts GOP Governor has taken on in at least 40 years — if events line up the wrong way. Better, then, to keep the campaign simple : a referendum on Baker’s popularity and standing. The rest can come later.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



reason to smile

^ smiles, but “paint free” vote yesterday opposition deepens between Senate President Stan Rosenberg (r) and Governor Baker

—- —- —-

For a while now it’s been quite clear that Senate President Stan Rosenberg wants his body to be an institutional base for the “progressive” agenda he espouses. Every day now, the opposition inherent in Rosenberg’s intent looms larger. We saw it yesterday in a vote to impose a “paint fee” on the disposal of used paint cans. The House’s leader, Speaker DeLeo, has joined Governor baker in proclaiming “no new fees or taxes” for the second budget year in a row; thus the Senate’s “paint free” — vote was 25 yes, 11 no — will likely fail.

As I have written a few months ago, Rosenberg doesn’t mind losing theses votes. His game is a long one. His most vocal members criticize Governor Baker’s moves, speak with spite and grumble, pursue the opposite of what the Governor and Speaker have agreed upon. This tactic surely has Rosenberg’s back. It helps clarify his Senate stance on issues and to make it recognized; victories can come later.

My own feeling is that Rosenberg cannot win — the House is four times larger, dominates joint legislative conferences, and will likely be led by a moderate, even conservative Democrat for as many years as I can see ahead — but what if the House does, at some point, become led by a “progressive” ? Then Rosenberg wins. Doubtless such a coalition will incline Massachusetts voters to elect non-Democratic Governors even more surely than they do now; at which point only a Governor’s veto will offer non-“progressives” a defense line.

All of that is for the future. The immediate question that I see in Rosenberg’s stance is one for my Senate District, which is now in the hands of a special election to choose a successor to Anthony Petrucelli. What sort of political agenda will, in the Senate, represent the voters of East Boston, Winthrop, Revere, the North End, Chinatown, and Beacon Hill going forward ? Will our Senator be a Rosenberg ally, or will he or she adhere to the more centrist principles espoused by Speaker DeLeo, who lives in our District and represents one fourth of it ?

As readers of Here and Sphere know, I had every intention of supporting, even working for, an independent candidate, who would on May 10th oppose the winner of the April 12th primary; a candidate who would espouse Governor Baker’s reforms and derive much support from Team-Baker. That candidacy would have assured our District its own voice in the Senate, one as powerfully supported, and grounded, as Rosenberg’s. That candidate would, if successful, have given Speaker DeLeo a presence In the Senate as well as looming over it and would have had the backing, probably, of Governor Baker as well. To me, this candidacy mattered at least in part for its prospects of helping to unite the legislature rather than dfivid9ing it, as Rosenberg’s game does, into opposed camps.

That candidacy did not happen, and what remains to us is six people, of whom maybe one has some sort of direct line to Governor Baker (Dan Rizzo of Revere, the city’s former Mayor, is said to have been liked by members of the Governor’s administration). Do any have links to Speaker DeLeo ? Joe Boncore of Winthrop, the other leading candidate, seems to have them, but who knows ? Boncore does enjoy the support of one or two Baker activists — as does Diane Hwang, whose candidacy at this moment seems more about presence than victory.

Meanwhile Jay Livingstone, the only State Representative in the primary, has as his campaign purpose winning the votes of “progressives.” (Candidate Lydia Edwards seems also to practice the same strategy.) Livingstone will, if successful, almost certainly be a Rosenberg ally. As Livingstone is seen, probably correctly, as the leading contender, those of us who want a Senator allied with the dominant powers on Beacon Hill are likely to be disappointed.

My view is that our District has economic needs that require us to ally with dominant powers. Livingstone’s base, however, is in top-income precincts (Beacon Hill) that do not have such need.

This has been one of the strangest elections I have ever been part of. The District was created to send an East Boston leader to the Senate, and for 60 years it has done so. Now, not one East Boston first-rank leader is running, and all who I speak to, including every one of our non-candidate State Representatives, are staying far, far away from the contest.

I like Jay Livingstone. He is a dedicated citizen, a Boston leader. But I do not see how he can possibly represent a District so different from the precincts that elect him to the House, precincts that were added to our District, cynically by a redistricting committee, for the sole purpose of filling up our population requirement.

Maybe 15 percent of our voters will cast a ballot in the primary. This is not acceptable, but why should anyone but an insider or activist become interested in an election that is about only insiders or activists ? The candidacy I envisioned, for the May 10th election, would have given a much larger voter number — maybe 33 percent — reason to take an interest. As it should be.

For this primary, we are out of it; we feel it, we know it. This primary is not about us.

How out of it are we ? Last night I spoke with Livingstone, who attended the Orient Heights Civic Association’s monthly meeting — the only candidate to do so. I asked him if he had campaigned yet at Adriana’s, Rino’s place, and the Jack Satter House. He had not — indeed, he seemed unsure of Adriana’s importance, or of what the Satter House is. If a candidate as hard-working and aware as Livingstone is — I can attest to this — shows such unfamiliarity with our core of the District, we are going to have a difficult time being understood by a Senator with an agenda most of us don’t share.

Just the way Stan Rosenberg wants it.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


CB signs

At 3.00 PM today, barely an hour ago, Governor baker signed legislation ending the practice of committing drug-addicted women to Framingham prison. Henceforth, addicted women in the justice system will be committed to hospitals.

It took 30 years of delay for this reform to happen.

This act may seem a small victory in the battle to make addiction a health care issuer rather than a crime, but for the women affected it’s not small at all. Framingham is the state’s only prison for women, and it has long suffered a terrible reputation for mismanagement and worse. It is no place for women with serious — life threatening — health problems. Framingham prison may not be a place even for female criminals (read reporter Scott O’Connell’s MetroWest story from 2012 : ) and that’s a subject to be taken up soon, I hope; but for drug-addicted, non violent women, it’s a venue utterly inappropriate. Framingham, like all prisons, is governed b y fear, intimidation, and guards who control everything about you. In prison you often have no rights at all, not even basic human rights. Whatever the justification for imposing such terror on criminals prisoners, there can be none for subjecting addicted women to it.

Henceforth, addicted women facing civil commitment will no longer face being housed in prison.

The legislation that Governor Baker signed — read its text here : — accompanies the creation of 248 new bed spaces for addicts needing treatment, beds located all over the state, in hospitals, mental hospitals, and community clinics, with Baker’s assurance of many more such beds to come.

Said Baker in his press release, “With the support of the legislature and Attorney General, our administration is proud to have delivered on a promise that took more than 30 years to fulfill. Now, women with substance abuse disorder who are civilly committed will not be sent to MCI Framingham and will have the opportunity to get treatment instead of jail time.”

Speaker DeLeo added these words : “By ending the practice of sending civilly committed women to MCI-Framingham we are taking one more step to helping residents – our sisters, mothers, daughters, wives – recover. I’m proud of the landmark substance addiction legislation we have passed and the unprecedented funding increases for treatment, and I pledge unwavering commitment to fighting this devastating epidemic.”

Senate President Stan Rosenberg said much the same : “The bill ends the practice of treating women with substance abuse issues like criminals. We need to…provide access to treatment in an appropriate setting so these women have an opportunity to get on a path to recovery.”

Attorney General Maura Healey joined the Governor’s signing ceremony and offered her own view : “This new law will end the practice of sending women struggling with addiction to prison without access to the treatment services they need. As we continue to battle this epidemic, it’s critical we get people real help that will give them a fighting chance at a better life.”

