Monday, April 30, 2007

Marilyn Devaney and the Curling Iron Caper

The most recent antics of Watertown town councilor and Governor's Councilor Marilyn Devaney have now made the front page of the Boston Globe. Most readers of this space will be familiar with the incident on April 13th where Councilor Devaney allegedly threw a curling iron at a beauty store clerk in Waltham after the clerk would not accept her check without a drivers license.

The Globe article is mostly a fair profile of Councilor Devaney, though it leaves out the details of some of her most recent capers -- like when she called the Watertown Tab's anonymous SpeakOut line to defend herself, got caught and flatly denied it. It divulges one of the secrets of her success, which is mainly that since she has no other job than politician, she has the time to show up everywhere, including nearly every wake in town. It also underestimates her personal income, however, leaving out the various pensions she receives (lovingly detailed by Howie Carr last week). One other thing I noticed is that the article seemed to imply that she's been on a downward spiral since her husband died in 2001. I've talked to a couple people in town who've also been concerned that her mental state has been deteriorating in recent years. I've only been in town for a few short years myself, but during that time, I've often wondered if there wasn't something more going on with her. I should say, however, that my personal interactions with Councilor Devaney have all been very pleasant, and she was very helpful during Deval Patrick's campaign for Governor.

Defenders of Marilyn have already started to come out of the woodwork saying that they clerks at the shop where the incident occurred are notoriously rude, and therefore they deserved to have things thrown at them, and if not they're probably lying anyhow. This is the sort of "No matter what happens, Nothing's Marilyn's Fault" line of reasoning that inspired Watertown Blogger Paul Day to start selling Marilyn-themed merchandise. My favorite is the wall clock that says "I am not late. Someone maliciously reset my clock" on it.

For better or for worse, it's that attitude that will likely be the reason Councilor Devaney weathers this latest storm. There's a sizable constituency in Watertown that believes that since she makes a lot of noise and ruffles people's feathers (particularly the Town Manager's) she is therefore "fighting for the people" -- no matter how effective she actually is. Councilor Devaney's friend and colleague on the Governor's Council, Mary-Ellen Manning hints at this at the end of the Globe article, noting how tough it is to be the "lone voice in the wilderness". Any criticism of the councilor can therefore be dismissed as the product of powerful interests trying to silence her -- the police chief, the town council president, or a publicity-hungry store clerk.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Weekend Baby Blogging

We had a smiley day today, and this is the best one that made it to the camera.

Mass Dems Say Bring a Friend to Convention

This just in from the Massachusetts Democratic Party: In an effort to open the 2007 Action Agenda Convention in Amherst to as many grassroots activists as possible, each paid delegate will be allowed to bring a guest at no charge. According to the website, "all guests will be able to participate in the morning plenary session and in the afternoon workshops." This is a great move on their part, particularly since the goal of this convention is to increase grassroots activity.  Also, I'm especially happy that they're not charging for guests given how much the convention is costing actual delegates. I feel like I'm getting a better value this way.  Hopefully this is a sign of how the party is going to be run under its new chairman, John Walsh.

If you are going to invite a guest, use this registration form, or contact the party office.

Friday, April 27, 2007

O'Brien Out of MA-05 Race

I just got word that Concord resident David O'Brien has decided not to run to replace Congressman Marty Meehan (D-Lowell) in the upcoming special election. I spoke to O'Brien in March and thought he would have served the fifth district admirably if elected. He was, however, well behind the other candidates in fundraising, name recognition, and organization, so I'm not surprised that he's decided to call it quits. His decision leaves a field of five Democrats including State Reps Jamie Eldridge, Barry Finegold, and James Micelli, Lowell City Councilor Eileen Donoghue and Middlesex County Community College Dean Niki Tsongas.

Here's O'Brien's statement in full:

The past month has been one of the most exciting times of my life. I have enjoyed touring every town in the district, meeting and talking with voters, and learning their concerns.

Everywhere I went people responded enthusiastically to my message of bringing real change to Washington. Unfortunately, the dynamics of this special election race made it very difficult for a non-elected first-time congressional candidate without personal financial resources to compete. Therefore, after much thought and discussion with my family and campaign team, I have come to the decision that I will not be a candidate for Congress in this special election.

I appreciate the support I have received from countless friends and citizens. I look forward to continuing my life’s dedication to serving my community and country. I have been fortunate and proud to have worked alongside such great public servants as Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Joe Lieberman, and Ted Kennedy. I plan to continue my activism on behalf of the Democratic Party both as a member of the Democratic National and State Committees.
In other MA-05 news, two Republicans who had previously expressed interest in the race, former NFL player Fred Smerlas and Lawrence Mayor Michael Sullivan have both announced they won't run either, clearing the Republican field for Air Force Lieutenant Colonel James Ogonowski.

Update: Team Tsongas just sent me their statement on O'Brien's departure:
David is a tremendous asset to the 5th Congressional District and has been a tireless advocate for issues of concern to residents in the Merrimack Valley, particularly his work to provide affordable housing in Lowell. He and I shared a sense of how we have to build our campaigns from the grassroots where people live and deal with everyday challenges like having access to affordable health care. I’m sorry to hear that he will no longer be a candidate in the race for Congress in the 5th District, but I am confident that we will all continue to benefit from his dedicated party activism at the local, state and national levels.

Guest Post: Thoughts on Foreclosure Plan

Guest post by Mrs. sco

On Wednesday the Patrick administration announced its plan to stop mortgage fraud and help homeowners at risk of foreclosure. The plan adopts the recommendations of the Mortgage Summit convened last November. It aims to stop deceptive practices, increase oversight and regulation of mortgage providers, and educate consumers. If it works, it will be a huge win for vulnerable homeowners in Massachusetts.

Last fall I had the opportunity to work as a student advocate in the Predatory Lending unit of the Hale and Dorr Legal Services Center in Jamaica Plain. I heard the same story over and over: Unscrupulous lender targets homeowner with lots of debt. Lender feeds owner a story about how convenient it will be to pay off all their other debts and just get a single bill each month. Owner mortgages the house, misses a payment, and the bank forecloses. There are variations – the illness, death, divorce, or job loss that caused the missed payment; the sky-high interest rates, undecipherable payment plan, or bizarre insurance fees added to the mortgage (does anyone in the Boston metro area really need earthquake insurance?) – but it’s basically the same story.

There are two problems here: the circumstances that cause people to get into this mess in the first place, and the difficulty of remedying the situation. The first problem is impossible to resolve completely. There’s no way to ensure that everyone has enough money, luck, responsibility, and financial literacy to avoid debt or an unfair loan. But the administration does try to address this by providing a hotline for people to call when they start having trouble making payments. The hotline information will include referrals to reputable lenders and credit counselors vetted by the government. Crucially, the plan also includes an education initiative. The details aren’t fleshed out yet, but if buyers are given this information at the mortgage closing and also reminded periodically through public education campaigns, the program could be effective.

Of course, as I learned from my time at Legal Services, most people don’t seek help in advance – they keep holding out hope that they’ll dig themselves out of debt until the day they receive that foreclosure notice. At that point, they could still rely on laws like the Truth In Lending Act or the Massachusetts Consumer Credit Cost Disclosure Act to invalidate a deceptive or unfair mortgage. Here’s where the second problem comes in: if you can’t make a mortgage payment, you probably can’t afford to pay a lawyer. The few attorneys in the state who focus on pro bono foreclosure cases are so overburdened that they probably can’t help you either. And here, in my opinion, is the real strength of the administration’s plan: it increases regulatory fees for mortgage lenders and uses the money to create a mortgage fraud unit, so people who have been exploited by subprime lenders can actually take advantage of the recourse that the law already provides.

We’ll have to wait and see how the implementation of the new plan goes, but the very fact that the government is paying attention to this problem and not just leaving homebuyers to their own devices bodes well. Maybe it will force lenders to stop deceptive practices and start dealing with even uneducated consumers fairly, and the reforms will be so successful that they’ll eventually extend to all forms of consumer protection and not just mortgages . . . a girl can dream.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Triple Threat for DiMasi

This morning's Boston Globe features three different stories that cast a bad light on House Speaker Sal DiMasi. The most prominent of the three is the front page, above the fold article about the pension his outgoing executive assistant will receive. The aide, Donna Sweeney, was 'fired' last month after almost exactly twenty years of service, coincidentally the exact amount of time she needed to qualify for early pension benefits. The fact that she was fired, rather than resigned means coupled with her years of service boosts her pension a whopping $15,400 a year. Bob over at BMG is outraged, and he's not alone.

Part of me wonders whether this article was the result of a tip someone from the administration gave to the Globe in retaliation for DiMasi's constant willingness to throw the Governor under the bus. That would fit in nicely with my theory about Andrea Estes, but maybe that's just wishful thinking on my part.

In the local section, Frank Phillips notes that DiMasi's budget may end up costing the state $20 million in federal funds for the MBTA. DiMasi wants to move the Transportation Oversight Division from the Department of Public Utilities to the Executive Office of Transportation, but the Feds think this would compromise the agency's independence. The most curious part of the move is that the DPU was just reorganized earlier this year to be put under the jurisdiction of the Office of Environmental Affairs without DiMasi's objection. Not only that, but his putting this change in the budget breaks his own stated policy against putting new policy or major changes in that bill. I guess if you're the one making the rules, you get to break them.

Finally, on the op/ed pages, columnist Joan Vennochi says that DiMasi is standing up for 'unfairness' by standing in the way of the closure of business tax loopholes proposed by Governor Patrick. She makes a good point, noting that if DiMasi thought it was only fair that businesses help pay for healthcare in last year's plan, why is it so unfair now that they should exploit the tax code to get out of paying what they owe. In her words:

But DiMasi rejected Patrick's proposal. Instead of making sure business pays its fair share, DiMasi would rather dip into savings to close a projected budget gap. In doing so, the speaker stands with the coalition of the greedy at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and other business-backed groups.

The business community argues that closing so-called loopholes amounts to a tax increase. I suppose it does -- in the same way that making a millionaire pay for a previously free lunch is an unwelcome strain on the wallet. But that doesn't make it unfair or too big a burden.
Vennochi then goes on to detail the proposed changes, all which sound perfectly reasonable, and makes the point that the business tax burden in Massachusetts is just not high anymore, if it ever was.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

MA-05 Primary Date Now in Doubt

Via the ever-vigilant Dick Howe: the Lowell Sun today had an article detailing how all 29 clerks from the communities in the fifth Congressional district object to the Sept. 4th primary date for the special election to replace retiring Congressman Marty Meehan (D-Lowell). They've written a letter to Governor Deval Patrick asking him to pick another date, siting some of the same reasons that I noted previously. From the Sun:

[Groton Town Clerk Honorina] Maloney recently sent a letter to Patrick on behalf of all clerks in the 5th District, asking that he reschedule the primary tentatively set for Sept. 4, the day after Labor Day. The clerks fear that holding the election on Sept. 4 would result in a low voter turnout and a heavier financial burden for communities, which would have to pay workers overtime to set up voting places on the holiday. In addition, it might create chaos at schools that double as polling places because many of them open for the academic year on Sept. 4, Maloney says.
The problem is that Governor Patrick is obligated to set the primary date between 145 and 160 days of when Congressman Meehan submits his letter of resignation. If Meehan picks May 9th, that would limit Patrick's choices to three Tuesdays -- August 21st, August 28th, and September 4th. The only way that Patrick could pick a later date would be if Meehan waited to submit his resignation or if the law was changed. Unless they'd prefer the primary in August, the clerks should direct their letter to Congressman Meehan and Secretary of the Commonwealth Bill Galvin, who worked out the May 9th date together.

Also, the clerks note that they would prefer to have the special election on the same day as the city elections. That's probably easier for them, but Galvin has already spoken out against that idea already. His objection is that the city elections are non-partisan, while the Congressional election would be partisan. I'm not sure how exactly that makes a difference. My objection would be that it would give an advantage to candidates from cities, as their turnout would likely be disproportionately higher than the towns since there are more people on the ballots there. I realize that having it on a different day would discourage turnout, but I feel like there should not be a structural bias built into the election calendar. I'm actually kind of surprised that the town clerks signed on to that, though, since most towns would have already had their elections in the spring. If they have no objections, maybe my fears are overblown, after all this race may be high-profile enough that the special election boosts the city turnout, and not vice versa.

Special Elections Update

Two developments on the special election front today. First, the candidates in the race to replace former Senate President and soon-to-be-lobbyist Robert Travaglini are now set. The Herald's Casey Ross got the list from the Secretary of State's office, and only two candidates returned nomination papers, current state Rep Anthony Petruccelli (D-East Boston) and Revere City Councilor Dan Rizzo. For the second special election out of three this year, the Republicans will not field a candidate. Given that they are down to only five members of the state Senate, I'm a little surprised that they weren't able to recruit anyone to at least wave the GOP flag for a few weeks.

In some positive news for the state Republicans, it looks like they will field at least one candidate to run for the fifth district seat being vacated by Congressman Marty Meehan. Dracut Republican Jim Ogonowski, brother of one of the pilots killed on 9/11 and 28 year Air Force veteran, officially announced his candidacy today. His website is a little thin on the details of his candidacy, so it's a little difficult to predict what kind of a candidate he'd be. Still, despite his name recognition, I think he'd have a tough time if Lawrence Mayor Michael Sullivan is still interested in the seat.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

De-Romnefication of Massachusetts Continues

Today's Globe has the story that Governor Deval Patrick has declined to apply for federal abstinence-only funds, in a departure from the policy former Governor Mitt Romney set just last year. While in the past this money was used for PSAs and supplemental educational material, under Romney, the grant money was funneled almost exclusively to expanding abstinence-only education programs in schools. Governor Patrick's decision to turn down the funds comes as several other states are making the same choice in the face of increasing restrictions on how the money can be spent from the Feds.

Let's be clear. It's not the abstinence part of the program that is objectionable. It's the only. I am very much in favor of a comprehensive program that focuses on abstinence, but also gives teens enough information so that they know what behaviors are more risky than others. The legislature under Romney thought so as well, and required that abstinence-only education be taught in parallel with a separate regular sex education program. Federal restrictions on the grant money prevent the two from being combined, which seems to me to be the best way to teach sex-ed.

What I found curious, however, was the fact that the legislature put the funding for abstinence-only education back in the budget, after Governor Patrick removed it. The Globe details the real reason the legislature has left this in:

Last year and this year, Raymond B. Ruddy -- president of the Gerard Health Foundation, which has given millions to antiabortion and abstinence groups -- hired lobbyist John Bartley to persuade lawmakers to include the funding in the budget for the program. Ruddy paid Bartley nearly $50,000 last year for his work on this single issue.
While Bartley, a former legislator himself, surely has other clients, he did drop almost $10,000 at the feet of candidates and committees in 2006, according to the OCPF. That makes me wonder how many legislators really think that it's effective for students to be given two separate sex-ed classes -- one abstinence only and one comprehensive -- and how many are worried about upsetting the gravy train.

Mass. Liberal has more, as does Ryan.

Update 4/25: Today's Globe makes the following additional point in an editorial today:
It isn't just money that the abstinence-only programs waste. They also waste the students' time, at a point when students, parents, and teachers all complain about the difficulty of finding enough time in the crowded school day for elective academic subjects while also preparing students for the MCAS tests. Sex education should be part of the public school curriculum, but it should be comprehensive and it should not be supplemented or replaced by a singular, ineffective approach to sexuality.

Conference Call with Senator Kerry

On Thursday, I participated in a blogger conference call with Senator John Kerry. David Eisenthal has a report on the call, and other participants included Susan from Beyond 495, Lynne from Left in Lowell and Andy formerly of Mass. Revolution Now, and currently of a new mysterious blog project. David's rundown is superb, so I won't go into too much more detail, and hopefully some of the other bloggers will give their reactions as well in the next few days (I'm surprised that more haven't, actually).

My question to the Senator was on Cape Wind. I have seen people on both sides of the issue try to claim lately that Kerry agrees with them, so I wanted to hear directly from him what his position was, particularly given his new book and recent focus on the environment. His answer likely would disappoint both those in favor and those against. He would not comment on the merits of the project, but only said that he supports wind energy in principle. He noted that those against he project have serious concerns about the siting and he's content to just let the permitting process work, and see what the Coast Guard has to say about it. On that, he asked "Does a developer have the right to just plunk down anywhere and say, 'here, I'm doing this here' or is there some sort of siting standard?" He noted that he has concerns whether the proposed site is the "number one prime location" or if another spot might be more effective and that only 6% of the country lends itself to wind use. The upshot seems to be that he won't work to stop it, but neither will he try to help it through.

It was a little frustrating, then, to hear Kerry go on to talk favorably about small wind turbines people could put on their roof when asked a question about the decentralization of power generation. Where were his concerns about whether a rooftop turbine would be the number one prime location for generating power to a home? Why no talk of countless hoops a home wind user would have to go through? Yes, I understand there's a difference between putting up a single turbine on private property and putting over 100 on public land, but it seems incongruous to say on the one hand that you're worried about people putting up windmills willy-nilly and on the other that everyone should have their own.

That all said, Senator Kerry is exactly right on decentralized energy. He hoped that decentralized energy sources would be a big part of how we deal with energy problems. With the proper incentives, the marketplace will begin to provide more choices for consumers. He talked about putting tax credits or other programs in place to make putting up your own solar or other renewable energy system affordable, and he's looking personally to be on a "green grid".

One thing that David did not mention was how well briefed Senator Kerry was on all of us. I've done a bunch of blogger conference calls in the past and Kerry is so far the only one who had been at all prepped on all the participants.

Senator Kerry also was at an event this past weekend in Cambridge. He and his wife, Theresa Heinz Kerry did a reading of their new book This Moment on Earth at the First Parish Church in Harvard Square. John Kerry's blog has a complete account of the event.

Monday, April 23, 2007

McGovern on Clinton

I'm still digging my way back to current events after my out-of-town weekend, so it took me a while to notice this post at Below Boston which pointed out, among other things, an article by David Corn where Corn gets Congressman Jim McGovern (D-Worcester) to explain why he endorsed Hillary Clintion for President. McGovern has been, to my mind, the most outspoken of all our Massachusetts Congressmen against the Iraq war. So much so, that he was reportedly close to voting against the recent supplemental spending bill because it didn't go far enough toward ending the war. It was therefore a surprise to me when he announced a in March that he was endorsing the candidate considered the most hawkish of the 2008 Democratic frontrunners.

In the article, Corn gets McGovern to admit that his endorsement is partially because of his own daughter:

"I picked up my daughter from kindergarten the day after Hillary announced her presidential campaign, and all these five-year-old girls were talking about Hillary. I found it amazing. They were excited about Hillary's candidacy. I realized if she's elected, she breaks an important glass ceiling. These little girls learn about presidents who are only men. For me this is a very powerful moment."
McGovern goes on to say that all the 2008 Democrats are against the war, and that he's not interested in hearing an apology from Senator Clinton for her war vote. He's instead interested in ending the war and considers Clinton the candidate best positioned to do so. Normally endorsements don't mean much, but McGovern may be able to make a Clinton candidacy more palatable to people who oppose the Iraq war.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Weekend Baby Blogging

The unfortunate result of an explosion at the yarn factory.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Depression is Treatable

Guest Post by Susan Falkoff

Seven weeks after announcing she was being treated for exhaustion and depression, Diane Patrick is ready to return to public life. Hmm, 4-8 weeks is how long they say it takes most anti-depressants to take effect. They also say that situational depressions like Diane’s are highly responsive to the right medication. Impossible to fault Diane: weren’t we all a little depressed by how things were going for the first few weeks of the administration?

Can’t give medication, though. Who wouldn’t be glad to have an attentive, respectful, committed husband like Diane’s, who walks the walk about putting you first? The Globe ran a photo of Diane and Deval at the movies last weekend. I had two reactions: 1) how sweet! and 2) who was there interrupting their date with a camera? I guess we don’t see more date photos because usually governors/presidents either don’t like their spouse, don’t bother with dates, or they only attend private showings so they won’t have to talk to anyone or have a picture of their date in the Globe the next day.

Mitt Romney seemed to have been elected on the strength of an ad that talked about his lying to his father to sneak out on a date with his wife. Lying to your father is a reason to elect someone? I didn’t get it. What I do get is that what the Patricks have is the real thing. Welcome back, Diane!

Friday, April 20, 2007

A Wise Hire

Guest Post by Susan Falkoff

Here’s some good news in what someone at described as “a very [expletive deleted in deference to Steve] week”:

The Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs has hired Marc Breslow of the Massachusetts Climate Action Network (MCAN) to develop state policies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and buildings.
For those of us concerned about global warming – and who isn’t? – this is wonderful news. If you haven’t encountered Marc, you haven’t been active on this issue in Massachusetts. No one knows more, has done more, has spurred others on to do more, than Marc. He said, “I've had a great time being part of our growing movement, and am happy that I can continue doing so with a state administration that really wants to address the issue.” Congratulations to Marc and to Gov. Patrick’s administration for making a very wise hire. Check out for more information about MCAN and information about what’s happening in your town to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

A Man Went Into a Bar

Guest Post by Susan Falkoff, sco will return Sunday

What happened to all the good old bar jokes? My father told this one, repeatedly: “A man goes into a bar. He orders crab and asks that the crab be boiled alive. The chef storms out of the kitchen, horrified at the cruel request. ‘But you do it to lobsters all the time,’ says the patron. ‘Lobsters are used to it!’ replies the chef.”

America, myself included, gasps at the horrifying massacre of 33 people at Virginia Tech. For those of us who are students, or former students, or the parents of a student, this hits close to home. Yet, I recognize with some embarrassment that neither I nor the media is able to sustain this level of outrage and attention to for daily life in Iraq, where 33 might be the civilian death toll on a slow day. From today’s NY Times: “Bombs ravaged Baghdad in five horrific explosions aimed mainly at Shiite crowds on Wednesday, killing at least 171 people in the deadliest day in the capital since the American-led security plan for the city took effect two months ago.” If we could, as a nation, acknowledge this reality, would it make a difference? Or would we just conclude that lobsters are used to it?


Nearly 1500 amendments amounting to over $500 million in spending have been submitted to the House budget, and you can sift through them all starting here. As is the case with all earmarks, they are certainly all wasteful except for the ones that directly affect you. In my case, that would be money allocated for the bike path that would pass nearby the .08 Acre homestead. Everything else is just so many gazebos. Of course, I'm exaggerating, but it's important to remember during this debate that "waste" is almost always in the eye of the beholder.

Governor Deval Patrick tried to eliminate many of these earmarks in his spending plan, but they are back like zombies in the House version of the budget. Patrick's secretary of administration and finance, Leslie Kirwan, has said that each earmark will be considered individually and the Governor has pointed out that he still has line-item veto power. I had originally thought that Patrick might be able to sustain some of those vetoes, given that he has many more allies in the legislature than the previous governor. I'm not so sure now, given that some of his strongest supporters on the campaign trail, the Globe article quotes extensively from Rep. Mike Festa (D-Melrose), are not willing to give up their earmarks. If he can't count on some of his earliest backers, he's going to have a lot of trouble finding enough votes to sustain a veto. Perhaps his best course of action would be to work closely with House leadership to limit the number of earmarks that make it into the House version of the budget.

On a related note, the Boston Globe had an interesting article a few days ago detailing how federal agencies were at a loss to figure out how to spend their budgets without Congressional earmarks for guidance. It's been so long since they've had any discretion that it appears that the agencies just let their internal processes for awarding contracts and grants has atrophied.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Potential for a Telecom Deal?

They want something.

We want something.

Is statewide permitting worth enough to Verizon that they'll agree to pay the property taxes on telephone poles and switches? Is the increased property tax revenue worth the reduction in barganing power that cities and towns have with their cable companies? Has anyone asked?

Pipe dream bonus question: What if the state allowed utility companies to use flaggers instead of police details when doing work? Sure, it probably won't happen, but perhaps we can make the bitter pill of removing the telecom property tax loophole easier to swallow by giving these companies what they want in other areas. The state has bargaining chips. Is anyone at the bargaining table?

MA-05 Candidates and the Blogs

Dick Howe pointed out yesterday an article in the Lowell Sun on how candidates were using the Internet in their quest to be the next Congressman from the fifth district. The article focuses on the candidates' fundraising and web presence, but also name-drops two of our local blogging heroes (without the URLs, I noticed). The part I particularly enjoyed was this:

Tsongas, Eldridge and Donoghue have all turned to the popular, liberal blog Blue Mass. Group to post introductions of themselves personally, a way to speak directly and unfiltered to voters.

Those three candidates, as well as O'Brien and Finegold, have also given lengthy interviews to bloggers, which were then posted to sites like Blue Mass. Group and Left in Lowell.
I wonder if they are talking about these interviews! This is probably as close as I'll ever get to a mention in the Lowell Sun, so I guess I'll take it.

More seriously, though, one thing that often goes unremarked upon in articles about where people get their information about candidates online is the Google factor. My server logs show that people have been finding my blog by searching for the candidates, not just for the fifth district seat, but for all the special elections this spring. As of this posting, my interviews with the fifth district candidate appear on the first page in a Google search on their names. When candidates talk to bloggers, they're not just communicating with blog readers, but with anyone who searches the web for them. This is particularly true for local candidates, because they are less likely to have widespread information about them online, and therefore any individual post by even a small-time blogger (like myself) can become very visible thanks to Google.

For some advice on how candidates can engage the blogosphere, check out this post I wrote last March which has some easy guidelines.

More Like This, Please

Thanks in large part to the efforts of Governor Deval Patrick, Evergreen Solar will expand in Massachusetts, building a new manufacturing plant in Westborough and doubling their Massachusetts workforce. Richard Feldt, president and CEO of the company had nothing but praise for the Governor in the press release announcing the expansion:

"Governor Patrick's vision for broad scale solar adoption through an innovative solar incentive program as well as the creative financial incentive programs the state had to offer influenced our decision to expand in Massachusetts . Finally, the Governor's efforts to encourage utilities to use their substantial infrastructure to improve solar market delivery should help us close the gap between solar and conventional energy costs."
This is the difference an engaged governor can make. The Globe article on the story quotes Evergreen Founder Mark Farber as saying that no one in the Romney administration showed "receptiveness" toward the company. If Governor Patrick can keep luring and keeping businesses here -- and loudly claim credit for it -- his early missteps will be just a footnote along the state's road to economic recovery.

By the way, I hate to open old wounds, but I recall that former gubernatorial candidate and venture capitalist Chris Gabrieli pooh-poohed the idea of a Massachusetts expansion for Evergreen Solar during one of last year's debates. I'm sure he's happy to have been proven wrong.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Unamed Sources Mean Unknown Biases

I am a little disturbed by Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh's use of unnamed sources as a basis for his column on whether John Edwards is sincere when he says he regrets his vote on the Iraq war. According to these two anonymous but supposedly high-level Kerry/Edwards 2004 campaign aides, Edwards was gung-ho about standing behind his vote to authorize force in Iraq. The implication, of course, is that Edwards is only apologizing for his vote because it's politically expedient, and not because he actually believes that it was wrong.

The problem, however, is that since Lehigh's story relies on three former aides that he declines to name, we have no way of assessing what might motivate them to come forward. Most of the people involved at that level with the Kerry campaign in 2004 are now working for other candidates. Lehigh does not mention whether these sources are supporting other 2008 candidates -- John Edwards' rivals -- and readers are left to wonder. I have to imagine that almost everyone who was a high enough level operative to be privy to the conversation that Lehigh describes is still working in politics, and has something to gain if their preferred candidate wins the Democratic nomination. This is the same sort of conflict that lead CNN to label James Carville a Clinton advisor instead of a "political analyst" during on-air segments.

Even if Lehigh's sources aren't biased in favor another candidate, it's quite likely that they still may have an axe to grind with Edwards. He has been expressing his frustration with the 2004 consultants for some time now, and it's likely that some of them might want to make him look bad in return. Edwards' message these days is that he's tired of listening to consultants, even his own, and whether or not that message is being scripted by a campaign aide, I have to imagine that it's causing a little discomfort among the DC consultant class.

And just in case anyone was wondering about my own biases, I'm neutral on the current crop of Democratic Presidential candidates. I'm not picking on Lehigh because he dissed my candidate because I don't have one. If you'd like to read reaction to the column from an actual Edwards supporter, check out this post at Boston for Edwards.

Special Elections Today

Today features at least three special elections, one general and two primaries. Two of these races are to replace members of the state House of Representatives. In the 14th Worcester district (parts of Worcester and all of West Boylston), Democrat Jim O'Day faces off against unenrolled candidate (and former Democrat) Joseph Cariglia. In the 11th Norfolk district (Dedham and Westwood), both parties have contested primaries. For the Republicans, Doug Obey faces off against Bill McKinney. On the Democratic side, there's a four-way contest between candidates Thomas Boncek, Steve Bilafer, Joanne Flatley, and Cheryl Schoenfeld. The winners of those primaries will face Paul McMurty in the May 15th general election.

Also today is the Boston City Council Preliminary Election to fill the seat of the late Jimmy Kelly. A field of seven candidates will be narrowed down to the top two vote-getters who will square off on May 15th. Sunday's Boston Globe had a nice comparison of all seven candidates.

In other special election news, keep your eye on Fall River where state Rep Robert Correia (D-Fall River) has kicked off his campaign for mayor. He has said that if he wins that post, he'll resign his house seat.

And the winners are:
14th Worcester -- Jim O'Day (D) (results)
11th Norfolk -- Doug Obey (R) and Steve Bilafer (D) (results)
Boston District 2 -- Susan Passoni and Brian Linehan (results)

Question of the night: Why can I get election results on the website of the tiny town of West Boylston, but not on the city of Worcester's site? I expect better from the second largest city in the Commonwealth.

Augustus on Patrick

Sunday's Worcester Telegram and Gazette featured an interview with Senator Ed Augustus (D-Worcester) by columnist Robert Nemeth. The whole piece is very interesting and focuses largely on the increased attention that Worcester and Centeral Massachusetts in general is able to get from Beacon Hill, particularly now that Worcester's former mayor Tim Murray is the Lieutenant Governor and Augustus now chairs the powerful Committee on Third Reading and Senator Stephen Brewer (D-Barre) is now assistant vice chairman on Ways and Means. What interested me, though, was Augustus' astute diagnosis of Governor Deval Patrick's early problems. From the column (emphasis added):

[Augustus] suggested Mr. Patrick needs to articulate his long-range agenda better in order to gather legislative support. "Lookit, we want to help, but he needs to tell us what he wants to do, where he wants to go, in a year or two. We have bits and pieces, but not the whole picture. He needs to tell us what his idea of success is, and how to achieve it. The budget in itself is not an achievement. It is merely a vehicle to help achieve things."

He went on: "Ronald Reagan's entire eight years in office could be summed up in two themes: Shrink government, and be tough on the Russians. With Bill Clinton, it was building a bridge to the 21st century and making America more competitive. We don't see a cohesive, well-focused approach from Deval Patrick yet."
I think that is a very fair assessment, particularly the part I bolded. Patrick left a bit of a vacuum while he was working on the budget, and the press was content to fill it with helicopters and Cadillacs and office furniture. Hopefully now that he has a new team in place, he'll be better able to articulate his vision and put it into policy proposals.

Monday, April 16, 2007

More Detail on MA-05 Q1 Fundraising

The first quarter fundraising reports for federal candidates were due over the weekend, and I had a chance to digest them a little bit. All the candidates' donations, except for David O'Brien's are reported on the FEC's website. O'Brien had previously told the Lowell Sun that he had not started fundraising in Q1. In addition, no Republican candidates for the fifth district raised any money in the first quarter of 2007, however Lawrence Mayor Michael Sullivan has recently formed an exploratory committee so he could potentially start fundraising. Here are each candidate's fundraising numbers, along with their current cash on hand and number of unique donors.

CandidateRaised Q1COHDonors
Note that of Eileen Donoghue's total, $325,000 of it was a loan to herself. Also, Niki Tsongas spent the most money, burning through about $22,000 (mostly on consultants) to leave her with only the third highest cash on hand. Perhaps more importantly, though, Tsongas has the lead in the number of unique individual donors (not counting PACs or other committees). It also looks like Tsongas is getting a number of dupicate maximum donations -- half for the primary and half for the general -- because there a quite a few donors giving a total of $4,600. In all Tsongas raised $277,810 exclusively for the primary and $54,900 that can be used for the general only. No other candidate has raised money for the general election.

Also interesting is the percentage of donations coming from both out of state and out of district. The table below shows where the candidates are getting their money.
CandidateIn stateOut of StateIn DistrictOut of District
You can see from this that Jamie Eldridge and Barry Finegold have each raised about one out of every five dollars from outside of Massachusetts. When you narrow the geography to the district level, however, you can see that nearly three-quarters of Niki Tsongas' money has come from outside the fifth district. In addition, all of James Miceli's six donors are from his hometown of Willmington, which is outside the district. Eileen Donoghue does the best with nearly two-thirds of her funds coming from inside the fifth.

Keep in mind that these are just the ratios for the first quarter fundraising and are likely to change as the election nears. The next round of FEC reporting should be available in July and that should provide a clearer picture of where the candidates' campaign cash is coming from.

Interview With Councilor Eileen Donoghue

This weekend, I had the opportunity to talk with Lowell City Councilor, and former Mayor, Eileen Donoghue, one of six Democratic candidates vying for Congressman Marty Meehan's (D-Lowell) seat in the Fifth District. She points to the economic renewal of the city of Lowell as something she's the most proud of in her public life. She also noted her work on the Lowell School Committee and the small academies that operate within the high school and provide specialized programs to select students. In education, she would like to see No Child Left Behind and special education mandates fully funded on the Federal level. She thinks we should end our involvement in iraq and bring the troops home. She proclaimed her support for a Massachusetts-style plan to get to universal health insurance coverage over a single-payer plan.

In addition, Councilor Donoghue praised Congressman Meehan's work on campaign finance reform. She also advocated incentives for consumers to buy fuel-efficient vehicles and for companies to pursue renewable energy. Though she did say that business leaders she has talked to were against the idea of enacting a meals tax in Lowell, she applauded Governor Deval Patrick for pushing to allow cities to raise other sources of revenue. Donoghue indicated that her priority would be making sure that our returning veterans were being taken care of.

Councilor Donoghue is the fourth candidate for MA-05 that I have spoken with. Last month, I posted my interviews with David O'Brien and Rep. Jamie Eldridge and last week, I posted an interview with Rep. Barry Finegold.

To get involved with Councilor Donoghue's campaign, you can check out her website,

Read excerpts from the full interview inside
Q: You've been on the Lowell City Council for 12 years now. What has been your most important achievement there?

During these 12 years -- I served as Mayor for four of them -- when I first got involved, Lowell had been in a bad way, suffering from the economic downturn of the late eighties and early nineties. I think what we've been able to achieve here in Lowell over the past 10-12 years has a lot to do with the economic development initiatives that we have put through in a real meaningful way. There were certain catalysts that really jump-started some of the revitalization of the downtown -- the arena, the ballpark -- all of which were tough sells back then because they were controversial projects.

Once those became a reality and they were a success, what we next went to was how do we revitalize the downtown. I'm proud of what we've been able to do by forming and forging public partnerships: public-public partnerships with the local government and the state in many cases -- the ballpark and the arena are prime examples -- as well as public-private partnerships. I was instrumental in leading the charge on artist live-work space and developing the Ayer Lofts and making certain that that project became a reality. That was a catalyst for millions of dollars in investment by the private sector because we now have about a thousand market-rate units either online or coming online in the near future in the downtown. So, I'm proud of those achievements.

But if I switch gears, when I was Mayor and I chaired the school committee, those years I learned a great deal about the challenges that not only our school district but every school district faces. Through the challenges that an urban district faces in the day of unfunded mandates, we were able to achieve a lot of success even working with minimal dollars.

I'll give you an example. One of them has to do with our high school, which is a great high school but it's one of the biggest in the state. At the time when I chaired the school committee there were about 16,500 students. We had a high school that then was about 36, 3700, now it's just under 4,000, which is a lot of kids by today's standards to have under one roof. What we came up during those years and implemented in a very successful way are academies within the high school. The first one was what's known as the Latin Lyceum academy which is really an exam school similar to Boston Latin, a school within a school. We have a communications academy, we have several academies that have developed so that it gives students an opportunity to go to school, albeit in a very large urban high school, but have a specialized feel and almost a smaller feel, if they choose, in an area that is of interest to them.

So that's been, again, trying to work creatively, come up with ideas that aren't necessarily budget-busters, but improving and working with what you have. I think we, in those years, did a good job. I think the school district has continued to do a good job. We've implemented programs that we are now seeing some of the kids who went through the school and particularly the tenth grade, their MCAS scores, we're seeing real improvement now by doing certain things in the lower grades. All of those things are important.
Q: Would you like to see national grants to encourage that sort of education model, at the federal level?
At the federal level, if I'm the representative in Washington, what I would like to see the federal government do is fulfill their duties to the local governments, both state and local, by funding their mandates, starting with the No Child Left Behind Act. They have really shirked their responsibilities. It was underfunded to begin with, and I remember the superintendent of our district saying, "You know, if they don't fund this, it's going to be just another drain and an administrative nightmare," and that's exactly what happened.

When I was Mayor and chair of the committee, some of the big drain -- and it continues to be -- is the fact that they don't fund special education. It had been funded at one point up to 40% of the budget, again, mandates from the federal government, but now in some areas it's down to 12 or 13%. And the cost is skyrocketing. What I would like to see is the federal government really fund those mandates, and really partner the way they should be doing with us, in every district across the Fifth and across the country, quite frankly.

The other thing I would like to see them do is reinstitute programs like the community school program that they had in effect at one point in time, where we could utilize the resources of the schools to have at least some of these schools open until 9:00 at night. Kids could do homework, computer labs, gym, things that keep them actively engaged in a structured setting. I think those are things that are important to every youngster and to our society in general.

So, those are just some of the ideas that I have that I would be a real strong voice for, I can tell you. Because when you've been on the receiving end, you see firsthand what some of the effects are on the students, on the teachers, when you have these unfunded mandates. That money has to come from somewhere. The resources have to come from somewhere. And unfortunately, it comes out of good-quality programs that kids could benefit from, that get slashed because of these things. I think it's a real serious problem.
Q: When you've been out talking to people, what do you think has been the number one issue of the minds of the voters in the Fifth District?
I think it depends on who you talk to and where you are. Certainly the war in Iraq is a big concern on a number of levels. The war is draining this country, not just financially but emotionally. Everybody I've talked to, I haven't run across one single person who doesn't agree with me and many others that we should end our involvement and bring the troops home from Iraq. When I say it depends on who you are, in some areas, particularly in the cities, there's more of a concern for the economy, jobs, economic development, and in relation to that the impact the war in Iraq is having on us domestically. I think the war in Iraq is an overarching issue.

In Methuen, and in Lawrence yesterday, talking to groups in the Latino community, there's a real concern about jobs, there's a real concern about education and costs of education. We had a very robust discussion about, how do you pay for a college education today? The same opportunities aren't there that were there in the past. So, what can the federal government do? Those are concerns.

The other area, in Hudson I was talking to some people about the health care crisis -- the cost of health care, the cost of prescription drugs, especially for seniors.
Q: What do you think the federal government can do to lower the costs of health care?
I think first of all we have to have coverage for everybody. Looking at the Massachusetts plan, I think it's a good start. That's something we should first do. I sit on the board of one of our local hospitals, Saints Medical Center, and I have seen year in and year out the pressures on the community hospitals from so many different angles. One thing is for sure, the ranks of people coming into the hospital with no insurance is growing. It's unfortunate because we -- when I say we, I mean all of us -- are paying for this health care crisis one way or another, whether it's through the uninsured health care pool which is never enough to pay for what the hospitals really provide, or the hospital is taking it on the chin. One way or another we're paying for it, but we're doing it at the most expensive rung of the ladder.

What I would want to do is examine, what are the real dollars going out the door paying for our broken system right now? Let's step back, and that's why I like the Massachusetts plan as far as the start because it's affordable, it's not really killing a small business in order to get coverage. At least you're offering the option for someone to get primary care or preventative medicine so that they're not all landing at the emergency room and [getting treated] in a very cost-inefficient way.
Q: What's your opinion on single-payer healthcare?
I would prefer to pursue fixing the system without going to single-payer first. I wouldn't rule it out, but I think it's certainly possible and I would want to pursue those options first. Again, I point to the Massachusetts law at least as a starting point.
Q: You'll be replacing Congressman Meehan, and what he is most known for is his efforts in campaign finance reform. Do you favor any solutions for that, and would you continue some of the work he's done?
I think he did a great job in terms of trying to get at the soft money problem in campaign finance. I will say that there's probably room for more reform. I know Marty had other issues he tried to champion as well. It is incredible to me how expensive it is -- the money you have to raise once you're a candidate, you realize that. I don't have an answer for it, but I certainly want to explore, is there a way to make it possible for someone to put their name on the ballot and not have to either spend every waking moment of their lives begging for money or be beholden to special interests. I think that's really, really important.

Even at this stage, just being a candidate, I can't imagine -- people who are incumbents for a great deal of time, I'm certain, have a tremendous advantage and that's not necessarily a good thing for our government or for democracy. When you look at how expensive these campaigns have become, I think something has to get [done]. Certainly what Marty did was a benefit, but there's probably room for more reform, and I know that's a huge challenge. I know all the special interests probably are funding any roadblocks to that path.
Q: Speaking of which, I know you managed to raise the most money out of the candidates in the first quarter. How much of that was loaned to your campaign and how much was from donations?
I don't have the exact figures because we haven't even finished the final report -- we were dealing with the FEC all day today, and with passwords and codes, all of this. I will answer that a large amount was a loan, the reason being that I got my fundraising operation up and going about four days before the March 31 deadline. Though I had gotten some pledges for about a week before that, I made a decision that I was going to loan money to my campaign, and continue to raise money, which I have done and am doing, for a couple of reasons. Number one, I want to make sure I am competitive in this race. Number two, because I'm asking people to support me and invest in my candidacy, and I want them to know that I'm invested as well. If I didn't think I could win, I certainly wouldn't do that. I'm not crazy. And number three, I think number three is the most important, in a race like this, with the short duration, relatively speaking, and a big district, I want to make sure that I have the appropriate time and energy to be out there meeting voters, talking -- I think this is a grassroots sort of campaign, and God forbid I'm tied to a phone for 15 hours a day. You can raise dollars, but that doesn't always equal votes. So for all those reasons, it was a -- I don't even have the exact figure, but it certainly wasn't over the legal amount, it wasn't over 350. But the report will be finished, I'm hoping by tomorrow afternoon.
Q: Let's talk about the environment. What would you like to see done to try to counter the effects of climate change?
I think there are a number of things that the federal government can and should do, because it would seem that most thinking people are no longer debating whether it's real. The obvious answer to me would be that we are too dependent on foreign sources of oil, so how do we get off of that, what do we need to do, and what can be done. As I look at the president's position and policies, they seem backwards. The incentives and tax breaks to the big oil companies are ridiculous. We should have incentives for those companies that are doing research and development for renewable or alternative energy solutions, I think that could be built into the tax incentives and/or funding incentives. I think there should be incentives, most likely tax credits, for people to buy fuel-efficient vehicles and for companies to pursue renewable energy. All of these things, it sounds like lots of legislation but the fact is, those are the types of incentives that can bring about real change. I'm sure there are a whole lot of other things that can be done, and I look forward over the next weeks and months to talking to, listening to, and researching some of those options.
Q: As a municipal figure, what's your opinion of Governor Patrick's package of municipal reforms and his Municipal Partnership Act? Particularly some reforms he's been talking about lately, like the local tax options, the telecommunications no longer being exempt from property taxes.
I applaud him for bringing forward some new ideas, some new options. Each community has to decide for itself whether it's right for them, but I don't think there's anything wrong with providing options. I've heard from a lot of folks in my community who, for example, the additional tax whether it has to do with meals tax and so forth, that they aren't in favor of it. The business owners are clearly against that. They feel very strongly that it would be prohibitive to them. So, it clearly has to be decided on a case-by-cases basis. It depends on the community. I know Boston has lobbied hard for some of those. What's right for Boston may or may not be right for the city of Lowell, or Chelmsford and so forth. But personally, I don't have any problem with the governor trying to make those available to communities for them to decide on a case-by-case basis.
Q: If you can focus on just one thing and get one thing through to help your district, what would be your number one priority?
Immediately getting down there, I guess you'd want to make sure that whatever appropriations the Congressman had provided for were taken care of and watched and shepherded through, so that would be an immediate action item.

Going around the district, talking to people, one of the first things I would want to do is look to how we're treating or caring for the veterans coming home. Whether it's veterans in the VA hospitals within my district, which are at risk right now, or also on a national basis, I think it's frightful what's happening in terms of the veteran's administration and the tens of thousands who are really in need of services who are coming home from Iraq or Afghanistan, but particularly Iraq, but they're not getting those services. Personally I think something has to be done and that has to be addressed. There's a whole laundry list of things that I'd want to do, but that is one thing I feel very strongly about. Edith North Rogers, who was from Lowell and one of the first women to go to Congress and the longest-serving woman in New England, in Congress from 1925 to 1960, she was one of the coauthors and cosponsors of the GI Bill of Rights in WWII. It may be time to revisit that.
Q: How can people get involved in your campaign?
My website is up and running at That's probably the most effective way.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Weekend Baby Blogging

Tummy Time!

Globe's Pictures From First 100

The Globe's has a slideshow of Governor Deval Patrick's first 100 days up on their website. It's some photos that have made the paper before, but there are some there I haven't seen, from events that I didn't even know about. I think my favorite is this one of two reporters trying to eavesdrop through a door labeled "Private Meeting -- No Press beyond this point". I won't go so far as to say that it's emblematic of the governor's relationship to the press thus far, but I did get a kick out of it anyway.

I did notice, however, that Governor Patrick is not wearing his seatbelt in one of the pictures. Given recent events that have shown that governors are not immune to the laws of physics, I hope that this is not something that Patrick makes a habit of.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Patrick on Romney

Last night, Governor Deval Patrick was on Newsnight with Jim Braude (video here). There was nothing particularly earth shattering about the interview, but Braude spent most of it seemingly trying to get the Governor to say bad things about people -- Joan Benjamin-Wallace, Don Imus, Al Sharpton, and so on. Patrick mostly avoided doing so, but toward the end of the interview, Braude asked him about Mitt Romney and what he would say to someone who asked about the former Governor as he runs for President. Here is Patrick's response:

Well, I think [Romney] is a very nice man, and a charming one, but his leadership was about press avails and photo-ops and flash, and not about substance. We're dealing today with decisions he didn't make and should have, and decisions he did that were not in the long term best interest of the Commonwealth.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Who's Balancing the Budget With Band-Aids?

Craig Sandler of the State House News Service wrote this in today's weekly news roundup:

[House Ways and Means] chairman Robert DeLeo [said] on the Finneran show "I don't think that we can do a quick-fix, Band-Aid approach for this particular fiscal year by so-called corporate tax loopholes. I think that it's jobs, it's jobs, it's jobs, it's better-paying jobs, more businesses coming into the Commonwealth,"

It's immediately recognizable as a problematic statement: investing in job creation will do next to nothing to balance the FY '08 budget, though it may be great for the ones at the end of the decade. And the Band-Aid is the budgeting tool of choice in this House budget; once again, lawmakers raid reserve funds in preference to painful cuts that would bring the budget into truer structural balance.
Sandler is dead-on in that second paragraph. Taking money out of the rainy day fund, and especially out of the tobacco settlement fund is the Band-Aid, not changing the tax code to raise more revenue. Now, if the House budget were balancing itself with deep cuts to services, that would be one thing, but certainly dipping into the state's emergency savings is the very definition of a quick-fix.

Update: Speaking of Band-Aids, I noticed in this Boston Globe Editorial that the House version of the budget "would not accommodate the governor's plan to increase immunization programs by the Department of Public Health." That seems to me to be very short-sighted, particularly since everyone is keenly aware of the high cost of health care. There's no better way to reduce system-wide health care costs than to stop people from getting sick. Immunization is the most cost-effective way to achieve that.

Arends: Mitt Will Say Anything

In case you missed yesterday's Brett Arends column in the Boston Herald about Mitt Romney's recent gun gaffe, here's the best part:

His record here will not stand much scrutiny. Campaign claims he "turned around a Democratic state" are absurd. He did no such thing. He was an absentee landlord at best. He had the second worst jobs creation record of any governor and his health care plan had to be rescued by others. He left the state GOP dead in the water.
When Romney had his Elmer Fudd moment last week, what he was really saying wasn't "I'm a lifelong hunter" but "I will say whatever my audience wants to hear." It's a pattern. Abortion. Gay rights. New taxes. "Reagan-Bush." From 1994 to 2007, like a good salesman, Romney always seems to agree with his audience completely on every issue. Put him in a room with a bunch of stamp collectors and suddenly he'll be a "lifelong philatelist."

It wouldn't be such a political problem if it weren't so painfully obvious.
Governor Romney can crack all the jokes he wants, but he's not going to be able to escape the idea that he holds no core beliefs, but will always say whatever he thinks will help him politically. Maybe that's an okay way to win an election, but Romney supporters should not be surprised if he has another change of heart when the political winds start blowing in a different direction. He doesn't style himself a "turnaround" artist for nothing, after all.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

And Then There Were Six

Middlesex County Sheriff James DiPaola has announced today that will not be running for the fifth district Congressional seat being vacated by Marty Meehan (D-Lowell). His stated reason is that he doesn't want to spend so much time away from his family, but that seems like something he should have thought about before he decided to run. After all, he knew all along that if he won, he'd have to commute to Washington. I'm wondering if DiPaola was having trouble raising the gobs of money that some of the other candidates announced in their first quarter. Dick Howe has some must-read analysis of what his departure means. Myself, I had gotten the impression that DiPaola was the furthest candidate to the right on the ideological spectrum except for self-proclaimed Reagan Democrat James Micelli. With him gone, will the left of center vote be fragmented, allowing Micelli to squeak through with a plurality? In a special election, anything can happen.

As of this posting, the remaining Democrats in the race are:

  • Lowell City Councilor & former mayor Eileen Donoghue
  • Representative Jamie Eldridge
  • Representative Barry Finegold
  • Representative James Micelli
  • David O'Brien, member of the DNC and DSC
  • Middlesex Community College Dean Niki Tsongas
On the Republican side, no candidates have officially announced or started raising money, but at least three possible names have been mentioned, Lawrence Mayor Michael Sullivan, former GOP candidate for this seat Charles McCarthy, and former New England Patriot and current sports talk show co-host and telemarketer Fred Smerlas (who I took note of earlier this month).

Update: The Globe reminds me that DiPaolo had just moved to Lowell so he'd be in the district. It seems to me like he would have worked out his "family reasons" before he did that.

Shorter Brian McGrory

"Why is Deval Patrick spending so much money on Iraq when he could be spending it in Dorchester?"

You know, I can't figure it out either!

New Wrinkle in GIC Propsoal

Casey Ross over at the Boston Herald's Daily Briefing noted tonight that House Speaker Sal DiMasi is interested in allowing municipalities to join up with the state's GIC Health Plan without first negotiating with unions. The bill currently before the legislature, endorsed by Governor Deval Patrick, would require cities and towns to collectively bargain with their employees before changing their health plans, as a compromise to win over skeptical unions. DiMasi's proposal would obviously make it much easier for localities to take advantage of the state's group health insurance as they would not have to do it on a union by union basis.

Now, I had thought last week that the votes wouldn't be there if the collective bargaining language wasn't included. With DiMasi on board, however, that becomes a real possibility. There's no reason to think that DiMasi couldn't get his version of the bill through the House -- otherwise he likely wouldn't have floated the idea. The next question is whether new Senate President Therese Murray supports removing the collective bargaining language. If she does and can get it through the Senate, all that remains is whether the change is acceptable to Governor Patrick.

I would have to imagine that he would sign a bill that did not include the collective bargaining language. First, Governor Patrick has hitched his wagon to his package of municipal reforms and he needs a policy victory. Stymying a stronger version of one of his proposals would be a serious blunder, even if it means upsetting public employee unions. They're already upset with him over his proposal to force underperforming pension funds to be taken over by the state. In any case, this could also be a good opportunity to compromise with DiMasi. Would the speaker soften his stance on local option taxes or closing the telecom loopholes in exchange for Patrick taking the heat from the unions? If so, the cities and towns of Massachusetts would benefit.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Telecom Tax Exemption's Time is Up

The regional president of Verizon in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, Donna Cupelo has an opinion piece in today's Boston Globe arguing against closing the tax loopholes for telecommunications companies. The way it works now is telephone companies are exempt from paying property taxes on machinery they own and telephone polls, even though cable, electric and other utilities have to pay taxes on their machinery. The exemptions were set up in 1915 to encourage widespread adoption of the telephone and now lawmakers have recently been looking at whether they make sense. In her defense of the exemption, Cupelo does not mention some of the absurdities of the current law. For example, electric companies are paying taxes on their half of the very same poles that they share with the exempt telecoms. Wires that run over private ways are taxable, while wires that run over public ways are not.

All of this comes after a June 2005 report that said Massachusetts telecommunications companies removed $1.3 billion worth of property off of the tax rolls between 2003 and 2005. That added a total of $31 million onto the burden of other local taxpayers during that time. Overall, the telecom industry was found to be avoiding $140 million worth of property taxes annually. That's money that falls not only on homeowners to pay, but also other local businesses, including other utility companies. That $140 million matches closely with the $180 million that Cupelo claims that telcom companies have "generated" for state and local economies (she declines to state exactly how). In any case, that number is much more modest once you net out the amount that telcoms are avoiding.

In Cupelo's piece, she details all the recent investment that Verizon has done and implies that closing the loopholes will but a halt to expansion. When meeting with telecom representatives, however, Governor Deval Patrick asked them about their plans to expand broadband service in Western Massachusetts. He indicated that he would be willing to make allowances in the tax code for that sort of thing. The telecom executives were then forced to admit that they had no specific plans to expand.

Cupelo also suggests that removing the telecom exemption would only help Boston at the expense of the rest of Massachusetts. The fact is, companies like Verizon have been working in recent years to get as much property off the tax rolls as possible in every community. Here are other examples from a 2005 Globe article:

In suburban Westborough, $67.6 million worth of telecom property went off the tax rolls in the last year, representing potentially $2 million in annual tax revenue, and more than $50 million in Billerica and Taunton was removed from the tax rolls.
Cupelo is also being disingenuous when she asks "where's the incentive to stay and grow in Massachusetts?" Is she honestly suggesting that telephone companies will give up and leave Massachusetts if this loophole is closed? Electric companies already pay taxes on their equipment and that has not seemed to stop them from continuing to bringing electricity to all of Massachusetts. As long as there are people in Massachusetts, there will be demand for telecommunication services. As long as there's enough demand, some company will step up to supply it. That's the magic of capitalism.

Leaving that aside, telecoms drastically reduced their taxes over the past five years with no corresponding reduction in consumer rates. They were paying much of these taxes no less than five years ago. Are we to believe that taxes they were paying as recently as 2002 are going to drive them from the state? Here's what that 2005 report said about Verizon, in particular:
Verizon Wireless, for example, shifted legal ownership of assets to a Bermuda-based corporation to get more favorable tax treatment and cut its Boston tax bill by 99 percent, to $9,307 this year [2005] from over $3 million two years ago, according to city figures.
That explains why Verizon is so upset. They can't offshore a telephone poll to Bermuda.

Cupelo also tries to scare consumers with promises of higher rates. Let's leave aside the fact that other states that have removed this loophole have not experienced a subsequent jump in rates and just note again that while the law that exempts telecom equipment from property taxes is nearly 100 years old, the exploitation of these loopholes is a relatively new phenomenon. Have you experienced a reduction in rates as phone companies saved millions in taxes over the past five years? I have not. Were telecoms suffering terribly under their tax burden before they started saving all this money? No, they were not. What we're witnessing is that telecoms have overplayed their hand. If they had not started to aggressively avoid taxes in the last five years, no one would have even heard about the telecom exemption. Instead, they have begun to exploit it at the cost to taxpayers. It's time to take it away.

Update: Mass. Liberal has more.

Update 2: I found 50 State telecom excise tax data from 2004. While this is different than property taxes, the chart shows that we are 36th out of 51 in combined state and local excise taxes on telecom. Our local excise taxes are a big fat 0%, whereas almost every other state levies some sort of local excise tax -- North Carolina's, for example is 12.36%.

Also, Blue Mass Group has the text of an ad that Verizon took out today. It largely echos the sentiments put forth in the op/ed, but the discussion that follows is worth reading.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Interview with Rep. Barry Finegold

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to talk to state Representative Barry Finegold (D-Andover), one of seven Democratic candidates vying for Congressman Marty Meehan's (D-Lowell) seat in the Fifth District. Finegold counted his work in the Legislature on getting resources for Lawrence, particularly for community policing, and his authorship of the Baby Safe Haven law among his most important achievements there. He supports stem cell research and wants No Child Left Behind to be fully funded. He also stated his belief that health care is a right, but stopped short of advocating a single-payer style system. On Iraq, Finegold wants to end our involvement as quickly as possible. He would have voted for the supplemental appropriation, but noted that he prefers Senator Joe Biden's plan that would partition Iraq along sectarian lines.

On the environment, Finegold noted that the USA had to do something about global climate change. In particular, he supports fuel cell and hydrogen technology not only as a way to reduce dependence on foreign oil, but also as a way to grow jobs in Massachusetts. In addition, Finegold opposes the privatization of Social Security and while he is frustrated with how much fundraising is necessary to run for office, he did not offer any specific remedy. He did note, though, that since he has experience in local and state government as well as with running a small business, he'd be able to hit the ground running when he got to Congress.

Rep. Finegold is the third candidate for MA-05 that I have spoken with. Last month, I posted my interviews with David O'Brien and Representative Jamie Eldridge. Look for more of these interviews in the next few weeks.

To get involved with Rep. Finegold's campaign, you can check out his website,

Read excerpts from the full interview inside
Q: You're beginning your 6th term in the legislature. What were your most important achievements there?

It's a couple of things, representing Andover, Lawrence, and Tewksbury. One of the things recently that I was most proud about, I was doing a radio interview and the big issue was about crime in Boston which is really a bad thing, and I was talking about the success that we've had in Lawrence with the way we've reduced crime. We used to be the arson capital of New England, we used to be the stolen car capital of New England, and each year we have reduced crime. This quarter we're down 14% over what our crime rates were a year ago. I [attribute] that directly to the fact that we've made Lawrence a priority for community policing dollars, that we've given police officers the tools they need to succeed, and unlike the federal government where President Bush has cut the cops program, something that President Clinton did, we've kept our commitment to cities like Lawrence. As a result we've had a significant reduction in crime. So if you ask me right now, off the tip of my tongue, that is what I'm very proud about.

I'm also very proud about the Safe Haven law that I helped write and pass. On Monday we're going to announce that we've had the 6th baby safely given to a safe haven. We've saved six lives. When I wrote that bill, all I wanted to do was just save one. I believe that is a great success. I'm also very proud that I was one of many in the legislature who helped out on passing stem cell research. There are people in my district that have Parkinson's disease and other tough illnesses that are dependent on this research, and I'm proud to have helped play a part with many others in passing stem cell research in the state.

I could go on and on -- there are economic development issues in the city of Lawrence that have been very helpful, we got them some funding to help them attract companies and grow the economy. When Malden Mills had a major fire, we helped get them some funding to try to keep jobs locally. I believe there are a lot of good things that I have played a role in and that's why you do it.
Q: Which of those would you say is the most important to continue on a federal level?
It's a two-part answer. On a federal level -- I'm going to switch gears for a second -- one of my frustrations, what I feel we need to do better is funding for education. I feel that with all 29 communities that are in the Fifth, they are not getting funded properly for education. If the federal government would fund special education where they told people they would, instead of at 18%, they'd fund it at 40%, then it would be incredibly helpful to so many communities. So I think that's the biggest issue that, if we're going to reauthorize No Child Left Behind, if we're going to talk the talk, we have to walk the walk. For lack of better words, if we're going to talk about it, we have to fund it. I think that's a major failure of President Bush, that he helped get this thing with Senator Kennedy, but there are supposed to be dollars, and it's never happened. That's had a direct impact. Another thing I can get into later when I talk about the fuel cell issue I've been working on.
Q: What do you think, from talking to people the past few weeks, is the biggest concern on the minds of people in the Fifth District?
I've been talking about three areas. Obviously, Iraq is very critical. I want to get out of there as quickly as we can. I support what Senator Biden has talked about, with a three-state solution.
Q: Why do you favor that?
I'm very upset that 3000 Americans have died and there's close to 50,000 people who are hurt, but I'm also upset that 60,000 Iraqis have died. I believe that right now we're refereeing a civil war. I think the course we're on right now, I don't feel has any direction.

If you look at the history, any time there's an authoritative rule and that authoritative rule has been displaced, meaning that a dictator has been overthrown, ethnic factions don't get along. Look at the former British empire with India and Pakistan, the former Soviet Union, and recently under President Clinton with Yugoslavia. I think in the end, no matter what we do, that's going to happen to that region. I think we should immediately pivot and start work on that now. I believe that's the quickest way we can get out of there and try to have peace in the region. I want to get out of there as quickly as we can, I want to get our people home, and I want to stop spending nine billion dollars a month in costs.
Q: Would you have voted in favor of the Iraq appropriation bill with the timeline added?
Yeah, as far as the resolution goes, I would support that, but if I were a member of the caucus, I would have been pushing for a resolution that would include some type of the Biden plan.

I think the other issue that people are talking about is the environment, and I happen to be in the Al Gore camp. I do think there's global warming. I do think there's climate change. It's okay if we're wrong, but it's not okay if Exxon's wrong.

I'm very concerned about the environment. We can't, as a country, be 5% of the world's population and use 25% of the world's oil. We can't continue to be 5% of the world's population and emit 21% of the world's carbon. On a yearly basis, this country goes through 140 billion gallons of gasoline. When you drive down to a local Mobil or Shell station in Watertown and it's gone up by 50 cents a gallon, that means that 70 billion dollars is going out of our economy to countries that, for the most part, don't like us. What we have to do – and short term I'm a big proponent of tax credits for hybrid cars – but if every person in America buys a hybrid car, by 2025 we're still using the same amount of oil that we're using now.

What I've been pushing is the use of fuel cell and hydrogen technology. We have many companies in the area. We have one company in Cambridge that's moving up to Billerica, Nuvera Fuel Cell -- eventually, I think within a year or so, they're going to have a bus at Massport that is going to be running on hydrogen. Not only will this be good for our environment, but it will also be good for our wallets. More importantly, I think it's also going to be good for our jobs. In this state, we only created 21,000 jobs two years ago, and a year ago we only created 13,000 jobs. We have to do better. I think the modern-day Digitals and the modern-day Wangs are companies like Nuvera Fuel Cell, Balance Systems in Lowell, Linde in Billerica – those are the companies that are going to be the job growth in this state.

One other area that people are talking to about is what I consider to be the lunchpail Democratic issues. It's getting harder and harder for people to pay for the mortgage, save for college, and have [money for] retirement. As Democrats, I think we have to get back to having priorities. It's a shame that President Bush has cut student loans, has cut Pell Grants, has changed higher rates for student loans. I don't think the FHA is doing what it should to help people get into their first homes. As a business owner myself, we offer our employees a 401(k) – I think we should push to have all companies offer some type of retirement plan.
Q: Speaking of retirement, do you support any changes to the Social Security system, private accounts or reforms to keep it solvent?
One thing I would probably go along with is if they wanted to do an outside commission and make recommendations to the House and Senate, but as far as privatizing it, I'm not supportive of that. I don't think that's the way to go. I think Social Security has been a very good thing for many people, and it's been a safety net for many people.

I think sometimes when we have tough issues and are trying to find ways of solving them, sometimes it's good to take it out of Congress and out of the Senate. How were we able to shut down as many military bases as we did? I mean, that's the ultimate sacred cow. How did we shut down Devens, how did we shut down Pease? Because we have this thing called the Base Realignment and Closure Act and an outside group basically recommended changes and it came to be an up or down vote. I think there might be some ideas to make it better, but as far as privatizing it, that's not the direction I want to go.
Q: Another thing that's been squeezing working families in particular has been rising health care costs. What can the federal government do to help lower those costs?
Everyone watches what we do here in Massachusetts. I'm proud, and many other people here are proud, to have helped pass the first in the nation universal health care system for the Commonwealth, obviously there are things we're doing. I think what the federal government needs to do is just let us move forward with this and not try to micromanage it from Washington. I'm one person that believes that health care is a right and health care should not be an option. I do believe that people should have health care and I'm hopeful that what we're doing in Massachusetts could be a model for the rest of the country.
Q: So you would favor the Massachusetts model over a single-payer model for the country?
Let me just preface that by saying there are some people that are not going to be able to work, and I do believe there has to be some mechanism for some people to be covered. That's why I supported insuring all children, that's why I've supported certain groups in our society getting health care. Those who can get it from their employers, I support that. Those who are self-employed, I believe that there should be groups, that you should be able to get as good of a rate as someone who does work. But there are going to be some people who do fall through the cracks. I believe our role in government is to try to help these people.
Q: You'll be replacing Marty Meehan if elected. What solutions for campaign finance reform do you favor and would you continue the work he's done?
It's incredibly difficult fundraising. My parents are both teachers, and there's no money being passed down here. So when I have to raise money, I have to go out and do it the old fashioned way, by phone calls and stuff. I was very supportive of clean elections. I'd love to see some stuff go forth federally. But it's hard, and the way money is so critical to politics is a shame. The fact that on a daily basis I have to spend 4 hours a day just calling people up asking for money, I'd rather spend that time talking about issues. But that's just the system that is out there.

One thing I would like to continue that Marty has started is the interest in the environment, he's gotten very active with that. Also, working with him, U. Mass. Lowell has a big fuel cell and hydrogen technology, so I think there are going to be a lot of opportunities for him and I to work together and I think it's a unique situation that you have a former Congressman still in the district and very active, and I think he'll be very helpful in many ways.
Q: No matter what happens, you'll still be in the legislature until the end of October. What's your opinion on Governor Patrick's proposals to close the business loopholes, particularly the one that would end the exemption for property tax for telecoms on their equipment?
I'm on Ways and Means, and right now we have a study looking at them and we're open, we're not ruling anything out right now. There are some local initiatives as well and we're totally open. I've been saying this since he proposed that, but it's a very good relationship with the Governor and we're open to his ideas and we'll see, probably by June, we'll come out with the study and we'll probably do some work by then. I wouldn't be surprised if in the next 3-6 months we do something, whether it's one of his proposals or all of his proposal.

Q: Realistically, if you're elected you'll be the least senior member of the House and the session will be half over. If you can do one thing for your district, what do you think that number one priority would be?
If there's a way to get education dollars to the district, I think this year there's a good chance, it may not be this term but maybe it's next term, but if there was a chance to deal with No Child Left Behind and get some of the dollars back to the district, that would be very helpful.

Maybe I'll get lucky like Jim Shannon and get on Appropriations, but I'm not holding my breath. I think that's a different point. Of the candidates in this race, I'm the one who's served on the local level, state level, that has owned a business and from day one I'm ready to go. I've worked with many of the local officials throughout the district, obviously I've worked with state officials, and I've worked with many of the Congressman and Senators. Because of that, there really isn't going to be a steep learning curve. From day one I'll be ready to go.
Q: You mentioned earlier working with local officials, and in Lawrence in particular I understand you're friends with the mayor, Mike Sullivan. If he ends up being the Republican nominee and you don't end up winning the Democratic primary, who would you support?
I'd support the Democratic nominee.
Q: How can people get involved in your campaign?
The website is We're going to be very active. Part of my campaign is what we call our “Wake Up Washington” campaign. I'm going to be out very early at local coffee shops, I'm going to be out holding coffees in the district … I'd love people to have the opportunity to come hear me speak, and hear their issues and their ideas. That information will become available on my website.