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^ the new unionism : SEIU members raising up


The first significant signs of a new alignment of American politics are already apparent.

Even as the Tea Party and its corporate enablers roar through many “red” states, and even as marriage equality takes hold as the law of all states, new civil rights battles are coming to the fore as well as new economic urgencies.

Free-for-all banking is crashing to the ground as huge financial institutions rely, almost always unsuccessfully, on low level staffs with huge turnover that precludes learning the intricacies of customer service in the age of investment by hedge fund pools and pass-throiugh securities. The future of banking is “go small” : no big bank of today comes close to matching the efficiency and customer service smartness of medium-sized and community banks.

The needs of high-tech and cutting-edge employers for entry-level hires fluent in the basics of programming, math, and reading are pressuring public education to sacrifice common ground for small-unit specialization. This is the motive force behind charter schools, and also the inspiration for opposing common core curriculum standards. Supporters of small, experimental eduction don;t want common standards or a one size fits all school. they want individualized schooling.


that entirely individualized schooling cuts children off from the other great educative principle — citizenship in a common community, Horace Mann’s ideal — is less important to these folks, entirely fixated on securing their children a good career.

I oppose their single mindedness, as do many other Americans in the new politics. It’s a battle that will divide old alliances and is already creating new ones. Witness the coalition that opposes “common core” : right wing Republicans and teachers’ unions.

Income inequality in America has reached a level where it threatens the sustainability of the entire economy. Many states are already taking steps tp remedy this imbalance. Some are raising the minimum wage radically; proposals to raise the minimum wage even higher are taking hold in the most progressive cities. Unions, too — until recently dubbed “obsolete” by some “conservatives” — are finding themselves newly popular and powerful. in the service work world, unions are winning huge wage increases — with more to come — and new unions are being organized for the most basic of worker demands : a living wage and basic benefits.

At the same time, many public sector unions are losing popular support, as more such unions are seen to protect wage packages that bust city budgets, packages for six-figure earnings that look to fall on the tycoon side of income inequality.

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^ SEIU leaders : economic power AND women power

Nor does it help public sector unions that they often stand in the way of system reforms. Big changes are coming in how public education is delivered. Many teachers unions are fighting all these changes rather than getting aboard them; and the larger public — much the same public that supports service worker unions — is noticing and not liking.

American living arrangements are shifting radically. Millerites want to work, live, shop, and play in the downtowns of big cities, and in many cases to do so without cars. Almost all the well-paid young techies live this way; few if any have any interest at all in living in suburbs enduring hour to two-hour commutes to work. Meanwhile the less well paid have no choice bit to move away from Downtown — the farther away, the cheaper the housing — and to endure commutes, while shopping in malls along Interstate highways and socializing via online social media. Meanwhile, within the big cities, neighborhoods are reshaping as mini Downtowns, complete with boutiques, nightclubs, leafy restaurants, and young activists, many of them members of education/commerce co-operatives.

In all of these new living arrangements, personal diversity is the norm. Gay, lesbian, transgender people participate as regularly as anyone else; for millennials, personal lifestyle is no more an issue than one’s hair color or choice of beverage.

These changes read like “blue state America,” but they are also occurring in “red’ states. The difference — if it is one — is religion. In most of “blue” America, religion embraces, or tolerates, people’s choices rather than condemn them; the churches of big cities mostly look outward to the whole world as much as, or more than, they look inward into the individual soul. This orientation has big consequences, and a large future. The same, more or less, is true of churches in “blue’ state suburbs. But even if the churches of “red” stares orient opposite, the economies , education, and living arrangements of “red” states are changing in much the same direction as they are in “blue’ states. nd this too has consequences.

One consequence is that the “angry, old, straight white man” who has embodied right wing populism is fading from the scene, like the hippies of 40 years ago. In his place we find nerdy think tankers, big-stomach gun toters, and — ba-da-bing ! — women and people of color. Because, yes, even the South is becoming less nativist, less male dominant, less white.
The Hispanic population of practically every deep Southern state is growing fast. Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, even Alabama will be 20 percent Hispanic soon — or higher than that. Texas will be majority Hispanic by 2030 at the latest. The populations of these states will be younger, too. And more female, because women are the glue that holds immigrant families together.

Thus we arrive at the biggest change of all : America is rapidly moving toward having a majority of its people being of color. This matters in every way, but right now it most matters because the rights of people of color, and of women, have not been achieved as thoroughly as lifestyle civil rights. After all, gay, lesbian, and transgender people are just as likely to be Caucasian as not. Identity civil rights are this mot a matter of skin color or immigrant status.

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the voice & face of change in the Democratic party : Senator Elizabeth Warren

The rights of people of color, and the rights of immigrants, continue to be an issue. But these will be solved by the change in our population. As for the rights of women, these too may well be secured, finally, as women become more powerful politically by way of their primacy in the newly powerful service worker unions. By far the majority of service workers are women; and as service worker women acquire higher pay and greater political power thereby, so will they — as women and as union leaders — secure the personal, body rights that men take for granted.

It was noted that Hobby Lobby, while denying to its women employees health insurance coverage from some contraception, made no such detail for men’s Viagra. In the new era of financially and union empowered women, that kind of discrimination will become unlawful no matter what the excuse.

Our two political parties are only now beginning to adjust to the new America. The Democratic party has adjusted more quickly ; the new unionism unifies Democratic politics in some places, even as the huge change in education is dividing it. The GOP has changed less ; yet even in the GOP, new voices are working out new responses to the change in education, income inequality, and population shifts. The difference is that change in the Democratic party arises from activists and large interest groups, whereas so far in the GOP it is coming mostly from think tanks. Curious, the asymmetry. We live in a democracy, where voters rule. the Democratic party operates on this principle; the GOP doesn’t — yet. My guess is that the GOP will have to change its ways as radically as the nation is changing — will have to start acting like a party of voters, not of researchers; and to trust the voters, not disdain them — or its recipe will fade from the new America.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



One of the big reasons why I find a Charlie Baker governorship a positive prospect is that he, as a Republican, can get a lot of things done that probably none of the five Democrats can do. Example : the minimum wage rise bill, which the House voted Yea on just this week.

that bill was going nowhere, because Speaker DeLeo insisted on an unemployment insurance give-back that Speaker DeLeo insisted on but which few of the Democratic party’s core groups wanted to give. then, about two months ago, Baker announced that he supported the DeLeo bill and, what was more, would expand the earned income tax credit.

Two weeks ago Baker won the GOP nomination for Governor. Next thing I knew, DeLeo’s minimum wage bill, with its give back, was on the House agenda and was voted Yea 123 to 24. All but one democrat voted Yea.

Can there be any doubt that the House took up the deleo bill when it did, and voted it yea, because the Democrats did not want to cede the Minimum wage rise issue to Baker ? And so the bill now goes to conference, with the DeLeo bill certain to be the final law, because DeLeo has that power and because Baker is waiting.

As for the Democrats, not one, in anhy Forum, would commit to supporting the DeLeo bill — and as DeLeo said, if the legislation didn’t contain his give back, it “wasn’t going very far.’ (his words) Steve Grossman even said that he would veto a bill that included the DeLeo give-back.

Were Baker not in the fight, and taking the minimum wage issue up, can there be any doubt that we would see years of battle between this Democrat and that one ? After all, that’; how it has been for eight years of Governor Patrick’s administration — sometimes effective, often not effective at all, occasionally a disaster.

All that baker has to do is raise one of the state’s many major issues — education reform, driver’s licenses for immigrabts, crinminal justiuce reform, transportatioon funding, reconfiguring the DCF, redoing state government’s technology — in a progressive way, but in line with what Speaker DeLeo will support, and it gets done. Why ? Simple : the Democratic party cannot allow the Massachusetts Republican party to steal its key issues and, with them, key constituencies.

As long as the State’s major challnges remain a striggle within the Democratic party, with a small GOP entirely on the sidelines, little gets done. Enter Baker as Governor, however, working with the Speaker, and suddenly almost all gets done, very quickly.

This is how Massachusetts has been best governed since 1990 at least. It remains true today. The one Democratic governor candidate whom I haven’t yet discarded, Juliette Kayyem — shrewd and brilliant charisma champion that she is — needs to tell me how she can get done stuff that Baker WILL get done.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

below : the one Democratic governor hopeful left standing : Juliette Kayyem



Yesterday I wrote about the Left-ward momentum in the Massachusetts Democratic party and how it was confounding the party’s ability to pick a best Governor nominee. My story felt incomplete, more notion than news. Today I had in mind to dig deeper; to discuss the tremendous surge of activity going on, outside the Boston area Core, under the rubric of the GOP, that confirms, in the opposite direction, the Democrats’ Leftward momentum story. In short, polarization, as we have come to see it in national politics these past six years and more.

Such was my design when, an hour ago, I sat down to read today’s Boston Globe and found on the front page, the following story :

It is not a pleasant story. News that discrimination is invading the political scene never is pleasant. But it supports — gives a sad cast to — my own column, today, about the polarization that bids to take over our state’s politics.

Perhaps it’s a battle we have to fight. We cannot allow the voices of darkness to gain traction. They have already gained plenty. The charlatan talk show hosts, who say outrageous things to get attention and thus ad dollars, have given discrimination and hate legitimacy — with those who either do not see that they’re being had, or who actually believe that their darkest thoughts should become political policy. I suppose that most of us have road rage moments; but most of us also recognize that such squalls of anger augur no good. So it would be, were it not for the talk show thing. But we now have talk show politics; it is not going away, as I — many of us — used to imagine it would. As the economy continues to struggle; as wages for most of us lag while huge money accrues to the very few; as life becomes more diverse and all of that diversity confronts us via social media, a politics has come of age that rejects a future it feels not a part of; a politics of deep pessimism and profound alienation, politics of naked personal fear.

This is the turbine that drives the train of political intensity across Massachusetts’s towns and cities. But the polarization isn’t simply of value judgments. It has a geography. From the outer suburbs of Boston along Route 495 and close inside it and throughout central Massachusetts all the way to the exurbs of Springfield there has arisen a wide swath of towns whose voters reject the politics of the Boston area, reject Boston values, Boston diversity, Boston inclusion and experiment. This circle of towns — maybe 100 in all — is the heartland of the “Tank the Tax’ referendum; of Tea party sentiment; of Republican votes in recent elections. There are towns in this Circle of rejection that gave 20 and 30 point victories to Gabriel Gomez even as he lost last year’s US Senate race to Ed Markey by 10 points. These same towns gave Scott Brown 30 and 40 point victories in his 2010 special election win. And today these towns are generating a large number of Republican candidates for the Beacon Hill legislature — many more such candidates than we’ve usually seen in Massachusetts, with much better funding and a much deeper bench of activist support.

This last development makes the polarization story significant. US Senate elections have their own dynamic. Massachusetts has elected Senators from each party, all the way back to the late 1800s and ever since. But not since the GOP lost majorities in our State legislature some 60 years ago has there been, except in a few upper income places, any kind of Republican activity at the local level. Today almost all of those upper income communities have become Democratic. The most Republican active communities today are middle income, even low income, places : tract house suburbs, low-density exurbs, and sparsely populated rural places. think Billerica, Bellingham, and Tewksbury; Grafton, Mansfield and Whitman; Douglas, Monson, and Charlton.


^ Bush – Kerry in MA, 2004. Note Charlton, in the middle of the map towards the bottom.

Charlton — a pass-through stop on Route 20 southwest of Worcester — exemplifies the new, hard right Massachusetts GOP. In 2004, when John Kerry, then our US Senator, was winning 62 % of the Massachusetts vote for President, Charlton gave its 60 % to George Bush.

Not that long ago, party divisions in Massachusetts had more to do with ethnic histories and 1920s-1930s Labor radicalism than with city versus rural, diversity against the old way. (And then, the Democratic party was culturally much more conservative than the socially liberal, WASP GOP establishment.) We can mark each step in the change thus : in 1970, Arlington, filled with prosperous Raytheon workers, was a bellwether town — as it voted, so did the State. Today Arlington. an academic community, is a guaranteed 20 to 40 point Democratic victory. By the 1980s, the bellwether vote town was Framingham — farther from boston than Arlington but definitely a commuting place. Today, Framingham votes 15 to 30 points Democratic. Conversely, in the late 1990s, the bellwether community was Peabody, a town filling up with culturally conservative Italians. Today, Peabody gives the GOP a 10 to 20 point victory and has a Republican state legislator, Leah Cole.

Today the bellwether city in our state is Waltham : the front line between Boston diversity and old-line factory city passes right through it. Quincy shares much the same mix. Yet these few exceptions aside, there really is no bellwether community today in Massachusetts. Most towns and cities are now all GOP or all Democratic. That is why we see the current surge of GOP activity at the state legislature level. It’s when a community moves from swing voting to being all one thing or all another that low level, neighbor to neighbor elections take on a partisan color.


^ how it was in 1978, when Senator Ed Brooke was narrowly defeated by follow progressive Paul Tsongas. — a campaign of nuance, not polarization

Fortunately for those of us who live by Boston, city values — diversity, inclusion, welcome to immigrants, and government working to serve all the people — the polarization taking shape on both ends claims a clear city values majority. Democrats running state wide can pretty much count on winning by 6 to 20 points. That’s because about 25 % of Massachusetts voters live in the Boston core area — and another 15 % in the academic bastion Connecticut Valley and points West, and these areas (Amherst, Lee, Springfield, Cambridge, Brookline, Dorchester) vote overwhelmingly Democratic : 30 to 70 points ! No Democrat is likely to lose a statewide election with that kind of wind at his or her back.

For despite the surge of GOP energy out beyond the City core, its roar represents an interest distinctly minority and one that is dwindling — and knows it. It is fighting a rear guard battle and seems energized to fight to the last man standing. It is Alamo politics : dramatic, fascinating while it is going on, but, in the end, complete defeat. Those of us who move with the blossoming majority — the flowers of tomorrow, no matter the huge challenges looming– can take heart in knowing that Alamo politics do not end with an Alamo victory.


^ the shape of polarization — and its limits : Patrick / Baker / Cahill, 2010

And what of the 2014 Governor race ? There I predict a Charlie Baker victory. He is running as a city values candidate, has credibility as a city values guy, and almost certainly has the GOP surge vote on his side simply because it dislikes the Democratic tone of voice so profoundly. Though the Democratic party is moving Leftward by the same dynamic that has the GOP moving Right, many more Democrats than Republicans remain pragmatic centrists : because .the Democrats own the legislature and run the State. These Democtrats cannot throw aside their investment in state policy and governance. The most practical team to get things done, that they care about, is Charlie Baker as governor and Robert DeLeo as Speaker — because, ultimately, it is easier for them to stand — loyal Democrats ! — behind a Democratic Speaker as he pacts with a Republican Governor than to find themselves ripped in two directions by constituents here and a Democratic Governor there.  These go-along Democrats represent a significant vote, especially in the suburbs that lie between the GOP outer ring and the innermost Boston core. Think Winchester, Salem, Braintree, Norwood, Wilmington, Woburn, Natick.

It would seem a paradox to find a centrist progressive like Charlie Baker elected by a state whose politics are polarizing so momentously. But life is complicated, and not every mind moves to the flavor of the moment. Those who take the long view also matter.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ in the post-Obama era, insurgents find common ground : Elizabeth Warren and John McCain

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The 2014 mid-term elections are under way, and both parties are preparing a battle which won’t resemble that of 2012 much at all.

We’re moving into the post-Obama period. Agendas are advancing that the President either does not want or has little to do with. Even in foreign policy he doesn’t have his way undisputed : witness the Senate bill, presented by 13 members from each party, to toughen Iran sanctions if the recent Interim Agreement doesn’t lead to a permanent one. The bill’s point is hard to disagree with, but it’s hard to see how diplomacy is assisted by legislation that feels like interference.

I agree with the Wall Street Journal that the hiring of John Podesta as a Presidential adviser announces that Democrats will campaign 2014 as a “class warfare” election. But it’s difficult to see how that translates into support for Obama’s remaining initiatives : immigration reform, gun control legislation, tax reform. The “class warfare” cry seems geared to invigorating the Democratic party for 2016. Same is true of nominating Senator Max Baucus of Montana to be Ambassador to China. Baucus was up for re-election next year; he had already announced his retirement. Montana was carried by Romney in 2012, by 14 points. Electing a Democrat to succeed Baucus was going to be difficult. Now, however, a Democrat — probbaly Lieutenant governor John Walsh, as the Wall street journal says — will assume Baucus’s seat, by appointment, and run in 2014 as the incumbent. It’s a smart move and a party move. Retaining the senate is a must for their 2016 basis.