Action by the legislature came swiftly. There continues to be controversy about Governor baker’s more interventionist tools for fighting addiction — the 72 hour forced commitment has not found favor with many in the medical establishment, and Baker’s 72-houir pain pill, limitation was eased by the legislature to a one-week limit — but most of Baker’s reforms have taken hold unanimously or almost so. I am hoping that Baker will continue to pressure the legislature — and the medical community — to be ever bolder, ever more ready to intervene, to save the lives of the many thousands of our state’s young people at risk of grave harm, even death.

Even as I write, new strains of street heroin, m every week, grasp at the cravings of those we must tlry to save.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ specialty farming comes to Massachusetts : fresh high-quality veggies grown in Grafton’s community gardfens

—- —- —- —-

As GE prepares to move its headquarters to Boston, bringing with it at least 800 top-level jobs; as GE’s move promises boom times for the City’s technology industry, well beyond what it already has; as Boston people’s discretionary spending increases and keeps on doing so, a new opportunity arises for our state’s agriculture. Will we take it ?

Agriculture is a service industry. It supplies food to people who have money to buy what they eat. The more money, the better agri-products they can buy. Just as Starbucks’s and Peet’s $ 4.00 lattes have, in greater Boston, all but sidelined Dunkin Donuts’s $ 2.00 Joe, and just as premium, $ 4.50 – $ 5.50 ice cream has all but bankrupted the cheap, Friendly’s kind, so expensive agriculture of all sorts has found its moment.

This is not new. We already have craft beers by the thousands, many of them brewed in Boston itself, using grains and fruits grown locally too. Expensive restaurants have become the norm too; and much of the foodstuffs what they cook with are premium-level, premium price.  Farmers’ markets abound, in almost every Boston neighborhood; they are not for the short of wallet.

People will pay for top quality food. If not, Steve’s Ice Cream — a staple of Somerville food mavens back in the day — could never have become the long-line destination that it did. Steve’s was then unique; today its business model is the food standard. The new Boston will only make it more so. Top quality, top price : nothing less will do. How can it ? There’s no comparison between a $ 30 meal and an $ 18 one, you can taste the difference instantly. In my neighborhood — East Boston — Rino’s $ 28 to $ 40 meals draw an SRO crowd almost every night; restaurants that cost $ 15 to $ 18 are rarely full.

All of the above is prelude to this article’s premise : agriculture in Massachusetts stands at the threshhold of boom times — IF farmers understand the nature of the opportunity. Grains for craft beer; grapes for local wineries; greenhouse vegetables and fruits for high-price restaurants; pampered cows, pigs, and lambs for premium meats — all are in demand now, more and more of it. And with high quality foods, freshness is a must. It hurts top level food to come to us by long travel, refrigerated transportation. Grow it locally, as locally as possible.

For many decades the idea of Massachusetts as an agriculture state was hard to take seriously. Not so now. There remains plenty of open space even in Essex County; and urban farming in Boston itself has become a major industry. With the new agriculture comes, finally, escape from economic backwardness for Worcester County and the entire Quabbin Reservoir region as well as for farmed portions of Bristol and Middlesex Counties. You want to up the prospects for our “gateway” cities ? Specialty agriculture, it is; because almost all these cities sit in the heart of farm country — and will be right there, at hand, when the state’s newly prospering specialty farmers come to town to buy city stuff.

Fortunately, Governor Baker’s administration has sen the opportunity and is allocating state budget funds to support Massachusetts farming. I would hope that those funds would also include Boston’s urban farming. Why not ? As high-end income earners flock to Boston in ever larger numbers, we should do everything we can to bring them the stuff they have money to buy.

We should also see that those who produce specialty food for well-heeled customers are well paid themselves. Raising the minimum wage to $ 15/hour helps farm workers as well as fast-food and retail employees. Why not give farm workers enough income to buy the new farming’s products ? For me, a $ 15/hour minimum wage makes much more sense economically and as tax policy than the backward-looking millionaires’ tax surcharge that certain well-meaning advocates have proposed. Public policy in Massachusetts should embrace what is coming and new, not what is going and obsolete.




Where would a journalist be without friends ? Last night I attended Governor Baker’s State of the State speech thanks to the loyalty of a good friend, who secured me a seat despite my not having one of those printed invitations given to the Governor’s list of notables.

I sat in the balcony, directly above the center aisle of the House chamber, almost looking Governor Baker in the eye. I liked what I saw : confident, but at ease; comfortable in his skin, often policy-serious, sometimes good-guy fun.

What I saw, Baker also spoke. He stayed on course, doubled down in fact. He came into office as Mr Fix It, the diligent manager, that’s what he has done, and last night he vowed to continue doing it.

Yes, he has priorities; but they’re the same priorities that he has advocated all along : $ 1 billion for MBTA infrastructure; $ 75 million for career and technical schools; a much stronger opioid addiction bill than the milquetoast law passed by the legislature last week; charter school cap lift; and dramatic increase in hydro power supply. All were needed last year, and they’re still needed.

He also stuck with one of his initiatives that did not pass last year : cutting the Film Tax Credit. Here his proposal has changed. Instead of eliminating the tax, which Speaker DeLeo will not allow, he requested decreasing the tax’s spread. we will see if the Speaker accepts the compromise.

Baker touted several first year successes : getting DCF completely reorganized, with all parties in agreement — no simple task; legislation ending the civil commitment of women to Framingham prison; balancing a budget badly overrun; restoring local aid to its full funding; restructuring management of the T.

Lastly, Baker made clear that “no longer does the state balance its budget on the backs of our cities and towns.” Balance the budget he must, and will; but local aid will not be nicked; may, in fact, see increases, many the result of the Municipal Administration Reform law he has filed.

He held course despite significant pressures to shift. Advocacy groups are pushing for a tax surcharge on high incomes with the money earmarked to education and transportation. Other groups want baker to adopt universal pre-kindergarten schooling, or to embrace substantial MBTA expansion, or to stop charter schools, or to halt further opioid addiction legislation. Some politicals are sniping that Baker is all talk, no action, that he can’t fix the stuff he says he’ll fix — as if the stuff he’s trying to fix can be corrected magically overnight. To all of these, Baker gave his answer last night : I am on the course I believe to be the right one, and I am staying on it.

I fully approve his decision. Baker has changed the conversation about what Massachusetts government is for, and how it should be for it; and the change is all good, as attested by his huge approval rating. The voters want their government to work. The voters want the services state government purports to offer. Getting these services effectively, and within budget, to the people is the bedrock of everything else. It gives the voters confidence in their government.

All across America, voters have lost confidence in their governments, and in the unhinged, irresponsible talk going on in this year’s presidential election, we see the angry, amoral, dangerous result. If baker can build a rock solid foundation of public confidence in Massachusetts state administration, he will accomplish the most vital mission our politics cries out foir.

That is why he was right to double down on his plan of action. That is why he was applauded by everyone in the room — including our two Democratic United States Senators — of both parties or no party. And that is why he is held in uniquely high esteem by the voters of our state.

It was the right speech delivered in the right way.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere





^ surprised by Mayor Walsh’s work so far ? You should be.

—- —- —-

In the two years since he won election as Mayor, Marty Walsh has surprised me. I’m hardly the only one. I thought — I think many people thought — that Walsh would be the kind of Mayor that his “progressive” backers wanted : insurgent, a tribune for the poor, a fighter for diversity in city hiring, a Don Berwick fan, a Democrat’s Democrat. Some may even have thought — though I did not — that Walsh would abet the enviro activists’ vision of a green, biker’s and walker’s city in which cars would be noticeably unwelcome and development — if approved at all — would be small scale and very very quiet. People who thought this of Walsh expected him to march on the front lines of minimum wage hike protests. Nor are these all that was assumed of Walsh.

All of it proved wrong. My own expectations too : I had thought that Walsh would be what some pundits called him, a Mayor of “incremental change” — nothing big or transformative. Boy, were we mistaken !

