Political Life of MA Has Always Had a Distinct Cape Cod Flavor

Monday, August 6, 2018

One of the great things about computers and the Internet is they allow you to appear as if you are hard at work when you are not -- and when you are in fact loafing at some remote location and merely checking your emails and returning the occasional phone call to create the appearance of serious engagement. 

For example, today I am in Harwich on Cape Cod, where my wife and I are enjoying the hospitality of her sister at a house on a beautiful quiet side street, shaded by ancient pines and oaks and punctuated with birdsong during the day, while back in the urban heat island of Boston, my diligent colleagues are suffering the tortures of the damned.

But do not fear.  Our president has assured us that climate change is totally not real -- "fake news" propagated by Democrats, eco-terrorists and those horrendous "enemies of the people," the news media.  (Joe Stalin does a jig beneath the Kremlin Wall every time Trump trots out that "enemies" stuff.)

Speaking of Cape Cod, I noticed on the State House News Service that Father Rick Walsh, chaplain of the Massachusetts House, opened today's informal session of the lower branch at 11:03 a.m. with the following prayer:

"We give thanks for the seasonal heat and humidity and we pray that it does not last too long.  We pray today for those in danger of heat exhaustion and our women and men who work to bring us just and fair legislation, as well as their support staff.  Tomorrow marks the 57th anniversary of the creation of the Cape Cod National Seashore, the first time the federal government created a national park from land owned primarily by private entities.  We pray those who are enjoying that park today know the blessing that it is."

Note to Father Rick:  I am not on the National Seashore but I know how blessed I am to have a very kind and giving sister-in-law, Rosemary, and to have the opportunity to be on the Cape with her anytime we wish. 

Note to Father Rick's boss:  Thanks for that heavenly 76-degree ocean every day on my early-morning swim.

Speaking further of Cape Cod, I noticed on the State House News Service that the Massachusetts Senate adjourned its informal session today at 11:25 a.m. in memory of the late John Francis "Jack" Aylmer of Barnstable, who served six terms in the Senate (1971-82), was assistant minority leader for the Republicans in the Senate, and had a distinguished career as president (1981-91) of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, his alma mater (Class of 1957).  A Navy veteran and longtime merchant mariner, Aylmer held the rank of Rear Admiral at Mass. Maritime.  He died at his home on July 8 at the age of 84.

I looked up Aylmer's obituary online and learned that he was "raised in the villages of Osterville and Centerville." (That was in the days when the Cape was not close to being the rich man's preserve that it has regrettably become in so many locales.)  He graduated from Barnstable High School in 1952 and did a post-graduate year at Admiral Billard Academy, New London, CT.  Befitting a man of the sea, Aylmer financed his college education at the maritime academy by operating a tug boat for the New England Dock and Dredge Co.  He later earned a master's degree in education and a law degree. 

An outstanding athlete in his younger days, Aylmer played for the former Barnstable Barons in the Cape Cod (college all stars) Baseball League (1952) and participated in the founding of not one but two teams in the league, the Hyannis Harbor Hawks (1976) and the Bourne Braves (1988).  In 2012, he was named to the league's hall of fame as an administrator. 

May you rest in peace, Admiral.

Report Identifies 'Major Concern' in Otherwise Booming MA Economy

Monday, July 30, 2018

The Donahue Institute at the University of Massachusetts, named in honor of the late Maurice A. Donahue of Holyoke, who served as president of the Massachusetts Senate (1964-71) and ran unsuccessfully for governor in the 1970 Democratic primary, issues a quarterly report on the state of our economy called MassBenchmarks. The latest one came out this past Friday, July 27, describing, in unequivocal detail, a Massachusetts economy that had expanded at a “torrid pace” in April, May and June.

“The Massachusetts economy accelerated sharply in the second quarter,” the report states, “bucking the expectation of slower growth due to low unemployment and demographic constraints.” 
Here are some highlights:

-The state’s gross domestic product grew at a 7.3% annualized rate while, nationally, it increased by 4.1%.
 
-The number of payroll jobs expanded at a rate of 2.9%, compared to a 1.7% rate for the rest of the U.S.

-Wage and salary income, as measured by state tax collections, grew by 6.2%.

-Consumer spending grew by 6.7%, as measured by regular sales tax receipts and motor vehicle sales taxes.

-Unemployment remained at “a near historical low” of 3.5%.

Job growth in the technology and knowledge-based sectors was especially strong, the report noted, and many of the new jobs in these areas “were filled by workers who either migrated to the state or remained in the state after moving here to go to college.”
The incomes “generated by these relatively well-paid jobs,” the report said, “can be expected to boost demand for jobs in all sectors, many of them in more moderately-paid or lower-paid service roles.”

In the category of job growth, however, the report did identify a “major concern” going forward: the capacity of the state to “provide all of these new workers with adequate housing and transportation options...”  What that means, obviously, is:
If mass transit (MBTA and commuter rail) is not seriously upgraded, if traffic congestion in and around Boston is not at least somewhat mitigated, and if the supply of housing in eastern Massachusetts is not sufficiently expanded to halt the so-far-unstoppable rise in housing prices, we won’t be able to attract and keep the highly educated and skilled workforce that is now the main driver of our economy.

MassBenchmarks is published by the Donahue Institute in cooperation with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

For more on the report, go to:
http://www.massbenchmarks.org

 

 

With Apologies to Tip O'Neill, All Politics Is Not Always Local

Friday, July 6, 2018

Tip O’Neill’s dictum notwithstanding, national issues sometimes shape local politics in significant ways.  Now is such a time in Massachusetts.

The legislature is quite late in producing a state budget for Fiscal Year 2019, which began July 1.  A big reason for the hold-up is the inability of the branches to agree on what if anything should be stated in the budget document regarding federal immigration practices.
In late April, the House produced its version of the FY 19 budget; a month later, the Senate produced its version.  The House’s contained nothing about immigration while the Senate’s had a section that would prohibit state and local police from asking a person about his immigration status.  It would also prohibit agreements under which state and county officials essentially become deputies of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

In early June, a six-member House-Senate budget conference committee began working on a compromise, unified budget.  As of this moment, the committee is still chipping away at that task.
Two Thousand and Eighteen is the second year of a two-year legislative session; the legislature must adjourn by midnight on July 31 in Year 2 under a rule adopted long ago as part of a legislative reform effort. 

The July 31 adjournment was designed to keep legislators from playing politics with the budget into the fall of Year 2, when legislators who wish to remain in office must stand for re-election.   (Reps and senators have two-year terms.  Legislative elections are held in even-numbered years.)
In Year 2 there’s great pressure on the legislature to get a completed budget to the governor early enough to give legislators time to override gubernatorial vetoes and address sections of the budget the governor sends back to them with recommendations for changes.

Once the full House and full Senate have approved a conference committee budget, the governor has up to 10 days to review it, veto any items he wishes, and send back individual budget sections with recommended changes.
Overriding vetoes is straightforward, whereas governor-legislature disagreements over the objectives and nuances of various sections are complicated. 

Sometimes the legislature rejects the governor’s suggestions altogether and insists on its original language.  Other times the legislature redrafts its original language but still takes a slant markedly different from the governor’s.
All of that drafting and redrafting and all that back-and-forth end up requiring two rounds of gubernatorial review of the legislature’s budget, each of which may take up to 10 days.  

If a governor wants to run the clock on the legislature, he or she can keep the budget in play for 20 days. 
Anticipating that possibility, the legislature aims to produce a unified budget at least 21 days before it must adjourn in Year 2 so that it will have at least one day available at the end for veto overrides and final language changes.

Thus has July 10 (four days from now) become the drop-dead date for a legislative budget in Year 2. 
Members of the budget conference committee this year are Senators Karen Spilka of Ashland, Joan Lovely of Salem and Vinny deMacedo of Plymouth, and Representatives Jeffrey Sanchez of Boston, Stephen Kulik of Worthington and Todd Smola of Warren.  As the Senate and House chairs of Ways and Means, Spilka and Sanchez exercise the most sway over the process.

To put it mildly, a lot of hard-edged negotiating and old-fashioned horse trading goes on in legislative conference committees, and nowhere more so than in the budget conference committee.  It’s the toughest conference of all.  Conferees are expected to dig in and push hard to preserve their branch’s priorities in the final budget package, in the textual ways their branch has expressed those priorities.
But almost certainly Chairman Sanchez is not taking a stand against the Senate language on immigration status inquiries and ICE virtual-deputy-making because, on principle, he favors the Senate approach to these issues, and because a large proportion of the electorate in his Jamaica Plain district is strongly pro-immigrant and vehemently anti-Trump.

In an indication of how deeply this subject resonates in Sanchez’s district, his opponent for re-election in the September primary, Nika Elugardo, who is further to the left on the political spectrum than he, took the unusual step this past Tuesday of showing up at the door of House Ways and Means to try to hang it tightly around Sanchez’s neck. 
Sanchez “has the power to send this to a vote,” Elugardo told the reporters she’d summoned to the scene, implying that, if Sanchez so desired, he alone could ensure that the Senate immigration language would be in the budget coming out of conference, which would force every legislator to vote on it when the budget was put to floor votes.  The rules do not allow the conference budget to be amended on the floor.  Straight up-or-down votes are required.

Elugardo, who once worked as a senior policy advisor to Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz of Boston, asserted at the State House that Sanchez has the ability to make Governor Charlie Baker “say yes or no” on the Senate immigration language if Sanchez were only willing to insist on the language being in the budget.  This seemed an argument without a point, as the governor has already stated his intention to veto the language if it survives the conference process. 
Tellingly, Speaker Robert DeLeo was quoted by the State House News Service this week saying there’s no consensus in the House on this issue.  Having to vote on it must be a losing electoral proposition, one  way or the other, for too many reps.

My guess is the budget conference committee, warily eyeing the fall elections, will finesse the matter for the sake of most House members, not just of Sanchez. 
If, for example, there is language in the conference budget next week calling for the formation of a special commission to examine all state options for resisting Trump administration immigration enforcement actions and for the writing of an official report on those measures within, say, 45 days, that is what has happened.  

                                                                                                               

Big Ideas Shrink When All We Talk About Is Which Candidate Has Big Bucks

Thursday, May 31, 2018

News coverage of the candidates for governor this year seems fixated on campaign cash: how much Republican incumbent Charlie Baker has and how little the candidates in the Democratic primary, Jay Gonzalez and Robert Massie, have.

Yesterday, for example, The Boston Globe reported that Baker is sitting on a campaign account of more than $8 million and that Democrats Jay Gonzalez and Robert Massie have, combined, only $132,000.
Until after the Sept. 4 primary, and until the winner of the primary raises many millions of dollars, we are not likely to hear a whole lot about what Gonzalez and Massie stand for or what they want to do as governor.

That’s too bad.  Each Democrat is peddling some audacious ideas.
To ease the struggles of persons with addictions, Gonzalez, for example, wants to require health insurers to cover the cost of medical marijuana.  And, to reduce deaths by overdose, he wants the state to allow safe injection sites.

To combat climate change, Massie wants to block all investment in new fossil fuel infrastructure of any kind, such as gas pipelines and power generating facilities that burn oil and/or gas.
I, personally, don’t support safe injection sites or a freeze on new fossil fuel infrastructure. I think medical marijuana as a reimbursable treatment for addictions may have merit but should be approached with caution because of what it could do to exacerbate the already high cost of health coverage.

Nevertheless, the media should give Gonzalez and Massie all the space and air they need to make their cases.  Too much coverage of the political horse race they don’t have the money to run makes for a less exciting, less meaningful election.
At this point in the calendar, we already know that safe injection sites are an idea whose time has not come in Massachusetts.  The legislature’s Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse decided on May 3 to send Senate Bill 1081, An Act to Authorize Public Health Workers to Pursue New Measures to Reduce Harm and Stigma for People Affected by Substance Use Disorder, “to study,” legislature-speak for waste basket.  SB 1081 proposed to create safe spaces for drug users to take pre-obtained drugs under the supervision of health care professionals.

I’m probably missing something therapeutically valid or significant here but how does a safe injection site for morphine addicts do anything ultimately beyond ensuring the continuation of an addiction?  When SB 1081 was heard on Aug. 24, 2017, at least one witness, Ronald Hill, who described himself, according to the State House News Service, as a recovering addict, made this point better than I can. 
“If I’m high, you ain’t going to tell me about no treatment,” Hill told the members of the Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse.  “When I hear about treatment is when I got no money and I’m desperate.  But when I’m high, you can talk to me all day long.  I don’t hear you.”

Moving to medical marijuana as a component of addiction therapy, please consider the following from the web site of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), whose mission is to “advance addiction science.”  NIDA reports that it funded two studies exploring the relationship between marijuana legalization and adverse outcomes associated with prescription opioids. 
“The first study,” it said, “found an association between medical marijuana legalization and a reduction in overdose deaths from opioid pain relievers; an effect strengthened in each year following the implementation of legislation.”

The second study “was a more detailed analysis by the RAND Corporation that showed legally protected access to medical marijuana dispensaries is associated with lower levels of opioid prescribing, lower self-report of nonmedical prescription opioid use, lower treatment admissions for prescription opioid use disorders, and reduction in prescription opioid overdose deaths.”
Gonzalez could be onto something.  If he has the stuff to fight the uphill battle for a new insurance mandate, let him at it.

 

  

 

 

  

Obsess with Me a While Please on This: Is Health Care a Right?

Friday, May 25, 2018

“Health care is a right!”

Someone is bound to say that whenever our nation's excessively costly health care system is being debated and pronounced upon. 

But, until early this week, I hadn’t heard it in a while, which meant I had been able to avoid obsessing over it, as I tend to do, for reasons I cannot explain.

Then an email from the campaign of Barbara L’Italien, the Andover Democrat state senator running for Congress in the Third Massachusetts District, arrived in my inbox on Monday, May 21, at 3:57 p.m. I’ve been obsessing ever since. 

In the voice of the candidate herself, this is what that email said:
“Health care is a right, not a privilege, which is why I’ve spent my career fighting for a single-payer system.  With endorsements from Mass-Care and the Massachusetts Nurses Association, I’m proud to be the single-payer candidate in this race.  It will be one of my biggest priorities in Washington…Every single person in this country has the right to accessible, affordable health care, and it’s time for our elected officials to make that a reality.”

All human beings have a God-given right to freedom and equality.  All have a right to think, speak, and worship freely.  We have the right to raise our children as we see fit, within the bounds of safety and reasonable care.  These are things we know naturally to be true.
How can we say the same about health care? 

How can we, with the same degree of human certainty as when we talk about the right to free expression, say that we have the right to show up in a doctor’s office or emergency room and demand our share of care?  
Good persons say exactly that all the time. 

Pope Francis, for example, said, “Health is not a consumer good, but rather a universal right, and therefore access to health care services cannot be a privilege.”  And Franklin Delano Roosevelt, my all-time greatest political hero, said, “We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.  Among these are…the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health…”
Now, I’m a believer in universal health coverage.  I never want to see anyone denied needed care.  I think it’s simply a matter of creating a smart insurance system that will cover everyone, as many developed countries did two or three generations ago.  It all has to do with smarts and good management, both of the business and political varieties. Universal coverage is not about socialism vs. free enterprise. 

Four hundred years ago, we agreed that insurance is a good thing.  Why in the name of Grey's Anatomy (or Ellen Pompeo, for that matter) are we still arguing about whether health insurance for everyone is worth having?
I agree not with FDR but with U.S. Senator Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, a political anti-hero of mine.  A medical doctor before entering public life, Paul said, “With regard to the idea of whether you have a right to health care, you have to realize what that implies.  It’s not an abstraction.  I’m a physician.  That means you have a right to come to my house and conscript me.”

I also agree with John David Lewis, a professor of philosophy, politics and economics at Duke University, who said, “There is no ‘right’ to anything that others must produce, because no one may claim a ‘right’ to force others to provide it.  Health care is a service, and we all depend upon thinking professionals for it.”
Let’s approach this question from another angle:

When a person stands up to speak at a town meeting, he does not thank the board of selectmen for allowing him to express himself in public.  When that same person is discharged from a hospital after life-saving surgery on his brain, he would not dream of not thanking his neurosurgeon.   

I cannot imagine the philosophy and ethics of "health care is a right" having a bearing on the Third District contest.  L'Italien, however, could gain an advantage by presenting herself as "the single-payer candidate."  Single-payer almost carried Bernie Sanders to the Democratic nomination for president.  Single-payer has only more resonance now with voters -- and especially in a liberal Massachusetts district centered in Lawrence. 

With 12 Dems running in the Third District primary election, scheduled for Sept. 4,  the winner may only need a share of the total vote as low 22% or 24%, meaning a city as populous as Lawrence will have outsized importance. 

...Meantime, I'll keep wishing that L'Italien were talking about health care more in the terms of insurance than of the Bill of Rights.






Prison, Fine and a Federal Ban Behind Him, Stat Smith Wants Back in the House

Friday, May 11, 2018

What does it take to run again for the same public office you resigned from because you manipulated the balloting process and were going to prison?

Chutzpah?
Shamelessness?

A compulsion for vindication?

Whatever it takes, Everett’s Steve “Stat” Smith apparently has it in spades.
In December of 2012, Smith agreed to plead guilty to civil rights violations and resign from the Massachusetts House of Representatives (28th Middlesex District) for his role in submitting fraudulent absentee ballot applications and casting invalid ballots in multiple elections in 2009 and in 2010.

In April of 2013, Smith was sentenced to four months in federal prison for two misdemeanor counts of voter fraud, ordered to pay a $20,000 fine, and prohibited from running for public office for five years.
I remember talking to a friend in Everett at that time, someone who knew Smith well and who talked with him after his sentencing but before he reported to prison.  This is what he told me:

“Stat says he’s running again.  That he’ll be back (in office).”
“Could he get elected again?” I asked.

“Yes. He could,” said my friend.  “People have short memories.  And do they really care about this kind of cheating?  But who knows?”
We are about to find out.

The Secretary of State’s office told the Everett Independent that Smith took out papers needed to run for his old House seat on Friday, April 13.
“Smith has been seen over the past weekend,” the newspaper reported on Wednesday, April 18, “gathering signatures and talking with longtime supporters. Those close to the matter indicated he had gathered as many as 500 signatures over the weekend.”   

At the time of Smith’s guilty plea, here’s what Lanny Breuer, then an assistant attorney general of the Commonwealth said:
“Representative Smith compromised the legitimacy of his races for public office by facilitating the casting of invalid ballots for ineligible and unaware voters.  In doing so, he undermined the democractic process in Massachusetts and violated the public’s trust.”

Carmen Ortiz, then the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, said:
“Fair and free elections are the foundation that this great nation was built upon.  Our electoral system is unrivaled, and it is egregious that an elected member of our Commonwealth would rob his constituents of a fair and honest election.”

Richard DesLauriers, then the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston Division, said:
“Over the last two years, the FBI methodically uncovered a voter fraud scheme designed to strip Massachusetts voters of their right to a fair election.  Representative Smith, who was a member of the legislature’s Joint Committee on Election Laws, embarked on a scheme that he knew violated the ideals of our nation and disregarded the proud history of the Commonwealth.  Whenever the pillars of government administration – equity, efficiency, and effectiveness – are undermined by corrupt public officials, the FBI will focus on those responsible.”
 
  • Compromised legitimacy of his races. 
  • Robbed constituents of a fair and honest election. 
  • Embarked on scheme that violated ideals of our nation.
These are the ready-made bullet points for the campaign literature of the two persons standing in the way of Stat Smith's political comeback, Rep. Joseph W. McGonagle, Jr., and Gerly Adrien.

Politically, Everett has always been a rough-and-tumble place.  Being an Eagle Scout has never been a pre-requisite for holding elective office there.  Smith's candidacy is not a joke in Everett and McGonagle will never treat it that way.  McGonagle knows he's in a fight for survival, not only because Smith knows how to handle himself in the political arena but also because there are three candidates in the race.  Gerly, who ran well in a losing race against McGonagle two years ago, could siphon enough McGonagle votes to give it to Smith.

I doubt it will go that way.

McGonagle has done a good job and is popular in his district and in the State House both.  The Speaker and other members of leadership like him and will want to help him as much as they can behind the scenes this spring and summer.  (BTW, the Speaker and his team are not crazy about the idea of having Smith back in the building.)  

McGonagle serves on five different legislative committees, including Ways & Means, which controls the state budget, and the Joint Committee on Housing, of which he is the House vice chair.  He will be able to make the case that he's in position to do more for the City of Everett and its citizens than either of his opponents could, Smith because of the baggage he's carrying, Gerly because she would be a rookie rep.

Winning Amazon's HQ2 Would Likely Complete Seattle-ization of Boston

Monday, May 7, 2018

If Amazon did in Boston what it did in Denver as part of its ongoing quest for a second headquarters city (HQ2), I hope someone has written an inside account of the proceedings and will release it soon to the public.

The New York Times reported that a 10-person Amazon team met in January with Denver officials to discuss their city’s HQ2 bid, [“One Goal of Amazon’s HQ2: Learn the Lessons of Seattle,” 4-29-18].
During that get-together, Amazon reps asked questions focusing on how local officials could help them avoid recreating in Denver problems exacerbated in Seattle by HQ1, like traffic congestion and high housing costs.

“I think they feel in Seattle they’re the scapegoat every time there’s an issue in the community and traffic,” Sam Bailey told The New York Times.  Bailey is vice president of economic development for the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation.
Denver, like Boston, is among the 20 finalist cities in the HQ2 competition; Suffolk Downs, the old racetrack on the East Boston-Revere line, is the leading metro Boston site for HQ2.  Wherever HQ2 lands, it has been estimated that up 50,000 new Amazon jobs will follow.

In Massachusetts, officials seem unanimous in declining to discuss the state of their talks with Amazon.
Numerous New York Times readers posted comments at the end of the online version of “One Goal of Amazon’s HQ2…”  My favorite was by “Josa of New York, NY,” excerpts of which follow:

“As much as I’m a fan of Amazon, they are one of the reasons I left Seattle and have no plans to return.  Amazon has, unfortunately, been a huge part of what has made Seattle increasingly unlivable (unless you make well into the six figures, that is).  And because so many people who work in Seattle now can’t afford to live in or near Seattle, every day there are twenty-mile backups in both directions leading into and out of the city…
“With the huge influx of high-paying jobs, you have boutique markets and yoga studios and pet studios popping up all over the city.  And because landlords only want to rent to wealthy people, it’s become harder and harder for the middle-class people to keep what trembling foothold they have on a middle-class lifestyle in the Seattle area. If you’re poor, there’s no way.”

Here’s the link to the 4-29-18 article:
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/29/technology/amazon-hq2-seattle.html