IF YOU’RE CONSIDERING voting for either Shannon O’Brien or Mitt Romney for governor and you haven’t made up your mind yet about whom you’ll support, do the rest of us a favor and stay at home.
It’s been a long time since the two leading candidates for governor have differed so sharply on the economy, housing, health care, education, the environment, crime, capital punishment, gay rights, and reproductive rights. To claim that there’s no difference between the candidates, as some have taken to doing, is irresponsible. To genuinely wonder if there are differences is just plain bizarre.
Take the most fundamental divide between the candidates: O’Brien believes government has a role to play in creating jobs, building housing, reforming health care, cleaning up the environment, fighting crime, and making sure the rights and privileges afforded to the majority of our citizens are extended to the minority. Romney does not.
It’s that simple. And that is why the Phoenix endorses Shannon O’Brien for governor and Chris Gabrieli for lieutenant governor.
O’Brien has made her career in public service. She was first elected to office in 1986 as a state representative, at the age of 27. In 1994 she ran for treasurer and lost. She ran again in 1998 and won. There, as nearly everyone knows by now, she played a role in ferreting out the corruption in the lottery that had blossomed under Republican treasurer Joe Malone. She also forced Jim Kerasiotes, then-chair of the Big Dig, to give a full accounting of the project’s finances — a move that eventually led to his resignation and several investigations into Big Dig finances.
It’s been fashionable for quite some time now to deride those who’ve cut their teeth on politics, as O’Brien has. We call them hacks. We say they have no experience in the "real" world. At the same time, we lament the quality of those seeking political careers. We complain that the best and the brightest no longer run for office.
This campaign has seen plenty of that from local pundits and political observers. Our response? Enough already.
O’Brien is smarter than most of those making these observations. She’s had a successful political career thus far, something she rightly takes pride in. And she is running for the top constitutional office in this state with a bunch of ideas — and ideals — we’d like to see implemented. Just a few examples:
Easing the housing crisis. O’Brien has pledged to get the Housing Bond Bill, which has been stymied by the legislature, passed within the first 100 days of her administration. It’s not sexy. It’s not a cure-all. But it will help. The state is in danger of losing 18,000 federally and state-subsidized housing units to the free market during the next three years. These apartments house elders who scrape by on Social Security. They house the disabled, who can’t work. They house families on welfare. They house our poor. We must keep these units affordable. The bond bill would do just that.
Budget reform. The way the state’s budget is put together is a national embarrassment. Revenue forecasting is highly politicized; budget writers from different branches of government don’t even work with the same set of numbers. O’Brien has proposed the creation of an independent Revenue Forecast Council staffed by economists and academics to project revenues. Under weak gubernatorial leadership the budget process has been hijacked, in recent years by House Speaker Tom Finneran and Senate president Tom Birmingham. A return to proactive gubernatorial leadership on the annual budget-writing process, which O’Brien would provide, would put a stop to the annual game of chicken played by Beacon Hill’s legislative leaders.
Marriage rights for same-sex couples. O’Brien supports Vermont-style civil unions. She has said she would sign a marriage bill for same-sex couples if it crossed her desk. Compare that with Romney’s support for watered-down "domestic partnership" benefits and his Neanderthal boast during a televised gubernatorial debate: "Call me old-fashioned. But I don’t support gay marriage.... It’s just my belief that marriage should be preserved for a husband and a wife of opposite genders."
That said, there is no question that there is another candidate running for governor this year who offers a strong — and appealing — platform on housing, health care, and social issues: Green Party candidate Jill Stein. We urge Democrats and unenrolled voters to take a pass on Stein for two reasons. The first is that while Stein offers creative and engaging ideas, she is even less qualified to govern the Commonwealth than Romney and his sidekick Kerry Healey. The clearest indication of this was when her disorganized campaign failed to qualify for Clean Elections funding. The second is that a vote for Stein is, in effect, a vote for Romney. Yes, it’s become a clichŽ to say so, but it’s true. And Romney is no Massachusetts Republican in the mold of former US senator Edward Brooke or even now-somewhat-discredited former governor William Weld. He’s a Utah Republican more in the mold of US Senator Orrin Hatch. Let’s be clear: if you want Jill Stein as governor, then you really don’t want Mitt Romney in charge.
Romney made a name for himself — not an easy thing for the son of a governor and presidential candidate to do, period — in the private sector. As a venture capitalist, he’s been wildly successful. Indeed, by his own estimation, he belongs in the "investors’ hall of fame." But he did so Gordon Gekko–style: by buying up companies and taking them apart for profit. That’s great experience if you’re vying to clean up Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, or Adelphia. But it’s not particularly useful for "cleaning up the mess on Beacon Hill," as Romney likes to say he’s going to do. (See "Just Saying No.")
Government is about building public institutions that pull people up. People who’ve lost their jobs thanks to the management decisions of hall-of-fame investors. Government is about providing services whose benefits you can’t measure in the short term: education, health care, public safety. There is no money to be made on these ventures. No profit to be squeezed. No monetary gains to realize. Contrary to what Romney might believe, there really isn’t any money to be made on Medicaid recipients.
So why is Romney running? He has contempt for the public he claims he wants to serve. Does he think no one noticed that he pledged not to run against a sitting governor and then elbowed Jane Swift to the sidelines? Does he think no one remembers that he promised to let voters pick his running mate and then pushed Patrick Guerriero out of the race to make room for the underwhelming and underqualified Healey? Does he think voters weren’t insulted when he answered a challenge from O’Brien to agree to more debates by saying: "It’s very, very important that all of our citizens get a good night’s sleep, and if we have to have them watching these debates, they’re just going to get bored to tears and they’re not going to get a good night’s sleep."
He shows little respect for the work of government. As a hall-of-fame investor, he was on the board of directors and a part-owner of Damon Clinical Laboratories when the company orchestrated a $25 million Medicare-fraud scheme. Romney claims to have "blown the whistle" on Damon and stopped the illegal activities. Yet they continued until the company was sold to Corning, whose board of directors did end the scheme. If Romney had truly held any respect for what government and public service is about, much less possessed any basic integrity, he would have ended the Medicare fraud that took place on his watch and returned the stolen money to the government.
With his glib promises to close the state-budget gap by merging the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and Massachusetts Highway Department, consolidating health care for state workers, and otherwise ferreting out waste, all while continuing to provide services and cutting taxes, Romney shows disdain for the army of politicians, political appointees, and civil servants who’ve been trying to do just that in these economically depressed times but can’t. Because it’s not possible.
It’s not entirely clear why Romney, who ran for the US Senate in 1994, lusts after something — a career in government — which he so clearly loathes. Is it power-mongering? Ambition? Ego-tripping? Who knows. But it’s something Romney should work out in therapy on his own time and his own dime.
Meanwhile, the state of Massachusetts has some hard times ahead. Falling revenues, rising housing costs, a health-care system on the verge of collapse. We need an experienced public-sector manager to get us through. That would be Shannon O’Brien. To our fellow progressives wringing their hands with worry that O’Brien isn’t pure enough to get their vote, we say this: a vote for anyone other than O’Brien is a vote for Romney.
Statewide and local ballot questions
Voters will decide on three statewide ballot initiatives November 5. The first would eliminate the state income tax. It’s a nutty proposal backed by Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Carla Howell. If it were to pass, the state would see 60 percent of its revenues dry up. These are the monies we use to fund schools, police and fire departments, health care, libraries, human services, and Medicaid. Its passage would also devastate the state’s bond rating, thus costing even more money in debt service. Howell’s claims that its passage would create more jobs defy credulity. The Phoenix recommends voting no on Question One.
The second question would end the current practice of bilingual education in public schools for non-English speaking students. Instead, these students would be taught all of their classroom subjects, with rare exceptions, in English. After a period of adjustment in these "English immersion" classes, ideally lasting no longer than one school year, students would be moved into regular classrooms. A similar measure was enacted in California and has, by most standards, failed. In fact, non-English speaking students in California currently spend more time in their "English immersion" classes, on average, than students learning English under the Commonwealth’s bilingual education program. The Phoenix recommends voting no on Question Two.
The last statewide question is a sneaky attempt to kill the Clean Elections law once and for all. It was placed on the ballot by the state legislature. In exchange for approving $3.8 million in funding for qualified Clean Elections candidates, House Speaker Tom Finneran insisted that a question be placed on the ballot asking voters if they "favor or oppose taxpayer money being used to fund political campaigns for public office" in Massachusetts. It’s easy to see how this is likely to go. There’s no mention of limiting campaign spending or blunting the influence of special interests. Even worse, this is a purely political question: it’s nonbinding, which means it won’t enact law. It will simply instruct legislators on how voters feel about the Clean Elections Law. It’s narrowly constructed, however, to all but ensure that voters will defeat it, thus giving Clean Elections opponents a high-profile public-relations victory to trumpet in support of their advocacy against the law. But voters passed the Clean Elections law by an overwhelming margin in 1998. Incumbent legislators oppose the law because it makes it easier for challengers to run against them. Perhaps the question should have been phrased differently. Here’s one suggestion, inspired by Common Cause’s analysis of the measure: Do voters approve of "campaign finance reform that would force legislators to compete for their taxpayer-funded jobs?" The Phoenix recommends voting yes on Question Three.
A number of nonbinding referendums will appear on the ballots of districts where proponents were able to gather at least 200 signatures. Nonbinding referendums do not make law, they simply advise the elected district representatives of voter sentiment. Voters in most precincts of Somerville, Cambridge, and Boston will be asked if their state representative should "be instructed not to vote for Thomas M. Finneran of Boston for Speaker" of the House of Representatives. Finneran has used his leadership position to stymie everything from the proper implementation of the Clean Elections law to enactment of domestic-partnership legislation. The Phoenix recommends voting yes to instructing state reps not to re-elect Finneran as House Speaker.
Voters in most precincts of Boston will be asked to instruct their state representatives to "make possession of less than one ounce of marijuana a civil violation" rather than a criminal one. This is pure common sense. The Phoenix recommends voting yes to instructing state reps to decriminalize marijuana possession.
Voters in many precincts of western Massachusetts will be asked to instruct their state representatives to "vote in favor of legislation or a constitutional amendment to establish instant runoff voting." This is an idea ripe for Massachusetts. The way it works is that statewide elections with three or more candidates would see voters ranking their candidates in order of preference. If we had instant-runoff voting in Massachusetts today, progressives could give their number-one vote to Jill Stein and their number two vote to Shannon O’Brien. In this way, a vote for Stein would not be, in effect, a vote for Romney and winning candidates would literally see where their support came from. The Phoenix recommends voting yes to instructing state reps to implement instant runoff voting.
We’ve noted this before, but it bears repeating. For the sixth-consecutive legislative-election season, the percentage of uncontested races has gone up, according to the Massachusetts Money and Politics Project. Only 27 percent of legislative seats will be contested November 5. This is pathetic.
That said, there are two interesting legislative races locally where voters will get to make a choice. In the 29th Middlesex House district (Somerville and Cambridge), Green Party candidate Paul Lachelier is running against incumbent Democrat Tim Toomey. Lachilier is running as a Clean Elections candidate. He is an appealing newcomer (he moved to Somerville just two years ago) deeply committed to making government work for its citizens. His campaign Web site (www.electpaul.info) has enough good-government ideas to satisfy the wonkiest of wonks. The Phoenix enthusiastically endorses Paul Lachelier for state representative. Toomey, meanwhile, is against Clean Elections and he supports Tom Finneran for House Speaker. Voters should give him an early retirement.
The seat in the 15th Suffolk House district (Mission Hill, Fort Hill of Roxbury, Hyde Square of Jamaica Plain, and Fisher Hill of Brookline) was vacated when long-time representative Kevin Fitzgerald stepped down to purse the post of State House sergeant at arms. Jeffrey Sanchez won the crowded Democratic primary with the tacit backing of Boston mayor Tom Menino. He faces independent candidate George Chidi. Chidi is a maverick. He doesn’t belong to a political party. His background includes stints in the army infantry and reserves. And he has an appealing platform: he’s against any local form of a defense-of-marriage act, which would essentially prevent gay people from marrying. He opposes capital punishment and supports affirmative action. He wants to see nightclubs stay open longer. Chidi is also running as a Clean Elections candidate against a pol who opposes public financing of campaigns. The Phoenix enthusiastically endorses George Chidi for state representative.
Note: our endorsements last week for Dan Grabauskas for treasurer and Eddie Jenkins for Suffolk County district attorney are available online at BostonPhoenix.com
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