Baker Jan 13th 2014

^ bold to the front of the discussion : Charlie Baker on income inequity

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Yesterday Charlie Baker, Republican candidate for Governor, made a bold move: he did the right thing. Bold, because doing the right thing doesn’t happen often in Republican campaigns these days.

This is what Baker said : “I agree with Governor Patrick that Massachusetts is a remarkable state with limitless potential, but also a place where far too many are struggling and others are falling behind.

But I believe we can grow our economy, improve our education system, and strengthen our communities without raising taxes again and depleting the Rainy Day fund. We did it during the Weld-Cellucci Administration, and it can be done again.

I also believe we should make work pay for struggling families by raising the minimum wage while also enacting pro-growth reforms like unemployment insurance reforms, and by expanding the earned income tax credit for Massachusetts workers.

Lastly, I think we need real focus on fixing our healthcare problems. Too many Massachusetts families are stuck in healthcare limbo – having been dropped from their health plan and unable to sign up because of a bungled transition to an inadequate federal law. We had a great state system that was working, and we should fight to preserve and protect it.”

Baker’s statement — first reported by my old Boston Phoenix colleague David Bernstein, now an editor at Boston Magazine — hit almost every mark that it aimed at. He supports raising the minimum wage, as does almost everyone : but unlike any of his Democratic rivals, he also accepts Speaker DeLeo demand for adjusting unemployment insurance.

That’s the way for a Massachusetts Governor — of any party — to get his legislation enacted. It’s the only way. The Speaker rules. It’s been that way in Massachusetts for decades. The Democratic candidates for Governor either don’t understand this or are unwilling to admit it. Asked by State Representative Jay Kaufman, at his Lexington Governor Forum recently, “what will you do if the Speaker declines to support your legislation ?” Every single one of the five Democrats — including both the flamboyant Don Berwick and the earnest Steve Grossman, ducked or evaded the question. They looked weak, weak candidates for a weak office.

Baker has beaten them all here. By endorsing the minimum wage, he supports a pressing issue that almost everyone in the state wants. By endorsing Speaker DeLeo’s version of the minimum wage legislation, he ensures its enactment. Game and set, Baker.

He did more. In the words that I quoted, Baker also advocated raising the earned income credit. Not one of the Democratic candidates — only Berwick has mentioned it — has put support for an increase in the earned income credit forward in a context of and on a path to enactment. Game, set AND match, Baker.

Baker both congratulated Deval Patrick and gave one critique — of Massachusetts’s flawed health care connector. For most Republicans, a criticism of how the ACA has been implemented would just sound same old, same old. Not with Baker. By stepping up to the income inequity issue as he has, and by congratulating Patrick for his achievements, Baker has given his one critique a context of fairness that will garner attention, not a shrug.

Three weeks ago Baker released a Homelessness Crisis Paper that was a model of thorough and benefit. No Democrat has even now offered anything close, although some have said fine words, Berwick especially. Indeed, Baker looks more like a governor right now than any of the Democrats except Steve Grossman. If they’re the two who make it to the November election, Massachusetts will have two solid choices, with Baker perhaps the bolder and more progressive. I would not, quite frankly, have guessed this outcome as recently as six weeks ago. And I am glad to have been wrong.

—- 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


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^ peopling and good-timing : Charlie Baker meting and greeting at the Water Street Cafe in Plymouth.

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As in all elections, money and people determine the race to choose Massachusetts’ next Governor. Even this early one can count some of each. That is what I shall be doing in today’s report and as often henceforth as the state of the race requires from me. So what do the numbers tell us at 11 : 30 AM on 11/10/13 ?

People ——-

Charlie Baker : 4004 twitter followers
32,056 Facebook Public Figure followers
Martha Coakley : 12,200 twitter followers
18,968 Facebook Public Figure Followers
Steve Grossman : 6,770 twitter followers
no facebook public figure page as yet
Juliette Kayyem : 4,244 twitter followers
1,161 facebook public figure followers
Donald Berwick : 1,876 twitter followers
1,799 facebook public figure followers
Joe Avellone : 336 twitter followers
no facebook public figure page as yet

Money —–

Charlie Baker : 107,643.62 cash on hand as of 10/01/13
261,370.36 receipts for the month
185,880.50 expenditures
203,133.48 cash balance on 10/31/13

Steve Grossman : 709,324.65 cash on hand as of 10/01/13
163,405.00 receipts for the month
119,034.42 expenditures
773,695.23 cash balance on 10/31/13

Martha Coakley : 283,192.95 cash on hand on 10/01/13
88,486.88 receipts for the month
59,141.22 expenditures
303,538.41 cash on hand on 10/31/13

Juliette Kayyem : 202,527.92 cash on hand on 10/01/13
95,572.46 receipts for the month
40,795.36 expenditures
257,305.02 cash on hand on 10/31/13

Donald Berwick : 264,649.83 cash on hand on 10/01/13
33,053.10 receipts for the month
102,542.03 expenditures
195,161.90 cash on hand on 10/31/13

Joseph Avellone : 121,494.72 cash on hand on 10/01/13
19,675.37 receipts for the month
39,294.95 expenditures
101,875.14 cash on hand on 10/31/13

These numbers all look small when one considers that it took $ 80 million to elect a United states Senator for Massachusetts in 2012. Even to elect a Boston Mayor, over $ 7 million was raised and spent. As I see it, two problems pressure all of these candidates :

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^ 775,693.25 in the bank — now some people too : candidate Steve Grossman (at the Depot Diner in Peabody with Mayor Bettencourt and the Diner’s owner)

1. five (5) noggins seek the Democratic Party nomination. The winner even of that battle faces a serious GOP opponent in a state in which four of the last five governors have been Republican (Weld, Cellucci, Swift, Romney). That’s long odds for donors with shekels to sprinkle.

2. Charlie Baker so far has no challenger for the GOP nomination, but his “strong favorite” status seems grievously imperiled by the toxic state of the Republican brand among Massachusetts voters and by the powerful tilt toward poisonous policies even among Massachusetts’s GOP primary voters.

DeLeo the Speaker

^ Robert DeLeo, Speaker of the House…. and the REAL Governor of Massachusetts

And hanging over all the hopefuls is the knowledge that Massachusetts is governed — even dictated to — by the Speaker of the House. Time and time again we have seen this. The Governor can want a piece of legislation more seriously than a heart attack ; it doesn’t matter a whit unless the Speaker wants it too. If he doesn’t, the Governor can just whistle Dixie.

The Speaker has this power because, by the rules of the house, he appoints all committee chairmen and all committee members. Until these rules are changed — which they never will be — the Speaker rules. Indeed, one wonders why people even bother running for Governor ? True, the position has a great deal of prestige attached to it. That plus the bully pulpit, a lot of voter comfort, and some public policy feel-good and perhaps a shot at becoming the POTUS. But heck, the future POTUS (ha !) can’t even get his judicial nominees appointed without sweet-bunning a majority of the Governor’s Council. Good luck with that, in an era when patronage jobs can’t be given without earning a slam column from the likes of Howie Carr.

Oh wait… the Governor does appoint cabinet members — worthy men and women, some of them my friends — to operate whatever the Speaker allows them. He or she also has power to commute sentences or award pardons : but the present Gov and his precdessor almost never have done so. What good is a power unusued ?

Of course our would-be US President DOES run the state Police. Which means that a wise governor keeps the “staties” from harrassing immigrants, whereas a Gov “severely conserative” can’t wait to eat immigrants for breakfast. I suppose that that does matter. But is it worth the tens of millions of good funds that will likely be spent to elect a Goverbor decent to or devouring of immigrants ?

It was fun to cover the Boston Mayor election. A Boston Mayor wields actual poweer — a LOT of power. The Governor wields a limp biscuit. Oh what joy this coming year is gonna be…not.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ State Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr introduces “Republican Alternative” Transpo Bill

Our Republican legislators would have you believe that Massachusetts’s new “transpo” tax just enacted into law is an outrage upon our wallets. It isn’t.

As a friend of ours posted this on his Facebook page today : “I did some math after hearing all the chatter about the 3 cent per gallon increase in the gas tax. My daily commute is about 52 miles, round trip. Based on 20 gallons of gas per week, my personal tax increase is 60 cents a week or $31.20 per year. Hardly enough to even notice, let alone impact the economy. Besides, I’ll happily pay an extra $31 to avoid potholes and falling bridges.”

More even than our friend, we go everywhere by car. It’s what you do when you’re a journalist. Probably I’ll do about 400 miles a week. My gas receipts total about 150.00 a week — almost 50 gallons. The tax ? $ 1.50 a week = $ 78.00 a year. That’s less than I spend on ice cream or on the Lottery. And yes, my travel expenses are paid for : but as I am an owner of Here and Sphere, the money still comes from me.

Sure, we already pay a gasoline tax and other state taxes besides. But the new gas tax, which is earmarked for road and bridge repair and for repairs and improvements to our public transit rail system, benefits all of us. Roads and bridges are not free, and those who depend on public transit to get to their jobs — or just to get around — would cost the rest of us a lot more if they had no public transit and thus could not work. Thus the taxes that we have enacted will positively impact the economic life of our state — in a big, big way.

