On March 4th the Democratic Primary voters of the 16th Suffolk State Representative District chose Revere’s Roselee Vincent to be their nominee. Observers commenting on her primary victory seem to assume that it’s election. It isn’t. On April 1st, Vincent faces Chelsea businessman Todd Taylor, the Republican candidate.

Taylor — who grew up in Arizona and has lived in Chelsea since 2000, and owns a staffing company at which he started many years ago as a waiter, working his way up — hopes to disprove the common perception of a Vincent victory. “We’ve been door knocking for two months now,” he told me at the Kow Loon restaurant in Saugus last night. “Lots of doors.”

“Have you door-knocked all the super voter doors,” I ask him ?

“By election day we will have done so, yes.” Taylor smiles a confident smile, a full shoulder smile.

Taylor’s literature spells out the same old “policies that spur job creation…reducing burdensome regulations” mantra that I see from every GOP legislative candidate these days; but when questioned on the issues, he sounds like an actual candidate.

“We’ve gotta get people working again,” he says. And concentrate on quality education for our kids. We have to lift the charter cap.”

I remind him that teachers unions an d public school advocates oppose lifting the cap, that they’re concerned about losing funding from their budgets, that they feel that charter schools are trying to replace them. Taylor rejects these arguments.

“Charter schools are a supplement, not a replacement,” he says passionately. As for the argument that charter schools don’t serve special education kids of English language learners (so called “ELL”‘s), he says, “Look. My kids attend the East Boston Br0oks school. it serves the ELL community well and special education kids too. Example : we have two Ethopian adopted kids at the school who have made made fantastic progress acquiring English. Brooks does the job !”

Is this a State wide issue, I ask Taylor, or is there a need in his Chelsea – Revere – Saugus district ? He concedes “not so much here as in the state’s underserved communities.” He gives Chelsea city manager Jay Ash “great credit turning Chelsea schools around. But state wide we need to anticipate problems, not play catch up. Charter schools force other schools to improve. It’s that simple.”

Taylor talks of arguments between “conservatives and liberals”; so I felt a need to ask him : for Governor, does he support Charlie Baker or Mark Fisher ? “I’m a Char;lie Baker supporter,” he says — firmly. “Charlie Baker is what we need.”

But Baker is running quite a progressive campaign, I remind Taylor — noticing, too, that Paul Craney of Mass Fiscal Alliance (MFA) is in the room, and that MFA opposes the minimum wage raise that Baker strongly supports.

Says Taylor t0 me, “by ‘conservative,’ I mean smaller and more effective government. Effective, efficient.”

Fair enough. So I ask Taylor another question that often outs GOP conservatives : “your district is filled with immigrants of all statuses. Moroccans, Brazilians, Hispanics. What do you feel about that and them ?”

Taylor’s answer surprises me. “Diversity is us’ he says. “My business employs 1000 people of all cultures, languages. Our nation is waves of immigration. We need to welcome people here. Both parties are responsible for the immigration problem, it’s not the immigrants’ fault.”

Taylor says that he’s “not a professional politician” and decries the system of people staying in politics all their lives; but his answers to my questions sound properly political to me. Thus I ask him, “OK, you sound like you hear your district’s voice” — he smiles that shoulder smile — “so tell me ; how are you, a Chelsea guy, going to beat Roselee Vincent, who was chief of staff to State Representative Kathi Reinstein (whose resignation occasioned this vacancy) and who has the entire Revere political establishment behind her ?”

“That’s exactly the problem,” says Taylor. “If we keep electing the same people, we’ll keep getting the same results. I have plenty of Revere support. You’ll see.”

I’m looking at Taylor’s staff — young and think-tank conservative, quite off to the side of a Massachusetts electorate, eighty percent of which supports raising the minimum wage and few of whom (including most GOP voters) want anything to do with the Party platform that Taylor’s campaign staffer just voted for.

There is disconnect between what he tells me and what the make-up of his support group suggests.

Taylor can’t miss the look of skepticism on my face. “I am going to surprise you,’ he grins. “I’m going to surprise a lot of people on April 1st.”

I believe that he means to do just that.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ Newton ward 2 caucus : idealists For Don Berwick, realists for Steve Grossman

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It’s hard to dig any message out of the five-candidate-for-Governor, Democratic caucuses that were held during the past month. Only after a full month of sitting in at about eight of those caucuses has a meaning become even hypothetically true, and it’s a cliched one : the Massachusetts Democratic party is split between idealists and realists. Or if you prefer, radicals and centrists.

This sort of division has ruled Massachusetts Democratic actives at least since John Silber, then Scott Harshbarger, then Shannon O’Brien, became the party’s nominees for Governor. Deval Patrick’s winning the 2006 Democratic nomination confirmed it. Yet in each of those cases, going back to 1990, the Democratic winner differed — in some cases sharply — about policy initiatives already contentious within the legislative calendar. This time the gulf between Democratic realists and idealists has widened. It was much in evidence at the City of Newton caucuses yesterday, where delegate candidates pledged to the quintessentially realistic Steve Grossman barely edged out delegate hopefuls pledged to this year’s idealist of idealists, Don Berwick.


^ realistically idealistic : Steve Grossman at the Boston ward 3 caucus

Both men live in Newton, and between them they claimed the entire prize of almost 100 delegates. There wasn’t much sentiment for Juliette Kayyem at the Ward caucus that I sat in on (Ward 2) and none at all for Martha Coakley or Joe Avellone. Home town strength mattered, but it wasn’t the major fact. Of this campaign, Steve Grossman epitomizes realism, Berwick the radical. Kayyem has been a candidate of glamor and nuance : but nuance doesn’t seem to cut it. She’s made scant mark on any of the caucuses I have attended, yesterday’s included. at every caucus she has her team, wearing “I am for Kayyem’ T shirts” (whose grey base contrasts meaningfully with the bold white backing dark blue of Team Berwick); but Kayyem’s team gatherings seem, at leat at the caucuses I’ve sat through, unable to translate enthusiasm into numbers. As for Joe Avellone, he doesn’t even bring a team, much less win a delegate (tough news reports have him winning quite a few out by Worcester County).


^ realistic outsider : Joe Avellone at Boston ward 14 caucus

Avellone is particularly weakened by being a candidate of realism who is also an outsider. This doesn’t work. A candidate cannot be persuasively realistic unless he or she is very much an insider. realistic goals presume the clout to get them done. Outsiders lack that. an outsider must be an idealist; must represent those who want the insider game shaken up. This, Don Berwick — or his helmsman –understands. He advocates all the wish-list that burns tyger-brightly (as William Blake once spelt it) in the night forests of Democratic progressives’ dreams : single payer health care, graduated income tax, green energy funding, sentencing reform, higher taxes to pay for transportation and infrastructure. He insists on them all; and the Democrats of idealist bent have responded. as recently as a month ago I thought that Juliette Kayyem, not Berwick, would be the third Democratic Governor hopeful to win the necessary fifteen percent of delegates or see her campaign end. Today I think it’ll be Berwick.


^ nuance and glamour may not work : Juliette Kayyem addresses Newton Governor Fum

Kayyem might have easily taken the route that Berwick took. She would have trounced him had she done so. Kayyem has charisma galore and is stunningly beautiful : if you meet her and don’;t rmemeber it vividly, physically, you’re a zombie. But Kayyem seems to have played her resume both ways : Obama administration,. Homeland security official, and thus an insider who should be realistic; but also outsider — having never run for anything elective — who gets the progressive agenda. Gets it, but doesn’t necessarily advocate it; certainly not in the all-in, progressive or bust gambol that berwick has winged. Unhappily for Kayyem, it’s unconvincing for a novice candidate to present as competent and idealist. Even for someone already an office holder, it would be difficulty to be both, especially in this season, when voters disbelieve that office holders are competent and distrust that idealists really mean it. Thus the success of Grossman and Berwick : because Grossman has proven himself uniquely competent, and Berwick, as a doctor successful in private practice and government, has the health care issue credibly to himself as well as the bedside manner that we expect of a physician.

And what of Martha Coakley, whom the polls say is still the choice of most Democratic voters ? Among activists, at least, she is falling way short because she has already failed the competency test, as a candidate first of all, and seems to continue to fail it — her money intake lags badly as does her presentation at Forums. There she demonstrates that an idealist, she isn’t. On those issues where she takes uncompromising stands — abortion rights, a prime example — she seems to move by calculation, not conviction.

Coakley may well still win the Democratic Primary, though I doubt it. If Kayyem doesn’t make the fifteen percent, I do not see her supporters going to a candidate even more diffident than Kayyem and — as one caucus goer put it — “hardly exciting.” Some will go to Berwick; but i think most will move to Steve Grossman.

If Grossman becomes the Democratic nominee, he will face a Republican who does seem convincing both as an idealist and a realist. Idealist, because in today’s GOP — even in Massachusetts, where the party at Governor level remains progressive — it’s idealistic to support marriage equality, abortion rights, expanding the earned income credit, and raising the minimum wage to $ 11.00 an hour. realistic, because Baker accepts the unemployment insurance give-back that Speaker Robert DeLeo insists on as a condition of his bringing the minimum wage hike to a vote.


^ leader and voice of the Governor GOP party, one of two MA GOP Parties : Charlie Baker with st rep Jim Lyons of North Andover and (on bottom right) Monica Medeiros, candidate in the Fifth Middlesex Senate District


^ representing the “idealism” of the “left outs, the ignored” : Mark Fisher

It’s because Baker convinces both as idealist and realist that he will win his primary against a Tea Party opponent. Mark Fisher almost perfectly represents the idealist wing of today’s Massachusetts GOP. He goes as all-in on the Tea Party;s agenda as Don Berwick does on the Wish list of Progressives. Fisher rejects marriage equality, abortion rights, a minimum wage rise. Fisher dismisses undocumented immigrants as “illegals’ and promises to make life in Massachusetts as difficult for them as he can. Fisher bitterly brandishes “gun rights.” Indeed, Fisher — a classy guy one on one — projects, in his public pronouncements, an angry tone; he rocks his “salt of the earth, long ignored” voters as they rock themselves : angry to be ignored, lashing out at those who get the attention of officials who ignore them, pissed off at Turnpike toll takers, angry about taxes that they see being spent on Boston but not out where they live.

There is, in Fisher’s campaign, an idealism of sorts — he calls it “principles” — as off the table as Berwick’s; but what a toxic idealism it is ! Anger is not a policy, scapegoating people is not legislation, and opposition to marriage equality and women’s reproductive rights is anathema to a large majority of Massachusetts voters. Only within the State’s eleven percent who register GOP does Fisher’s “idealism” have legs. Just as the idealistic Berwick has won himself a significant activist following, so Fisher’s views comport with a significantly GOP activism.

Right-wing actives have captured the GOP State Committee; this we saw in last week’s 52 to 16 vote to adopt the “values voters” platform. But the views these people espouse, their wagons circled in redoubts of reaction like the so-called “Massachusetts Republican Assembly” — which blithely calls itself “the Republican wing of the Republican party” — no more command a majority of GOP voters than the progressivism of Don Berwick commands a majority of Democrats.

It would be unlikely to find a democratic activist as negative as Fisher’s left-outs. The Democratic party is Massachusetts’s governing party; no Democrat is a “left-out.” But our GOP, except on the Governor level, runs nothing.

In fact the gulf in our GOP between Fisher’s “left-outs” and Charlie Baker’s confident moderates derives directly from this split. In fact, the he Massachusetts GOP is nothing less than two entirely separate political parties : one, a Governor GOP party, dedicated to electing its Governor — a party to which a large majority of GOP voters belongs and whose followers do not see themselves as left out or ignored; and two, a “Grass roots” GOP, spearheaded by idealists who are indeed an interest left aside by an overwhelming State consensus on the issues these “grass roots’ actives care about.  care about. Statewide, the Grass roots GOP numbers barely five percent of all voters; but within the eleven percent registered as republicans they’re a significant number — polls say 39% of the GOP whole.

Not surprisingly, the Grass roots GOP dominates in those regions of the state most alienated from Boston, in which GOP registration (and like-minded “unenrolleds”) count a majority of all voters. Almost all the State’s 30 GOP legislators represent Grass Roots GOP communities. How could it be otherwise ? the Grass roots GOP’s stands on the issues make its election impossible in most Massachusetts areas, and in any case, the Governor GOP hasn’t much interest in winning legislative elections on its realist-suburb turf. It’s far readier to accept — and usually can count on — the support of Democratic legislative realists. Can’t do that if you’re running GOP candidates against them !

NOTE : it wasn’t always this way. During the period 1990 to 2006, when Massachusetts had four consecutive GOP Governors, the entire GOP grass roots was deployed on behalf of the Governor. But since 2006 the Governor has been a democrat. With the Governor GOP out of power, the grass roots GOP has been as left out and ignored as it claims to be, and its embrace of the politics of a minority had a certain practicality about it.

Though at what a price !

In the Democratic Party, the division between realists and idealists takes a very different shape, because both mindsets win elections and thus feel anything but ignored or left out. Their differences are those of a contract negotiation, both parties knowing that once a contract is agreed to, each side will have to carry it out; and are quite ready to do so because they’re already doing it.

It is good that Mark Fisher has arisen to give voice to the left-outs. If the rest of us take their anger, their bitterness, their disparagement of everything that “Boston” means to them — huge taxpayer dollars spent; public transit; enormous state government programs; social inclusion — indeed, celebration — of many lifestyles, languages, and immigrants of all conditions; bicycles and night life; rejection of gun culture; the Unions and high wages; devotion to quality of life issues — as seriously as they hate us, perhaps we can find a way to bring these voters back into the community we call “Massachusetts.” And perhaps not. We will probably never see Don Berwick’s single-payer health insurance adopted in Massachusetts, or his graduated income tax. Never might also be the timeline for Mark Fisher’s voters. And maybe that’s OK. After all, what’s an idealism good for if the realists can absorb it ?

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


On Thursday I received a letter from the “Committee to Elect Fisher for Governor.” Since I am Here and Sphere’s politics reporter, I had heard of Mr. Fisher — had surfed his facebook page, in fact, and not favorably. I wondered why he would be writing to me. I read his letter. Half way through it, I was moved to answer him. As I read to its end, I found in it truly serious questions about what our politics is all about and thus decided to answer him by what political people call an “open letter.”

“Dear Candidate Fisher :

“You write me because of my ‘service to the Republican Party,” for which I thank you. I am, as you note, a registered Republican, as were four generations of my forbears. The Republican party meant something to my Dad, Grand Dad, and Great Grand-Dad, and it has meant something to me since I first became active just out of college. I thus looked in your letter for some commitment on your part to what it has meant to us. I found none. What I did find, I reject.

“You say that you were moved to run for Governor because Governor Patrick “re-opened the tolls on the western part of the Mass Pike.” You then say that “tolls are great for only…Patronage,’ and you decry the men and women who work as toll collectors.

“A candidacy that starts by denigrating people who work is a strange candidacy. Toll collectors work hard under sometimes horrible weather conditions and at all hours. If they earn an average of $ 76,000 a year, as you write, that is hardly a king’s ransom ; but it is enough for them to participate in the consumer economy that keeps our economy — and their family’s lives — moving forward.

“You also miss the larger needs that the resumed tolls address. Our state’s roads and bridges badly need repair, and our public transit facilities break down all the time for lack of money to maintain them, much less upgrade them.

“You talk about ‘conservative values.’ I’m not sure what ‘conservative’ means any more, but on your facebook page you cite several agendas which defame whatever defensible adjective you want to ascribe to them.

“You would deny to women control over thrir own bodies and health care, something that neither you nor I have any right to do and a contravention of the policy of every Republican Governor this State has had in my lifetime.

“You want gay and transgemder people to not have the full civil rights that all citizens are entitled to and which the Republican party was created to fight for. Your position is an affront to all people of good will and incompatible with a Republican nomination for any office.

“You talk about ‘gun rights.’ Such talk was offensive long before Columbine, Aurora, and Newtown, not to mention George Zimmerman. To talk of ‘gun rights’ now is to pit yourself against the entire society which your candidacy seeks to govern. Mr. Fisher, guns HAVE no rights. people have rights. And our society has the right to be free of individuals with loaded guns putting everyone in fear and worse — for what ?

“You dehumanize the people you call “illegal immigrants.” you say they cost the state almost two billion dollars. Mr. Fisher, that’s just wrong. As Jeb Bush — a Republkican — said at this year’s CPAC conference, ‘undocumnted immigrants are a boon to the economy. and because of their young demographic, they’re also how we rescue Social security.’

“Mr. Fisher, undocumented workers pay more in taxes in one year, every year, than Mitt Romney has paid in his entire lifetime. Do you have any idea what the life of most undocumented peope is like ? I have seen them standing outside in summer or the cold, at dawn every day, across from Home Depot in my city, hoping to be hired for a day’s pay. Undocumented people — and immigrants similar — take the subway to work at 5 AM, working at the toilet-cleaning and janitor jobs, in office buildings hospitals hotels and universities, for pay that until recently was minimum wage. Yet you decry these people ? Mr. Fisher, they are heroes.

“Reading what you think of the least among us, do you have the slightest idea what is entailed in governing the 6,000,000-plus people who live in Massachusetts ? The Governor  has to administer our roads, bridges, transit system; to maintain our clean water and environmental quality; to assure a strong public school curriculum; to operate the State’s parks, beaches, courts, district attorneys, prisons, half-way houses, career retraining centers, welfare offices, retirement, veterans affairs, and a variety of administrative agencies, licensing divisions, tax collection, and more. All of these exist because in our extremely complex, diverse, and changing society that we call Massachusetts, capable administration keeps our intricately adjustable State moving forward with as little friction or confusion as human capabilities reasonably manage.

“I read nothing, in all your campaign talk, of any plans to improve, reform, or add to any of these Governor’s responsibilities; indeed, nothing of any of the public policy issues that activists everywhere are discussing and proposing. All the other Governor candidates who I am following have plenty of policy suggestions : where are yours ?

“I can only conclude that your candidacy isn’t about us, the 6,000,000 and more. It’s about you. It is ALL about you. As you say near the end of your letter, “in the past I would vote and then complain.” But “my circumstances have now changed.”

I, I, my, me, and mine ! Mr. Fisher, I hate to tell you, but being Governor is NOT about you. It”s about everyone, diversely, equally respected and all of us together.

Sinerely, Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ much love for Juliette : Kayyem speaks to Democratic activists in Barnstable last Sunday

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In the parlance of now, there is much love afoot for Juliette Kayyem, one of five Democrats exerting to be that party’s nominee for Governor of Massachusetts. At 10.24 AM on this December 13, 2013 morning, Kayyem has gained 1,089 twitter followers since I first checked the numbers on November 10th. No rival compares. Don Berwick has added 374; Steve Grossman, 194; Martha Coakley, about 600; Joe Avellone, 67. (On the Republican side, Charlie Baker has added 307 followers, while Tea Party Mark Fisher’s newly posted twitter account has 36 followers.)

