Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Lunch With Middlesex DA Candidate Mike Festa

On Saturday I was invited to lunch in Melrose with Representive Mike Festa, Democratic candidate for Middlesex County District Attorney. I was joined by one of the editors of The Alewife and a couple of Rep. Festa's aides. We discussed Festa's time as a prosecutor in Somerville and the connections he made there. We also chatted a bit about the state political scene in general before settling in on the Middlesex District Attorney's race.

Festa cited the high turnover of assistant DAs as a major problem with the current DA's office. The turnover rate results in not only a lack of institutional memory, but also a lack of continuity of service for victims and witnesses when cases get handed from one ADA to another. In addition, the ADAs end up with large caseloads, a third to a half of which tend to be routine cases such as minor misdemeanors. Those routine cases used to be handled by a police prosecutor, who now performs a mainly administrative function. If police prosecutors handle cases that don't require a law degree, the District Attorney's office can free up salary by reducing the number of ADAs and giving the remaining ones a raise. While I don't think this idea is something Festa can put on a bumper sticker, it strikes me as sensible and shows that he's thought not only about the law enforcement aspect of the job, but also the administrative aspect.

Festa's ability to speak to that administrative role is part of what he thinks will separate him from the other politically progressive candidate in the race, Senator Jarrett Barrios. While the two of them agree on many issues -- including opposition to the death penalty, community-based solutions to gang violence, and the importance of drug treatment in reducing recidivism -- Festa emphasized that, of the two, he is the candidate who has been "in the trenches" and who has "credibility" given that he's been in the system for so long. He also made the claim that his work as a defense attorney would make him an even better DA, given that he's spent the past several years scrutinizing prosecutors as part of his practice.

One of the big questions people have had about Festa's campaign is his fundraising. He mentioned that he raised $50,000 in the past three weeks, and that things have picked up since Rep. Peter Koutoujian (D-Waltham) dropped out of the race. In addition, big-time Democratic fund raiser Steve Grossman has recently endorsed Festa, and he has the potential to bring in some serious donors. At the end of the day, though, Festa admitted that he'd rather have less money and a bigger field operation than more money and no one on the ground.

I haven't decided on who I'm supporting yet in this race. I find myself facing the same dilemma as Lynne. Here's what Festa had to say to that: If you want someone who comes at the DA's job from a purely prosecutorial angle, there's one candidate in the race for you. If you want someone who comes at it with purely political experience, there's another candidate in the race for you. If you want someone with both, then he's your guy.

State of the Union

The best thing I can say about tonight's State of the Union address is that after this one, there are only going to be three more.

Herald: Kennedy, Kerry are Suicide Bombers

This kind of thing is just disgusting. Yesterday's Boston Herald editorial cartoon by Jerry Holbert depicted Senators John Kerry and Ted Kennedy wearing explosive belts each labeled "filibuster bomb". That's right, both of our Senators are terrorists determined to blow people up because they disagree with the president. Calling your political opponents terrorists is the sort of disgraceful stuff that should be relegated to the fringes -- the Free Republic message boards or washed up calypso singers -- and not given credence by the second largest paper in the nation's fifth largest media market. Holbert and the Herald owe our Senators an apology.

Elsewhere, Chris Matthews accuses Senator Kennedy of molesting Judge Alito's wife. Say what you want about Kennedy's politics or Alito's deserving to be on the court, but this kind of crap is exactly why people are turned off of politics.

Monday, January 30, 2006

What a Difference a Few Hours Make

Just this morning, the Tom Reilly campaign was looking like a rejected suitor. A few hours later, with the announcement of Reilly's support for the candidacy of State Rep. Marie St. Fleur (D-Dorchester) as Lieutenant Governor, they're looking downright visionary in comparison. Just so long as you forget about all that Chris Gabrieli stuff from the weekend's news. The AP has more about St. Fleur, and I'll just say that I think she makes a better pick for Reilly in terms of ticket balance, but I still don't like the way he went about recruiting her on practically the last day before statewide candidates had to announce their intentions. I don't think it will end up mattering that she's Reilly's second choice (unless one of the other LG candidates makes a big deal out of it, and I see no reason why they should), but it still seems to me that Reilly went out of his way to alienate the other candidates for LG, in favor of someone who can be portrayed as part of the Beacon Hill establishment, fairly or not. Maybe that won't end up mattering, particularly since a couple of the Lieutenant Governor candidates were not considered 'serious' by the Democratic heavy hitters, and I would wager that a sizable number of Massachusetts voters don't realize that the Governor and Lieutenant are voted on seperately in the primary anyway. At the same time, the Reilly-as-insider narrative has been floating around all month, and it's only a matter of time before it congeals.

Gabrieli Declines to Run for Lieutenant Gov

The Boston Globe today announced that Chris Gabrieli has decided not to run for Lieutenant Governor. The Tom Reilly campaign had leaked last week that they were in talks with Gabrieli to run with the Attorney General as an informal ticket for the September primary. As of yesterday, it appeared that they were going to announce the formation of that ticket today, but apparently, Gabrieli has backed out. Frankly, I don't think this loss hurts the Reilly campaign as much as David does, but maybe they're wishing that they hadn't leaked the news last week.

From everything I've heard, Chris Gabrieli is a good Democrat, and has been a candidate in search of a race for a number of years. That said, I'm not sure what he would have added to the Reilly ticket other than money. Now, I know that money's important, but the idea of the all-but anointed gubernatorial candidate anointing his lieutenant wouldn't have helped Reilly's case that he's not the same-old Democratic insider that voters have found unappealing for years. While that depiction of him is not necessarily fair, the press coverage of late -- particularly the Conte phone call -- is creating this perception, almost as background noise. Sure, maybe it hurts Reilly for a day in the news that he didn't get who he wanted, but maybe it's better that he doesn't look like he's making backroom deals to pick his LG.

By the way, the Globe article contains this curious passage:

The negotiations over a Reilly/Gabrieli ticket came just days before Saturday's local party caucus around the state, where Patrick is expected to win a large share of the delegates to be chosen for the Democratic convention in June. The convention will endorse candidates for statewide office.

Reilly's low-key approach to wooing the Democratic rank and file has surprised party leaders. Even Reilly insiders concede that his aim is not to win the Democratic convention endorsement.
I think the Globe is making a mistake in assuming that Reilly is not working the caucuses -- I know he has the Lowell and Boston machines working for him, and they are certainly making an effort here in Watertown. Not only that, but I find the idea that Reilly would not win the endorsement at the convention as mildly absurd. I know the media likes to pretend that these things are chock full of liberal Democratic activists, but thanks to the rules change last year, the convention is now the largest collection of Massachusetts political insiders ever assembled. Something close to 40% of the delegates will be appointed or ex-officio. If Reilly is not focused on winning the convention it's because he doesn't have to.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

DFA Wants to Know Your Pick for Governor

Democracy for America, the organization that grew out of Howard Dean's bid for the Democratic Presidential nomination, is considering an endorsement in the Massachusetts Governor's race. They're asking members and other interested parties to vote in their online survey. Support from DFA could mean extra money, extra volunteers, and extra publicity for the chosen candidate, so if you have strong feelings, make your pick known!

The deadline is Monday, January 30 at midnight.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Friday News Dump

Continuing my new Friday tradition, here are some of the things that I noticed this week, but never got around to posting. If you have anything to add, or if you'd just like to say hello, please drop a comment.

  • When a Friend Succeeds, I Die a Little: Our good friends over at Blue Mass. Group have been nominated for a Koufax Award for best local blog. Congratulations to them! Voting hasn't started yet, but I'll be sure to let you all know when it does -- we need to support our Bay Staters.

  • Politics Makes Strange Bedfellows: I'd never thought I'd see the day when Republican apologist Ginny Buckingham and Senator John Kerry would be on the same side, but they both wrote last week defending Congressman Mike Capuano's trip to Brazil. They're both right, though. We want our Representatives to travel, but taxpayers don't want to pay for it, and I don't think it's in our interest to force them to pay out-of-pocket, since Congress is too much of a rich man's game as it is.

  • Speaking of John Kerry: He, along with Senator Kennedy, is trying to filibuster Judge Alito's nomination. It is very likely that cloture will be invoked, and the nomination will come to a vote, but you can't win if you don't try. He's also asking people to sign his petition.

  • Weld Update: The New York Times had an article this week that claimed that former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld was the candidate the Eliot Spitzer campaign feared the most. Personally, I'd be surprised if Weld wins the Republican nomination, but stranger things have happened. (via PoliticalWire)

  • Reilly's Courting Gabrieli: The Globe today also reports that Attorney General Tom Reilly is in talks to get Chris Gabrieli to run as his Lieutenant. This has been rumored for months, but I'm not sure exactly what this changes, other than giving Reilly a boost of cash should Gabrieli accept. That didn't seem to help Shannon O'Brien, though, and since Reilly made his pick at such a late date, he's managed to irk the other candidates and whatever constituencies they might have put together by now.

  • More from MBPC: The Mass. Budget and Policy Center has released their report on the income gap in Massachusetts. I haven't had a chance to look at it yet, but if it's anything like their previous work on the FY07 Budget or on the impact of reducing the income tax it will be a great resource. (all links PDF)
What's on your mind?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

MBPC Analysis of Romney FY07 Budget

Yesterday, the Mass. Budget and Policy Center released its Preliminary Analysis of the Governor's FY 2007 Budget (PDF). While they were heartened that the proposal made headway in reversing some of the cuts made in the past few years in areas such as education, public health, local aid, etc, they note that, adjusted for inflation, those areas are still below what they were before the fiscal crisis. They also warn that the budget would "create significant new fiscal pressures in the years ahead" since it not only factors in a lower tax rate, but also drains various reserve funds. Here are some of the highlights of their report (emphasis added):

[T]he budget proposes a tax cut that would cost $132 million in its first year, but in the second year the cost would balloon to $488 million, and the full cost would be $610 million a year. In addition, the budget relies on the use of reserve funds, including the Stabilization Fund and the Health Care Security Trust Fund. It also spends tobacco settlement money that existing law would require to be saved for future use, and it does not budget for a deposit into the Stabilization Fund required by current law.
In his budget proposal, the Governor provides a $167.9 million increase for unrestricted aid to cities and towns, including an additional $158.7 million in lottery distributions to localities (by removing the cap on lottery revenues) and $9.2 million more to fund the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program. Despite the proposed $167.9 million increase for local aid for FY 2007, the level of funding is $146.5 million lower than where it was in FY 2001, after adjusting for inflation.
The Governor's budget would increase funding for Chapter 70 aid from $3.289 billion in FY 2006 to $3.453 billion in FY 2007, a $163.7 million or five percent increase over the current appropriation. In real terms, this proposal for Chapter 70 aid is still $190.9 million lower than its FY 2002 level. Education costs, however, often grow more quickly than inflation because schools face certain unavoidable cost increases such as those relating to rising health insurance costs. To more accurately measure cost changes in education, state law identifies a particular measure of inflation that is to be used in calculating state aid to education. Using this measure, the Governor's proposed level of funding for Chapter 70 aid would leave Massachusetts schools with approximately $500 million less in Chapter 70 aid than they received in FY 2002.
Among the areas in public health still suffering deep cuts since the fiscal crisis: AIDS prevention and treatment funding is $23.3 million below FY 2001 levels; family health services are $9.8 million below FY 2001; early intervention is funded at $2.9 million below FY 2001; smoking cessation and prevention programs are $53.9 million (93 percent) below FY 2001 levels.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

John Bonifaz in Watertown Thursday

John Bonifaz, Democratic candidate for Secretary of the Commonwealth, will be speaking to the Watertown Democratic Town Committee Thursday evening at 8:00 PM at the Watertown Town Hall. All are welcome to join us.

Joe Trippi, Howard Dean's campaign manager in 2004, is a big booster of Bonifaz, and endorsed him on his website:

[John Bonifaz] led the fight to ensure the success of the Massachusetts Clean Money Elections Law. He's a man of integrity. He'll fight for corporate accountability while reducing the paperwork burden on businesses large and small. He will turn his office into the best source of information available to the citizens about their commonwealth.
I know John and I believe in him. I'm backing him for Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts because he is without a doubt the best person for the job. Check out his website - www.JohnBonifaz.com - John needs your support today to demonstrate the early viability of this campaign. And as we all know, those who stand up against the powerful need our support the most.
I have to give credit to Bonifaz. When Bill Galvin announced that he was going to run for re-election instead of running for governor, he could have packed it in and waited until next time around. After all, that's what Cam Kerry did. At the very least, I hope that John Bonifaz is able to bring attention to the issue of voting reform in the next few months.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

In Search of the Massachusetts Independent Part II

(Part I)

Chris Bowers over at MyDD pointed out today a Gallup survey on US party affiliation. Chris has some concerns about the results, but the sample size was huge; Gallup performed interviews of more than 42,000 Americans, asking each their party preference. Repondents who claimed to be independent voters were asked a second time which party they lean towards. Since the survey was so huge, we have enough data from Massachusetts, 976 responses, that the margin of error is roughly +/- 3%. The findings for Massachusetts are as follows:

Democrats + leaners:56.7%
Unenrolled (no lean): 9.2%
Republicans + leaners:34.1%

Here are the full state-level results. These numbers, while not surprising, may give us some insight into the makeup of unenrolled voters. First of all, with leaners included, we see that Democrats have a huge numerical advantage in this state, larger even than just unenrolled voters taken as a whole. Now, I realize that it's dangerous to combine a poll like this with actual voter registration numbers, but if we subtract out the known Democrats (37.3%) and Republican (13.0%), we get a profile of the unenrolled voting population.

Unenrolled Democratic leaners:19.4%
Unenrolled Republican leaners:21.1%
Unenrolled (no lean):9.2%

Taking into account the margin of error, it looks like a Massachusetts unenrolled voter is statistically just as likely to lean Democratic as Republican. This confirms something I've been thinking for a while now. If unenrolleds break for Republicans and Democrats pretty much equally, then the surest way for a Democrat to take back the corner office is to make sure that Democrats are united in November. While it is necessary to appeal to independent minded voters, if half of them are already in-tune with Democratic positions, then it seems to me that this will naturally happen in the course of shoring up Democratic support. Put another way, if you can manage to unify the Democrats (no small feat, even -- maybe especially -- in Massachusetts) then enough unenrolled voters will be swept up in the current to put you over the 50% needed to win an election.

Scared Republicans

We learned from the Boston Globe today that Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey is guaranteeing Christy Mihos a spot in Republican primary. Through her spokesman, she said that she'll make sure that Mihos gets 15% of the votes at the Republican state convention in Lowell so that he qualifies for the ballot, even if that means telling her supporters to switch to Mihos for the vote. It seems to me that they're very afraid of an independent Mihos siphoning votes from a Republican Healey. David from Blue Mass. Group agrees, who notes that the Healey camp must be confident that they can take a primary against Mihos, but "terrified" of the prospect of a three-way race.

Not only is Team Healey quaking with fear, but it appears that Team Romney has been spending some time hiding under the covers. Kevin Rothstein, who blogs for the Herald, called the governor the Cowerer-in-Chief for ducking questions about how long it took him to probe the Department of Social Services' handling of the Haleigh Poutre case. Here is what Rothstein wrote about that:

Question: If Mitt Romney is strong enough to be president of the United States, why is he, via his spokeswoman, afraid to answer a reporter's question? Here's a paragraph from today's Herald article about Romney's call to probe DSS following the near-fatal beating in SEPTEMBER of 11-year-old Haleigh Poutre:

"Asked why it has taken the governor four months to launch the probe, his spokeswoman, Julie Teer, said, 'Right now, the governor is focusing on preventing this type of situation from occurring again.'"

Is the governor-slash-presidential-candidate cowering under his desk when Ms. Teer tells him about the question? Does he lock himself in the bathroom and put a paper bag over his head? Why else would he, through his spokeswoman, not want to directly answer a question?
I guess Tom Tomorrow is right, the average conservative does live in a terrifying world.

Monday, January 23, 2006

In Search of the Massachusetts Independent

In this Sunday's Ideas section of the Globe, there was an article on Independent voters in Massachusetts, and the prospects of a Christy Mihos independent gubernatorial run. Now, I pointed out last year that Massachusetts was purple in gubernatorial elections, but I'm not sure if the results of those contests prove much about the temperament of Massachusetts independents. While these unenrolled voters may swing to the moderate Republican when voting for governor, they decisively swing toward the Democrat in nearly every other case. Non-gubernatorial statewide positions are all held by Democrats, as is 100% of the seats in Congress and a supermajority of the Legislature. I'm also not sure that this is a function of ideology, either. Republicans must be moderate, or at least fake it, to get elected, Democrats in the State House run the gamut from conservative to ultra-liberal.

So, if we assume that unenrolled voters do not prefer Democrats for non-gubernatorial elections, can we explain the results of those elections? Certainly the complete dominance of Democrats at all other levels cannot be a result of random chance. I can think of two factors that might help explain this. First, the power of incumbency might give Democrats an advantage; a Democratic majority could just be self-perpetuating. But if that were the case, one would imagine that non-Democrats would do measurably better in open-seat races. I haven't looked at all the data, but the results from the past two years -- 2004 legislature elections and the special elections since then -- seem to indicate that this is not the case. Second, the gerrymandering of Massachusetts on both the state and Federal level may have tilted the playing field so much that it's nearly impossible for a non-Democrat to win an election. There are two problems with this explanation, one that it does not apply to statewide elections, particularly the Constitutional officers which are now all Democrats except for the governor and lieutenant governor. Also, given the number of unenrolled voters it seems unlikely to me that so many of the districts could be gerrymandered to such an extent that Democrats have an insurmountable advantage in every one. Of course, without looking at the data, I can't say this for sure.

What does all this mean for Christy Mihos, should he run as an Independent? Frankly, not much, because the gubernatorial election seems to be the exception to the Democratic tendencies of unenrolled voters. This may be, as many posit, because people want a check on the Democratic legislature, which they fear will raise their taxes. I'm not convinced, however, that this makes sense since they vote in that same legislature year after year, even though they're apparently terrified of a tax increase. If I had to ascribe this to one factor, I would say that it was the publicity of the gubernatorial contest more than anything else. People are more likely to vote for the person over the party when they know what that person stands for. They're more likely to use the party as a cue when they know little about the race. Since the governor's race is all over the papers and the television, voters are more likely to know the issues and the personalities involved. That's not true of legislature races, where one has to make a real effort to find any specific positions, or even who the candidates are. It seems to me that it's in these low-profile races where unenrolled voters show their partisan preferences, since it shows how they would vote if the only difference they're aware of between the candidates is the party.

We can assume that Christy Mihos, should he run as an Independent, he will spend enough money so that voters will know who he is. In that way, it's very hard to compare his candidacy to other unenrolled and third party candidates. Generally, those candidates spend little money, don't get on television and tend to get less than 5% of the vote. The only comparable race I could think of, where a high-profile Independent challenged both a Democrat and a Republican statewide is the 1992 presidential election, where Ross Perot ran as a high profile third-party candidate. The 1996 election was similar, but at that point Perot was seen as a less credible candidate given his failure to win a single state in '92. Here are the results from 1992 in Massachusetts:

Granted, this is a presidential race, so it's not immediately comparable to the governor's race, but those results should be reassuring to Mihos. A large number of people were willing to vote for a wealthy businessman not affiliated with either Democrats or Republicans.

Getting back to the unenrolled voters, the Secretary of the Commonwealth has the historical enrollment trends. Here they are in graph form:

The chart shows that while the percentage of Democrats may have decreased, the actual number of registered Democrats has held relatively steady over the past thirty or so years, and has been trending upward over the past ten. What's changed is that the the total number of registered voters is spiking upward -- something that I take as a good sign for democracy. The decrease in the percentage of registered Democrats seems to be because more of these new voters are not choosing to enroll in a party, and not because of a mass exodus of people from the Democratic party. What this suggests to me is that the Dems need to do a better job of outreach to new voters.

Thanks to The Intergalactic Jester for pointing out the article.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Friday Leftovers

Like last Friday's post, here are a couple of the things that I collected over the course of the week, but never got a chance to write a full post about.

  • Out of Control: A Film Series for Our Times: The Watertown Citizens for Environmental Safety is kicking off their new film series on Wednesday, February 8 at 7:30 p.m. with a showing of Control Room, the documentary on the Arab TV news network Al Jazeera, at the Studio Cinema in Belmont. Discussion to follow

  • An Object at Rest: Finally, an excuse as to why my morning posts are so incoherent -- Sleep Inertia

  • Click It: The seat belt law made it through the House yesterday and the Boston Globe has the roll call vote. Personally, I'm of two minds on this. Seat belts save lives -- my father would have been killed as a teenager if he hadn't been wearing one -- and since I'm always buckled in, the law doesn't really effect me. At the same time, it's so hard to tell if a driver speeding by you has their belt on, it seems to me that this is unenforceable unless unless we're all made to now have fluorescent seat belts installed.

  • I Could See You Were a Man of Distinction: According to the Boston Herald, Mitt's burning through his state campaign account on fancy resorts and airfare. That's fine with me; every dime he spends on himself is one less he donates to the state party to spend on Kerry Healey.

  • The Race for LG: The Boston Globe yesterday profiled the four Democratic candidates for Lieutenant Governor. That gave the fine folks at Blue Mass. Group an excuse to consolidate all their LG interviews in one handy place.

  • Another New Blog: A belated welcome to Under the Golden Dome, which promises to be a "a blog that covers the 'insider' buzz among the young Democrats actually working at the State House." It's about time someone that knows something started a blog!

  • Does This Make Cheney a Grue?: As someone who grew up playing (and eventually writing) text adventure games, this is hilarious. (via Boingboing)
What's on your mind?

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Two New Polls Out

First of all, Survey USA has Mitt Romney's January approval rating, numbers that are not totally meaningless now that the Governor has declined to run for reelection, but interesting nonetheless. Romney's numbers have declined slightly since that announcement; he's now at 47% approve, 48% disapprove. These numbers have hovered around 50% since I've been paying attention to them, and you can see the trend lines here.

But Mitt Romney's not going to be on the ballot in November, so those numbers are only important in so far as they rub off on Romney's handpicked successor, Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey. Luckily, we have the Wall Street Journal/Zogby Interactive polls to fill in those gaps. Here are those results:

Tom Reilly:49.8%
Kerry Healey:32.4%

Deval Patrick:51.3%
Kerry Healey:29.4%

These numbers are a bit more realistic than the numbers Zogby put out in October, but it should be noted that the methodology for these polls is very fishy. I would not be surprised if both Democrats were beating the Lieutenant Governor, but honestly, I'm skeptical of any poll that has Deval Patrick doing better than Tom Reilly against Kerry Healey, even with the Attorney General's recent bad press. This month's Statehouse News Poll should come out in the next week or two and I think that will give us a better picture of the governor's race.

Thanks to the fine folks over at Daily Kos for pointing out these polls.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Romney States State of the State

During Governor Romney's State of the Commonwealth speech tonight, he threw in some nuggets for conservative observers: a thinly veiled attack on marriage equality, support for abstinence education in public schools, and lower taxes. There were a few things, however, that I can't imagine hardcore conservatives would be particularly happy about. Much of the speech focused on the new amounts of money that Romney was going to spend on various initiatives. At least on two counts, school funding and local aid, Romney claimed he wanted to spend more than ever before in the state's history. That sort of talk is likely to give Norquist and his disciples the vapors. Not only that, but Romney was talking about mandatory classes for parents with children in failing schools, presumably to teach them how to raise smarter kids. Never mind that we're unlikely hear about that program ever again, but Romney can no longer claim to believe in limited government if he thinks it's OK for the authorities to send people to re-education camps for whatever reason. The very idea is terrifying, and ripe for abuse.

Romney also spent a lot of time trumpeting good news about the state's economy. At the same time, he talked about the complaints employers had about the state's business environment. We've all heard these before: payroll taxes are high, permitting is a nightmare, there are few business incentive programs. The number one disadvantage that businesses complained about, though, was the high cost of housing in the Bay State. Mitt's solution is a simple one: build more houses. It sounds easy enough, but according to a talk I heard by Marc Draisen of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, this is a cyclical, recurring problem. There seems to always be a disequilibrium in the Massachusetts housing market, though every decade or so, there's a spike in housing production that's still not quite enough to meet demand. So my question is, what caused housing to be such a drag on the economy this time around? Is it the extent of the housing crisis or is it because it's never been easier for businesses to move to cut costs? Business flights are cheaper, and the Internet has made communication so easy that it doesn't matter if your home office is in Boston or Des Moines.

One other thing: as they just mentioned on Fox 25, normally a Governor travels around the state after one of these speeches to drum up support for his newly announced initiatives. Mitt, on the other hand, is headed to Nebraska and Iowa.

Can't Get to a TV?

Governor Romney's State of the Commonwealth address will be streamed live starting at 7:30, Media Player required. I'll try to post a text copy as soon as it's available.

Update: The text of the speech is here. I'll have my take on the speech later. Now I'm just irritated that ABC is delaying the episode of Lost I missed from last week, even though the speech is already over.

DiMasi's State of the State Prebuttal

House Speaker Sal DiMasi took the opportunity yesterday to blast Mitt Romney's job creation record in advance of tomorrow's State of the State address. DiMasi reminds us that Massachusetts has between 140,000 and 160,000 fewer jobs than it did in 2001, when Romney first took office. From the Globe:

"[Governor Romney] made us a promise when he first came in, that he wanted to create jobs here in Massachusetts," DiMasi told reporters after a news conference celebrating new tax incentives for the film industry. "We need to get the economy back. We want to hear from Romney to find out why we haven't created those jobs."

When asked if Romney, who won't seek reelection this fall, will be able to act effectively on the issue in his final year, DiMasi said, "Well, I'd like to hear what did he do when he was here and why didn't it work and what does he suggest now that he's leaving?"
Of course, the question on everybody's mind is whether Governor Romney will be addressing his speech tonight to an audience in Massachusetts or in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. My guess is that it will be a little of both. While the text of the speech has not been released, it promises to be a litany of supposed Romney accomplishments -- an advertising platform, if you will, for his 2008 presidential run. This is the Governor's first real opportunity to give a strictly "Hey look what I did" speech since he announced his retirement and I can't imagine that he'll pass it up. I wouldn't be surprised if he throws Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey a bone when he's talking about local aid or crime prevention, but I expect the focus to be squarely on him. After all, in his own words: "From now on, it's me, me, me."

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Gore's MLK Day Speech

If you haven't read or seen (Realplayer) former Vice President Al Gore's speech yesterday in Washington, I would urge you to check it out. It's long, but excellent. He starts out talking about the recent NSA Wiretapping scandal, and branches out into the larger theme of expanding presidential power and increasing executive secrecy. I had trouble deciding what to excerpt from it, because it's all great, but here is where he reminds us all of Martin Luther King Jr's own experiences with wiretapping.

On this particular Martin Luther King Day, it is especially important to recall that for the last several years of his life, Dr. King was illegally wiretapped-one of hundreds of thousands of Americans whose private communications were intercepted by the U.S. government during that period.

The FBI privately labeled King the "most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country" and vowed to "take him off his pedestal." The government even attempted to destroy his marriage and tried to blackmail him into committing suicide.

This campaign continued until Dr. King's murder. The discovery that the FBI conducted this long-running and extensive campaign of secret electronic surveillance designed to infiltrate the inner workings of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and to learn the most intimate details of Dr. King's life, was instrumental in helping to convince Congress to enact restrictions on wiretapping.
I've talked a bit about the wiretapping before, and I still have come up with only two possible reasons that the President and the NSA might want to avoid having to go through the FISA court. Either they want to tap so many phones that they cannot physically prepare the paperwork for the court fast enough, or they want to be able to go on fishing expeditions and eavesdrop on people even the notoriously lenient FISA court would refuse to approve. Either possibility is chilling, as far as I'm concerned.

Jeff Jacoby Hates Massachusetts

So, I originally didn't want to give Jeff Jacoby's Blame Massachusetts First rant in the Sunday paper more attention than it deserves (and it deserves exactly none), but seeing that some others have given their opinions, I thought I'd contribute to the noise. First, if you haven't read it, Jacoby's thesis is that people are not leaving Massachusetts because it's too cold, or too expensive, or too hard to find work, but that they are fleeing the state because they're ashamed to have Ted Kennedy as their Senator. That's a crude simplification, but it's a crude column -- Jacoby has no data to back up his claim. A more generous reader would say that Jacoby's larger point was that the state is so packed to the brim with Democrats that conservatives who are denied a voice at the polls are instead voting with their feet.

But here's my question: if there are so many people so fed up with Democrats in Massachusetts, why are Republicans not able to fill the void? Not just that, but why aren't they even trying? No Republican is currently slated to run for any of the state's Constitutional offices, aside from the Governorship. As for the statehouse, Mass. GOP spokeszombie Darrell Crate has supposedly lined up about 70 Republican challengers for the legislature, but that's only about half as many as in 2004 and he's not telling anyone who those 70 candidates might be. Perhaps they are still smarting from those 2004 elections where every Republican challenger was rejected, and then some. But again, how do these Democratic victories fit in with the narrative that people are sick of Democrats?

Now, I'm the first to admit that elections in Massachusetts are not competitive enough, but I think it's silly to claim that this is the reason people are leaving the Commonwealth and it's doubly silly to blame Democrats for the fact that Republicans aren't challenging them.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Quick Hits

Every week there are items that pile up on my desk and my inbox that I either don't have enough time to talk about, or I don't feel that I have enough to say about. Starting today, I'm going to try and dump them all out on Friday so I can start the next week with a relatively clean slate. My hope is that it will be a blend of things I feel I should comment on, things that other people may have missed, and things that you folks feel should get a bigger audience. If there's anything on your mind, consider this an open thread, and comment away. As for me, here are this week's leftovers:

  • Lees to Retire: State Senate Minority Leader Brian Lees is retiring at the end of his term. That not only creates another open seat in the Senate, but will leave the remaining five Republicans to fight over who gets to be leader in the next session. The Springfield Republican has the text of his announcement.
  • Welcome to the Blogosphere: There's a new blog in town, Kerry Healey -- Out of Touch. So far, so good!
  • Immigrant tuition bill fails: Politics won out over compassion as the House defeated the bill that would have allowed undocumented students who graduated from in-state high schools to pay in-state tuition to UMass. Legislators voted overwhelmingly to neutralize this as a 2006 campaign issue rather than do right by hundreds of Bay State children.
  • John Bonifaz Speaks: The Progressive Blog's Charlie Gallo interviewed John Bonifaz, candidate for Secretary of the Commonwealth last week. The conversation is long, but well worth reading.
  • Patrick's Republic of Cambridge: The Cambridge Chronicle reports that Deval Patrick is out fundraising Tom Reilly by nearly five to one in that city.
  • What's In a Name Only?: The Herald says that Tom Reilly is a DINO, a Democrat in Name Only, because he has the audacity to want the economy to improve. The editors of the Right-Wing Human Events call Mitt Romney a RINO for his support of abortion rights (!) and because he made fun of Houston one time.
What else are people talking about?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Romney to Return Abramoff-Related Money... When He's Good And Ready

The Internet was abuzz today with the story of the Republican Governors Association half-million in Abramoff related donations. Our governor, Mitt Romney, has vowed to give money donated by Abramoff's business partner Michael Scanlon (who himself has pleaded guilty to corruption charges) to charity, but not just yet. Romney said to the AP: "When influence peddling is alleged, a political institution like the Republican Governors Association wants to be above any possible shadow of complicity." So, to avoid that shadow, the RGA is donating the money to the Red Cross, but in the installment plan. Half of the money, a quarter of a million dollars, won't leave their campaign coffers until after the 2006 elections. So, in Romney's world it's OK to use Abramoff's money to get elected, just so long as you promise to give up the same amount after you don't need it so much anymore. Very classy.

Blue Mass. Group TV

For those of you who missed it (it was up against Lost, after all), David from Blue Mass. Group was on News Night with Jim Braude last night, to talk about the Alito hearings. You can see his portion of the show here (Media player required).

David was asked to comment on this moment (Quicktime) from the hearings where Senator Ted Kennedy and Senator Arlen Specter got into a bit of a spat over whether Senator Specter was going to subpoena documents relating to the Concerned Alumni of Princeton, an ultra-conservative group that Samuel Alito once claimed he belonged to, but now denies. The whole exchange went something like this:

Kennedy: Were you a member of CAP?
Alito: Out of memory error
Kennedy: If we were able to get these documents, would that bother you?
Alito: Cannot access /usr/CAP/documents: Permission denied
Kennedy: I sent this letter asking Senator Specter if we could subpoena the CAP documents.
Specter: Well, you may have sent it, but I didn't get it.
Kennedy: Well, I sent it, so you must have gotten it.
Specter: Don't tell me what I did or didn't get!
Kennedy: How about we vote on whether or not to subpoena the documents?
Specter: I'll think about it.
Kennedy: That means, no, doesn't it?
Specter: I said I'd think about it!
Kennedy: Well, I'm going to keep asking until we do vote, so there!
Specter: You're not the boss of me!

And so on... What is it about these hearings that turns grown men into either children or robots?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Non-Story That Wouldn't Die

The story of Tom Reilly's phone call to Worcester DA John Conte again graced the front page of the Globe today. Not only that, but the Herald is now reporting that the Attorney General talked with another campaign contributor who was a neighbor to the parents of the girls involved in the fatal crash before intervening. The AP picked that story up, so you can expect it to be in the news tomorrow as well. None of this, of course, should make a difference because all Reilly actually did is tell Conte to do something the law required him to do anyway -- keep medical records confidential.

The thing of it is, if Reilly had handled this better from the beginning, the press would have moved on. There's no shortage of things going on in the state and in the country -- Samuel Alito's confirmation, the Jack Abramoff scandal, the new medicare drug plan, people getting murdered in Boston, special elections (as if the local media ever covered them). This should have been a two-day story tops during the week after New Years when most people are still settling in after coming back from vacation, but somehow it's been a constant drumbeat from the media -- radio, TV and print -- for the past week. This is the kind of thing that people pick up by osmosis without learning the details. That just leaves them with the idea that Tom Reilly did something shady on behalf of a contributer. Not exactly the picture he wants painted, I'm sure

While I think this isn't much of a scandal, I have to say that if this is the kind of damage control we can come to expect from the Reilly campaign in the months to come, he's in real trouble.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Special Election Primary Tomorrow

What with battling the holidays, the new year, incompetent insurance companies and the martian death flu, I completely forgot about the special election primary tomorrow. There are contested Democratic tickets in both the 27th Middlesex District (parts of Somerville) and the 2nd Worcester District (Gardner and parts of other surrounding towns). In the 27th Middlesex, Alderman Denise Provost seems to have the advantage over Elizabeth Moroney, and whoever wins the primary will not be contested in the general election, February 7, 2006. In the 2nd Worcester, president of the Greater Gardner Chamber of Commerce Michael Ellis, Ashby selectman Michael McCallum, Gardner assistant city solicitor Robert Rice face off. Ellis has the backing of Rep Brian Knuuttila, whose retirement is the reason the seat is open. The winner of this primary will go up against Republican Jonathan Dennehy and write-in candidate Dennis Venuto.

My prediction: turnout will be friends, relatives and no one much else to speak of. Who's thinking about an election a week after New Year's?

Friday, January 06, 2006

Reilly's Response on WGBH

Over at Blue Mass. Group, Charley mentioned how poorly Attorney General Tom Reilly handled his Wednesday interview with Emily Rooney on Greater Boston, particularly when discussing the recent controversy over his placing a call to the Worcester District Attorney asking him to make sure a confidential autopsy report stayed out of the media. I only got a chance to see the interview tonight, and I saw from server records that a lot of people are looking for it and finding their way to the .08 Acre Homestead. Since WGBH is really bad about putting these sorts of things up on their website, I thought I'd transcribe that part of the interview. I transcribed this myself, so I'm sure it's not exact, and there was a lot of the two talking over each other, but it's the best I could do and still have it make sense:

Emily Rooney: You're also a big supporter of Melanie's Law. Now, I'm curious. There's this case in Southborough, where these two young girls were killed back in October. The toxicology reports have not been released, but there was speculation in the Metro West newspaper that perhaps drunken driving had been involved. And your office, you got involved in that case because Conte the DA up there says that toxicology reports are part of a person's health records and don't have to be released. But why not fight to have them released? Isn't this something that -- frankly it's curiosity, I'll have to admit people want to what happened there -- and is this something people want to know to protect other children?

Attorney General Tom Reilly: My thoughts are with the family. I can't imagine anything worse than losing one child, but imagine two children, losing them in a tragic accident.

ER: But why did you get involved?

TR: Those are private medical records.

ER: Are they really?

TR: Yes they are.

ER: If they had killed somebody would they be?

TR: But they didn't harm anybody but themselves.

ER: One was a murderer, and one was -- if you look at it that way, the driver killed somebody.

TR: It's a horrible tragedy within one family. I thought that this family had suffered enough, and that these records were private medical records and should not be made public. And that happens to be the law in this state. I was right on the law. More important than that, I think that this family...

ER: But couldn't there be a criminal case involved here, if they were served by somebody?

TR: There's no criminal case that, certainly, I know of. Maybe people wanted to know that, but that's private information -- private medical records.

ER: But they were both underage, though, somebody served them alcohol.

TR: It's just a terrible, terrible tragedy that's occurred. My heart goes out to...

ER: Well, I think we all feel that way.

TR: My heart goes out to that family, and they've suffered enough. And I wish all this wasn't happening now. I just can't imagine going through it.

ER: How did you get involved in it?

TR: I called the district attorney, and certainly was aware of the situation -- I was following it. The law happens to support -- these are private medical records. They are not public records and should not be released. I have many conversations with district attorneys on cases. But first and foremost, it was the family, and the suffering that has gone on. This shouldn't even have gotten this far. This family's suffered enough. Let it be. Let them move on, to the extent that they can. I can't imagine how you deal with that. That's where my thoughts were. I never spoke to the family about this at all. But I did decide that those toxicology reports were their records, the records of their children, and they should be protected. Their privacy should be protected. They should be given the opportunity -- as I said, I just can't imagine having to deal with that without picking up the paper and reliving it again and going through it again. I wish the media would just leave it alone. Just leave them alone and let them deal as best they can. I can't even imagine dealing with it -- I guess I can, in some ways. My family suffered with certain things, and losing a child is a terrible, terrible thing. It's not the way life should be. And losing two in one accident, that's enough.
Personally, I think this hurts not because Reilly did anything wrong (he didn't -- it would have been illegal for the DA to leak the records anyway) but because it plays into the theme that Reilly is a political insider who makes things happen for his friends. I think that's a charge that could stick to Reilly, even if it's not true.

Ben has Reilly's official response up over in that thread at Blue Mass. Group. Adam at Universal Hub has some interesting insight into Worcester County DA John Conte and his relationship with the media.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Dear Boston Globe

This statement from today's article Bush, DeLay give back Abramoff funds is misleading:

Known as a top Washington lobbyist, Abramoff had vast influence and gave generously to Democrats and Republicans alike...
Jack Abramoff did not personally give any money to Democrats. If you check the campaign finance records, you'll find that Abramoff gave over $172,000 to Republicans and nearly $89,000 to interest groups over the past 12 or so years. Not a dime of Abramoff's own money went to Democrats. Abramoff's clients may have given money to both Democrats and Republicans, but there is no question that he himself was a supporter of the GOP.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Congressman Markey Hosts Town Meeting on Wiretaps

Earlier tonight, Congressman Ed Markey hosted an emergency town meeting at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, for a discussion on whether the domestic spying on American citizens that President Bush has authorized is actually permitted by the constitution. On the panel were Mark Rotenberg of EPIC and Carol Rose of the ACLU of Massachusetts. While it wasn't much of a debate -- the panel and the audience were unanimously opposed to the president having authority to do so -- the forum was packed and very informative.

The forum opened up with some footage of President Bush talking about wiretapping in the 2004 elections. Congressman Markey produced a number of clips where Bush made the claim that wiretapping could only be done with the approval of a judge. Keep in mind that these warrantless wiretaps had been going on for nearly three years at that time those speeches were recorded. We all had a good chuckle over that.

The rest of the time was spent debunking the various claims that the Bush administration and his supporters have made regarding the NSA wiretapping. For instance, while apologists claim that getting permission from the FISA court for wiretaps is too slow or too restrictive, the reality is that the law allows officials to get permission retroactively up to 72 hours after the wiretaps are in place. Not only that, but out of the 19,000 applications the FISA court has seen since its inception, they have rejected only four. This doesn't seem like such a high hurdle that the administration couldn't have made the effort to follow the rules rather than simply asserting that they have the right to do whatever they want all along.

One of the more silly claims was that even talking about the surveillance program strengthens our enemies, as if terrorists were completely unaware that we have the ability to tap phones. If you assume that they knew that we had the technology, then what difference does it make to them if their phones are tapped with or without the approval of FISA? Frankly, the more I learn about the FISA court, the more I learn about how easy it is to get these kinds of wiretaps in the first place. Apart from that, no secret information is being asked for. No one that I know of is asking the government to make public all the secrets that they've presumably learned through this program or to release the names of their targets. What we should be having, though, is a conversation about whether we want the president to have the authority to unilaterally spy on American citizens through the NSA (and therefore, the Department of Defense).

The overarching theme of the event was that we are now in a period of Constitutional crisis. For some reason, the President seems to have decided that the Fourth Amendment no longer applies in the post-9/11 environment. His assertion of executive power is a slap in the face to an independent judiciary, so much so that one of the FISA court judges resigned in protest. Not only that, but claims that the wiretapping program was reviewed by Congress are just bogus -- Markey, the senior Democrat on the Homeland Security committee and the 14th most senior member of the House by length of service said he had no idea about the program until he read about it in the paper. Those that were briefed were forbidden by law from discussing the program in public, or even with other members of the Intelligence Committee. So much for checks and balances.

Probably the most disappointing part of the evening, however, was toward the end when someone in the audience shouted out "What do we do?" Rose mentioned two things, first she said to join the ACLU, or at least their mailing list. This was met with grumbles from the audience since I would imagine that three-quarters of them were only at the meeting because they heard about it on the ACLU's list in the first place. She then told us to make sure our Congressmen know our feelings about the issue, and that we support them. That was a little bewildering given that, at least for most of us, our Congressman was standing right there on the stage and could see exactly how we felt about it.

Congressman Markey did then take the opportunity to say that the best thing that we could do was to help Democrats take control of the House and Senate in 2006 -- if only to be able to hold hearings and have subpoena power over the administration. To accomplish this we should talk to our friends in other states and other districts. This went well with something that Rotenberg had said earlier: "You should not assume that people who didn't vote for the same person as you don't share the same concerns." I think that what people need to understand is that tinkering with Constitutional powers is forever. Even if you trust the current President to only bypass the Judicial and Executive when he has a really good reason, does that mean you want all future Presidents to have that power? Even Hillary?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Predictions for 2006

I hope that all of my regular readers, both of you, had a pleasant holiday and a happy new year. As for me, I seem to have started 2006 with a rather nasty head cold. Last night I experimented with a now-forgotten combination of medicines and I received these mysterious visions of the future:

  • The February special elections will not change the status quo -- a progressive from Somerville, a conservative from Gardner and a Republican from Foxborough will end up going to Beacon Hill. Republican consultant Charlie Manning will use this as evidence that Mitt Romney would have been re-elected in a landslide.
  • 2006 will be another banner year for Schadenfreude, as a number of Congressmen implicated in the Jack Abramoff and other scandals are forced to resign.
  • The legislature will pass some version of health insurance reform with an employer mandate. The economic apocalypse that pro-business groups are predicting will not come to pass, but there will be a spike in the number of part-time and contract workers in the state.
  • The game "What Can We Pass Over Mitt's Veto?" will continue to be popular on Beacon Hill. Democrats will be quick to remind voters that Romney is no moderate, hoping that some of that rubs off on Healey as she is forced to defend her boss's conservative stances.
  • During the 2006 Constitutional Convention, opponents of marriage equality will get the required fifty votes to pass the first hurdle in getting their anti-marriage question on the 2008 ballot. The vote is close, however, and the chances that it passes a second time in 2007 are in doubt.
  • Governor Romney will use the 2006 Winter Olympics as an opportunity to remind people that he was once in charge of the Olympics. "Remember the Salt Lake City Olympics?" He'll say to a national audience somewhere. "They were awesome."
  • For the first time since 1986, a Democrat will be elected governor of Massachusetts. State Republicans claim this is good for the GOP as it will make them even more hungry for victory in the 2008 legislative races.
  • On the Federal level, Democrats will make gains in both the House and the Senate, but unfortunately not enough to take control of either body. Charlie Manning will use this as evidence that Mitt Romney would have been re-elected in a landslide.
  • During end-of-the year retrospectives of the Romney administration, Massachusetts TV viewers will once again be treated to images of the Governor without a shirt. Images of him wistfully holding a stick will unfortunately be forgotten.
  • When one or more of these predictions fails to come true, I will courageously deny that they were meant to be taken seriously, despite the fact that I will gloat every time one of them actually happens.
And additionally, Globe columnist HDS Greenway presented today his medal of freedom winner predictions:
[Donald] Rumsfeld, Ahmed Chalabi, and former Enron chief Kenneth "Kennyboy" Lay were given medals of freedom by Bush in a Christmas Eve ceremony, as was Michael "Brownie" Brown for his work in the 2005 hurricane season. Happy New Year.
Michael Chertoff will, of course, feel slighted and therefore withhold help in the next big disaster. No one will notice the difference.

Fellow Mass bloggers David Eisenthal and the Blue Mass. Group also offer their predictions.