Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Municipalities in Health Care Crisis

Northampton mayor Mary Clare Higgins and Ralph White, the president of the Retired Massachusetts Employees Association, jointly wrote an op/ed in yesterday's Globe describing the crisis in municipal health insurance. Their remedy is to allow municipal employees to join the state's Group Insurance Commission, and they urge passage of a bill filed by friend-of-the-blog Rachel Kaprielian (D-Watertown) and Richard Moore (D-Uxbridge). The Group Insurance Commission currently provides health insurance to more than 285,000 government employees and their dependents, and as such it potentially has more leverage than would an individual city or town. The sticking point, it seems, is that municipal unions are not keen to lose their collective bargaining power for their members' health care. Higgins and White explain:

Some cities and towns would prefer to join the Group Insurance Commission without consulting their employee unions, but they recognize this would have trouble passing on Beacon Hill. Some labor leaders wish to maintain their current ability to bargain over the design of local health plans. Nevertheless, they recognize that the state system may be an attractive option anyway because its superior purchasing power can lead to better plans at lower cost. The commission itself is used to having a single "split" -- with a fixed percentage of the premium coming from the state and the remainder from the employees -- but the panel has agreed to allow each city and town joining the system to decide its own local split. Cities and towns agreed to continue bargaining over that split with their employee unions.
I agree that there is a health-care affordability crisis in cities and towns. Just yesterday Watertown Town Councilor Jon Hecht painted a bleak picture of the situation here in town:
"Without some sort of cost containment on healthcare, there's no way we can achieve the other objectives that are in these budget policy guideliness. We will not only not have money for new programs, like streets and sidewalks or a recreation center, we may face the need for cutbacks in current programs."
It seems to me that there should be no reason municipalities should be prevented from joining the Group Insurance Commission, but we should not expect this to be a long-term solution. The health insurance crisis is not going to be solved by getting everyone onto a cheaper plan. Without some sort of system-wide cost containment, we're just putting a band-aid on the problem. For all the hoopla around the new health insurance scheme, it's becoming clear that we can't just pretend that costs will go down if only we just tinker with the system a little.

In other health insurance news, David still hates the individual mandate. I'm starting to agree.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Meehan to UMass-Lowell?

The AP is reporting tonight that Congressman Marty Meehan (D-Lowell) is in talks with officials at UMass-Lowell about potentially taking the Chancellor's job. Here's the story from

Meehan is expected to meet with the school's search committee officials in early February, according to a source familiar with the hiring process who requested anonymity because the proceedings are confidential.


The Lowell congressman, who was elected in 1992, has previously denied having interest in the job.
It's somewhat surprising to me that Meehan would be thinking about leaving the Congress just when the Democrats have taken control. Meehan is currently the chair of the House Armed Services oversight and investigations subcommittee, which could be the scene of high-profile investigations of Iraq and Afghanistan. There have, however, been signs that Meehan has been tiring of the House of Representative, anyway, as he was openly considering a run for John Kerry's Senate seat in either 2005 (had he been elected president) or in 2008, had the Senator vacated it. Now that Kerry is seeking re-election, the Senate is off the table until at least 2012. Meehan may prefer to pass the time until then closer to home.

If Meehan did leave the Congress before his term is up in 2008, it would trigger an off-year special election. That would certainly attract many state legislators who would not have to risk their own seats for a chance to advance to Washington.

Update: The Boston Globe has the story on its front page this morning.

Monday, January 29, 2007

RIP Father Drinan

The Rev. Robert Drinan, the first and only Catholic priest elected to Congress died yesterday at age 86. He served in Congress for 10 years before Pope John Paul II decreed in 1980 that priests were no longer allowed to hold elected office. Father Drinan's tenure was before my time, so I remember him more from the Sunday talk shows than from Congress. I recall, in particular, one Easter a few years ago where he was on Meet the Press, when he said this:

"The problem is when some religions say that you have to impose in the law our particular beliefs. Certain fundamentalists think that gays should be discriminated against, and that's not in the common tradition. There's a common core of moral and religious beliefs, and frankly, we are in total violation of that. We are supposed to be good to the poor; we have more poor children in America than in any other industrialized nation. We're supposed to love prisoners and help them; we have 2.1 million people in prison, the largest of any country of the Earth. We also allow eleven children to be killed by guns every day. All of the religions are opposed to that. That's violence. Why don't we organize on that?"
The Globe has statements from some former colleagues:
Last night, several of Father Drinan's colleagues said his character and conscience made him a strong voice on Capitol Hill. In a statement, Senator Edward Kennedy cited Father Drinan's principled commitment to, among other causes, ending the war in Vietnam. "He was a profile in courage in every sense of the word, and the nation has lost one of the finest persons ever to serve in Congress," Kennedy said.

"When I arrived in Congress, Father Drinan was already serving as the conscience of the House of Representatives with every vote he cast," US Representative Edward Markey of Malden said. " He was a man of faith who never stopped searching for truth, and he was a committed educator who stayed true to his faith."
Daily Kos and the Outraged Liberal have more.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Notes From the MassEquality Meeting in Arlington

On Tuesday, I attended a MassEquality organizing forum in Arlington. The purpose of the meeting was to give us an idea of where things stood in the legislature regarding the anti-marriage Constitutional amendment and how we could help fight it. Bay Windows was also there, and they have a write-up about the meeting. The Bay Windows article focuses mainly on an awkward exchange between new state Rep. Will Brownsberger (D-Belmont) and an audience member about the constitutionality of killing the gay marriage ban procedurally. Reps Carl Sciortino (D-Somerville) and Mike Festa (D-Melrose) explained that thanks to the SJC ruling, they did not have the votes to kill the amendment by adjourning, and they knew it. Festa in particular defended the decision to not take the vote to adjourn since he didn't want to risk alienating any allies by forcing a tough vote that was sure to lose.

Along those lines, though, one thing that was mentioned was that there was too much focus lately on tactics and the procedural. The conversation statewide had turned away from the rights at stake. As such, a lot of people stayed home. They thought, particularly after the Con Con adjourned in November, that it was "in the bag" -- in the words of Rep. Sciortino. Now, of course, there's just one last chance to keep this from getting on the ballot. The folks from MassEquality gave some steps that supporters should take. The first, of course, was to call your legislators, no matter how they voted. Not only that, but encourage your friends and family to do the same, particularly if they live in the district of someone who voted in favor of the ban. They also suggested that people share their stories either as letters to the editor in the local paper or through their website. They also are always looking for volunteers.

Please check out the report from a similar meeting in Hingham from Below Boston.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Mass GOP Gunning for Kerry

The Boston Herald has an article today on how the Massachusetts Republican Party thinks that now that he's announced he won't run for President, Senator John Kerry is "increasingly vulnerable" to defeat in his 2008 re-election campaign. Now, I'll concede that Senator Kerry's in-state approval ratings have not been too hot lately, but don't forget that this is the same person who got over 60% of the vote in Massachusetts just over two years ago. Of course, when I see what prominent Republicans have to say about challenging him, I'm encouraged. For example, here's what State Senator Scott Brown had to say:

"I think he'll get a challenge this time. I don't think he'll get a free ride," Brown (R-Wrentham) said. "His handling of himself during this Iraq situation has been outrageous. He needs to be held accountable."
If Scott Brown and the Massachusetts GOP think that running on the Iraq war is going to be a political winner in the Commonwealth in 2008, then it's no surprise their party is going extinct here. Now, I absolutely think that it's important for Bay State Republicans to run someone against Kerry. If they're going to come back, they need a high-profile race. But, if their standard-bearer is going to talk about how much they support the increasingly unpopular war and how much John Kerry is against it, they are going to further associate the Republican party with Iraq and hurt their candidates downballot.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Kerry Won't Run For President

The Boston Globe is reporting that John Kerry is not running for president. The article sites his now-infamous "botched joke" and good poll numbers by Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as some factors that led Kerry to believe that he would have had a tough time winning the nomination. Instead, the Senator will seek re-election in 2008.

To be honest, I am disappointed but not surprised. I didn't think that Kerry had much chance of winning the nomination again, and I probably wouldn't have voted for him in the primary myself. Still, part of me was rooting for Kerry just so we'd have the free-for-all for his Senate seat here in Massachusetts. The domino effect would have been exciting as Congressmen ran for the Senate, state Senators ran for Congress, state reps run for state Senate, and so on down to school committee members. Just on a personal level, so many campaigns would have made for some good blogging!

Anyway, here is what he had to say in an email that just went out to his mailing list:

I sought the presidency to lead us on a different course. There are powerful reasons to want to continue that fight now. But I've concluded this isn't the time for me to mount a presidential campaign. It is the time to put my energy to work as part of the new Democratic majority in the Senate, to do all I can to end this war and strengthen our security and our ability to fight the real war on terror.

The people of Massachusetts have given me an incredible privilege to serve in the Senate, to represent the birthplace of freedom, the cradle of liberty, and a state where in Faneuil Hall patriotic dissenters stood on principle. I want to continue representing Massachusetts, and that's why I am running for reelection so I can use my voice all day every day to end this war and galvanize grassroots action to force Washington and our Democratic Party to live up to its responsibility.
In addition, as is the trend nowadays, he's recorded a video with his message.

Watertown Dems Meeting Tomorrow

Tomorrow night, at 8:00PM in the lower meeting room of the Town Hall, the Watertown Democratic Town Committee will have its first meeting of 2007. Rep Rachel Kaprielian will be giving the committee a legislative "year-in-preview", and Senator Steven Tolman has been invited to speak as well. The meeting is open to the public, and any registered Democrat who is a Watertown resident is welcome to join the Town Committee. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Buckingham Translated

I normally don't pay much attention to Boston Herald columnist Ginny Buckingham, but I just got my GOP Operative-to-English translator back from the shop (the poor thing fried itself trying to make sense of Tim O'Brien's meaningless babel last fall) and I decided I should test it out. Here's Buckingham's latest column on John Kerry, translated for your benefit:

Dear John Kerry,
   Please please please please run for President so you won't be able to run for re-election to the Senate. The Mass GOP is in some trouble and could use an open seat or two to run for in 2008.

Thanks for your consideration,
Ginny Buckingham

PS. I heard that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim! Pass it on!
Seriously, though, that whole "Obama went to a madrassa in Indonesia" thing that Buckingham oh-so-innocently brings up: it's a lie.

Romney's Congressional Outreach

My mole in Washington sent me a copy of a subscription only article in Roll Call detailing former Governor Mitt Romney's outreach to Congressional Republicans. The big news is that GOP Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) is considering giving Romney his endorsement. From the article:

Republican presidential hopeful and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is making a concerted effort to build a coalition of House Members to act as campaign liaisons, and early signs indicate that Romney is the likely favorite of a growing number of Republicans, including Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio).

Boehner has not endorsed Romney, but knowledgeable sources said the Minority Leader is leaning strongly in his favor.

"He likes him - a lot - but he's not there just yet," said one source.
The article also lists Congressmen Jim McCrery (R-LA), Howard McKeon (R-CA) and Dave Camp (R-MI) as in Romney's camp. Congressman Tom Feeney (R-FL) is also expected to announce his endorsement Friday. The article also reports that Romney and his team have been having meetings with prominent House Republicans like former speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO). Of particular importance is getting a bloc of Southern members to come out for our former Governor, to show that he's viable amongst Southern evangelicals.

By the way, Political Wire also noticed this article and titled their post "Romney May Get Boehner", which the twelve-year-old kid in me thinks is hilarious.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Could Hedlund Switch on Marriage?

I really dropped the ball on this one. Several of the local papers in state Senator Bob Hedlund's (R-Weymouth) district including Hingham, Norwell, Cohasset, and Scituate carried an interview with the Senator last Friday. For some reason, this meant that the article appeared no less than 100 times in my news reader. I neglected to read it until today, however, and was surprised to find this passage buried at the end. (emphasis added)

[Hedlund] says he is 'tormented' about the gay marriage issue. Hedlund voted to put the question of amending the state Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman before the voters. However, he is undecided on how he will vote in the second Constitutional Convention which is required to put the question on the ballot in 2008.

"I've met a lot of good people on both sides of the issue, who have weighed in quite strongly," he says.
Now, it may be that Hedlund has, in fact, already made up his mind and is just trying to put off the consequence of that decision (one way or another) until the next ConCon. Taking him at his word, however, it might be helpful for supporters of marriage equality who live in his district to write or call his office (617-722-1646) and let him know that they'd appreciate his support.

Teacher's Contract Sticking Point: Health Care

Ken Mirvis has a great column in Friday's Watertown Tab shedding light on the Watertown teacher's contract dispute. About a month or two ago, these red signs proclaiming that "Watertown Educators Deserve a Fair Contract" started cropping up around town and I kept meaning to find out what the controversy was. The sticking point, according to Mirvis, is unsurprisingly, health insurance.

Historically, the town has paid 90 percent of the cost of health insurance, and employees pay 10 percent. Those numbers have no particular significance other than being the historical division.

As we all know, health-care costs are rising at a dramatic and alarming rate. The town would like to see an 80-20 split for its employees, but that amounts to an effective pay cut. Keeping the current split could jeopardize the financial stability of the town.
The difference seems small until you factor in just how much that ten percent amounts to given how expensive health insurance has gotten in recent years. The teachers are justified in fighting a significant reduction in pay, just as the town has an interest in reducing its health care costs.

Any solution, Mirvis says, would just be a band-aid slapped on top of a broken system. The way to fix it, in his opinion is by creating a "well-managed single-payer system that provides a reasonable level of health coverage to every American at a reasonable cost." I'm slowly coming around to that view myself. Mirvis points to the Canadian system in particular as something that, while it has glitches, is more workable and fair than what we have currently. To that, I would just like to add that if Canada spent the same percent of our GDP on heath care as we do currently, they would not experience many of the "glitches" that Mirvis warns about. And Canada, of course, is not the only nation with a single-payer system in the world. In fact, every other industrialized nation has some sort of system of universal heath care. It's about time we joined them.

Open House at Delahunt's

I'm a little late on this, but in case you missed it there were two amusing articles last week on the living conditions of Congressman Bill Delahunt (D-Quincy) and his three roommates, Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Congresman/Landlord George Miller (D-CA). On Thursday, the Boston Globe and the New York Times had stories describing Schumer's love of cereal and Durbin's ability to kill rats. More disturbingly, is this image from the Times:

Mr. Delahunt, a six-term congressman, is the least prominent of the four but perhaps the funniest. More to the point, he is the only one willing to sleep in the living room with a close-up view of Mr. Schumer slumbering a few feet away in his boxers.
As an aside, I think I hit the liberal trifecta with this story. I first heard about the New York Times article on NPR and didn't read until I saw it on Daily Kos. To be fair, I was neither driving a hybrid nor drinking a latte at the time.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Money Can Buy Mitt Love II: Maybe it Can't!

Earlier this month we noted that Senator Jim DeMint's endorsement of former governor Mitt Romney for president came after a series of donations by Romney's Commonwealth PAC to the Senator's campaign. It appears, however, that some endorsements are not as easily bought.

Via Daily Kos:

You are Rep. Jim Nussle. You decide to vacate your seat to run for Governor of Iowa.

The Republican Governor's Association, headed by Mitt Romney, chips in $1.2 million.

Romney himself throws in $100K -- the largest contribution Nussle received the entire campaign.

How do you reward such largess?

You join the Giuliani campaign.

How much did Giuliani give to Nussle's gubernatorial effort?

Now, to be fair, Giuliani did campaign for Nussle, even going so far as appearing jointly on Hannity & Colmes. Add to that the fact that Romney's tenure as head of the RGA was pretty much a disaster, and it's no surprise that Nussle has thrown his lot in with someone else.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Global Warming Day in MA

Three items crossed my desk today related to global warming. The first was the news that Governor Deval Patrick has re-joined Massachusetts into RGGI, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Under the agreement, Massachusetts would be given a certain number of carbon dioxide allowances, which the state will then auction off to the highest bidder. Patrick has pledged that the money generated from that would be put toward programs that encouraged energy savings. I'm hopeful that this will help Massachusetts reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, and frankly, I think that fears that it will put us at a competitive disadvantage are overblown. All of New England except tiny Rhode Island has signed the same agreement, as have the governors of New York, New Jersey and Delaware. It is now a cost of doing business in the region and anyone who wants to do business in the entire northeast has to contend with these new rules.

Second, there's an article in the Watertown Tab about Doug Plante, who attended training earlier this year to give Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" slideshow. I know Doug from the Deval Patrick campaign here in Watertown -- he was a fellow volunteer. I'm looking forward to seeing him give the presentation locally.

Lastly, Congressman Marty Meehan (D-Lowell) has sent off a letter to President George W Bush concerning the rumors that the President will include some talk of climate change in his State of the Union address next week. Meehan comes out in support of a federal cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gasses and encourages the President to do likewise.

Read the entire letter inside...

Dear Mr. President,

I am writing following recent media reports announcing your intentions to outline a policy on global warming in your State of the Union Address next week. I believe that climate change is having catastrophic effects on our environment and strongly urge you to develop a policy that adequately addresses this crisis.

I call on you to respect the serious threat that climate change poses to the United States and the World in your State of the Union address, by supporting a federal cap on greenhouse gas emissions. We can not afford to keep any option off the table that could lead to slowing Global Warming.

According to a report in January 17th’s Washington Times, you "will argue that global warming can be better addressed through technology and greater use of renewable energy sources than through caps imposed on businesses and industries." This is a false choice. The United States can continue to invest in innovative new technologies and make greater use of renewable energy sources while also imposing emission standards through a federal cap-and-trade system.

Global Warming is a crisis and the evidence is clear and overwhelming. Last year was the warmest year on record for the continental United States with temperatures over 2 degrees higher than the mean temperature for the 20th century. Your own Interior Department proposed adding polar bears to the list of endangered species because their habitat in the Arctic is literally melting away. More troubling is the growing number of children who are falling victim to the effects of this crisis, whether it is from high asthma rates in urban areas throughout the country, or malaria in Kenya and Tanzania.

While these examples show the devastating effects that climate change is having on our environment and on our well-being, there is still time to act. This time, however, is shrinking; action on this issue must be swift and prompt. Our nation needs a federal policy that aims to reduce carbon emissions, creates incentives for renewable energy, and increases basic research so that our scientists can discover the links between pollution and diseases like autism and breast cancer.

The United States, with only 5% of the world's population, produces roughly onequarter of all global greenhouse gas emissions. This is unacceptable. We must make it a priority to reduce our emissions.

A federal cap-and-trade system has the potential to cut carbon emissions in the United States by 80% by 2050. However, the benefits will go beyond cleaner air and slowed global warming. A federal cap-and-trade program will create new opportunities for businesses and research facilities, specifically those who focus on areas of environment-friendly materials and alternative energy development.

This week, Congress has taken the first step to putting America on a path to energy independence by repealing billions of subsidies given to big oil and investing in renewable energy technologies and improving energy efficiency. I strongly urge you to add to this effort by announcing in your State of the Union Address that you will support a cap on emissions from the country's largest polluters, that you will join with countries from around the world to develop a global agreement on climate change, and that you will increase federal investments in renewable energy and basic research that investigates the links between pollution and life-threatening diseases.

I look forward to continuing to work with you to address this issue which we all agree is having a devastating effect on our environment and our welfare. As the most advanced nation in the world, it is essential that America lead the fight to slow and eventually end global warming.

Marty Meehan
Member of Congress

Any Lessons From Workers' Comp Reform?

Today's Boston Globe Op/Ed pages have a frustrating piece by Stephen D'Amato, a former Massachusetts insurance regulator who co-drafted the Workers' Compensation Reform Act of 1991. D'Amato tantalizes us with the idea that our skyrocketing health insurance costs can be brought down just like they were able to bring down skyrocketing workers' compensation insurance rates after 1991. Rather than give us details of what they did then or how they did it, however, he "skip[s] to the happy ending" where workers' comp rates are 60 percent lower than they were before. Yes, he does advocate that the way to get from here to there is for stakeholders to identify "changes that help all parties" and cooperate to an "unprecedented level", but the result is more pep-talk than policy prescription. It's a longer version of "Hey, if we all get together and work real hard at it, we can reform heath care just like we did workers' comp!" Isn't getting the industry together with activist and employer groups how the current health insurance law was born? Am I naive to think that this is not going on currently at the Health Insurance Connector Authority?

So, to fill in the part between Governor Weld's election and the "happy ending", I tried to find out exactly what sort of reforms were passed in 1991 and whether we could learn anything from what was passed then that we might transfer to our current insurance rate problems, whether it be health insurance or auto insurance. As far as workers' comp goes, the Associated Industries of Massachusetts has a very readable historical overview that includes the 1991 reforms. In addition, the Pioneer Institute provides this nutshell synopsis:

Reforms passed in 1991 included a new emphasis on return to work and the establishment of procedures to terminate benefits to those who unreasonably refuse to work. Specific changes included state-appointed impartial medical examiners to replace "dueling doctors," provision for automatic termination of benefits to workers who refuse a bona fide offer of employment, a major reduction in the maximum duration of benefits and a decrease in the amount of weekly benefits, along with administrative improvements.
In other words, they cut benefits and streamlined the process. Analysis done by the Workers Compensation Research Institute showed that "Lower claim volume was the major factor in falling costs". Can any of these be translated to the current health insurance situation? Certainly, there are ways the state can help reduce the administrative costs -- forcing companies to all use the same claim form is one possibility. I'm not sure that the state has any role in trying to reduce claim volume, but perhaps an increased emphasis on preventative health care could result in catching health problems when they are less serious and therefore less expensive to deal with. As far as cutting benefits goes, we'll have to see what Commonwealth Care ends up looking like.

If we are to use D'Amato's analogy, though, it's useful to note that the cause of much of the huge rise in workers' comp premiums was set off by an earlier reform of the system in 1985. The 1991 reforms were largely enacted to counteract the unintended consequences of what was done previously. Maybe this is what will happen with health insurance. It seems likely that after the dust settles on the new law, we'll have to go through and fix things we didn't get right the first time.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Widmer Sheds Light on Budget Numbers

Mass. Taxpayers Institute president Michael Widmer has a must read op-ed in today's Boston Globe about the discrepancy in the budget numbers that have been floating around for the past few months. In it, he mentions something that has been bothering me since the election.

The saga began more than a year ago when Romney started holding monthly press conferences to announce state tax revenues. He claimed they were rising at a rate that would produce a billion-dollar surplus in fiscal 2006 and called for an immediate income tax cut. During the gubernatorial campaign, Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey and Attorney General Tom Reilly joined the billion-dollar-surplus bandwagon, using the claim to justify their support of a lower income tax rate.

Unfortunately, Romney's assertions had no basis in fact. Although tax revenues in fiscal 2006 did rise by a billion dollars more than estimated, the budget depended on $600 million in reserves, so the actual surplus was much smaller.
Widmer was on Beacon Hill today, testifying before a revenue hearing. He seemed to have the most pessimistic revenue forecast, settling on the $1 billion shortfall that could possibly narrow if the economy improves.

Monday, January 15, 2007

A Welfare-to-Work Crisis?

I'm not quite sure what to make of today's article in the Boston Globe declaring the jobs program for welfare recipients to be a failure. While it seems as though the state should be doing a better job promoting the Full Employment Program and retool it to give employers better incentives to hire employees who are on welfare, it doesn't seem to me that Massachusetts is suffering from any kind of welfare crisis, nor does the recent evidence that I've heard suggest that those on welfare in Massachusetts are not working. Then again, "Jobs Program Needs Minor Adjustments" is not quite worthy of a front-page, above the fold article.

The Globe does note that the number of employers participating in this program has shrank from 500 in 1998 to only 32 today, it does not give any indication of what has happened to the number of employees participating. It seems to me that the number of welfare recipients who are currently working would be more relevant that the number of employers who are hiring them. What the article doesn't say is that 60% of welfare recipients meet minimum work requirements in Massachusetts, compared with 25% in California. In Ohio, a state not known for its generous social safety net, that number is 65%. Can the welfare-to-work program do better in Massachusetts? Of course. But is it a disaster of front-page-worthy proportions? I'm not so sure.

Another thing that the article makes much of is the growing number of families on welfare in Massachusetts since 2001. It's true that the number has risen by about 5-6%, but the graph accompanying the article puts the rise in perspective. Since the welfare-to-work program was initiated, the welfare rolls are down by about 40%. Considering that the Massachusetts economy has been crap since about 2001,
it's surprising that the increase since then has been so small.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Rep. Kujawski Guilty of Campaign Finance Violations

The Attorney General's office announced today that State Representative Paul Kujawski (D-Webster) has admitted to campaign finance violations. Not only did Kujawski use campaigns funds for personal use and accept more than the legal contribution amount from PACs between 2001 and 2003, but he was found in violation of a previous agreement with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance from earlier campaign finance charges. All in all, the violation will cost Rep. Kujawski nearly $17,000. Kujawski has admitted to using campaign funds for his personal automobile use as well as his clothing and cleaning expenses. The Globe has this quote from the legislator:

Kujawski said he was pleased the issue was resolved.

"I'm very happy that I can move on from this chapter in my life and get that out of the way," he said.
Leaving alone for now why we should trust that this "chapter" is over, given that part of his crime was violating an agreement stemming from a previous violation, what I'd like to know is why penalties for campaign finance violations seem so toothless? The bulk of the money that Kujawski has to pay -- more than $14,000 -- will go back into his campaign account. He's paying the fine back to himself! It's no wonder that so many legislators -- Senator Wilkerson is another example -- treat our campaign finance laws like a joke.

Those who follow Rep. Kujawski might also remember that he was arrested for drunk driving and public urination in 2004.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Patrick Appoints Blogger to Homeland Security Post

While today's Boston Globe story focused on how newly appointed state Homeland Security chief, Juliette Kayyem is the first Arab-American to hold such a post in the US, I'm more interested to find out if she's the first blogger to have that postion. In addition to being a "Harvard lecturer who frequently appears on television as a terrorism analyst," Kayyem has also been a contributer to TPM Cafe for over a year. For those interested, here is a link to her recent posts.

Romney Far Behind in the Carolinas

Sure, polls for 2008 are mostly based on name recognition at this point, but even so, it seems like former governor Mitt Romney has a lot of catching up to do in North Carolina. A recent survey by Public Policy Polling of Raleigh has him at a distant fourth in the Tar Heel State. (via Political Wire)

Rudy Giuliani30%
Newt Gingrich29%
John McCain22%
Mitt Romney6%
All Others13%

That's a little unfair, though, because it's been South Carolina that Romney's been paying attention to, not North Carolina, after all. So, how's Mitt doing there? ARG did a poll in mid-December of South Carolina Republicans.


Ouch. It looks like all those trips to Spartanburg have yet to pay off for the former Gov.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Verga to Head Veterans' Service?

Buried at the end of an article on new Governor Deval Patrick's cabinet choices, the Salem News printed this rumor on Monday:

One name so far not in the mix is Rep. Anthony J. Verga. The Gloucester Democrat has been rumored by some to be the state's next director of the Department of Veterans' Services.

However, Verga said Patrick has not raised the topic in discussions, and a Patrick spokesman did not know the status of that appointment.
Verga has been chair of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs, and has been an advocate for Gloucester's fisherman in the legislature. He was also one of the 62 legislators who voted against marriage equality last week. If he were offered and accepted this post -- and given the sketchiness of the rumor, this might just be wishful thinking on -- he would have to resign his seat and a special election would have to be scheduled. What are the chances that a pro-marriage legislator could be elected in Gloucester? Is there anyone waiting in the wings who might be sympathetic to marriage equality on Cape Ann?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Money Can Buy Mitt Love

Both the Boston Globe's blog and David Bernstein at the Phoenix are reporting that former governor Mitt Romney has won the endorsement of South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint in Romney's quest for the Republican nomination for president. What's missing from both accounts, however, is the fact that Romney's Commonwealth PAC was an early donor to DeMint's 2004 Senate campaign, a fact that I noted in my first ever post to this blog. At the time, he denied he was setting up a base of support for a presidential run, but it looks like his investment has paid off for him. According to Opensecrets, Commonwealth PAC has given $7,000 to DeMint over the past two election cycles, even though DeMint was not up for election in 2006. Note that this beats the amount that Senator John McCain's Straight Talk America PAC gave to the South Carolina senator by two thousand dollars.

Update: I just took a second look at the Commonwealth PAC track record for Senate. I noticed with interest that the PAC supported only one candidate who won his election in 2006 -- $3,000 to Arizona Senator Jon Kyl. All told, Commonwealth PAC spent $50,000 on Senate losers and $7,000 to Senators with no 2006 race (DeMint and his fellow SC Senator, Lindsey Graham).

Thursday, January 04, 2007

A New Day Dawns

If you had told me one year ago, while a small group of us were conspiring together at the Town Diner in Watertown to win the caucus for Deval Patrick, that I'd be today trying to squeeze myself into my wedding tuxedo for his inauguration, I'm not sure I'd have believed you. Sure, I'd have hoped you were right -- I wouldn't have volunteered so much of my time if I thought it was a hopeless cause -- but I don't think I ever allowed myself to picture winning.

If you missed today's inauguration festivities (as I did), there's a live blog from the Globe that gives a good flavor. You should also read Governor Patrick's inaugural address, which Blue Mass. Group has posted in full so I don't have to here. The speech was vintage Deval, and those who have followed him will recognize familiar themes and turns of phrase. I would like to point out, though, my favorite part:

We know what to do. We know that our challenges were long in the making and will require long-term solutions. We know what to reach for. And we ought to know that either we invest today or we will surely pay excessively tomorrow. We know that investment in education today beats investment in prisons tomorrow.

Quick fixes, gimmicks and sound bites are not enough. That's not in the spirit of what built this country. That is not what cleared the forest and planted New England's earliest farms. It's not what inspired our great universities and museums. It's not what created the boom in textile manufacturing in its time or a flourishing biotech industry today. It's not what freed the colonies from oppression or the slaves from bondage or women from second class citizenship.

What has distinguished us at every signature moment of our history is the willingness to look a challenge right in the eye, the instinct to measure it against our ideals, and the sustained dedication to close the gap between the two. That is who we are.
I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm ready for a challenge. Let's get to work.

Well, maybe after the gala...

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Who Has Money?

Yesterday, I asked who of the 62 legislators that voted in favor of banning same-sex marriage might be persuaded to switch their vote in the next Constitutional Convention. I'm not sure that anyone can answer that question now, so I sought out the answer to a different one. Who has the cash on hand to fend off a serious challenge and who would need to catch up on their fund raising? I checked the latest numbers from the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, which had the cash-on-hand for all the legislators as of about October 20th, 2006. This is before the last election, but I figure that this is a reasonable number to use until the year-end numbers come out (I believe they are due later this month). Since most of the legislators who voted against marriage equality were unopposed, it's reasonable to assume that they did not spend very much or raise very much between October and the November election.

This list differs from yesterday's in that it includes only members of the 2007-2008 General Court who voted yesterday for the amendment or are new and have indicated that they would vote for the amendment. Also, to figure out who might be vulnerable, I checked the year they were first elected to the body they currently serve in. In cases where the legislator had a gap in their service, I used the most recent election where they were not an incumbent. In addition, I added the margin of victory in both the 2006 primary and general elections, with "U" for unopposed.

Here's the new table:

LegislatorElected'06 Pri'06 GenOct. $$
Rep. Geraldo Alicea (D-Charlton)200631%55%$941.32
Rep. William G. Greene Jr. (D-Billerica)1992UU$1,164.48
Rep. Brian P. Wallace (D-South Boston)2002UU$1,533.20
Rep. Anthony J. Verga (D-Gloucester)1994UU$2,723.79
Rep. Paul C. Casey (D-Winchester)1988UU$3,696.17
Rep. Fred "Jay" Barrows (R-Mansfield)2006U51%$4,278.21
Rep. Robert Correia (D-Fall River)197669%87%$4,396.98
Rep. Paul K. Frost (R-Auburn)1996UU$5,583.03
Rep. William Lantigua (D-Lawrence)2002U80%$5,975.41
Sen. Richard T. Moore (D-Uxbridge)1996UU$6,112.28
Rep. Robert J. Nyman (D-Hanover)1998U63%$6,387.70
Rep. Elizabeth A. Poirier (R-North Attleboro)1998UU$6,395.47
Rep. Michael F. Rush (D-West Roxbury)2002UU$6,561.22
Rep. Walter F. Timilty (D-Milton)1998UU$6,572.05
Rep. Colleen M. Garry (D-Dracut)1994UU$7,041.13
Sen. Gale D. Candaras (D-Wilbraham)200646%60%$7,586.19
Rep. Sean Curran (D-Springfield)2004U77%$7,874.21
Rep. David L. Flynn (D-Bridgewater)1998UU$8,310.83
Rep. Geraldine Creedon (D-Brockton)1994UU$9,547.62
Rep. Linda Campbell (D-Methuen)200632%61%$10,263.79
Rep. Viriato Manuel deMacedo (R-Plymouth)1998UU$12,979.15
Rep. Paul Kujawski (D-Webster)199462%U$12,989.25
Rep. Christine E. Canavan (D-Brockton)1992UU$13,395.37
Rep. Daniel K. Webster (R-Hanson)2002U52%$14,486.22
Rep. George N. Peterson Jr. (R-Grafton)1994UU$14,565.76
Rep. Michael F. Kane (D-Holyoke)2000UU$16,076.96
Rep. Joyce A. Spiliotis (D-Peabody)200253%69%$16,415.46
Rep. Donald F. Humason Jr. (R-Westfield)2002UU$18,102.14
Rep. Todd Smola (R-Palmer)2004UU$18,878.60
Rep. Richard Ross (R-Wrentham)2004UU$21,683.43
Rep. John A. Lepper (R-Attleboro)1994U54%$22,679.75
Rep. Jeffrey D. Perry (R-Sandwich)2002UU$23,915.91
Rep. David M. Nangle (D-Lowell)1998UU$27,448.52
Rep. Susan W. Gifford (R-Wareham)2002U57%$27,783.67
Rep. James R. Miceli (D-Wilmington)1976UU$29,208.94
Rep. James M. Murphy (D-Weymouth)2001U71%$33,963.74
Rep. Paul J. Loscocco (R-Holliston)2000UU$35,764.74
Rep. John P. Fresolo (D-Worcester)199857%U$35,995.58
Rep. Lewis G. Evangelidis (R-Holden)2002U69%$39,995.60
Sen. Robert S. Creedon (D-Brockton)1996UU$44,337.48
Rep. James H. Fagan (D-Taunton)1992UU$44,666.03
Sen. Scott P. Brown (R-Wrentham)2004UU$45,255.05
Rep. Mary S. Rogeness (R-Longmeadow)1990UU$48,460.63
Rep. Angelo M. Scaccia (D-Readville)1980UU$49,822.45
Rep. Bruce J. Ayers (D-Quincy)1998UU$50,432.40
Rep. Frank M. Hynes (D-Marshfield)1982UU$50,685.46
Rep. Robert S. Hargraves (R-Groton)1994U60%$55,873.13
Rep. Paul J. Donato (D-Medford)2000UU$63,612.21
Rep. James E. Vallee (D-Franklin)1994UU$72,061.04
Rep. A. Stephen Tobin (D-Quincy)1988UU$72,631.34
Rep. Angelo Puppolo (D-Springfield)200691%59%$76,822.41
Sen. Steven C. Panagiotakos (D-Lowell)1996U76%$83,125.10
Rep. Karyn E. Polito (R-Shrewsbury)2000UU$136,654.03
Sen. Robert L. Hedlund (R-Weymouth)1994U64%$141,811.65
Sen. Michael W. Morrissey (D-Quincy)1992UU$303,787.02
Rep. Thomas M. Petrolati (D-Ludlow)1986UU$312,827.71
Rep. John J. Binienda (D-Worcester)1986UU$314,528.46
Sen. Robert E. Travaglini (D-East Boston)1992UU$334,136.66

A couple things jump out right away. First of all, some incumbents have been very lazy about raising money. This does not mean that they would be easy to defeat, but it does mean we can force them to fundraise. I am sure that Reps Greene, Wallace, Verga and Casey would rather not risk being outspent should a challenger emerge. If they could avoid the tedium of fundraising and campaigning by switching their vote, would they?

Another thing is that some of the people who won crowded primaries this year might be vulnerable in a two-person race in 2008. Do new Reps Alicea and Campbell relish another fight that might be avoided by voting no at the next Constitutional Convention?

2008 will be too late for defeating these legislators to make any difference in the fate of the marriage ban amendment. But if we can put pressure on them by recruiting challengers where we think it will make a difference, perhaps we can change some votes that way.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Who is Persuadable?

The chart below shows all 62 legislators who voted in favor of the same-sex marriage ban at today's Constitutional Convention, along with the results from their 2006 general election. I've crossed out the six of them, who have been replaced by pro-marriage equality legislators. That leaves seven who must change their votes if the ban is to be defeated before going to a statewide ballot -- though it's really eight since Gale Candaras moved up to the Senate, replacing pro-marriage Republican Brian Lees.

Which of these leglislators is persuadable? It's not impossible for people to change their minds even on an issue as controversial as this. Enough changed their position to kill off the Travaglini-Lees amendment that would have banned marriage, but created civil unions. Who of these might respond to citizen pressure? Who might be willing to stave off a 2008 challenge in return for their vote? Who has their eye on an appointment and may be replaced in a special election? How else can we get this list down to 49?

Legislator2006 General Election Results
Bruce J. Ayers D-QuincyUnopposed
John J. Binienda D-WorcesterUnopposed
Christine E. Canavan D-BrocktonUnopposed
Gale D. Candaras D-WilbrahamReplaced by Angelo Puppolo
Mark J. Carron D-SouthbridgeReplaced by Geraldo Alicea
Paul C. Casey D-WinchesterUnopposed
Geraldine Creedon D-BrocktonUnopposed
Virginia Coppola R-FoxboroughReplaced by Jay Barrows
Robert Correia D-Fall River87% vs Libertarian
Sean Curran D-Springfield77% vs 2 candidates
Viriato Manuel deMacedo R-PlymouthUnopposed
Paul J. Donato D-MedfordUnopposed
Lewis G. Evangelidis R-Holden69% vs Nate Kaplan
James H. Fagan D-TauntonUnopposed
David L. Flynn D-BridgewaterUnopposed
John P. Fresolo D-WorcesterUnopposed
Paul K. Frost R-AuburnUnopposed
Colleen M. Garry D-DracutUnopposed
Susan W. Gifford R-Wareham57% vs Margaret A. Ishihara
Emile J. Goguen D-FitchburgReplaced by Stephen DiNatale
Shirley Gomes R-South HarwichReplaced by Sarah Peake
William G. Greene Jr. D-BillericaUnopposed
Robert S. Hargraves R-Groton60% vs Carol L. Bousquet
Donald F. Humason Jr. R-WestfieldUnopposed
Frank M. Hynes D-MarshfieldUnopposed
Michael F. Kane D-HolyokeUnopposed
Paul Kujawski D-WebsterUnopposed
William Lantigua D-Lawrence80% vs Marcos A. Devers (WI)
John A. Lepper R-Attleboro54% vs Kate M. Jackson
Paul J. Loscocco R-HollistonUnopposed
James R. Miceli D-WilmingtonUnopposed
James M. Murphy D-Weymouth71% vs Robert Montgomery Thomas
David M. Nangle D-LowellUnopposed
Robert J. Nyman D-Hanover63% vs Timothy M. Gillespie, Jr.
Shirley Owens-Hicks D-BostonReplaced by Willie Mae Allen
Marie J. Parente D-MilfordReplaced by John Fernandes
Jeffrey D. Perry R-SandwichUnopposed
George N. Peterson Jr. R-GraftonUnopposed
Thomas M. Petrolati D-LudlowUnopposed
Elizabeth A. Poirier R-North AttleboroUnopposed
Karyn E. Polito R-ShrewsburyUnopposed
Susan W. Pope R-WaylandReplaced by Thomas P. Conroy
Mary S. Rogeness R-LongmeadowUnopposed
Richard Ross R-WrenthamUnopposed
Michael F. Rush D-BostonUnopposed
Angelo M. Scaccia D-BostonUnopposed
Todd Smola R-PalmerUnopposed
Joyce A. Spiliotis D-Peabody69% vs Jason C. Harding
Walter F. Timilty D-MiltonUnopposed
A. Stephen Tobin D-QuincyUnopposed
Philip Travis D-RehobothReplaced by Steven D'Amico
James E. Vallee D-FranklinUnopposed
Anthony J. Verga D-GloucesterUnopposed
Brian P. Wallace D-BostonUnopposed
Daniel K. Webster R-Hanson52% vs Greg Hanley
Scott P. Brown R-WrenthamUnopposed
Robert S. Creedon D-BrocktonUnopposed
Robert L. Hedlund R-Weymouth64% vs Stephen A. Lynch
Richard T. Moore D-UxbridgeUnopposed
Michael W. Morrissey D-QuincyUnopposed
Steven C. Panagiotakos D-Lowell76% vs Brooks T. Lyman
Robert E. Travaglini D-BostonUnopposed

ConCon Today

I'm back in town just in time for today's Constitutional Convention, where the fate of the potential amendment to ban same-sex marriages will be decided. My fellow bloggers at Blue Mass. Group and the fine folks at Bay Windows are both live-blogging.

Dan Kennedy has an interesting thought experiment where he asks his readers to replace "same-sex marriage" with "reinstitution of slavery" and see if their thoughts on whether a vote should be blocked changes. It's probably too difficult to picture a world where such a measure would get to this point -- having had to achieve the support of 25 legislators and tens of thousands of petitioners -- but thinking about it this way makes me wonder if there isn't an issue for everyone that would make them cross the line from being what Kennedy calls "process liberals" to someone who would resort to adjourning the convention without voting on the amendment.

Personally, I hope that the amendment is killed without a vote today (since it has no chance of being voted down). I understand the implications of this, particularly in light of the SJC ruling that required a vote, but could not force one. I have heard all of the arguments about process, but they ring hollow particularly because the legislature has done this exact maneuver before. There is precedent. It seems unfair to me that supporters of gay marriage should not get the same parliamentary benefits that opponents of term limits, for example, got when that measure was killed in the same way. The legislature has already shown bad faith when it comes to following Article 48. Why should I trust that they will do so in the future, now that they have been again reprimanded by the Court? If I have no guarantee that by following the process now means that future amendments are safe from these shenanigans, then why unilaterally disarm? Why give up a weapon that is bound to be used against you in the future, particularly in this case, when the rights of gays and lesbians hang in the balance.