Obama has wiggle room to pursue party-building stuff because the Republican Party is having to change as well, in the direction of compromise, so that it can be seen as a realistic governing party and not as obstruction. Republican strategy now accords vital budget and funding agreements, even as Obama concentrates on party-building in opposition.

As I have noted in several columns, Democrats at ground level having been moving for many months now to advance an agenda largely (but not entirely) Left-populist : union workers’ rights, higher minimum wages, banking reform, teacher union control of public education, alleviation of pay inequities, greater public spending on infrastructure and aid to families in need. It was easy to see that the infusion of these priorities into Mayor elections in Boston and New York was not happening only for local reasons. Clearly the leaders of this agenda had in mind the 2016 Democratic nomination for President.

At times the intensity of this movement has threatened to split the Democratic party, and i have decried that. we don’t need the Demotratic party to become “Left-tea’d,” as I have put it. But I wonder now if my warnings have been superseded by events. The 2014 campaign is upon us, the Democratic Party as a whole seems committed to the Left-ing agenda, and this is probably a wise decision for the party to make at mid-term time.

What must not happen is for this agenda to appear the Elizabeth Warren for President campaign. THAT would personalize the issues, and generate all manner of opposition to from Democrats threatened. Speaking of Warren, how come I do not see as much love for Senator Bernie Sanders as for her ? Sanders has been an eloquent voice for a Left-populist agenda — much of it very needed — long before Senator Warren appeared on the scene. My suspicion is that Warren Love arises from the 52 million dollars she raised for her 2012 campaign. It is ironic that the Left-populist movement wants big big money even while decrying its influence.

Readers can now ask me : what, if any, of the Left-populist agenda do I support ? Answer : I support quite a bit of it.

1. We do need a higher minimum wage. Substantially higher. Why should taxpayers have to sbsidize low-wage employers who pay their workers so little that they need public assistance to make ends meet ?

2. Employers should not be allowed to use job seekers’ credit scores as a hiring factor except if the job being sought is a financial one such as a comptroller or bank employee.

3. Financial institutions that specialize in customer deposits should not be allowed to use those deposits to engage in arbitrage trading. Or else such trading should be subject to the Federal Reserve’s margin requirements just as these are already imposed on customer accounts at stock-broker firms.

4. Union workers’ pension and benefit rights, as contracted for, should never be subject to legislative negation.

5. Infrastructure is as communal as anything in our society. Maintaining and improving our infrastructure is a vital economic duty. If tax dollars are needed, they should be granted.

But :

1.Education reform. This was the big divisive issue in the Boston Mayor election. I do not agree that teachers’ unions should control public school reform or that corporations have no defensible interest in school performance. I support school competition, because it is from competition that we find out what works well or not so well. I accord teachers unions a central voice in school reform because it is they who must do the teaching and who must work competigtively. But decsions on how to proceed with education reform must be collegial. Corporations have a vital interest in public education because the jobs they must fill depend on school graduates being prepared sufficiently to do them.

2.Unions in general : as I wrote almost every day during the Boston Mayor campiagn, union workers deserve strong representatipon in the halls of power, but they shouldn’t own the halls of power. Union workers number only about 10 %, nationally, of all employees, and no next-generation jobs in the innovating economy easily translate to unionization because almost all such jobs are individually dfifferent, employed by small units constantly reshaping, and involve pay that isn’t just a paycheck but includes benefits, stock, bonuses, and collaboratives. How to accommodate the innovation economy will be a major challenge for Democratic policy leaders facing 2016. Many in the innovation economy might just find a newly reasonable Republican Party more sympatico than a Democratic party committed to Left Populism. Take the fake-“Christian” stuff, the contempt for needy people, and the anti-immigration bigotry out of the Republican agenda, and the possibility is very real for the innovation community to prefer Republican entrepreneur-ist reform to Democratic Left-Populism.

After all, if Elizabeth Warren and John McCain, insurgents both, can co-sponsor banking reform legislation — and they have — then economic innovators are as free to find a useful home on the McCain range as on the Warren one.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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^ Don Berwick : the “governor” as issues referendum

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The race for Governor of Massachusetts continues to feel less than grave. We all know that the REAL Governor is Robert DeLeo, Speaker of the General Court (as our legislature is called). Yet the office which we call “Governor” is filled by a vote of all the people, as that of Speaker is not; and so even if all the people’s Governor isn’t in fact a governor, he or she still embodies what we the people want leadership on. Thus choosing a “governor” is a kind of referendum, not much different from the several referenda that look likely to be put on our state’s 2014 ballot, except that the “governor referendum” is not one-issue specific but an entire menu of issues.

So, what are the issues menus on offer from each of the six servitors ?

1. Martha Coakley has yet to tell us what she will do as “governor” that she isn’t now doing as our — admittedly very effective — Attorney General. Perhaps her issues menu is “consumer protection” ?

2. Steve Grossman is just beginning to talk issues. His menu appears — so far — to be “business recruitment, lots of fund raising, and a higher minimum wage.” All good, but much more is likely coming.

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^ charisma to spare : Juliette Kayyem

3. Juliette Kayyem has drawn enthusiastic crowds of Democratic activists and certainly is the charisma champion of the field. It’s a little less clear what her issues menu is. Everybody knows that she was an NSA bureaucrat and wrote expertly — albeit in prose as dry as a month old egg sandwich — about national security issues for the Boston Globe. Who would have guessed that such a sere pen would, in person, exude such fire and warmth ? Perhaps that’s her menu : passion and charm.

4. Donald M. Berwick (see photo above) has, so far, put forth the most inspiring menu : health care as a human right, complete with a cost-control and care delivery plan; business recruitment and a higher minimum wage; and bold leadership on all civil rights issues. He seems to grasp, better than any of his rivals, that the office of “governor” is the issues referendum that I see in it. The activists seem to be responding; of late, Berwick’s twitter follower numbers have surged.

5. Joe Avellone says all the right things. his issues menu parallels Berwick’s although with less talk about health care (which is strange : Berwick is an MD, but so is Avellone). Still, Avellone draws smaller crowds and is — and seen as — a huge underdog. Running state-wide for “governor” is a difficult course for anyone as little known as Avellone, whose gentlemanly demeanor only adds to his difficulties arousing serious attention.

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^ meeting & greeting : the new, charimatic Charlie baker ; still the man to beat

6. Charlie Baker : his menu we already know from 2010 — or do we ? Unlike then, Baker is taking himself out to the people, doing meet and greets, just as Scott Brown did (and so doing, changed everything about Massachusetts GOP campaigns, which had tended to be press release and stand-out affairs merely, a soft touch of couch potato and hardly serious). Out and about — in Worcester County often — Baker stresses business recruitment (who isn’t ? But how about some innovation district initiatives as well ?), business confidence, and just a hint of education reform (surely we’ll see more of this from him). He’s also being Mr. Good Buddy, unlike the pissed-off persona he shopped in 2010. The change in demeanor is most welcome and seems to be catching fire. His twitter follower gains trail only Berwick’s and Kayyem’s.

The Democratic candidates are amassing issues rapidly; caucus day approaches. Hard to believe that caucuses will convene scarcely 120 days from now ! (According to the State’s Democratic party, they cannot take place later than March 2, 2014. For the Party Rule governing caucuses, follow this link : ) Soon the issues roll-outs will give way to caucus commitments as candidates fight each other to secure the 15% of delegates needed in order to earn a spot on the printed Primary Day ballot at which the actual Democratic nominee will be chosen.

I will be covering this fight as it intensifies.

As with all Republican candidates, so outnumbered in Massachusetts by a host of Democratic hopefuls, Baker is running as if he and all of his Democratic rivals were part of the same selection slot. And they are. If the Republican candidate cannot outpoll all the Democratic hopefuls mano a mano, he won’t likely do so at the November election. Thus I am rating Baker on the same stage that I evaluate the five Democrats.

One big difference in quality between Baker and the rest : he has run for “governor’ already; they haven’t. He has tested the waters, against an incumbent no less. All the others have yet to prove anything. Most definitely do I include Martha Coakley in that assertion.

The way I see it right now, Baker is the favorite to take the people’s “issues referendum” into the State House and get the REAL Governor, Robert DeLeo, to listen to — us. I am not at all convinced that any of the five Democrats can capture DeLeo’s attention, interest, or concern.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere




^ working with Democrats when that’s what gets the job done : Chris Christie with New Jersey’s new senator, Cory Booker

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Right now, watching Governor Chris Christie rise to the top in New Jersey, winning re-election with 60 % of the vote, I have to pinch myself to remember that he is a Republican. By which I mean, a Republican of now. 30, 50, 60 years ago there were many Republicans with an agenda like Christie’s. His entire stance is that of an insurgent; an optimist; “getting the job done for people.” Yes, his rhetoric sometimes sounds like recent GOP talk, and he’s a bit of a social conservative — but so are many ethnic city Democrats — yet on the ground he is a man who works with whoever he needs to work with to get progress done.

Christie’s talk, stance, and method are those of Fiorello LaGuardia — a fellow Sicilian and northeastern Republican — who, coincidentally, looked a lot like Christie. Stubby, chubby, full-faced. The GOP hasn’t seen someone who looks and talks like Christie in maybe that many decades.

Like LaGuardia and his fellow Progressives, Christie doesn’t suffer fools. He calls out the House GOP and Ted Cruz nonsense in Washington — as it needs to be called out. At times he sounds as though he were running AGAINST the Republican party rather than with it. Of course the Tea folks are running against the Republican party as well; but they are running against it for trying to govern; Christie runs against the party for REFUSING to govern. A huge difference.

You might expect that a man so out of phase with what we have come to think of as the modern GOP would be a fringe character in its 2016 Presidential nomination, but you would be wrong. Christie currently leads the field in almost every poll, and he polls significantly better against potential Democratic nominees than any of his rivals. No, he is not the candidate of GOP think tanks, of planners of principle, of testers of litmus. He does not think the Democratic party treasonous, socialist, or contemptible. The right wing charlatans of entertainment demagoguery hate him — a hate which he sees, rightly, as an asset for him. He’s about as unlike a pastor of bigotry as it’s possible to be. He has no patience for those who would tell people how to live their lives. He doesn’t think poor people are lazy, homeless people useless, gay people damned. He doesn’t think that you need an ID to vote and if you don’t have one, you’re committing vote fraud. He doesn’t sling the word “patriot” around like a vomit grenade, doesn’t fart about 1776, doesn’t throw shoes at undocumented immigrants.

Yet he is a Republican. Of now. And not JUST a Republican; maybe, just maybe, he is THE Republican. His surge to the top of most polls tells me that the Republican electorate, if not yet its crowd-fund queen bees, has moved on from bitterness, contempt, ignorance; from vileness of all sorts; that the Republican electorate actually wants its leader to be ABOUT something; to want to “get the job done for people.”

There are signs aplenty that such is the case. Tea folk are losing primaries : in Alabama and in Louisiana, no less. Anti-Tea money is coming into the picture big-time. The GOP national committee is moving to make primaries the method of choosing an ominee, not caucuses. So far the change hasn’t nicked the House GOP much at all; but in the Senate the push back to normality has been huge, and lasting. Today the Senate’s Republiacn caucus can often be counted on to “get things done for the people.” (And let us give credit here to John McCain, who has had maybe his best and certainly most influential Senate year in his long career there.)

In New Jersey, Christie has formed alliances with whichever Democratic legislators and interests he needed to ally with in order to move his State’s agendas forward. He has done so even in preference, at times, to members of his own party Famously, this week he decided not to support Tom Kean, Jr., an influential Republican state senator and son of New Jersey’s revered former Governor Thomas Kean, Sr., as Senate President: because that was what the state senate’s Democratic leader, Steve Sweeney, insisted upon. Sweeney and Christie have frequently worked together on New Jersey legislation. the combination continues.

It would surprise me if this “get the job done for people” mantra did not pretty soon become the top theme for a party that has all but abased itself to the point of no return. In politics, the great thing about points of no return is that, return is then the ONLY option. Thus the move to Chris Christie, the man who embraced President Obama when it made a huge point and who still embraces him, with respect to the rocky rollout of Obamacare. Why ? Because he sees a President who is trying to “get the job done for the American people.”

Just as he, chris Christie, promises to do. Not a bad promise at all for ANY serious politician to make to the American people.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere