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Jane Swift’s Comeback (continued)

ONCE GEORGE W. Bush was inaugurated as president, Swift and her aides thought they might need to plan for her administration — since Cellucci’s interest in joining the Bush team was obvious to everyone. But they couldn’t actively prepare for it until Cellucci’s nomination was announced, and even then the planning could not be blatant — nobody wanted to make it seem as though Swift couldn’t wait to get in the governor’s office. Beyond that, nobody wanted to let Senator Jesse Helms think that anyone in Massachusetts was taking Cellucci’s appointment for granted. Remember, Weld had already donned his sombrero when Helms, the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (which approves ambassadorships), left him twisting in the wind — in no small part because Helms was offended by Weld’s breach of protocol. The Swift team worked rapidly — and quietly. Senior Swift advisers, including Rainey, Crosby, Butler, Mason, and a handful of others, began gathering at the State House. They knew they had a very tight window in which to work before Swift gave birth — just two months between Cellucci’s departure and Swift’s June due date. As it turns out, Swift was admitted to the hospital with preterm labor pains in May, giving her people even less time to make an impression than they had expected.

In late March, shortly after Bush nominated Cellucci for the Canadian ambassadorship, Swift and her team held a key Saturday meeting at the then–lieutenant governor’s house in Williamstown. Members of the ÒtableÓ were there, along with political adviser Margaret Dwyer. Their objective was to detail the first weeks of the upcoming Swift administration. Advisers brainstormed and circulated policy drafts. During their planning, they debated a decision to amend the state’s welfare policy. Several attendees say Swift was sympathetic to the idea, but concerned about its impact: where would a new welfare policy place Massachusetts in comparison with other states? If parents were required to work more hours, would child care be available for them? And how many hours of work should participants be required to put in? As we all know by now, the team decided on a bold welfare-reform strategy: allowing parents on welfare to count educational credits toward their weekly work quotas while mandating that parents of children as young as two — parents who had previously been exempt from the work requirement — put in at least 20 hours per week.

By the time Swift was sworn in, her team had also devised a theme that knit together all the new administration’s programs — support for Òworking families,Ó ˆ la George W. Bush’s campaign slogan to Òleave no child behind.Ó Administration insiders say the focus was Swift’s idea. From a political point of view, shaping initiatives under the Òworking familiesÓ rubric would allow her to continue with some of the more conservative programs of Weld and Cellucci (e.g., sentencing reform) while tacking left in other areas (e.g., welfare reform). Of course, this new theme also has the potential to neutralize Swift’s chief political weakness. Swift’s worst moments in office came when she abused her office as lieutenant governor to gain privileges not available to people who have to scramble to balance their jobs and families — beating Thanksgiving-weekend traffic to Western Massachusetts with a chopper ride courtesy of the state police, and using her aides as nannies to baby-sit in a pinch. Focusing on working families cuts directly against that image. Says one senior staffer, ÒThere’s a real sensitivity to the fact that working families, who are in the low-to-moderate income range, are finding it hard to make things meet. She has a real sense of that as an audience.Ó

One of the first results of her team’s March strategizing session was Swift’s announcement, on her first full day in office, that she had set up a task force to study available worker-training programs, as well as a mechanism to evaluate their efficacy. The move was a response, in part, to groups like MassINC, a local nonpartisan think tank that has been pushing for increased adult-education and training opportunities since 1997. In January 2001, the group released New Skills for the New Economy, a study showing that 33 percent of Massachusetts workers lack the skills to work in the new economic environment. The Swifties viewed their new task force as a way to enhance Swift’s reputation for friendliness to both educational and economic programs. It also filled a niche untouched by previous Republican administrations. Weld and Cellucci had worried about the state of the public schools and talked about the economy, but they had never focused on training adults. Although Swift did not offer any new money for worker training, the effort is aimed at making the current system more efficient. ÒWe’re waiting to see what the administration is going to embrace,Ó says Tripp Jones, the executive director of MassINC. ÒBut this is a big deal for those of us who think this issue is central to the economy of the Commonwealth. There was a real acceptance of responsibility here.Ó

A more high-profile action came the following week, when Swift announced that she would enact strict air-pollution guidelines for the Commonwealth’s six coal-burning power plants. In itself, the decision to demand lower pollutant rates for air emissions cannot be seen as controversial. The changes, after all, were proposed under Cellucci, and had been languishing in bureaucratic limbo. And Bush, rather notoriously, went back on a campaign commitment to keep federal carbon dioxide regulations on the books in March, thereby drawing the ire of the nation’s environmental advocates. So by proposing stricter pollutant regulations, Swift didn’t glide into smooth political waters; instead, she risked alienating the friendship of the new Bush administration.

Within the new Swift administration, advisers were aware that a move to restrict pollutants from the coal plants carried some risk. ÒIf you’re a beginning governor, you don’t usually want to go against the president,Ó says one administration insider. ÒNot many Republican governors would have done what she did. Ultimately, the governor had to decide to do what was best for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Bush administration chose a different course.Ó

Before moving forward, the Swift administration advised the White House of its decision, insiders say. She apparently smoothed her way out of any potential conflict with the Bushies, though she did take criticism from the generally pro-Republican, pro-business Associated Industries of Massachusetts — which said the new regulations Òmay place the Commonwealth’s economy and environment at a great risk in the years ahead.Ó

And the environmental measure was not Swift’s final lurch leftward. Just before the release of the Boston Herald poll numbers, Swift attempted something that her two GOP predecessors in the governor’s office wouldn’t have dared to touch: reforming welfare reform. Although Weld had orchestrated the passage of the state’s welfare-reform bill in 1995, which moved 61,500 families off the rolls by April of this year, neither Weld nor Cellucci evinced any interest in amending the law, which drew heavy criticism because it didn’t allow welfare recipients to count hours spent in the classroom toward work requirements. ÒWe had been aware for some time that we had a wildly successful welfare-reform initiative,Ó says one administration insider. ÒBut it was clear that the remaining people [on the welfare rolls] would benefit from some additional training.Ó


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Issue Date: May 17-24, 2001

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