THE CITY COUNCIL’S BAD ADVENTURE

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^ Barcelona’s “Consell de Cent” — 750 years since its founding; one year term, scant pay. But it works. Why is Boston’s Council moving in the opposite direction ?

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Boston’s City Council has just voted to extend its term of office from two to four years. The vote was 12 to one. Only Council President Michelle Wu voted “no.”

The proposal has no chance; the Mayor has to OK it, and then it must gain a majority vote from each branch of the legislature and be signed by the Governor. Not damn likely.

Nonetheless, the proposal is a very, very bad one. Were it to pass, it would, in this age of citizen activism, almost guarantee frequent ballot referenda; maybe even recall elections. The Council argues that the interim election, in years when the mayor is not up for re-election, is expensive and useless, considering the small turnout of voters. Yet were the Council be unanswerable to the voters for four years, there might easily be MORE elections, not less.

As for the argument of expense — to the taxpayers — if taxes are not a duty when used to pay for holding elections, when are they a duty ? Elections are the basic DNA of democracy; fewer elections, less democracy. We probably can’t have elections every year, as city councils almost always did 100 years ago and more, but two years seems a good compromise between constant elections and rare. Two years to take a time out and seek voter approval, or not, of the Council’s record of…whatever.

City Councils, in the Western world, began almost 1000 years ago. Councillors, mostly merchants, artisans and workmen, were active, numerous, and termed to one year at a time. That’;s how it was throughout Europe, where the idea of having city leaders govern themselves took hold.

Perhaps Boston’s Council does need reform. Make it bigger — 25 members, as it was before the 1909 Charter Change, pay the members half of what they make now, and give them 18 month terms. Barcelona’s 13th Century “Consell de Cent” had, as its name states, 100 members. As an institution it lasted for 400-odd years and is back in business again. Venice’s Council lasted even longer. Why not have a Council of 100 in Boston, paid a lot less and drawn by design from artisans, workmen, and merchants ?

It’s also laughable that the Council speaks o expense where elections are concerned but is oh-so-ready to demand more and more taxpayer money for a Boston Schools budget that is already way too obese with inefficiencies, redundancy, and feather beddings. Our Schools Budget holds probably $ 115 million of excess poundage, but somehow that;s OK, while the approximately $ 1,000,000 cost of an election is “expensive.”

Who makes these decisions in the Council’s chambers ? Are they really that tone deaf ? That contradictory ? Do they think the voters of Boston are fools ?

I think the answers to those questions are ( 1 ) rogues ( 2 ) yes and ( 3 ) yes.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

ARE WE “TWO AMERICAS” ?


Click the map to create your own at 270toWin.com

^ towards a new political alignment based on policy, not ideology, in other words, with the existential divisions mostly resolved

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Much has been written these past couple years about there now being “two Americas” rather than one. There is some truth to the observation, but much more falsity in it. Those who look at legislation adopted, or partisan preference, look at mostly superficial or passing evidence. Legislation gets enacted because certain interest groups enjoy paramount power. But they won’t always have it. Circumstances change. In a nation as dynamic as ours, they change fast. We may not think so, because the current two-America politics has held sway since the 2000 election at least. I understand that for Americans, seeking overnight answers to everything, might find 16 years an eternity. It is not.

Two concerns currently divide America : ( 1 ) should religion be able to impose its beliefs on public law ? and ( 2 ) should economic inequality be relieved by enacting wage and union organizing laws, and should foreign trade be more or less free or subject to protective tariff ? Of these two areas of division, the more lasting is the second. There has never been, nor likely will ever be, general agreement on how best to regulate the nation’s economy. The history of these economic debates shows, however, that it is a policy division, not a societal one. The only reason that it looks societal is that supporters of each side has come into coalition with a side of the other division.

This, we already know. Commentators have for years now noted and analyzed the present coalitions of economic and societal. What I want to propose are that those two coalitions cannot last much longer, and that when they cease, our national politics — and electoral map — will change dramatically; and that the change will be a good thing.

Societies change before their politics reflects the changes. The political cleavages in place today took 30 years to develop. Organizing special interests for efficient focus on political structure can’t be accomplished in a week or a year.Thus the political organizing that determined the current “two Americas” represents social situations of 30 years ago and more. The leaders are no longer young; some are quite elderly. So are their core followers. Meanwhile, the societies of “red” states currently organized as such have changed quite a bit. Leadership of political churches is changing; of “pro-life” movements; of those who think same sex marriage a sin and thus unlawful. The demographics of “red” states are changing, too. Georgia, Arizona, even South Carolina and Utah, are becoming rapidly less white, or younger, or both; and among people of color, or young, or recent immigration, the “red state”: beliefs are alien.

I see the present intensity of political cleavage as, one the one side, acts of desperation seeking to prevent, or delay, inevitables. But the politics of delay or avoid never work. In a democracy, demography is indeed destiny. On the “blue” state side, the prospects look far less dire. Because they lack well organized “red state” interests, most “blue” states have adopted a politics reflecting demographic changes that have long since taken place.

In “blue” states, the big battle is the economic fight; and that is a matter of policy, not ideology. Business is a practical matter, not a creed; such ideology as there has been in the economic sphere — and for 100 years there was a mighty fight indeed — was resolved by 1989 at the latest, mostly long before that. Because the battles in “blue”: states are policy fights, not credal, and because business is not a temporary, lifestyle matter, “blue” state” voters have fought about ideas, not existentials; and ideas are tools, not identity. Blue state fights debate not who you are but how you are going to pay the rent.

The fights about economic matters – minimum wage, pay scales, stock market reform, union organizing, corporate tax rates and credits, the size of banks, trade pacts — will hardly be simple or polite. But no one in them will question the existential rights of anyone else. We have had fights of this sort all through our history. The Constitution represents for the most part one compromise concerning them. But we live in one economy; that is what the Constitution established.

The politics of who you are, and whether or not who you are is legitimate, I see ending soon; there will be less and less “values voters.” Which means that the politics of all our states will became politics of policy, not ideology; of paying the rent. When that happens, the color of the 50 states on Presidential election maps will change quite dramatically. And we will be one America again.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

SIGNIFICANT WIN FOR US ALL

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^ hard at work : Keiko Orrall prepares her speech to the GOP state committee at last night’s meeting, where she was elected National CommitteeWoman

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At the organization meeting last night, of Massachusetts’s Republican State Committee, Governor Baker’s candidate for National CommitteeWoman, State Representative Keiko Orrall, was elected by a vote of 41 to 37. The vote was close, as expected. In his campaign to secure a majority of the State Committee’s 80 members, Baker and his campaign team enjoyed only modest success. Yet modest proved enough to win last night’s big test.

Orrall outvoted the sitting National CommitteeWoman, Chanel Prunier. Most of my readers probably have no idea who Prunier is, or why a GOP National CommitteeWoman has any importance beyond party business. I’m going now to try to convince you that Orrall’s win over Prunier is very important:

First, Orrall is an elected State Representative; Prunier is a paid consultant to one or more advocacy groups which oppose marriage equality, LGBT civil rights, and, in some cases, women’s rights to control their won reproductive decisions (often described as “pro life”). Orrall, as a legislator, represents all the voters in her District; Prunier represents only her advocacy group. Should a political party be responsible to all the voters, or to an interest group ? For me, the decision is clear : a political party owes a duty to all the voters.

Second, the National CommitteeWoman sits on the GOP’s national committee and helps direct a national GOP agenda. Having an inclusive realist on the national committee rather than an interest group consultant benefits the party’s appeal beyond its base.

Thirdly, the change from Prunier to Orrall assures voters in Massachusetts that the Republican party seeking their votes values all voters equally, and their views on all the issues. You would think that would not need saying: but in the Prunier world, it was a principle overridden.  That Prunier’s advocacy also happens to be rejected by the overwhelming majority of Massachusetts voters adds injury to insult.

The Prunier approach elects a small minority of our 200 legislators at the expense of surrendering all the rest. It’s a politics of assured defeat.

During the 10 years of Prunier’s political ascendancy, she certainly played a major role in raising the number of GOP legislators from teens to the current 34. But at the same time, she pitted members of her advocacy groups against other GOP hopefuls, in primary fights that guaranteed defeat for all. Hers was NOT a policy of party building.

Keiko Orrall was one of the people whom Prunier recruited for candidacy; and at the time, the then inexperienced Orrall thanked Prunier for her help. That thanks became an issue in the National CommitteeWoman contest. Orrall was accused of disloyalty to the woman who had helped her to win a House seat. But I think that, over the years since, Orrall saw that Prunier’s “help” came at a huge price to the overall party prospect.

The party platform that Prunier and her state committee allies enacted in 2014 musdt have been the last straw to political realists like Orrall. It embraced all of Prunier’s advocacy group agenda, seriously embarrassing the Baker for Governor campaign. Gay voters, and supporters of women’s reproductive rights, major components of the Republican Party’s Governor campaigns since Bill Weld’s 1990 run, turned away; some came back as Baker made very clear his support for women’s reproductive rights and marriage equality; but others did not come back. On election day, Baker did win, but by less than two percent of the vote.

Baker and his running mate Karyn Polito obviously resolved that this situation could not continue; thus the long campaign to gain a majority of state committee members and to win the contest that was finally won last night. Significant public policy consequences ensue. Baker can move forward on all fronts without having to worry that he will face dogged opposition within his own party structure. He now has the kind of control of his own power base that Speaker DeLeo holds in the House.

His hand to negotiate an agenda is much stronger today than it was a few months ago.To all who want the Baker reforms to continue and to succeed, it is hugely important that Baker now holds a stronger hand to deal.

Finally, there’s a lesson in all of this that Masachusetts Republicans dare not overlook. Prunier and the advocacy groups who pay her were able to take over a party small in number, even empty of numbers in many places, and to exploit its smallness to their advantage. They were able to gain control of the party’s very structure and, mostly, to make the party an interest group : their interest group. That it has taken a sitting Governor with 70 percent-plus favorable ratings to defeat — narrowly — this takeover shows just how successful the Prunier venture has been.

There is one note of caution in last night’s Baker win:  it reasserts the primacy of the Governor in a party that has been oriented to winning only that office since 1990, and very successful at it. It is far from clear how the Baker, Polito, and Keiko Orrall party leadership can expand the party’s registered numbers beyond the current 11 percent or increase the party’s legislative numbers past the present one in five. Party enrollment is mostly determined by the big, national picture : and in Massachusetts, only Donald Trump, toxic to almost everyone, has shown ability to bring non Republican voters into the party.

There is also the paradox that, were Republican numbers to increase significantly, Democrats would become less willing to support Republican candidates for Governor. Right now, many Democrats are glad to become part of Baker’s team, because they, too, aren’t altogether happy with unchecked legislative power. Most legislators are chosen in party primaries with maybe 15 percent of all voters voting. In that small a turnout, vested interests can — and do — control the outcome, preventing needed reforms. We see this right now in the charter school cap lift fight, where teachers’ unions and their allies prevent charter cap expansion — overwhelmingly favored by the voters — because they can dictate to legislators elected in small voter turnouts. Thus many Democrats support Republican candidates for Governor, as a “whoa !” against control of the legislature by vested interests these Democrats dislike but cannot defeat in primaries.

These Democratic activists know that a Republican Governor whose support vote comes 75 to 85 percent from non-Republicans is answerable first to them, and that he knows it. Electing him has, in their minds, the right policy significance but is no threat to overall Democratic dominance of our state. If the new GOP state leadership succeeds at enrollment expansion, the election of Republican Governors could become more difficult, not less.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

1ST SUFFOLK & MIDDLESEX : JAY LIVINGSTONE OUR 1ST CHOICE; RIZZO & EDWARDS NEXT

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^ State Senate candidate Jay Livingstone with wife Julie and son Henry James at a Winthrop meet & greet

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No election that we at Here and Sphere have covered has been as difficult to evaluate as the seven-candidate contest to pick a successor to Anthony Petrucelli, who resigned in January as the District’s Senator. All seven candidates would give the District’s voters solid representation. But voters can only choose one; and so must we. Our choice is Jay Livingstone, who serves presently as Boston Ward 5’s Representative in the House.

This was not the choice that we expected to make. Livingstone, as a Beacon Hill / Back Bay legislator, stands well outside the core voter groups this District was drawn to favor and which its predecessor Districts have favored since the 1950s. But campaigns matter, and as this one has developed, Livingstone’s “outsider” situation has changed from disadvantage to advantage. That advantage, which I shall outline below, is the first reason why we endorse him.

I’m referring to a “campaign within the campaign.” Dan Rizzo, who served as Revere’s Mayor, faces off with Joe Boncore, Winthrop Housing Authority member, doing battle over the big-ticket schools issues that are agitating the entire state : ( 1 ) should the numbers cap on charter schools be lifted ? ( 2 ) should standard public schools receive more funds, and if so, where from ? Mayor Walsh and Governor Baker have weighed in heavily on Rizzo’s side, because he supports charter cap lift, as do they; meanwhile the Boston Teachers Union, charter schools’ most stubborn opponent, has endorsed Boncore.

The campaign over charter schools and school funding has driven Rizzo’s and Boncore’s campaigns into a corner — one that their intense, District-wide campaigning has not remedied. Schools issues are certainly major — to us at Here and Sphere as well; yet they’re hardly the only priority the District’s Senator must legislate. On these other issues, it’s far from clear where Rizzo or Boncore stand, or the priority that they will accord to : immigrant rights, the $ 15 minimum wage, additional opioid addiction legislation, MBTA reform, and state budget discipline. (Boncore’s BTU endorsement strongly suggests he will seek new taxes for a system that needs to cut costs, not expand them. On “just cause” eviction, a Boston matter, Boncore is clearly opposed [as are we], Rizzo hesitates, so far, to commit.)

The BTU contract is up for renegotiation right now; last thing Mayor Walsh needs is for the BTU to claim, at the outset of this negotiation, victory for its candidate in an election affecting four of Boston’s key neighborhoods.

Livingstone, meanwhile, has been free to talk, convincingly, about all sorts of legislative matters big and small; and he has done so, at Forum after Forum, with cool competence that demonstrates knowledge of issues and process. He has also amassed a sizeable army of volunteers, most of them quite new to local politics, but also some revered local families : people not consumed by one issue, nor swept into the tribal vortex of Rizzo versus Boncore — so reminiscent, to many, of the Mike LoPresti – Mario Umana grudge matches that divided this District not all that long ago. From Revere and Winthrop to the North End and East Boston, the Livingstone people I have met see him as I see him : comprehensively competent  and hard working.

The second reason that we endorse Jay Livingstone : he is the candidate most demonstrably committed to Governor Baker’s reforms. In the legislature this past year, Livingstone has voted for all of Baker’s major legislation : MBTA Reform, including the creation of a Fiscal Control Board and suspension of the so-called “Pacheco Law”; opioid addiction treatment; repeal of automatic driver license suspension for people convicted of drug use crimes; increased DCF staffing / funding;  and, biggest of all, both the FY 2016 and FY 2017 state budgets, including the “no new taxes, no new fees” criterion insisted upon.

Given his record to date, Livingstone could be a more reliable supporter of Governor Baker’s state governance reforms than Dan Rizzo, who although he does support charter school cap lift, does not, in Forums, always argue its case with as much conviction, or accuracy, as he could.

For both these reasons — his solid record of support for Governor Baker’s state reforms and budget principles, and his commitment to, and knowledge of, a variety of major legislative matters, we are proud to endorse Jay Livingstone to be the District’s next state Senator.

And what of the other six candidates ?

( 1 ) Of them, we have already discussed two. If schools reforms are the only mission that you will vote on, we urge a vote for Dan Rizzo: because we, too, support charter schools cap lift. It should also matter to schools-issue voters that Rizzo has the Governor’s confidence. That is no small matter in a District that enjoys strong ties to Baker politically and benefits from it.

( 2 ) As for the other four candidates, we would like to see their campaigns give voice to interests not so prominent in the big pictures I have outlined above. Of these, the most successful has been Lydia Edwards, an immigration attorney and East Boston homeowner, whose top priority is to give strong voice to those in the District who are not often heard, or heard at all : immigrants and low income workers. Those who operate the levers of political power in Massachusetts count votes ruthlessly; a sizeable vote for Lydia Edwards will convince the power people that there’s a constituency in this District that needs much more policy attention paid to it.

This is not to say that Diana Hwang, Paul Rogers and, to a lesser extent, Steve Morabito have not highlighted significant interests. They have. Hwang and Rogers both represent a new breed of technology-centered candidates using social media networking as a tool for policy progress. Yet I see this sort of campaign as a priority for a future time, not now. For now, the tried and true avenues to policy discussion and implementation hold sway, and in that venue, Jay Livingstone has the greatest command. For most voters in the District, he is the best choice.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

 

 

A STEP BACKWARDS ON SCHOOLS REFORM

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^ nice try, but no thanks : Senators Rosenberg, Spilka, and Chang-Diaz propose a charter schools “compromise” that makes things worse for them, not better

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The State Senate is proposing a Charter Schools bill that it calls a “compromise.” What say ? If I read it correctly, it makes the present inadequate charter schools situation worse, not better. Here’s the bill as it reads today. You make up your own mind whether I’m right or not : https://malegislature.gov/Bills/189/Senate/S2203

The Senate ways and Means proposal is titled “An Act enhancing reform, innovation and success in education.” Nice phrase, typical lavender word-wash. As I read the bill, its primary purpose is to commit the State to allocating $ 1.4 billion of state aid, every year, to each of our state’s numerous public schools districts. In exchange for said money kiss, the bill will authorize additional charter schools without a number limit, but only on condition that all charter schools agree to ( a ) add teachers and parents to their executive board and ( b ) suspend students at a rate no greater than the suspension rate in such school district as the charter school at issue is located.

Condition ( a ) sounds reasonable; but adding teachers and parents to a charter school board is likely to render its decisions more cautious than now, which is the opposite of what school reform needs. Condition ( b ) is simply a deal breaker. It is no business of the state, or anyone, how a charter school decides upon student discipline.

If Condition ( b ) were not already impossible to agree to, the $ 1.4 billion commitment would do the trick. How can the state commit funds it may not have ? Or is the Senate anticipating passage of the so-called “millionaire’s tax” referendum that will be voted at the November election ? That referendum calls for earmarking the anticipated tax revenue to school funding. It is sneaky of the Senate to try to lock into place revenues the voters have yet to agree to, in hopes that voters, knowing that the :ear marked” funds — which never do get earmarked — will in fact be committed to, thereby juicing the “yes” vote on this short-sighted tax grab.

Even if the referendum passes, and the $ 1.4 billion becomes available, is it in fact needed ? Critics of charter schools say that every student that a school district loses to charter schools lowers the amount of state aid it receives. MGL c. 70 offers a compensation formula for that “lost” state aid; but it makes no sense at all. If a district loses, say, 1000 students to charter schools, that’s 1000 less students it has to pay to educate. A district that loses students to charter schools should need LESS money, not more.

Boston’s Schools Budget — the subject of much parent and student rancor — is rife with inefficiencies, under-utilizations, and work rule anomalies that put a high price tag on absurdity. It requires not compensation, but drastic cost reforms. Mayor Walsh and his Education Chief, Rahn Dorsey are working out a ten year plan that will eliminate much of that waste. Why should the state now give Walsh an “aid” bath in which to sing money lullabies to waste ?

A major reason why we see steps backward such as this one, rather than forward, is because most members of the legislature are elected in party primaries with maybe 15 percent of all voters voting. Vested interests almost always control such small turnout elections, assuring that major reforms cannot get done unless there’s a huge public outcry as happened to the MBTA.

What the State should do — would do, if legislators had to face all the voters, not just 15 percent — in the matter of schools reform is to authorize Fiscal Control Boards, similar to the board now overseeing and managing the MBTA’s budget, so that waste and absurdity can be shaved down. Is there any doubt that nothing less than a fully empowered FCB is going to do the trick, given the resistance by vested schools interests to getting their dollars straight ?

Meanwhile, the Senate’s proposal does contain one positive feature : unified school enrollment. Mayor Walsh is already putting unified enrollment — charters and standard public schools all on the same lottery offer to parents — into place in Boston. The state would do well to authorize unified enrollment for all public school districts.

But not in the current proposal, please. I say this to Senators Rosenberg and Spilka : go back to square one, meet with Governor Baker, and give us charter schools  reform, not charter schools vitiated.

Thank you.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere