2 Speaker DeLeo3 Cha Baker

^ allies even though neither can admit it : the two men who dominate Massachusetts state politics today : Speaker DeLeo and GOP governor candidate Charlie Baker

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No one should have been surprised to see Don Berwick, the most vocally progressive Democratic candidate, win 15 percent of the Democratic convention vote last Saturday. The surprise was that he won much more : a full 22 percent, only one point behind second place finisher Attorney general Martha Coakley, who leads all polls but whom activists remain skeptical of and rightly so).

Berwick now commands a solid position in the Democratic field. Fringe he may once have been seen. No longer. He continues to win power endorsements, adding State Senators Ken Donnelly and Dan Wolf to his list. Wolf would have been a leading candidate himself, had the state’s Ethics Commission not caved his candidacy (as you may recall). His endorsement of Berwick will certainly matter for the Democrats’ September primary.

Berwick is surging because Democrats of an ideological bent want to be heard and felt and listened to. Progressives, as they style themselves, see that the state’s legislative leadership — all of it Democratic — does not share their concerns or support their agenda and that that leadership has the power to snuff progressive voices out. Time and time again i have heard progressive Democrats complain — bitterly — about “the legislative leadership,’ by which, of course, they mean Speaker Robert DeLeo. Berwick is the progressives’ answer to what they see as DeLeo’s shutting them out.

The current Speaker is definitely no progressive. His constituency is business. That and traditional labor, but business first of all. It’s about the money. Business interests have the ear of Speaker DeLeo — a fact he does not try to hide. As such, he is no friend of tax increases; when Governor Patrick last year called for $ 2 billion in new revenue for his Transportation Bill, the DeLeo-led House gave him $ 500 million, and that grudgingly.

That said, DeLeo’s business friendly agenda is no departure at all from the priorities of past speakers who, if anything, have been even more conservative than he.

In a state as Democratic voting as Massachusetts, business interests cannot afford to be exclusively, even primarily, Republican. Business has huge money to spend on lobbying its agendas, and it does so. Almost always, these past 25 years, business lobbying has dominated both the governor and the Speaker — the State’s two most powerful elected offices. In few states, if any, does the partnership between state government and local business go this far this successfully. Significantly that’s because a large portion of the state’s well-paying jobs, in building trades, health care, and education, arise from state government funds and legislation. In Massachusetts, the interests of business coincide with the interests of a great many wage earners and salaried people, and these people dominate the ranks of our state’s political activists. it’s no surprise at all that the current Democratic governor campaign has concentrated on the upper income suburbs of Boston and on the City’s highest income wards.

Unfortunately for Speaker deLeo, the state’s high-income voters (and some of its businesses are not uniformly as tax-skeptical as he is. Our state’s Progressives inhabit primarily the upper income city wards and suburbs. as such, now that they have hit upon the Governor primary as a vehicle to make themselves seriously felt, Democratic progressives have managed, with Don Berwick, to seriously inconvenience the Speaker and his very powerful legislative and lobbying allies. most of these would, I suspect, like to see Steve Grossman the Democratic nominee. They know him and they believe they can bring him to their side. In this they aren’t wrong. Grossman talks “job creator’ talk so aggressively you’d think he was Mitt Romney.

Yet even Grossman now calls himself “the progressive job creator.’ Obviously he sees himself being gouged from the left.

the division between the DeLeo constituency and the Progressives is causing big problems for Martha Cockney. Who, exactly, are her voters ? certainly not the progressives; almost certainly not the DeLeo people. as i see it, her voters are the non-involved, people who know her name and he work as Attorney General and not much else. Will that work in a Primary, in which the involved vote big time, the less involved not so much ? maybe so; because Coakley is the only woman in the race, and she polls very strongly with women voters. But we will see.

Meanwhile, as the Democrats split between progressives and DeLeo-ites, Charlie Baker is presenting a campaign perfectly attuned to alliance with DeLeo on business interests and also with DeLeo on labor issues. it is axiomatic in Massachusetts that only a Republican governor has a power base independent enough to face the Speaker on equal terms. the Progressives tally about 25 to 33 percent of Democrats, maybe 15-20 percent of all voters; much less than Charlie Baker’s 30-32 percent core.) Beyond the axiomatic, however, is baker’s current campaign, in which support for a $ 10.50 minimum age — the nation’s highest — is accompanied by expanding the earned income tax credit and initiating some tax credits to corporations for hiring welfare recipients and offsets to the wage hike. if you read Baker’s plan — see the link below ** — you’ll find it remarkably like what Speaker deLeo wants to enact. What is more, baker is having success bringing city voters to his side, communities of color included and several ethnic communities. He’s doing it in Boston and in Worcester and in Lynn, next door to his home town of Swampscott. Baker’;s Lynn campaign has drawn no media attention at all, but recently he has held several Lynn rallies at which hundreds of folks — mostly communities of color and immigrants — have gathered. Lynn is usually a 7500 vote victory for a democrat. I think Baker will carry Lynn this time. A 7500 vote turn around isn’t that big, but it is significant of Baker’s concentration upon Essex County generally : his home base, and one that he is pushing hard to win, as he probably must.

** Link to Charlie baker’s economic plan :

Some Democrats want to compare baker’s campaign to that of Scott Brown in 2012. The comparison is false. The Baker campaign is sui generis and quite ground breaking ion its unification of many voter groups who have much in common that has not been attended to by our state;s governor campaigns since at least 1994 if ever. While the Democrats split, the baker campaign unifies. i suspect that Speaker DeLeo is quite happy to see it. Nov ember’s result is beginning to take shape.

—- Mike Freedberg / here and Sphere


graph of minimum

An economy benefits best when almost everyone participates in it — the greater the participation, the better. The more customers a business has, the greater its revenue. The more money those customers have, the greater still.

This is not rocket science. it’s obvious. If a business can’t sell its products or services to customers because customers can’t afford to buy, that business is going nowhere. Some businesses sell only specialty goods or services that most people don’t need or want : yet these businesses, too, don’t want to see potential customers lacking money to buy.

For some reason, these basic facts of economy don’t seem to register with some businesses, or with their political mouthpieces. During the past decade or so we’ve seen an entire political party work overtime to keep money out of the hands of many, many potential customers. Though every statistic makes clear that consumer spending makes up 2/3 of the entire economy, these folks seem to think that the big economic problem is the nation’s budget deficit, or too much Federal spending, or too much intervention by the “Fed.” Exactly the opposite is needed, but these folks have other agendas

Fortunately, the mistaken-ness of this view has no longer anywhere to hide. We are headed, finally, toward a much more participatory economy than we have seen since 2005. Though the Federal government has been blocked from raising the national minimum wage from $ 7.25 an hour to $ 10.10, many states are raising it, some to an amount far higher than $ 10.10. In Massachusetts the new amount will be $ 11.00. The City of Seattle is preparing a rise to $ 15.00 an hour. Service workers are organizing nationwide to gain a $ 15.l00 an hour wage agreement. Some seek a $ 2 per hour wage. I applaud these moves.

Today, minimum wage workers need taxpayer help, via public assistance, to make ends meet. Public assistance provides low-wage employers with a huge perk. McDonald’s alone sucks $ 1 billion out of taxpayers’ pockets to pay workers what the company refuses to pay. Why should we subsidize this sort of thing ? We shouldn’t, and it looks now as though we won’t have to do so much longer.

Advocacy groups are beginning to focus on how quick-buck traders and maximize-profits money pools force publicly traded companies to cut workers’ wages, or keep them low; to view employees as a “cost item” rather than  what they are : a company’s major asset — and, basically, to squeeze corporate assets out of the corporate treasury and into their trade pockets.

Advocacy groups see these trading moves for what they are : liquidation, not prosperity.

Advocacy groups also are drawing attention to unfair labor practices, outsourcing and layoffs, denial of benefits, opposition to paid maternity leave or sick days, and outright theft of mandated overtime pay laws.

Progressive Democrats are beginning to organize an economic fairness agenda that encompasses all of the above reforms as well as pay equity for women, living wage laws, labor law enforcement, and reforms to the nation’s credit card regulations, bank fees, and bank deposit trading practices.

Just as important, more employers — including publicly traded major corporations — are starting to implement high-wage strategies, understanding that well-paid employees are loyal, motivated, healthier, and more innovative. All of which stimulate an economy.

I welcome all these moves and much more.

minimum wage

At $ 22.00 an hour, workers even in expensive cities like Boston could pay their bills without any taxpayer subsidy — freeing up that tax money to pay for vital public services such as education, transportation, and energy conversion, or even for a tax cut which would put more money in taxpayers’ budgets. At $ 22.00 an hour, workers could even do some discretionary spending that they can’t even contemplate now : buying a new car, a new cell phone, new furnishings for the home or apartment, summer camp for the kids, dining out at a restaurant, a night at the theater. All of which spends money into the economy, into businesses.

We call this state of things “prosperity.”

Prosperity does NOT mean an economy in which a few get rich and everyone else barely makes it. That is an economy of scarcity, not abundance.

The most pressing policy push in America today is to reward all work with sufficient pay to make work worth while, to give workers confidence in their work, to get them spending and free of public assistance. Even $ 22.00 an hour adds up only to $ 880 a week, pre-tax. That’s $ 3440 a month; even that sum is far from enough to pay basic bills if one lives in a city as expensive as Boston; but a two-income family at that level earns $ 6880 a month, and that is enough to pay basic bills even in Boston. Indeed, it’s enough to allow at least. some discretionary spending, even some savings.

At $ 15.00 an hour, a two-income family will earn $ 4800 a month — 35 percent of which, at least, will go to rent alone. A $ 4800 family won’t need public assistance, and, if no bad things befall, will pay basic bills, though with no margin for error. Is there some reason why our society can’t value work — all work — at least this much ?

A minimum wage of $ 15.00 seems local-option only. In smaller or less expensive cities, such a minimum wage might be too high. But I can think of nowhere that the proposed Federal minimum of $ 10.10 is not vitally needed.

It is going to happen.

The only reason that our economy continued to grow robustly after about 1975 was the introduction of credit cards., which offered consumers quick buying power. By 2007, consumer credit card balances comprised 20 percent of America’s entire GDP. (Yes, I said 20 percent.) Trillions of plastic money debt dollars enabled all kinds of businesses to grow enormously. It was fun while it lasted, but it was a false economy, and it has ended. Since 2008 consumers have been paying down credit card debt down fast enough to shave a full one percent off the nation’s GDP : 240 billion dollars a year. No wonder our economy is growing so slowly.

Paying workers the level of wage that I am advocating is a far solider, stabler way of growing the economy than inducing workers to borrow credit card debt. wage money is theirs. it does not have to be paid back. Our economy should never count credit card spending as a growth indicator. Growth comes from wages and income spent by those whose money it is. There can be no worthier national policy than to assure every working person sufficient money of his or her own to go about life a free agent.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere