Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Yeah, Probably

With those two words, Attorney General Tom Reilly handed an easy talking point to the state Republicans. In a Globe article from Saturday, Reilly reacted this way to Governor Romney's proposed death penalty bill:

Reilly said he objects to the bill because he believes the state cannot handle the extra tasks and costs of lab work required to prosecute such cases.

Still, when asked if he would sign the Romney bill if he were governor, Reilly said, "Yeah, probably."
Now, the context of Reilly's response is unclear from the article, but it sounds like he was asked if he would sign the bill and he reluctantly agreed, despite having criticized the governor for proposing it. To put it mildly, Reilly could have and should have handled that question better. If his objections to the bill are truly that there's not enough funding, then he should be as clear as possible. Something like: "Well, if I were governor, I wouldn't have to worry about whether or not it was funded correctly. Our current governor can't be trusted to handle a budget correctly." By saying that, the yes is implied, but Romney doesn't get a sound-bite and Reilly gets another dig in at him. Plus, it emphasizes the difference between Romney and Reilly in a way that people will find credible. Most Bay Staters would probably agree that, of the two, the Republican Romney would be the most likely to underfund a government agency.

Reilly gets no argument from me when he claims that Romney is only introducing this bill to bolster his conservative credentials for a national audience. Reilly, however, loses credibility if he himself is seen as playing politics with the death penalty issue -- by simultaneously objecting to the bill despite saying he would sign it -- in an awkward attempt to bolster his own progressive credentials for the Democratic primary. I find myself reluctantly agreeing with Globe columnist Joan Vennochi when she writes:
At the moment, Reilly is not providing a cohesive, inspirational reason why anyone should believe in him. As demonstrated by the death penalty issue, his problem has three layers: substantive, strategic, and tactical.

On the substance, Reilly was confusing in response to Romney's proposal, and so are statements he has made over the years regarding the death penalty. Strategically, Patrick is pushing him to the left, where Romney can then label him as a "flip-flopper." Tactically, Reilly was ineffective when it came to making Romney accountable for his own purely political motivation.