#MAGOV : ELECTION OVERLOAD ? DON’T KNOCK IT

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^ five of the seven US Senators who have represented Massachusetts since 2009. can you name the other two ?

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A couple of days ago I was conversing as usual about Massachusetts politics with a friend who suddenly stopped me. “Do you realize we’ve had seven different US Senators in this State the past four years ?”

I had not, in fact, realized that. He counted them out : Ted Kennedy, Paul Kirk, Scott Brown, Elizabeth Warren. John Kerry, Mo Cowan, Ed Markey. Yup, seven it is.

We’re not used to such stuff. Before 2009, Massachusetts had sent the sme two men to the Senate since 1984, when John Kerry replaced Paul Tsongas. That’s what we do. We want our Congressmen and Senators to build up huge seniority, to outlast their opponents, to leave the Federal bureaucracy no chance to put off reforms in hopes that the reformer would just go away. It work. Kennedy and Kerry got a lot done in their 47 and 29 years in the Senate. Meanwhile, the seven who have followed them had, in comparison, barely time to put a name plate on the office door. It’s the same deal for a Massachusetts Congressman. Get him or her elected and then re-elect him or her every time until the seniority passes critical mass. Almost no Massachusetts Congressmen get defeated. The last time it happened was 1996, when Peter Torkildsen was beaten by John Tierney, who has held the 6th District seat ever since.

Given our state’s political habits it’s no wonder that people here are now calling the tide of elections, special and otherwise, rolling through Massaachusetts as “election overload.” In addition to the US senate elections there’s been a Special election in the 5th Congressional District, a Boston Mayor election, several State Legislature “specials” — and more of these to come — and, in eleven months, the regular election for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and more. For some of these “specials,” very few voters have bothered. Even the dramatic, confrontational Boston Mayor election only induced 37 % of the City’s voters to cast a ballot.

About the same percentate of the State’s voters balloted in the now legendary 2009 US senate “special” in which Scott Brown became the only Republican that we have sent to the US Senate since 1978. It seems as though 36 to 37 % of voters is our State’s participation ceiling other than on “normal” election dates. On those dates, between 70 and 80 percent of our voters vote. The state has two classes of voters : the “always active” 36 to 37 percent and an equal number of “only at the usual time”people.

What is the difference between these two groups ? I’d say that the only-at-regular-time people see voting as a duty, while the participant actives see it as connection. Those who vote whenever an election is called actually expect, or hope, that their vote will move things. The duty voters probably vote as skeptics, not believers. That’s healthy. Politics is an arena of agendas, not saviors. We should be skeptical of agendas. But we also need believers in agendas; and my point in this column is that we should welcome, not shrug at, the tide of elections now rolling over Massachusetts. Our democracy was not set up for lifetime office holders. Well into the 20th Cehtiury it was uncommon for Senators and Congressmen to serve for 20, 30, 40, even 50 years, as some have done since. Citizens stood for office, served, and came home again to their lives and communities. The Massachusetts custom, since the 1920s, of saying “why replace someone who’s down there doing his job ?” now gives way to a series of fresh faces, one after another, many people voicing our State’s concerns, each in his or her own way, and — we hope — voicing the concerns of more voters than just the insiders who for so long had everything their own way.

Almost all of our state’s political indsiders are Democrats. It is totally a good thing that, since 2009, they have had to campaign to the 70-80 of voters who vote in elections rather than just to the 15 % who control the Democratic primary, For decades, our state’s politics was — with the exception of Governor elections — the purview of a very small core whose members spoke only to themselves. That’s not true now. With so many elections at hand for so many offices, vast numbers of candidates who, in the period 1960-2008 would never have had a chancve, now have that chance. Many of therse newcomers are Republicans. Some are Tea Party. Much of what the Tea candidates, in particular, have to say shocks and disgusts; but better that it be said out in the open, where it can be confronted, than seething in silence. As for the Democrats, they now divide on many issues, between Obama-Clinton centrists and the labor-Left who would like to use Elizabeth Warren as their banner. All of which assures me that in the foreseeable future, Massachusetts will be a state with three — maybe four — political parties stepping into a never-ending exercise of democracy in action. After all, there’s at least five major candidates going for the Governorship, several others, and a lengthening list of new names vying to be Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Treasurer, and state Legislator. Don’t knock it.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

WHO WILL BE THE NEXT MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR ?

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Front runner : the GOP’s Charlie Baker

The election won’t take place until November of NEXT year. Yet already the big political talk state-wide is, “who will be our next Governor ?” As Deval Patrick is not, after two terms, running for re-election, the question matters.

There is no obvious successor. Many fit the role, but none dominates it. For the Democrats, Attorney General Martha Coakley looks most formidable; but State Treasurer Steve Grossman — who announced his candidacy yesterday — rates as supportable as well, and so also, on his resume alone, does Donald S. Berwick, a medical doctor best known as President Obama’s administrator of Medicare and Medicaid services.

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leading Democrat : attorney General Martha Coakley

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also strong : State Treasurer Steve Grossman

You would suppose that the presence of three such star-quality candidates would preclude the availability of a fourth: but you would be wrong. A second Obama administration official, Juliette Kayyem, is said to be preparing her candidacy. Kayyem appeals to those who believe that intellectual rulers should rule. She worked in the sardonically named “Department of Homeland Security,” lectures at Harvard University and writes op-eds for the Boston Globe. Kayyem is an all-in supporter of the secret surveillance state. Sadly, this is what the Democratic Party, once the courageous tribune of the rights of ordinary people, has just about become in paranoid America, 2013.

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Governor Snoop ? Democrat Juliette Kayyem is thinking about it.

Of course Kayyem might not actually declare. We hope she does not. State government has already become an enemy to many of the basic rights of ordinary people : think the recent and ongoing attack upon people receiving EBT benefits. Ponder the opposition to the Governor’s “transpo” bill and its new taxes, money needed if the state is to maintain, even improve, public transit, by which many ordinary Massachusetts people get to work. The last thing that ordinary Massachusetts citizens need right now is a governor trained in secret snooping.

Of all the Democrats likely to run, Martha Coakley has the best record of advocating for ordinary people. Her long campaign against the mortgage banks and their predatory, deceptive, and downright self-seeking lending and foreclosure practices deserves the congratulations of us all. Yet even Coakley has a tainted past. What Coakley watcher can forget how ruthlessly and unforgivingly she, as Middlesex District attorney, pursued the Fells Acres, day care providing Amirault Family back in the 1980s and for two decades thereafter ?

Despite which, Coakley looks to be the Democrats’ top gun, and that perception is currently well deserved.

Which brings us to the Massachusetts Republican Party. Since the local GOP has provided four of our last five governors — Weld, Cellucci, Swift, Romney — you might expect the GOP nominee to be the favorite to win in 2014. We think so too. Quite unlike the national party’s decline in civic morality and policy intelligence, the Massachusetts GOP features a long bench of A-list candidates, most of them progressive on every civil rights issue and some of them progressive even on economic agendas. Do not be misled by the dullness — except for Dan Winslow — of the GOP’s recent US Senate campaign. For the governorship, our local GOP has plenty to cheer about.

First up is Charlie Baker, an master administrator who ran in 2010 and would probably have won, had his campaign handled more deftly the presence of a strong third candidate. Baker is almost sure to run again.

It is thought that if he does not, former Senator Scott Brown will run. Brown is low-key, personable and still very much liked. He knows Beacon Hill well, having served in the legislature for ten years. The last State Senator to be elected Governor in his own right, the late Paul Cellucci, was an effective leader indeed.

(NOTE : Jane Swift had been a State Senator prior to becoming Lieutenant Governor. She succeeded to the Governorship when Cellucci was appointed Ambassador to Canada.)

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will he run ? Former Senator Scott Brown

Mary Z. Connaughton, who ran for state Auditor in 2010 and lost by one percentage point, might run if neither Baker nor Brown does so. She is an excellent campaigner and would be a superb candidate if she moves away from her retrograde views on social and civil rights issues.

Also possible candidates are Dan Winslow, by far the sharpest — and most under-funded — of the recent US Senate hopefuls, and Rich Tisei, a committed progressive, 16-year State Senator who lost a 2012 race for Congress by only 1,000 votes.

Clearly the Massachusetts GOP offers our citizens what a major political party should : credible candidates who stand for progressive policies beneficial to the many, not just the few. At least one such GOP candidate will run; and given the strength of the Democrats’ Coakley and Grossman — Berwick too — it should be a very intense election, with state infrastructure and education spending the prime issue : issues about which the Massachusetts GOP — so unlike the GOP nationally — offers solutions well in keeping with our state’s regard for civil rights and for the needs of those on or near the economic bottom

Our Governor campaigns always are about solutions and, by election day, so intense. This one already is.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

UPDATE ¬†as of 1:45 P.M. 07/11/13 : yesterday we learned that State Senator Dan Wolf, founder of Cape Air and representing of the Cape Cod and Islands District, has announced for the Democratic Party’s Governor nomination. More details as we get them.