Kayyem’s total twitter following stands at 5,321 ; about 1600 behind Grossman’s and way behind Coakley’s 12,400 ; but she already tops Baker’s 4,311 and Berwick’s 2,203. As for her presence on facebook, Kayyem trails the “big’ names, yes ; Charlie baker has 32,317 “Likes”; Martha Coakley, 19,193. But Kayyem’s 3,469 isn’t far from Steve Grossman’s 5,520 and leads both Don Berwick’s 2,011 and Mark Fisher’s 1,367. Adding these numbers up, Kayyem has risen to the top of the “second tier” already. So what is going on, that has produced slo many Romeos for this Juliette on our State’s 2014 political scene ?

Charisma first. You need only look at her pictures to see that she connects to people. She leans forward to them, not back away or ramrod straight. She’s casual, even slangy, gets the humor on the net and gives it back. She casts better as the candidate of “now” than any of her rivals — only Charlie Baker has a similar degree of “now”-ness.

Second, her issues and how she addresses them. Of course no one should expect a candidate to accomplish, if elected, what he or she proposes in a campaign ; government isn’t that simple (witness Mayor-elect Marty Walsh’s back-walking his “overhaul the BRA” proposals). But you can tell a lot about how a candidate will approach the office he or she seeks by the temper and content of his or her campaign proposals. Here’s what Kayyem’s website says about “reforming the Criminal justice system” — as pressing a need as there is in State governance right now :

Massachusetts cannot continue to imprison more and more of our citizens at an ever increasing cost. This trend is not fiscally sustainable, it often doesn’t make sense from a law enforcement perspective, and it does not reflect the kind of Massachusetts we want to be. Juliette will make sure that our criminal justice system becomes more evidence based and less wasteful; more rehabilitative and less purely punitive; and, perhaps most importantly, more focused on integrating those who have served their time back into society as productive citizens rather than ignoring their problems once they leave a correctional facility. In order for the Commonwealth to seize the opportunities of the future and build inclusive and productive communities, we must do better when it comes to our criminal justice system.”

Then there’s health care, a huge issue nationally and thus one that we in Massachusetts also talk about, even though for us universal health care has been a given for almost a decade. Kayyem says this :

Massachusetts is a national leader in ensuring that all residents have access to quality, affordable healthcare. As governor, Juliette will work to: Continue to bring technological advancements to Massachusetts’ health care system that will bring the cost of health care down while improving service; and Reduce health disparities in the Bay State’s underprivileged communities.”

Note that last sentence. How many candidates these days for high office ever talk about the difficulties faced by people living in poverty ?

Don Berwick, who is a doctor, confronts the health needs of poor people at least as directly as Kayyem; on other issues of fairness and civil rights he stands, ahead of what Kayyem has published so far. But from the huge love now being accorded Kayyem online — and the immense schedule of meet and greet events with activists that she is pursuing, all of them drawing large crowds — one has to conclude that in person, Kayyem persuades that she — the person she is — will be most able, as Governor, to do what she talks of. One need only ask the large crowds who have recently met her up close in Melrose, Brewster, Franklin, Barnstable, Worcester, and, especially, at the “JPProgressives’ candidates’ night at Doyle’s Cafe in Jamaica plain.

Or perhaps it’s the “Elizabeth Warren” effect ? Until recently, Massachusetts voters had hardly ever elected a woman to high office. Then came Senator Warren, and now Congresswoman Katherine Clark — the State’s third female Congress member. Massachusetts Democrats, at least, are acting like converts do : once seeing the light, they become more than merely enlightened; they become apostles. It helps that, in Kayyem, they have a candidate with a resume and education approaching Warren’s. Especially is Kayyem the object of a ton of Romeos in contrast to the dry and reticent Martha Coakley, the memory of whose befuddled 2009 US Senate campaign has hardly dimmed at all and whose current campaign for Governor hasn’t generated much better.

If you haven’t yet paid much attention to Juliette Kayyem — or to the race for Governor in general — it’s time now to do so. The Democratic party caucuses begin in less than two months. The Republican meetings follow soon after.

NEXT FOR #MAGOV : the mid-December OCPF fund-raising and expenses report

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere