Monday, October 31, 2005

Great Resource for Medford Election

If I had more free time, I'd have done something like Vote Medford 2005, but for Watertown. It's too late for anything new this cycle, but if you're a Medford resident, this looks like a great resource.

Oh well, there's always 2007.

Reilly On Healey's "Sweetheart Deal"

Affiliated Managers Group, the company headed by Kerry Healey's husband Sean Healey, has returned the tax break it got for moving to the wealthy Prides Crossing neighborhood of Beverly, but that hasn't settled the controversy. Today's Boston Globe has the following statement from Attorney General and 2006 gubernatorial candidate Tom Reilly:

"The reason that Sean Healey and AMG gave the money back was they were caught cheating taxpayers of well over a million dollars," Reilly said in an interview yesterday. "This is inside politics at its very worst, a sweetheart deal with tax breaks to the well-connected and wired, all the way to the top of the Republican Party and the administration. It doesn't even come close to passing the smell test."
Reilly is not alone in his criticism. Remember that the original report that brought these tax credits to light charged that they were "handed out as favors". That, of course, didn't stop Romney/Healey campaign spokesman Tim O'Brien, the former executive director of the Massachusetts Republicans, from jumping to the defense of the administration:
"There was no sweetheart deal because the deal was done years before Romney and Healey came into office," he said. "Tom Reilly thinks tax breaks for companies and individuals are a sweetheart deal. But, again, it was awarded years before they came into office."
O'Brien is technically right -- AMG got their tax break in 2001, and Kerry Healey did not take office as Lieutenant Governor until January of 2003. Still, the Healey family had tendrils, and more importantly dollars, in Republican Party politics. Kerry ran for the House in 1998 and 2000, and at the very least Sean kicked in the maximum amount to the State Republican Committee in 1998. By the end of 2001, Kerry Healey had not only been elected to the Republican State Committee, but had been chosen as its chairwoman. So, while it's true that Kerry Healey was not in office at the time of the tax breaks, it's ridiculous to say that her and her husband were not influential in the insular world of the Massachusetts GOP. It's obvious that this was an insider deal worthy of Halliburton.

As an aside, I've replaced the offending router, so I should be back to my once or twice a day posting schedule, now with 802.11g! Let's see if you can tell the difference.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Why Not Outer Brewster?

One of today's Boston Globe Editorials urges lawmakers to reject a plan to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal on Outer Brewster Island, siting the lack of regional planning which would ensure that such a facility would actually be necessary as well as environmental and aesthetic concerns. Outer Brewster is one of the uninhabited Boston Harbor Islands, one that formerly housed some army facilities in the World Wars, but little else since. The public is not even currently allowed on the island due to the hazards from those disused structures, as well as an abandoned water desalination plant. The argument that maybe we won't need the extra capacity seems silly to me, particularly since we may be able to divert LNG shipments from Everett -- a much more potentially dangerous journey -- to the island facility if we end up with a surplus. Of course worrying about energy surpluses at this point seems kind of far-fetched, but you never know what will happen in the future. While it's true that the island is part of a protected park, and selling off parkland sets a bad precedent, when you take into account some of the other places, like Fall River, where an LNG terminal has been proposed, the out-of-the-way island looks pretty good.

If it's a choice between Fall River and Outer Brewster Island, I'm going to pick Outer Brewster every time. One would put an LNG terminal in the middle of a densely populated city and require tankers to go through a heavily trafficked bay. The other would be two miles away from the nearest home -- unless you count some potentially displaced migratory birds and harbor seals. I do realize, of course, that's a false choice. There are some Canadian facilities on the drawing board, as well as one off the coast of Gloucester. Still, Outer Brewster deserves serious consideration as a site for an LNG terminal that would meet the region's energy needs without compromising the security of residents.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Technical Difficulties

We're having some network problems over here at the .08 Acre homestead. Posting will be lighter than normal until I get a chance to fix our router. In the meantime, if you missed Michael Goodman's op ed in Sunday's Boston Globe, I'd encourage you to read it. In it, Goodman offers these common sense steps to go about reversing the Commonwealth's population decline:

Steps must be taken to reduce the state's high cost of living, especially housing. Local zoning and code enforcement in suburban communities already make it difficult to significantly add to the supply of affordable housing for working families and others. But the state already has an abundant supply of affordable housing units in many of its urban areas -- the challenge is to make these attractive enough for more people to live in these units. That means improving public education and public safety. Making our urban areas more attractive and compelling places to live -- for those residents already there as well as those who might be drawn to them -- is good social and economic policy.

Create the right environment to grow jobs. We have the workers; we have the brains to create new science and technology industries. What Massachusetts also needs is both the physical and intellectual infrastructure to grow the two together. That means not only laboratories and schools -- it also means better and more efficient investments in everything from K-12 education to higher education and lifelong learning.

Promote economic development beyond Greater Boston. Just as it makes sense to get people to live in housing units that are already available at affordable market rates, it also is good policy to locate jobs in lower-cost regions of the state where people already want and can afford to live. This means better marketing of the state beyond Route 495 to prospective job creators and investors. It will also require that strategic statewide and regional investments be made in the infrastructure and innovative capacity of these regions to better prepare them to meet the needs of growing employers.

Grow our own knowledge workers. The Census data show that people born here and immigrants who move here tend to stay. We cannot afford to lose them. We need to make sure that both populations achieve the education and skills training they need to be able to stay and thrive in the knowledge economy.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Two Things I Don't Get About Melanie's Bill

Last night, state lawmakers finished reconciling the House and Senate versions of Melanie's Bill, which intends to strengthen the laws against drunk driving in Massachusetts. The Senate version of the bill is said to be much harsher than the version the House passed, and in the reconciliation process, some of the language from the Senate version was dropped, making the bill more lenient than it might have been, but still much more harsh than what we have now.

Here's the first thing I don't get. Critics of the House version of the bill are casting their blame on defense attorneys in the Legislature who take up DUI cases. The Globe describes this as a "lucrative practice". I'll buy that, but if these legislators were concerned only with their own bank accounts, wouldn't they want increased penalties for DUIs? After all, the stiffer the penalty, the more likely it is that you'll get a lawyer to fight the charges. What am I missing?

Here's the other thing. The Globe is also saying that Mitt Romney might veto the bill, now that some of the penalties have been reduced. Politically, this might be a way to point out how the Legislature was "soft on crime" (even though they are increasing penalties from the status quo). Still, isn't doing something, even if you don't think it's enough better than doing nothing? It's one thing to be disappointed that the bill doesn't go far enough, but it's another to say that it's not even worth taking that step in the right direction. Let's see what effect the new rules, particularly the one requiring Breathalyzers in cars of repeat offenders, have on incidents of DUI in the Commonwealth and if it's not working, we can always make the laws tougher next time around.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Ease Pollution Standards or Encourage Renewable Energy?

I'll say this for Deval Patrick, he's got a great rapid response team. This morning's Boston Globe reported that Governor Mitt Romney wants to relax polution limits on our state's power plants. It's a plan that could potentially lower energy prices this winter, but would also increase air pollution from power plants in Everett, Salem, Somerset, and a handful of smaller units in the state.

A few short hours later, Team Patrick released this statement:

"Years of lack of leadership on energy issues have now come home to roost," Patrick said. "Instead of pushing for clean, renewable energy solutions over the past few years, and for comprehensive conservation and efficiency programs, Gov. Romney is now proposing to pollute more as a way out of an energy crisis."

"The rest of us are paying for his short-sightedness," he added.
Patrick went on to criticize the Governor for his continued opposition to the Cape Wind Farm project -- something that Patrick recently announced his support for -- and outline his new energy plan.

Frankly, I can see the appeal of the Romney plan in the short term. Worried about energy? Well, just produce more! Deceptively simple. Still, what happens next winter when oil prices still haven't gone down? (and who really thinks they will?) Patrick is right in that what this state and this nation have lacked in recent years is a long-term strategy to deal with energy costs. He's now talking about not only encouraging energy conservation in consumers but also encouraging producers to develop alternative energy sources. Now, it remains to be seen whether he or any governor can achieve this, but what's clear is that we're not going to get any leadership on the Federal level on energy issues for the next several years, so at the very least it's good that Patrick is trying to start a discussion here in Massachusetts.

Herald: Reilly to Annoint his Lieutenant?

Blue Mass. Group has made it their mission to shed some light on the 2006 Lieutenant Governor's race, but if this Herald report is right, it might not make any difference. Sources are telling the Herald that Attorney General Tom Reilly, the 2006 Democratic frontrunner for the nomination, may plan to pick his running mate. Of course, whoever Reilly taps (if he even ends up doing so) will still have to win the primary, but if Reilly wins and most Reilly voters follow his advice, he'll likely end up getting the candidate he wants, particularly in such a normally low-profile race. In 2002, both of the victorious candidates did this and both got the LG they supported; Shannon O'Brien picked Chris Gabrielli who got just shy of 50% of the vote in a three person race and Mitt Romney reneged on his promise to stay neutral and backed Kerry Healey who trounced Jim Rappaport by nearly thirty points. Personally, I can understand why a candidate would want to control the process -- after all, the President gets to pick his running mate, why not a Governor? On the other hand, and the article points this out, someone who wins the Lieutenant Governor's race on their own is likely to have a statewide campaign network and supporters that the winning gubernatorial candidate can leverage in the general election, particularly since the primary is so close to the general. If the candidates run as a team from the beginning, they don't get this shot of new blood.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Healey on the Defensive

Today's Brian McGrory column in the Boston Globe savages Lieutenant Governor (and presumptive 2006 Republican gubernatorial nominee) Kerry Healey on her reaction to claims that the administration squelched a report by the Inspector General which criticized a incentive program under which her husband benefited to the tune of $1 million. McGrory argues that Healey should have just admitted that the tax incentive program, which was supposed to incourage businesses to move into blighted areas but ended up being "handed out as favors", was not operating as it was intended. Instead she got defensive, evasive and accused her critics of playing politics -- I suppose there's a lot of that going around in Republican circles these days. Here's the money quote, but you should read the whole column:

Kerry Healey denied, dodged, and damned. She denied that she or the governor played any role in squelching a state report that was initially critical of the incentives, quickly withdrawn, and dramatically softened. She dodged questions over whether there were problems with the program. And she damned Inspector General Gregory W. Sullivan, telling the Globe's Frank Phillips, "That's not the area of his expertise."

Expertise? He's the inspector general, emphasis intended. His expertise is taxpayer abuse, and Sean Healey's tax incentive appears to fall right within his wheelhouse. Beyond that, Sullivan, a Harvard grad, holds a master's degree from MIT's Sloan School of Management with a concentration in finance. Short of having Alan Greenspan investigate tax breaches in Massachusetts, I'm feeling pretty good about the guy we have.

Of course, Republicans are clucking that Sullivan, a Democrat, is politically motivated in his investigation. Let's see, the tax incentive in question was written under Bill Weld. Weld later served on the board of Affiliated Managers Group Inc., Healey's company. AMG's chief financial officer is Darrell Crate, former chairman of the state Republican Party. Ray Howell, Weld's former strategist, is AMG's spokesman. Guys, do you really want to start talking about political motivations?
For more information on the squelching of the Department of Revenue's report check out what I wrote last month, or this post at Blue Mass. Group. Or, I suppose you could just read about it in the Globe.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Second Rate Romney

The New York Daily News has a story today about current New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg's history of political donations. It turns out that Mayor Bloomberg, who was a Democrat until just before he ran for mayor in 2001, donated to Mitt Romney's 1994 Senate campaign against Senator Ted Kennedy, among other GOP candidates like Bob Dole and Steve Forbes. How does the Mayor reconcile these donations with his earlier claim of being a Democratic fundraiser? From the News:

Bloomberg also wrote that he sometimes gave to "second-rate" candidates "because my friends ask me to help."

So what was the deal with Romney?

"He gave to Mitt Romney because a business associate asked him to," said Bloomberg campaign spokesman Stu Loeser, who declined to elaborate.
Allow me to elaborate for Mr. Loeser: Mitt Romney was a second-rate candidate in 1994, and he's a second-rate Governor now.

Ani-Mitt is Back

The Mass Dems have released another one of their Flash animations featuring Ani-Mitt, giving us an insider's view of what goes on in the Governor's office. If you haven't seen any of these before, go check them out. The most recent one isn't their best, in my opinion, but most of the others are hilarious.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Warren Tolman on the Community Preservation Act

On Thursday, I had the opportunity to talk with Watertown resident, former state Senator and 2002 candidate for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination Warren Tolman. Tolman is currently spending his free time as one of the co-chairs of the Watertown Committee for Community Preservation which is seeking to get the Community Preservation Act passed in Watertown's November municipal election. I spoke with him at length on the benefits of the CPA to Watertown, and then on some issues in state politics in general.

Tolman made a number of good points about the Community Preservation Act. Firstly, under the CPA, town residents spend $3 and get $10 back. For each $10 of CPA funds, $3 comes from the residents, $2 comes from the local businesses and $5 comes from the state. That's 233% return on the homeowner's investment for the town. Since the town spends more on average than the proposed surcharge of $800,000, adopting the CPA in Watertown could shift items from the town's capital budget to the community preservation fund, thus freeing up money for education, public works, and so on. Projects that Tolman mentioned that can use the CPA funds on include converting Victory Field to turf, rebuilding the Grove Street entrance to Fillipello Park after the recycling center is moved, restoring the Edmund Fowle House, building a regulation Little League field or helping seniors and town employees remain in Watertown. According to Tolman, there's enough money in the CPA fund on the state level to fully fund it for the next four years, using conservative economic estimates and assuming that a dozen new communities pass it every year. After five years, the town could repeal the act if the state can't continue fully matching. In addition, there is wide bipartisan support for the CPA around the state in the communities where it has passed.

On the state political scene, Tolman was critical of Bill Galvin's recent call to raise the state political contribution limits. He also had a few suggestions for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, as a former candidate himself, and predicted that Kerry Healey would not face much opposition when she seeks the Republican nomination after Governor Romney finally announces he's not running for reelection himself.

You can read the entire interview inside, or skip past the CPA part of the conversation and read the former state Senator's thoughts on statewide matters here.

More From the Interview Inside...

Q: Can you just give me the quick rundown of what the CPA does and how the committee is going about trying to get it passed?

Sure. First off, in order to get it before the voters, we needed to collect approximately a thousand signatures. We've collected about 1500, turned in several – 1300 or so – and we're on the ballot now, and the vote will take place on November 8th. Basically, what the CPA does, is, it is legislation passed into law in the year 2000 and signed by Governor Paul Cellucci – Republican governor Paul Cellucci, I might add – with a great degree of bipartisan support from Republicans and Democrats alike, to allow communities to do things to maintain the character of their community, be it a city or town. Specifically, communities are authorized to place a surcharge on the real estate property assessment of between 1 and 3 % -- in Watertown's case, we chose 2% -- to preserve open space, to promote affordable housing, to expand upon or improve public recreation, and to do things to preserve historical artifacts and, basically, historic preservation projects. Those are really the four key elements of what a community can spend these resources on.
Q: What specifically do you envision those moneys being spent on in Watertown?
Well, there are a number of different things. First of all, there are lots of projects that we could have spent money on in the past, which would have actually lessened the burden for the Watertown taxpayer, because it would have been done with 50% state funds. The perfect example of that is the renovation of Victory Field, or the renovation of all the tot lots across town. All of those are basically projects that would have been eligible for CPA funds, which means state matching funds could have paid for 50% of the projects like this. And because we spend more on average than the proposed surcharge of $800,000, adopting the CPA in Watertown can actually shift items from the town's capital budget to the community preservation fund. So, there are a whole range of -- Victory Field, the renovation of Edmond Fowle house on Marshall Street, and there's lots of things that we haven't done that we could have done. That's number one. Secondly, I think an important component of this is that the low-income households and moderate-income seniors are exempt from the CPA. A family of four earning less than $66K, and seniors over 60 earning less than $57K, almost $58K, pay no surcharge. And the first $100K of assessed value is exempt from surcharge, which means basically for a median-valued home in Watertown, which is assessed – not valued, but assessed – at $450K, the cost will be about a buck a week, $57 a year. The cost is not high, but the benefits, in our opinion, are very huge.
Q: In all likelihood, the Town is going to have to move the recycling center down by Grove Street. Could we use CPA funds to fix up the Grove St. entrance to Filipello Park?
Absolutely. That's a perfect example of what these funds can be utilized for. Recreational is anticipated to be a huge component of what CPA funds are utilized for. Particularly in Watertown, where you have hundreds of kids participating in sports, in four square miles with not a lot of open space, and not a lot of excess fields. The fields are very, very intensely utilized. We have a tremendous field hockey team, year in and year out, Eileen Donohue does a great job, Gary Spence's a football coach, he's improving things, the soccer team has a coach, Kaz Keuchkarian, doing a great job, and then you have all the Pop Warner teams and everything. They're all using Victory Field and consequently it gets really torn up.
Q: So, we can use CPA-earmarked funds for things like reseeding the fields?
Better than that. Cambridge has two turf fields. Belmont has one. They cost over a million dollars. You get a turf field, there's no reseeding. And these are beautiful fields. They're not like the old artificial turf that we used to play on. These are state-of-the-art, you don't get more injuries, they're low-maintenance -- basically maintenance-free, actually -- and they're a terrific addition.
Q: So, I know that under the CPA there's historical preservation but there's also, you can allocate money for open space, and also for affordable housing. How do you reconcile that, because it seems like the more open space you have, the less land you have to develop housing on, and vice versa.
Well, there are a couple of things. First of all, you want to maintain the quality and the character of the community, and if it's all about just building on every available lot, whether it be commercial or residential, then I don't think that's the type of community that anyone would like to live in, whether it be paving over Oakley Country Club or Victory Field or whatever. So obviously we draw a line somewhere. In Watertown's case, it's pretty densely packed, but nonetheless, the question is how much further we go. So, you reconcile the affordable housing component by saying, Look, we have existing housing, perhaps we can take some of this existing housing and make that housing affordable, whether it be helping first-time home buyers, or town employees. Newton has a great program that helps town employees get grants and loans for their purchase of a home -- public safety, teachers, etc., they want to stay in Newton. So it's a great opportunity for a community to do something that helps people that live and work in the community. So I don't think you're all adverse, I think actually it's all about the quality and character.
Q: It seems like the affordable housing part is the hardest to sell – everybody wants more open space, but people are skeptical about increasing the affordable housing stock. What do you say to somebody who has that sort of skepticism?
I think a couple of things. For some people it's the “attraction of undesirables” to the community -– it's a blind spot that people have for affordable housing, and I think there's a lot of inaccuracies out there, and affordable housing is not -– first of all, it's not just low-income housing, it can be helping town employees, it can be helping with the deleading of units, it can be helping seniors remain in Watertown, so there's a wide variety of components. By the way, it's not just low-income, it's moderate-income families. [Housing Costs are] through the roof. I mean, a family that needs help in Watertown, in Oklahoma they could buy a beautiful home.
Q: There have been a lot of letters in the TAB, a lot of them very against the CPA, talking about how anyone supporting it is a communist, singling you out for abuse and urging the defeat of any counselor that is in favor of it. Why do you think there's such a violent reaction?
First of all, the two letters that singled me out most recently -- I looked and they're both registered Republicans. Now, statewide there's I think about 13% of the state that's registered Republicans, and in Watertown it's even less than that, so you gotta look at the source, number one. Number two, I'm happy to talk about my tax record -- I have a voting record, eight years in the legislature. I was chair of the taxation committee. I wrote many of those tax cuts that Bill Weld touted on his way to running for the U.S. Senate, and the like – actually after that, but also with Paul Cellucci, so I'm proud of my record on taxes, and sure, did I vote for tax increases? Absolutely, and I also wrote tax cuts, so I have a record that's pretty clear. I was the only candidate to run for governor in 2002 on the Democratic side that supported the will of the people to lower the tax rate as the people had voted for, consistent with my stand on clean elections. So these people, they don't want to let the facts get in the way of throwing mud, unfortunately. I've offered to debate them, and if the phone doesn't ring, I know it's them.
Q: I've looked at some of the towns that have passed the CPA and out of the handful of towns in Massachusetts that voted for Bush in 2004 almost a dozen of those have enacted the CPA, and some of them by landslides. Do you think there's bipartisan support?
Absolutely. In May I talked to a friend of mine last week. I used to work with her on Beacon Hill and she's a Republican, and she led the effort in -– I don't know whether it was in Andover or North Andover -– I think it was all Republicans who led the effort. But, there's certain people in certain towns who just want to say no, whatever it is, even if it's a good deal, they'd rather have our tax dollars subsidize the projects that Cambridge chooses to sponsor, or other communities in our area, Newton, that are more affluent than Watertown. So Watertown taxpayers are paying for -- believe it or not -- we're actually helping subsidize Concord's projects, and I, for one, don't like it, and for two, see a lot of projects that we could do in Watertown. From the turfing of Victory Field, to a certified nice Little League park with the appropriate dimensions, to restoring the Edmond Fowle house, and putting some appropriate markers on historic colonial sites in Watertown, restoring veteran's graves and veteran's sites in cemeteries and the like in Watertown. It would be nice to have the Saltonstall monument in a place where people could actually see it, as opposed to along the Charles River Road where a lot of people don't even know it's there, maybe we should move it to Saltonstall Park, since it was named after him. There's 27 acres of the Gore Estate which borders residential areas that developers have attempted twice in the last eight or ten years to develop, and purchase it from the Gore people, and they have withstood the offers, but how long do they withstand it? Wouldn't it be nice if the town could acquire it, and use it for open space or parks or whatever. That end of town is under heavy development pressure, and it might be nice to preserve some of it.
Q: One of the criticisms that I've read is that this winter will be tough, the economy's not doing so hot – is this really the right time for a surcharge on the property tax?
I think for some people that can't afford it, hopefully those people would be eligible to be exempt. If they're a family making more than $66K a year, they would have to pay it, but if they're making less they're exempt. A family of four making less that $66K, or seniors making less than almost $58K, for a senior making about a thousand a week, that's a fair amount of money for a senior if you're living on a fixed income, so I would suggest that most seniors are going to be exempt. It is, for the average home in Watertown, $57 a year, I realize some people are on very tight budgets, but I think the payback is well worth it. The only place that I know of where you can spend $3 and get $10 back, basically the way that works is if the town of Watertown wants to raise $5 in taxes, under the system of taxation that we have, we get $3 from the residents and $2 from the businesses. So to get 5, you get 3 from the residents. To get 10, under this structure, you get 3 from the residents, 2 from the businesses, and 5 from the state, so 3 gets you 10. That's a great deal. The other criticism I've heard, if I may, is, who decides how the money is spent? And, first of all, there's a public hearing and recommendations come from a committee consisting of representatives from the recreation dept. -– these are town departments, by the way -- the planning board, the housing authority, and the historical commission. Plus, four addition members were approved by the town council. So that's number one – public hearings before this committee made up of town officials and people appointed by the town council. Secondly, the town council then must approve every project. They can vote against it if they don't want to fund it, and it's not funded. The town council has the last say. So, this, oh, we're going to get these people who are going to spend this money willy-nilly, that's just not the case. But again, why let facts get in the way?
Q: One other criticism is that some people are worried that the legislature will repeal the Act and we'll be stuck with the full bill but we won't get the matching funds anymore. Do you think that's likely?
First of all, they're wrong, because if we want to repeal this the town can repeal this in five years. That's number one. Number two is that there will be enough funding based on conservative estimates, of low levels and no refinancing boom, in other words, plus a dozen communities adopting this for the next five years. The fund will have, unequivocally, enough money, according to the experts, to fund all the towns that pass this -- 12 additional a year -– for the next 4 years guaranteed. It's hard to predict beyond 4 years, but they think even the 5th, but they're certainly guaranteeing the next 4. So, 4 out of the next 5 years, we're going to have enough. And I would also add, as someone who's served up in the legislature, the more communities that adopt this, the more sacrosanct the fund is -– the more hands-off the legislators are going to be with the fund. We were with the assistant manager of the city of Cambridge yesterday. They got a check for $5M last week. Five million bucks to spend on the projects they deem most appropriate in Cambridge. It's incredible! Watertown would be eligible for $800K. If we raise $800K in town, we get an annual check of over $800K back. A hundred communities have already adopted the CPA, including 92% of the communities that have put the CPA on the ballot in the last 2 years. It's clear, people are figuring out this is a good deal.
Q: Anyway, if you don't mind I'd like to switch gears a little bit and talk about some things going on in the state. When Secretary of the Commonwealth, Bill Galvin was in town last month he mentioned that he'd like to lift the $500/year contribution limit to comply with federal standards under McCain-Feingold. As a former clean Elections candidate, how do you feel about that?
I think somehow people are making the argument that if we let special interests contribute more money to the political process, we'll have less special interest influence. I don't buy it. First of all, the McCain-Feingold limits are $2200 per primary and $2200 for the general. That's more than quadrupling per election. It would actually be about eight times what we're allowed today, almost nine times, because it would it would be $4400 per election cycle, which in my opinion is much too much to allow. It was lowered to $500 from $1000 to lessen the influence – to get people focused on smaller donations. Yeah, is it harder? Sure. I ran for Lieutenant Governor and raised a million dollars on $500 contributions. It is harder. There's no question about it. But it also makes you spend a lot more time with a lot more people. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing either.
Q: One of the things I've noticed is it gives an advantage to candidates who can self-fund.
So, the argument is that if we raise it to $1000 it would be less advantageous to the wealthy people?
Q: Well, the argument is that it would be easier for people to raise enough money to compete with someone who can self-fund.
Well, that may be true, but if that's the only problem with the political system, then where do I sign on? The problem with the political system, however, I believe, is not that wealthy people can buy elections. I think that the problem is the pernicious influence of big money and special interests on the political process. If you allow for more big money, you're going to get more big money and more special interests and all of a sudden that person who‘s raising and spending a lot of money for you at $500 intervals is now going to be spending a lot of time raising more money for you, and arguably have more influence on the political process by raising in $1000 increments. That's the real problem in my opinion. It's not that people are running and they're writing their own check or what-have-you. I don't like that, but that's what Clean Elections attempted to do – level that playing field. And I think it did so, or would have done so pretty well. But, obviously, I got my money at the end of July, and they don't move the date of the election, so it was very difficult to get the aircraft up on a short runway. But even with that, we almost did it. If it was the type of thing where the rules were allowed to operate, it might have happened. If not for me, then for someone else.
Q: Do you think that Mitt Romney is going to run again?
Nope. I think he's gone. He's running for president. He's tipped his hand right along. I mean, you don't announce your criminal justice proposal on capital punishment to the New York Times, and talk about how you've had an incarnation on what was previously an 'always been pro-choice' stance, since his mother ran for the US Senate in the '70s if you're planning on running again in Massachusetts. I think the only guy he's fooling is the guy who looks back at him when he looks in the mirror.
Q: As a former candidate yourself, do you have any advice for the Democratic candidates?
I think that Tom Reilly has a very powerful personal story to tell that he doesn't tell that often. I think he ought to let people see the personality that he has. I would say for Deval Patrick, I think he's got to keep working and dialing for dollars to show that he's going to be a viable candidate. That's hard to do, but in order to cut through in Massachusetts you really need to. A media buy is about $400,000 a week and that's a lot of money and it goes very quickly.
Q: On the Republican side, do you think they'll clear the field for Kerry Healey, or will we see somebody else step up?
Christy Mihos has said, no he didn't want her to have a free ride and everything. But to be candid, that's not necessarily a message that people are going to cartwheels over -– No one should have a free ride so therefore I'm running. That's OK, but why you? So, far be it from me to be the pundit for the Republicans, but I don't see any real serious challenge for Kerry Murphy Healey.
Q: How about for yourself, are we going to see your name on the ballot anytime soon?
I'm just supporting the CPA. You know, all politics is local, and I'm pleased to be able to work on some local issues. As far as running, I'm hoping to run about four miles tomorrow morning and beyond that I don't have any plans. I'm probably too young and too foolish to retire, but short term, I've got three kids -- 12, 15 and 7 -- so I get to spend more time with them, which isn't a bad thing. So, if I knew the answer I'd tell you but I really don't know the answer. We'll see what plans God has, as my sainted Irish mother used to say.
Q: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me.
My pleasure. I'm happy to do it. You do some good stuff -- it's actually very entertaining, I've found. Thanks for shedding some light.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Beware of Republicans Promising Gifts

Yesterday, the Boston Globe reported that local Republicans are courting Essex County Sheriff Frank Cousins Jr to run against Senator Kennedy. Now, I've got nothing against the Sheriff, and I don't know anything more about him than what I saw on Greater Boston last week. It's seems Cousins has been the target of some racist remarks posted on the Correctional Officer's Internet message board. He came off very well in his conversation with Emily Rooney, and the lawyer for the Correctional Officer's Union who rebutted the charges the next night came off as one of the more loathsome members of his profession. In any event, in the Globe article, this passage stood out:

In August, Cousins met with a coordinator from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, according to a GOP official. The committee can provide $35,000 in cash and unlimited indirect expenditures, such an independent ads or operations through the state party to help a GOP senate candidate.
I know it's early for predictions, but I think it's pretty safe to say that the NRSC is not going to make Massachusetts a campaign priority in 2006. Oh sure, they'll mention that they're fighting Ted Kennedy in their fundraising letters, but if Cousins, or whoever ends up running against Senator Kennedy sees more than a pittance from the National GOP, I'd be surprised. They've got too many races where they need to spend money on open seats and defending vulnerable incumbents like Rick Santorum (R-PA) in Pennsylvania who is polling well below his Democratic challenger and Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) who must weather challenges from both the left and the right next year. Other Senators including Jim Talent (R-MO), John Kyl (R-AZ) and John Ensign (R-NV) are already facing strong challengers. Granted, the GOP seems to have bottomless campaign coffers, but I doubt they're going to throw money away in a guaranteed loss, just so a local Sheriff can raise his statewide profile.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

No Followthrough

Today's Herald had more evidence that Governor Mitt Romney has no interest in actually governing our state. It appears that our 'Red Speck' apparently doesn't trust those he appoints to commissions, at least not enough to follow through. Maybe he's worried that their recommendations wouldn't play well enough with those South Carolina Republicans he's worried about. From the article:

More than a dozen "blue-ribbon" commissions and task forces appointed by Gov. Mitt Romney with great fanfare have faded into irrelevance – often ignored by the governor himself, a Herald review has found.

Of the 15 commissions announced by the governor since Jan. 1, 2003, few have sparked substantive changes in laws or policies governing complex issues such as education, affordable housing and equal opportunity employment.

Frustrated commission members told the Herald that Romney either ignored their recommendations, pre-empted their work with unilateral action on his own or took action on an issue that ran counter to their findings or advice.
This is what happens when you have government by publicity stunt. With Romney, we get PowerPoint presentations, press conferences, policy committees, but no followthrough and no leadership. He doesn't seem to even care he's not getting anything accomplished, so long as it looks like he's doing something.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Romney and Theocracy Roundup

Regarding today's Boston Globe article titled "Romney Warns of Theocracy Danger", Wes of Walk in Brain asks:

Anyone else notice the irony in Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R-UT) warning about the dangers of theocracy?
As it turns out, a lot of people noticed. Marry in Massachusetts had this to say:
So, what the Cap'n did not add was that our POTUS wants to legislate narrow religious tenets into our constitution and laws. At first glance, that would seem to steam toward theocracy of a kind this liberty-loving nation has never seen nor wanted. Surely, he can explain this mess to me.
Adam Reilly adds the following:
Color me cynical, but as a prominent Mormon politician--whose faith may pose problems with evangelical voters--does Romney really want emphasize the perils of mixing religion and politics
And of course, Chimes at Midnight summed up the situation in typical style:
This is the same sworn enemy of "theocracy" and a candidate for President who would happily kiss James Dobson's boney ass in the display window of Macy's all in return for the merest pat on the head.
Our local expert on the Religious Right, Fred Clarkson, has yet to weigh in, but I can imagine him echoing these words:
They want to bring down our government, bring down our entire economy. They want to put in place a huge theocracy.
[T]here are some who wish to bring down the Western-leaning governments and put in a more fundamentalist, religious leadership.
Of course, I don't imagine Mr. Clarkson and Mr. Romney would be talking about the same "They".

Monday, October 10, 2005

CPA on the Ballot and in the Yards

The Community Preservation Act has officially been on the ballot here in Watertown for all of a week and already the town's would-be Gover Norquists are putting up yard signs against it. I can understand that some people are against every possible action the Government could take, but opposition to this seems rather short sighted to me. I've already explained why I think it's a good deal for the town, so I won't go into that much further. Proponents of the CPA had planned to run an under-the-radar campaign, but the opposition has been very vocal -- the TAB has at least two anti-CPA letters each issue and has published several anti-CPA columns. Granted, I'm not sure if anyone actually reads the TAB, so maybe it's not a big deal, but if that was your only source of local news, you would come off with the impression that the CPA is just another tax that an ever-expanding government wants to impose on us.

But that's not what's going on. What's really going on is that by enacting the CPA, Watertown can stop funding projects in other communities and, with a little investment of its own, get state funding for projects here. Of the ten towns with the highest median household income per the 2000 census, seven of them have adopted the CPA. Of the top 25, seventeen of them have also passed the act. That means money from Watertown is going to subsidize places like Weston and Carlisle which have median incomes of more than double ours. Short of repealing the CPA on the state level, which will never happen since legislators from the towns that have enacted it have a stake in making sure it stays, the only way to stop shifting money out of Watertown and into our parks, historic buildings, and open spaces is to vote Yes on the CPA in November.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Poll Numbers: To Fret or Not to Fret

David at the Blue Mass Group has a post on the new UMass Lowell poll on the 2006 gubernatorial race. David is cheered by Governor Mitt Romney's low reelect numbers, not to mention Healey's poor showing, but he's understandably anxious that Democratic candidate Deval Patrick's numbers have stayed relatively flat despite campaigning full time since the beginning of the summer. Frederick Clarkson has a decent rebuttal on his site, claiming that it's too early to make any conclusions.

I've had a chance to look over the poll and it's very much in line with the Statehouse News poll released earlier this month, proving perhaps that the Zogby poll is for entertainment purposes only. Regarding Patrick's numbers, I tend to agree with Fred given that it's still over a year before the election and the field on either side is far from set. The trend lines for all the candidates are relatively flat. If one candidate was gaining traction at the expense of Patrick, then I might think that he had cause to worry, but it's silly to obsess over a fluctuation of only a few points. If anything, I think the stable results have shown that few people are thinking about the 2006 election, and they probably won't until next year. Patrick does, however, have a difficulty that other potential candiates Bill Galvin and Tom Reilly do not have. By virtue of their positions in state government, Galvin and Reilly have an easier job getting media coverage, particularly on television. Patrick will have a much harder time earning media until campaign season begins, and I think that's why his name recognition numbers are staying relatively flat.

Mitt's own pollster, however, is not worried about his candidate's dismal showing. The Washington Post's blog, The Fix has his reaction:

Neil Newhouse, a partner at the Republican polling firm of Public Opinion Strategies (and Romney's pollster), offered an interesting and thoughtful perspective on why Romney's numbers are where they are.

"Truthfully, the UMass poll showing a big Reilly lead is meaningless," said Newhouse. "The main reason why Mitt is trailing Reilly is that Mass voters have doubts as to whether he's running for reelection. Should he decide to run, the ballot will close overnight."
Frankly, I don't buy it. Romney is the incumbent and incumbents typically do not get a boost in polling when they decide to run for reelection as such runs are normally assumed. Voters in Massachusetts have already made up their minds on our governor whether or not he's made up his own.

Speaking of which, the Globe is reporting that Romney won't make his decision until late November. Let's make a bet. Which will come first: Romney announcing his election plans or the first snowfall of the season? The weather's been unseasonably warm lately, but Mitt's been pushing his announcement back since he first said he'd decide in the "summer".

Two Candidates in Two Days

Last week I had the opportunity to see two of the possible 2006 Democratic Gubernatorial candidates in two consecutive nights. On Wednesday, I popped into a Deval Patrick fundraiser in Boston and on Thursday, Secretary of State Bill Galvin spoke in front of the Watertown Democratic Town Committee. I had wanted to post about these events earlier, but pesky distractions like oral surgery and sewage-flooded basements intervened.

Patrick said much of what we've heard before, bringing up mostly his economic stimulus plan and his recently unveiled health care plan. One theme that resonated through the evening, though, was Patrick's willingness to engage the private sector in solving problems. Many Democrats fall into the trap that the Government is the be-all and end-all when looking for policy solutions. Not so with Patrick, who is determined to bring all of the players together when crafting his plans. Perhaps this is the way policy used to be crafted, but in today's hyperpolarized political atmosphere where people on both sides are certain that they have all the answers, it was refreshing to hear someone talk of compromise and thoughtfulness as a virtue. Patrick also told the audience that he wanted his candidacy to also be their candidacy. That is, he wants to know about people's concerns so he can be involved in solving real problems. This, I think, is why Patrick has gotten traction among some progressives. It's not because he's checked the right boxes in a list of policy positions; it's because he's willing to listen and he seems genuinely interested in getting the input of all of the stakeholders, not just the usual cadre of the politically connected and powerful.

On Thursday, Secretary of the Commonwealth Bill Galvin spoke in front of the Watertown Democrats. Fellow Watertown blogger H2OTown has some quotes from his hour-long talk. In light of recent news about state revenues, this quote is particularly relevant:

"While state revenues are going up recently, we continue to have very serious problems with the economy in Massachusetts; the main indicator of that is population loss, which I feel reflects loss of jobs. It's no secret the many companies that have moved out of the state."
I was also at the meeting and Galvin came across as wonkish, but capable. He was much better speaking off the cuff in a small group than I've seen him on television or in front of larger audiences giving prepared remarks. Galvin also spent a lot of time telling us that being an "insider" was an asset, since people familiar with the system are more likely to be able to maneuver within it to get things done. He admitted, however, that independent voters were unlikely to find that argument convincing. Galvin also advocated lifting the $500 per year contribution limit to be equal to the Federal limits under McCain-Feingold, which I happen to agree with. Campaigns are not getting cheaper, so limiting individual contributions just means that incumbents who have years to build up their campaign chests and people who can self-fund have huge advantages. While I'm loathe to inject even more money into campaigns, the current system makes it too hard for those who are not multi-millionaires to raise enough money to be competitive.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Election Day Registration

Cameron Kerry, brother of Senator John Kerry and possible candidate for Secretary of the Commonwealth should Bill Galvin decide to run for Governor, had an opinion piece in the Globe earlier this week advocating same-day voter registration. The argument is that same-day registration is an easy way to increase voter turnout and participation in elections. The six states that allow voters to register on election day are among those with the highest turnout rates. It also would nearly eliminate election day confusion, as voters not on the rolls simply register and vote -- no provisional ballots necessary. I have heard, however, that same-day registration is dangerous particularly in states, like our own, that have a rich tradition of voter fraud. Kerry tried to address these concerns:

Same day registration does not increase the risk of fraud. Under the bills being considered on Beacon Hill, registrants will need to present documentation of residency and identity as well as take an oath that the information they provide to election officials is accurate. This is more than is required of other registrants, much less of registered voters who simply show up at a polling place and announce a name and address to vote. The statewide voter database provides an added check that a new registrant has not voted elsewhere in the state that day. Stiff penalties for voter fraud will also deter and punish wrongdoing.
While I think that people willing to commit voter fraud will obviously not be deterred by having to take an oath, I do think that same-day registration is not incompatible with preventing fraud. This is the twenty-first century. We should be able to have a secure, instantly updatable, database of voter registrations. Of course, I don't see how that stops someone from providing false information when registering on election day, but that's a problem with or without same-day registration. Already the unscrupulous can give different names at different polling places; all it takes is a glance at the list of voters and maybe some knowledge of local street names.

Personally, I think that it should be easy for people to vote. The barriers to getting to the polls and finding information about candidates should be sufficiently low to encourage people to participate, rather than discourage. Some may argue that making it difficult to vote ensures that people who do so are informed, but I don't think it's the government's place to make that distinction. Who gets to decide who's "informed" -- it's best, I think, to err on the side of caution. Our system may not be perfect, but I think it works best when everyone participates. If Election Day registration makes more people feel that they have a stake in our government, then we should at least give it a try.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Jobs Lost Right in Mitt's Neighborhood

It looks like New Hampsire Governor John Lynch, a Democrat, has stolen a business away from Massachusetts right under Mitt Romney's nose. The Nashua Telegraph is reporting that Medical Equipment Exchange, formerly of Trapelo Road in Belmont, is now moving to Nashua in part due to a conversation Governor Lynch had with its owner, Bill Skelley on an airplane to Chicago. See, when Lynch travels out-of-state, he looks for jobs to bring back home. Romney, on the other hand, looks for punchlines. Seriously, how can you expect to lure business to your state if you're simultaneously trying to distance yourself from it? In any event, it's clear that New Hampshire has made bringing small businesses into their state, while this and other states focus solely on large enterprises.

So why was Lynch able to steal jobs away from Massachusetts? From the article:

When Skelley wanted to expand the building he owned in Belmont, Mass., he found the process "a challenge at best."
Belmont, where Romney makes his home, seems to be having a problem keeping businesses. I've noticed in a large amount of office space available in the Cushing Square area in particular, where Medical Equipment Exchange used to be. Romney promised to streamline the permitting process in Massachusetts, but like so many other things, he's decided to drop that and focus on sexier issues that play to the conservative base -- lowering taxes, the death penalty, gay marriage bans and so on. At the end of the day, none of those things will create a job unless it's easy for new commercial space to be built or existing space to be expanded or remodeled. If Romney were serious about governing, he'd realize that.

Thanks, by the way, to a tipster for pointing out the article.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Zogby: Mitt's Getting Creamed

The Wall Street Journal has the latest Zogby Interactive poll numbers on the MA gubernatorial race, among many others. Governor Romney is getting creamed by all challengers, and in particular Attorney General Tom Reilly is beating Mitt by over twenty points. Here are the results:

Tom Reilly57.9%
Mitt Romney34.1%
Bill Galvin55.1%
Mitt Romney35%
Deval Patrick53.8%
Mitt Romney35.2%

Via Kos, who cautions that with Zogby's interactive polls respondents are self-selected and conducted over the Internet. Kos also seems to think that this is an outlier for Massachusetts, but Zogby's September results are in line with their own August results. If anything, this points to a flawed methodology on the part of Zogby, and not just a misleading dataset.