Instead, Walsh has become as revolutionary a leader as Boston has felt since Kevin White at least. Let’s look at how :

First : always the labor leader — he calls himself ‘a labor guy” — he understands, and always has, that labor doesn’t have jobs if businesses don’t hire. Thus Walsh has been the City’s biggest advocate of boom-town development — and of the well rewarded construction jobs accorded by the boom. And a stupendous boom it is, and will be.

Second, Walsh has worked in partnership with “Republican” Governor Baker — and noticeably enjoys doing so — to bring even more construction to Boston, and start up businesses — of which the GE move is only the capstone. Under Walsh and Baker, Boston has become the nation’s entrepot of internet innovation in the device zone, the “internet of things.” You could see it at Mass challenge’s awards ceremony two months ago, at which both Walsh and Baker spoke — as they do a lot, at all sorts of Boston events.

Third, Walsh has worked diligently to bring all kinds of arts and entertainments to Boston, in keeping with what he likes about Montreal, a city which, at a Mayoral forum in 2013, he named as his model for what Boston should become. Walsh failed to secure us the 2024 Olympic games — failed dramatically — but once committed, he went all in, risking his popularity among the enviros  but thrilling those who want our Mayor to be passionate and committed to the benefits he believes in.

Fourth, Walsh has confronted, head on, the entrenched public school establishment, in which union contract work rules, vested school supporters, and dogged teacher union opposition to charter schools have written an achievement gap in stone and seen the ever-increasing school budget swallowed almost entirely by teacher salary raises. True, Walsh has not played fair with school budget increases; he could easily add more dollars so as not to pit teacher salaries against school facilities needs; but he has taken this course as a means of highlighting that Boston schools  cannot simply continue business a usual. Walsh plans a huge capital spending program by which 126 old and energy inefficient schools will be consolidated into 90 new, efficient, larger schools. In addition, he says that once his school consolidation program is established, he will support legislation increasing the number of charter schools — a position bitterly opposed by public school advocates.

Lastly, Walsh has transformed the way City hall and Boston’s citizenry interact about City development. The community review meetings that have been a staple of BRA procedure for decades — and which have become, basically, a forum for opposition only — is being overtopped by ImagineBoston2030, an entirely online review process in which the City seeks citizen comment directly, as one comments on a facebook post; and tens of thousands of such comments have been received and noted, with many more tens of thousands to come. These thousands of citizens input have outflanked NIMBYism, utterly defeated it; and ImagineBoston is proceeding to its enormously transformative destination apace.

I had no idea at all that Walsh, who in 2013 was a self-declared technology newbie, would try to entirely remake the way the City wields its powers — much less that he would succeed, as he clearly has. To get to that, Walsh had to replace his top old-line staffers with a handful of pure technocrats, one of whom, Daniel Koh, is his chief of staff and, to all intents, the most powerful person in City government other than Walsh himself. But can there be much doubt that what helped bring GE to Boston was seeing that City Hall is run on technology principles ? That it has full command of City process ?

As I see it now, Walsh really had little choice but to adopt the method he has chosen. Had he continued to run an old-line City with old-line people — many of them many friends, people passionately dedicated to Boston improvement and to Walsh personally — he would probably have found his changes cornered by forces of status quo at least as shrewd as his own staff. The debacle of Boston 2024 showed just how effective an opposition could be to Walsh using only traditional methods. These, he has now set aside. City Planning by means of Internet Power is proceeding on a front far too broad to be opposed effectively and by means far too expensive for any opposition group to afford or commit to. Mere protests cannot stand against the limitless force of online interface manned 24/7 by City staffers and planners.

Such is the transformed Boston that Mayor Walsh has surprised us with, the City whose pr9ogress he boasted of in h9is second State of the City address. Get used to it; Walsh’s Boston is not your parents’ city; not at all.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




joe boncore

^ probably the least disappointing of a field that will not establish the non-partisan reform politics our District needs

—- —- —-

Those voters of the First Suffolk and Middlesex Senate District who were hoping for an entirely new paradigm (and our District seems ripe to build one) will have to wait longer, probably a lot longer. A great opportunity has been missed.

I say this because the field of candidates looks complete, and none of them offers the change that our District is ready for, and which I very much wanted.

Our District should be the premier Governor Baker district in the immediate Boston region. Baker carried 27 of its 46 precincts in 2014 and would probably carry many more today. His reforms — and his approach to state governance and finance generally — comport well with our District’s majority. Until 2 AM this morning I thought that we had a candidate who would carry the Baker message — a few other positions, too, not precisely Baker’s — and establish a solid ground game in East Boston, Revere, the North End, Chinatown, Beacon Hill, and Winthrop to assure reform politics local staying power. Now that will not happen.

The candidate whose campaign I encouraged and signed up for would have run as an independent, on May 10th, facing one opponent, not six, and thereby assuring the District of a palpable contrast : reform unlimited by party schemes, versus party schemes limiting reform.

That was going to be our bottom line message to the voters, and my candidate had the clout and the fund-raising prowess to be taken very seriously by voters who do not have time for being toyed with. We had made all the connections, him and me, and we were ready to cast aside, for our District, the old limitations that have diminished the significance of politics for most of our District’s voters. And we had lined up plenty of support to do it with.

My candidate has very legitimate family obligations that have cancelled his run. I fully understand. This is how it is in politics. Some can run, some cannot. Campaigning is a sacrifice, a huge one. Some can make it, most cannot.

The result, however, for our District is that we have six candidates who represent the same old. Some are purely factional candidates riding a Democratic party ripple. Others seem personally factional — again, entirely within the Democratic party. Others are motivated by a local rivalry even less edifying.

If you’re an activist Democrat, you’re probably happy to ride six ripples of a rave.

However, if you are a voter merely, who goes to work in the evening, or early before sunrise; or who is retired and at home; or who is young and looking forward to graduating school or college and looking for employment — if you look to your State Senator to advance your needs, and to make government work efficiently for you and to prioritize services for the good of all; if you are any of these, you will almost certainly look at the six and shrug.

Do I really care if the “progressives” call the shots inside the Democratic party, as two of the candidates are vying for ? Frankly, most of the elected “progressives” I follow spend their online time sniping at Governor Baker’s reforms and generally being an unhelpful nuisance. The top “progressive” calls home a precinct carried by Governor Baker, even though he, the “leader,” actively supported Baker’s opponent.

Two others of the candidates seem to be acting out a local rivalry that entertains me a whole lot but which is even less edifying to the voter in me than the “progressives” thing.

Another candidate has gained some duende by having the name of a very prominent, highly expert, properly respected Democrat attached to the back side of her marvelous graphics. Other than that, however, I see nothing in her campaign beyond touting the next Democratic party caucus.

There’s one candidate who seems freer than the others of small time rivalries, who is not hopelessly handcuffed by Democratic party insiderism, and, so far as I can tell, not afflicted with short term stutter. Yet even he gives no indication of readiness for the reform platform I wanted our District to build — and is in no position, running in the Democratic primary, to build it. He is probably the least limited of the six partisans, but why should our District settle for the least handcuffed of the handcuffed ?

This is not to say that the six are bad people. I know four of them well (another one somewhat) and like them. I just find their candidacies to be, in one way or another, business as usual.

Our State Senator should be chosen by ALL the voters, not just those whose fingerprints have a “D” in them. That is how we choose our Governors. It’s how we chose Charlie Baker, the most broadly appealing, almost universally effective Governor of recent times. Our State Senator should be chosen in the same way, by the same voters.