What is the Republican alternative ? Just this : 1. no new transpo tax at all. 2. pay for the needed transpo upgrades and repairs by repealing the “Pacheco Law.”

Sounds good — but it isn’t.

The Pacheco Law guarantees that construction workers will be paid the prevailing wage paid on construction projects receiving Federal funds. The prevailing wage is a union-bargained, contractually agreed wage that we in Massachusetts have imported into our own, state-funded construction projects. The Pacheco wage is a high one, much higher than a non-union contractor would likely pay, given that Massachusetts construction projects are subject to a public, low-bid process.

By seeking repeal of the Pacheco Law, the GOP means to reduce the income of construction workers.

I can’t think of a more damaging economic policy than to lower the pay of people who work and consume. Well paid construction workers don’t hide their pay checks in mattresses; they spend it — big time.

Many Massachusetts people are down on construction workers because of the huge cost overruns and occasionally poor workmanship during the “Big Dig” in Boston. As poorly managed as the “Big Dig” expressway project was, it put huge amounts of money, over many years, into the wallets of thousands of construction workers, whose spending boosted our economy in all sorts of ways : houses, boats, second homes, big new trucks, tool purchases, vacations, clothes, home remodelings, and more.

The GOP’s plan would set back the state’s economy. Taking money out of the hands of workers, it takes money out of the business these workers spend at. It is bad policy, and demagogue-ing the “forever” gas tax as they are doing — calling now for a repeal referendum — only adds ignorance to injury.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere



The big political story yesterday was that Rick Perry, three term Governor of Texas, will not seek a record fourth term.

Both his supporters and his opponents were thrilled at the news. Tht’s a measure of his political importance. And of the hype.

Rick Perry is not as important as hopes to be, or as he thinks he is. Perry claims that he has left Texas the most competitive economic state of all, the best for business in the 21st century, as he likes to claim. Texas may well be that; but the man who initiated Texas’s modern business prosperity is Lyndon Johnson, not Rick Perry. It was Johnson who, as JFK’s vice-president, successfully lobbied to have NASA headquartered in Houston.(Then Speaker Sam Rayburn, also a Texan, played an important role here too.) You remember NASA; it was the agency that developed a program to put a man on the Moon, and successfully did so. At the time that NASA started in Houston, the city was a growing but still one-industry “oil town.” By 1969 it was the center of America’s most advanced defense/technology enterprise.

From that NASA start, and with the vast development of underwater oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast became a major American wealth and jobs hub. Large law firms and international commodities traders located there. Software companies — also drawing upon brains at work at the University of Texas and at Rice University — chose Texas as favored locus. The Texas elite of that period included a governor, John Connally, as well as a future President, George H. W. Bush, and his lawyer friend, James Baker; software pioneer H. Ross Perot; and a Senator, Lloyd Bentsen, who became running mate to a George Bush presidential opponent.

Rick Perry came late onto the scene. He was a very obscure lieutenant governor who became Governor largely by the good will of Texas voters for George W. Bush, who had been elected president two years before.

Perry inherited all of the above — the business strength and the good will. It was easy for him to simply keep on doing what was already working. Whatever drew businesses to Texas, he was for. Whatever might discourage business, he was against. Simple agendas that work are hard to beat. Perry was not beaten.

But then he decided to run for President. Like Romney, he moved to the right — sharply, and much earlier than casual observers of his entry into the 2012 primary race realized — and with effects much more devastating. Romney moved to the right after leaving office. His move affected no one but himself. Perry’s moves, on education funding, executions of prisoners — Texas executes more than the next four death penalty states combined — health care, and “nullification” of Federal laws, including Voting rights laws, made life much harder for Texas’s low income people. 25 % of Texas residents have no health insurance. the same percentage live in poverty. The abortion restriction law that State Senator Wendy Davis filibustered — and became world famous doing so — would impact mostly low income women. Perry also successfully opposed pay equity legislation and rejected hundreds of millions of Federal health insurance dollars.

Perry wants medicare, social security, the income tax, and popular election of senators abolished. These are either anti-social or just loopy views; even though they remain mere noise ,they debase the conversation and lead people away from progressive reform into dead ends of negative rant.

It is hard to see how anyone not a business executive or a negative ranter can want anything to do with Rick Perry ever again. And even business executives might question the advantage of locating ina state that makes life so hard for both the low-wage people whom most businesses count on and for those living in poverty, who lack income to buy what most businesses need to sell. Texas badly needs to change its priorities if it — and its 24,000,000 or so residents — are not to lose ground in the coming decades.

It is said that Perry intends to run again for President. We urge him not to.