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Who’s on second?

Yes, the state constitution should be changed. But Governor Swift bungled her running-mate choice all on her own.

GOVERNOR JANE SWIFT’S designation of the inexperienced, little-known Patrick Guerriero as her running mate prompts two observations.

First, the time is long overdue to change the state constitution so that candidates for governor have the right to choose their running mates. In order to win the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor, Guerriero will have to defeat a primary challenge from Jim Rappaport, who is neither liked nor respected in some Republican circles, but who is better known and willing to spend his personal wealth to get what he wants.

Thus, there is a very real possibility that Swift will be paired with Rappaport, a man she has publicly rebuked and with whom she has demonstrated no desire to work or even communicate. It’s no wonder that the Boston Globe and the Salem Evening News, to name two papers, have editorialized in recent days in favor of a constitutional amendment aimed at eliminating this absurdity.

The second observation is that Swift has handled this about as badly as it is possible to do. She has not proposed changing the constitution, and in any case such a step would take several years to accomplish. Rather, she has merely attempted to emulate her immediate Republican predecessors. In so doing, she has adopted a one-time gimmick that helped Bill Weld win the governor’s office in 1990 and taken it well past the point of diminishing returns.

A brief civics lesson. Under the Massachusetts constitution, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run for their parties’ nominations separately. After the primaries, they run as a team. In other words, the Massachusetts system isn’t quite as absurd as Texas’s or California’s, where the governor can be (and often is) from one party and the lieutenant governor from another. (It gets better: under the Texas constitution, the lieutenant governor actually has more responsibilities than the governor — something that helped then-governor George W. Bush be anything he thought voters wanted him to be during his remarkably substance-free campaign for president.) But our system is silly nevertheless, and it’s hard to imagine why what’s good enough at the national level, where presidential candidates choose their running mates, isn’t good enough at the state level.

In Massachusetts, candidates for governor have generally stayed out of the lieutenant governor fray, taking the position — at least in public — that since their running mate is chosen by the voters, then they can work with whomever the voters choose. A notable exception to that came in 1990, when Weld, a former Justice Department official and US attorney, reached out to then–state senator Paul Cellucci.

Weld had the money and Cellucci had the party ties and name recognition. Both were moderate, pro-choice Republicans in a party that was then dominated by uncompromising pro-lifers. Weld, fearing that he and Cellucci would split the moderate vote, proposed that they join forces, and Cellucci agreed. The success of that strategy was not immediately apparent — gubernatorial candidate Steve Pierce and lieutenant governor candidate Peter Torkildsen (a frequent flip-flopper, but pro-life during years ending in zero) led for most of the campaign. But due to an unprecedented number of pro-choice independents’ taking Republican ballots that September, Weld and Cellucci both pulled off surprise victories — and went on to defeat the Democratic team of John Silber and Marjorie Clapprood (another unhappy forced pairing) that November.

The Weld-Cellucci team was, by most accounts, a fairly cohesive one, no doubt because the work-ethic-deficient Weld was happy to let his "co-governor," as he called Cellucci, do much of the heavy lifting. But the Republicans foolishly turned Weld’s one-time gambit into party doctrine. In 1998, Cellucci, having taken over the governor’s office after Weld’s midterm departure, was faced with what looked like a tough Republican opponent — then–state treasurer Joe Malone — and a former radio-talk-show host, Janet Jeghelian, whom Malone had cajoled into the lieutenant governor’s race. In a pathetically obvious play for the women’s vote, Cellucci reached out to Jane Swift, a former state senator from the Berkshires whose main qualification was that she had come closer to defeating Congressman John Olver in 1996 than the political wise men had thought she would.

Swift, as we all now know, is bright and hard-working enough, with a good grasp of policy and a more moderate brand of politics than Cellucci had offered. But as lieutenant governor she was also young — too young, perhaps — sometimes arrogant, and filled with an overweening sense of entitlement, that last quality leading to a well-documented series of missteps involving a helicopter ride, taxpayer-financed baby-sitting, and subsidized housing.

As governor, Swift, though still young, has proven to be an occasionally pleasant surprise (witness her partial rescue of human-service programs that had been slated for elimination by the Democratic legislature) who nevertheless still has some significant weak spots (witness her reluctance to launch a top-to-bottom housecleaning at Massport after the September 11 attacks, her mindless support for last year’s unaffordable income-tax cut, and her opposition to same-sex marriage).

Overall, though, her elevation is likely to reflect better on Cellucci than Guerriero’s will on her.

For one thing, the Guerriero pick comes after an embarrassing series of public rejections from Republicans with whom Swift would rather have run, such as former Suffolk County district attorney Ralph Martin and even the little-known Essex County sheriff, Frank Cousins, who, like Martin, is an African-American with a reputation as a reformer.

For another, Guerriero’s stature doesn’t even match Swift’s at the time that Cellucci anointed her. Just 33, Guerriero is a former state legislator who quit as mayor of his hometown of Melrose after it became apparent that a deal he’d cut with a political supporter to dump Big Dig dirt in his city had turned into a disaster. When Swift tapped him last week, he was her deputy chief-of-staff. (It wouldn’t do to say no to the boss, would it?) The press Guerriero got was middling, most of it of the feel-good variety focusing on his status as the first openly gay candidate for lieutenant governor (see "Anatomy of a Coming-Out," This Just In, page 8). Of far more significance, though, was a report that a Melrose city councilor had recently received a call from the FBI. The apparent subject: the Big Dig mess, which is likely to cost the City of Melrose $1.5 million, and has already destroyed a golf course and threatened environmental harm. All of which raise serious doubts about Guerriero’s judgment and executive abilities.

Unless the constitution is changed, candidates for governor would be far better off living with the system as it is — as the Democrats still do, despite occasional off-stage maneuvering. Above all, gubernatorial hopefuls should keep in mind that actually giving their lieutenant governor something to do is strictly optional. That may not be good government, but it’s reality. Michael Dukakis, after all, froze out one of his lieutenant governors, Evelyn Murphy, for much of the 1980s; and his first-term lieutenant governor, Tom O’Neill, was frozen out by Ed King after King unexpectedly beat the incumbent Dukakis in the 1978 Democratic primary.

Swift could have gritted her teeth, smiled, and said she’d love to run with Jim Rappaport, or anyone else Republican voters chose to nominate. Yes, she should have a running mate she can work with, and with whom she feels comfortable as a potential successor. But by airing her political problems in public, she runs the risk of having a number two she wants but who’s under investigation (Guerriero) or for whom she has already expressed public contempt (Rappaport).

It’s an ugly situation. And, as is usually the case with her, she has no one to blame but herself.

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Issue Date: January 10 - 17, 2002

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