Only all the voters can be counted on to respond to an agenda diverse in its responses, innovative, marvelously inconsistent as is life. It is a shame that that will not now happen in the First Suffolk and Middlesex.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ of course low-paid, at will employees are scared and organizing. Wouldn’t you ?

—- —- —-

The current presidential campaign makes clear to all of us why unions are important and, in most cases, a social plus as well as an economic one.

Wage employees have every reason to worry about job security. Most are very replacable — those who are hard to replace can negotiate an individual contract and thereby acquire well protected rights. Replaceable workers, however, have no such bargain chip. Without the contract protection afforded them only by a union, most can be fired at any time. In law they’re called “at will employees.” and the will involved is the manager’s, not the worker’s.

At-will work is bad work by any standard. What good comes of work done by employees harassed, insecure, distracted, paid little, given no rights ? Those who advocate at-will work see workers wrongly, as a burden and a cost; whereas in fact workers are an enterprise’s most valuable assets.

At-will work is the goal, however, of the hedge speculators who today treat firms as trading blocks.

The existence of this threat is why replaceable workers try to act as a group, by organizing a union, whose leadership then negotiations job terms on behalf of all. Is the power accorded to replaceable workers by unions burdensome for employers ? Some think it is; but why ? I do0n’t think it’s hard to find the reason. Today’s large enterprises — unions only make sense at large ones — are often owned, or pressured, by short term speculators looking yo squeeze value out of the business by various stock market mean and then move on.  Stock market pressures force managements to lay off employees wherever possible, in mergers especially, where the objective is to maximize standardization. Is it any wonder that workers at such enterprises worry about their jobs, their benefits, their pensions ?

Case in point : three or four months ago I saw a lot of angry support for Trump among workers here in Boston.l Then Hillary Clinton came to Faneuil hall and announced a huge, $ 550 billion infrastructure spending plan — a ton of great jobs for the Building Trades folks. Not a peep of worker support for Trump have I seen since.

If we had capitalism in our economy, rather than the current arbitrage dynamic, owners would create long term plans and hold to them, for years and years. Long term planning also places high value on worker retention — turnover is costly and a distraction. In a long-term capitalist economy, workers organized in a union have strong reason to accommodate to managements, as do the Auto Workers; as do the big unions of German big business.

That’s the easy part. Harder by far is the plight of the replaceable worker in an arbitrage economy. She never knows whether her job will still be hers or even if the company she works for will continue to exist. Hardest of all is the situation faced by a worker who has had a secure job in the capitalist economy we used to have, only to find that he now works at the mercy of his firm’s new, arbitrage owners. Of course he is frustrated and angry.

Such a worker has only two choices : one, to be angry and scared and to blame those he sees competing for his arbitraged job; or, second, to help organize a union. The first response is the way of Trump. The second is being done by retail and fast food workers, home health aides, airport workers, hotel workers, and laborers.

Union activists are angry, too; at least that is often how we the public sees them. They have to be, in order to get noticed; nice guy behavior doesn’t get management’s attention. However, as I see it, better by far the organized, confident anger of union members than the anarchic, scared anger of arbitraged non-union workers.

I also happen to believe that the outcome of union activity is better by far than the result of at-will work. Unions bargain much higher wages and benefits for their members than most employers accord to at-will hires. (There are exceptions, thank goodness.) And workers confident of their jobs and their earnings act and vote with much greater stability and discretion than the scared, insecure workers who have flocked to the professional wrestling-type braggadocio of Trump.

All of the above are why I generally support and encourage worker unionization. To which I take two exceptions only : first, most unions are not good at reform. They’re too invested in the hard-fought bargains made to take a chance on re-opening these for change. Second, unions sometimes do abuse their market power, and a few abuse their members. To the second of these, the NLRB has remedial enforcement powers. The first exception, we see happening with public worker unions, as these adjust — often badly — to major structural reforms that often become way overdue because of union resistance. But the fact of these two critiques does not override the larger fact : that well-run unions almost always strengthen a capitalist economy.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere