Meanwhile, Swift also made sure to deliver red meat to conservatives during her first few weeks in office. Although a Boston Globe story of April 3, 2001, suggested that she might endorse civil unions, Swift took the opportunity during an interview with Cosmo Macero Jr. of the Boston Herald to reject marriage and marriage benefits for gay and lesbian couples. ÒI don’t believe in extending marriage benefits to same-sex couples,Ó she told the Herald for the April 7 story. (Swift’s staff says she does support domestic-partnership benefits.) And Swift — with the help of Suffolk County district attorney Ralph Martin — also made sure to paint herself as a law-and-order politician, proposing tough mandatory-sentencing guidelines.
THERE’S NO question that Swift’s pregnancy, together with the largely sympathetic press coverage of her early admission to the hospital and the birth of her twins, has aided her mini-comeback. She’s also, to be sure, had a good bit of luck. In recent weeks, for instance, Swift’s speakerphone governance generated political fallout, but it has all gone her way. Indeed, Democrats like Governor’s Council member Edward O’Brien — the father of state treasurer and Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Shannon O’Brien — were seen as overzealous for criticizing Swift when she conducted last week’s meeting of the council by phone. Even Bernard Cardinal Law came to her defense, calling her detractors Òfoolish.Ó
It also didn’t hurt that Swift assumed power just as House Speaker Tom Finneran flouted the public will as brazenly as he has done yet, with his gutting of the Clean Elections Law — which was passed via ballot initiative in 1998. Although Swift has stated that she would not participate in public financing of elections herself, she has sworn to uphold the public’s desire to put such a system in place. She made points by publicly vowing to veto the Speaker’s bizarre scheme to fund the law by allowing taxpayers to contribute up to $100 of their own money.
Swift has played the Democratic legislature the way Bill Clinton played the Republican Congress, and the best the Democrats can say in response is that Swift is a hypocrite because she won’t be a Clean Elections candidate. ÒHow can you have somebody who says I’m all for it, but I’m not going to do it?Ó asks Marsh. ÒThat is the height of hypocrisy.Ó
But that’s not the way Clean Elections advocates see it. ÒWe measure legislators and statewide elected officials by what they do in the public function of carrying out their jobs,Ó says David Donnelly, the director of Mass Voters for Clean Elections. ÒTheir own decision to participate in a voluntary system is just that, voluntary. Swift is doing everything she can to put forth what the voters want, which is an option to run for office without relying on raising big money from wealthy individuals.Ó
Of course, in her first few weeks as governor, Swift has also benefited from her predecessor’s apparent lethargy. Very little got done during Cellucci’s last few years as governor. Although Cellucci worked doggedly for the tax-cut initiative passed by voters last fall, it too often seemed as if the Commonwealth was a ship without a skipper. Administration insiders are more than happy to pay lip service to Cellucci’s achievements, but they are also privately willing to acknowledge that the former governor’s lack of zeal has made Swift’s job easier. As one insider puts it, Cellucci did Òlose a little bit of enthusiasm for getting up and doing the job.Ó Of Swift, the insider says: ÒShe’s fresh, she’s new, and this is her time to make a difference.Ó
In other words, for the first time since the early 1990s, the Commonwealth has a gubernatorial administration infused with energy and ideas. Beyond their good luck, Swift and her team must be given credit for laying out a series of policy initiatives that have allowed the new governor to come off looking like a decisive leader.
CAN SWIFT keep it up? Time will tell. But if her first month in office is any indication, the Democrats need to take note: her team is focusing on issues that have led Republicans to statewide success since 1990. When Swift emerges from the hospital, the administration plans to focus on fiscal discipline, individual and institutional accountability, working families, and economic development until Election Day 2002.
Swift’s people remember the notes the Republicans sounded to win the governor’s office in 1990, 1994, and 1998. They’re also focusing on the 2000 election results: about 1.5 million voters passed the income-tax cut last year; a similar number voted for Weld’s re-election in 1994. Swift has to move leftward just enough to capture independents and others in the Boston suburbs, particularly in the Route 128/495 belt, who are willing to vote Republican. Barring another chopper-style shocker, Swift and her babies could cut a profile that — on paper at least — is attractive to suburban voters.
Explains one Swift insider: ÒPeople elect Republicans in this state to be a little bit more conservative than Democrats on the fiscal issues and a little bit more moderate than the nationwide Republicans on the social issues.Ó Weld may have been somewhat atypical in running to the left of his initial Democratic opponent, John Silber, on social issues, but he set the template for success. With Swift and her team actively planning ways to fit that profile, the Democrats may have a tougher fight on their hands next year than anyone expected.
Seth Gitell can be reached at sgitell[a]phx.com.