Surprise! Deval Patrick May Lead Strike from the Center Against Warren.

Monday, November 11, 2019

The reason for President Trump's Ukraine caper can be summed up in 10 words:  Trump would rather run against Elizabeth Warren than Joe Biden.

Amazingly, Democratic primary voters may grant the president his wish -- but not if the Mike Bloombergs and Deval Patricks of the world have their way.

Yes, I said Deval Patrick.

There were reports just a few hours ago that our former governor is reconsidering his decision not to seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2020, his good relationship with our senior U.S. Senator, Ms. Warren, notwithstanding.

Were he to declare, Patrick would immediately become a contender in New Hampshire's first primary.  He's well known there from eight years as the governor next door.

Patrick has to act fast: the deadline for entering the NH primary is this Friday, Nov. 15.  We'll know soon if he's in or out.

What Patrick obviously shares with Bloomberg (and millions of other Democrats) is a concern that Warren is like someone Trump would order up from Rent-a-Candidate, that is, she's the perfect size for the socialist clown costume Trump has ready for her in his armoire.

Now, I have great respect for Warren.  I love the way she clawed her way up from near-poverty in Oklahoma.  I admire her greatly for being super-intelligent, unpretentious, tough-minded and pretty much invincible on a Democratic debate stage.

So, I'll let someone else's words encapsulate why she would likely not stand a chance in November of 2020 against Trump.  Here's New York Times columnist Bret Stephens in an October 25 piece titled, "Elizabeth Warren Wants to Lose Your Vote":

"You don't have to think that fracking is an unalloyed blessing -- much less deny that tough safety standards are necessary -- to acknowledge its benefits.  You might also argue that curbs on oil and gas production are needed both to preserve the environment and accelerate a transition to renewables.  Fine.

"Yet it takes a peculiar sort of political audacity to pledge, as the Massachusetts senator did last month, to 'ban fracking -- everywhere.'  Warren also favors a ban on fossil-fuel exports -- another U.S. industry that has seen dramatic growth in recent years -- and a 'total moratorium' on new fossil fuel leases on federal lands, which generate billions every year in federal and state tax revenue.

"American Indian tribes also got about $1 billion from those leases in 2018.  Isn't the Warren campaign supposed to be about sticking it to richer Americans instead of poorer ones?

"That's a question that would-be Warren supporters might ask a little more insistently as she approaches front-runner status.

"Take health care.  As an ethical matter, it may be defensible for Warren to argue that Medicare for All is fairer than the current system.  As an economic matter, she could be right that overall costs will come down under her scheme.  And as a political matter, it isn't surprising that she has been less than forthright about the middle-class tax increases her plan will require.

"But what about the fact that Warren isn't merely proposing a dramatic change in the way 170 million or so Americans obtain health insurance?  She is advocating the abolition of an entire industry, one that employs approximately 550,000 people.  Whatever one thinks of health-insurance companies (and most Americans seem satisfied with the coverage they have), isn't it worth wondering what these half-million workers might do with themselves after being put out of work -- or, as voters, what they might think of Warren's designs for their future?

"Then there's big tech, another industry Warren doesn't like and promises to 'break up' by turning Facebook, Amazon and Google into regulated utilities.  For this task, involving some 800,000 workers and companies with about $500 billion in revenues, she has...a 1,700-word plan."

Democrats, I think, ought not give Trump what he most desires in a Democratic opponent.

That Deval Patrick feels that way -- and that he is seriously contemplating a leap into the race at this late date -- suggests that Warren's candidacy may never get stronger than it is today.

More Blogster's Miscellany -- Meaning More to Shake Our Heads At

Sunday, October 27, 2019

COME ON GUV, GET STUPID AND GET INVOLVED: The leadership of the Massachusetts Democratic Party regularly goes through the political equivalent of a high-intensity aerobic workout trying to tie Charlie Baker to Donald Trump. If I saw someone at a health club straining as hard as some Dems do when arguing that our governor must do more to distance himself from our president, I'd hand him a bottle of cold water and beg him to take a breather. Example:  In an interview broadcast Sept. 9 on WGBH radio, Baker responded "I don't want to get involved" when asked if he'd be comfortable with the idea of a second Trump term.  Before the day was over, Gus Bickford,  Democratic state party chair, released this boiling-hot statement:  "It is outrageous that Charlie Baker cannot tell his constituents whether he is concerned about the possibility that the most dangerous President this country has ever seen could be re-elected to another four-year term.  Trump is a racist who is pushing a nationalist agenda from the White House, but Charlie Baker doesn't want to get involved.  Trump attacks women and wants to defund Planned Parenthood, but Charlie Baker doesn't want to get involved.  Trump is attacking the transgender community, stripping people of basic protections, but Charlie Baker doesn't want to get involved.  Trump is ripping children from their families and putting them in cages, but Charlie Baker doesn't want to get involved.  It is disgraceful that Charlie Baker doesn't think the most consequential Presidential race of our lifetime is worthy of him getting involved.  Governor Baker's silence indicates that he is either worried about upsetting the extreme right-wing of his Party, or he supports his party's President."  Three years of this stuff hasn't had an impact on Baker's poll numbers.  Maybe it's time, guys, to try something new?

MAYBE THEY HAD A REASON AND FORGOT IT: Two members of the Governor's Council, that living fossil of the Massachusetts Colonial Era, have been voting no lately on authorizing the state's financial warrants.  And they won't say why.  State Comptroller Andrew Maylor wanted to smoke out the opposition, so he sent a friendly letter on Oct. 18 to all Council members offering to attend an upcoming meeting and answer any questions they may have.  Warrant naysayers Robert Jubinville and Marilyn Devaney have so far not reacted publicly to the Maylor mailer.  Warrants need to be authorized to pay state employees and state bills.  My guess is Jubinville and Devaney have a beef with someone on the state payroll or have developed a dislike for a particular state office or function.  Whatever's motivating them, you can bet your paycheck it is the opposite of profound.  This is the Governor's Council.  They don't have enough to do and no one pays them enough attention.  Mischief is inevitable

MITT COULDN'T MAKE JV AT TRICKSTERS U: By now you've likely heard that Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor and current U.S. senator from Utah, has been maintaining a secret Twitter account under the delicious name of Pierre Delecto.  This enabled him to comment anonymously on events and persons in the public sphere.  Romney himself set off the media sleuthing that showed him to be a "lurker" -- that's the slang term for secret Twitter users -- when, unprompted, he told a writer for the Atlantic that he owned such an account. He has to be the only high office holder in the land who'd tell on himself when engaging in the grey arts of political skullduggery, which is why I love the guy. Even when going rogue, he acts almost like an Eagle Scout. Newshounds carefully reviewed every tweet by "Pierre" and found nothing especially rotten, nasty or underhanded -- and nothing terribly interesting, either.

Blogster's Miscellany: Question Not to Ask Guv, and the Meanings of Ways & Means

Thursday, October 24, 2019

NOT HIRED FOR PUNDITRY: Be sure not to ask our Republican governor how he feels about the folks now running for president, including the two Bay Staters in the field, Democrat Elizabeth Warren and Republican Bill Weld, and the combustible incumbent from his own party, Donald Trump. Charlie Baker was on a live radio call-in show last week when someone phoned to ask, "Why do you think Elizabeth Warren would be a bad president?"  Baker bristled: "I've been very particular and specific...about staying out of presidential politics and I continue to plan to stay there because the one thing I do know is the minute I get into talking about presidential politics, that's all anybody's going to want to talk to me about every single day and I would much rather talk about issues that I was hired by the people of Massachusetts to work on."  There's a man who knows how to avoid tripping into hot water.  Which is probably why he remains, five years into his governorship, the most popular governor in the U.S.  Seventy-three percent of Massachusetts citizens contacted in a recent nationwide poll indicated they approve of the job Baker's doing.

RODRIGUES TAKING PASS ON PRESIDENCY: Chairing the Ways & Means Committee in either the Massachusetts House or Senate is a great way to become House Speaker or Senate President.  For proof, look no farther than the careers of the current Speaker and President, Bob DeLeo and Karen Spilka; both chaired W&M in their branches immediately before ascending to the top jobs. That's why something jumped off the page when I happened recently to be catching up on a profile of Senate W&M Chair Mike Rodrigues that ran late last winter in SouthCoast Today, ("Mike Rodrigues: The Westport centrist will now manage the state budget," 3-9-19), by contributing writer Susannah Subborough.  Rodrigues "sees the appointment to Ways and Means chair as the highlight of his career and said he is not interested in becoming Senate president in the future," Subborough wrote.  I was surprised he took himself so early out of a race that is likely six or eight years in the future. I find it hard to believe he's really ruled out a shot at the job for all time.  If so, it is a mistake and a shame.  Rodrigues would make an excellent Senate President one day.

RODRIGUES'S RISE IN A NUTSHELL?: In that same profile, Susannah Subborough wrote that Mike Rodrigues's "most notable success, and what many people believe is the reason Spilka picked him for Ways and Means chair," was his handling of the investigation into former Senate President Stan Rosenberg when Rodrigues chaired the (Senate) Ethics Committee.  She paraphrased Senator Mark Montigny, D-New Bedford -- "a close colleague and friend of Rodrigues," she called him -- as saying he did not think anyone managing the Rosenberg investigation would get through it unscathed, especially he (Montigny) and Rodrigues because they had been friendly with Rosenberg and had been appointed to important positions by him.  She then quoted Montigny directly: "I thought he (Rodrigues) would come out bruised, meaning there would be damaged relationships as a result. But he didn't, and I think that's why she (Spilka) picked him."

CENTRIST A BAD WORD FOR SOME: In a Senate dominated as never before by liberals, Mike Rodrigues stands out for his "centrism."  That's how he describes himself: centrist.  To some, that means he's really a conservative -- and really tight with a dollar.  Rodrigues does have a powerful instinct to save money during flush times, like our state has been experiencing now for a long stretch of years. The state's Rainy Day Fund is a thing of great beauty to Rodrigues. In this, he's like former House W&M chairmen Tom Finneran and Bob DeLeo.  Susannah Subborough, in that SouthCoast Today profile, cited a Commonwealth magazine column by Jonathan Cohn, chairman of the issues committee for the group Progressive Massachusetts.  Cohn wrote that progressives should  be concerned about Rodrigues's centrism and asserted that Rodrigues has a significantly conservative voting record.

YES TO POWERFUL JOB, BUT ONLY IF YOU CAN SAY NO:  The reality is that, when you are a major architect of the state budget as a W&M chair, you have to squash a great many of the pet spending proposals brought to you by your colleagues, men and women you've known for years and are very fond of in many cases.  This is not easy.  Many good and talented legislators could never do so.  Years ago, when Bob DeLeo was first appointed House W&M chair by then Speaker Sal DiMasi, the shorthand explanation around the State House was: "Bobby DeLeo was the only one of Sal's friends who could say no to people."   Like DeLeo, Rodrigues has the ability to say no and make people like it.  The strength of our Commonwealth depends upon it.

RODRIGUES KEPT HIS DISTANCE: Mark Montigny's comments on how well Mike Rodrigues handled the Ethics Committee investigation of Stan Rosenberg  -- who ended up resigning -- recalled for me the scene at the State House on a February afternoon in 2018, just before former Boston senator Linda Dorcena Forry gave her farewell speech.  Because the Senate chamber was undergoing major renovations, the speech was scheduled for the House chamber.  Didn't want to miss it, so I arrived early and put myself in a front row, center seat in the gallery, where I could almost reach out and touch the Sacred Cod.  I was well situated to watch senators (and others) file in and take seats.  Senators seemed to concentrate themselves at the back of the chamber, down on my left.  Rosenberg, who had voluntarily stepped down as president while the investigation was ongoing, arrived later than most, but well before Forry spoke.  He was warmly greeted by his longtime colleagues.  Some jumped up to shake his hand; some Rosenberg approached in their seats.  But Rodrigues remained in his seat and Rosenberg remained a safe distance from him.  It wasn't because they dislike each other; the opposite is the case, I am sure. It was because Rodrigues was leading the investigation, and, in those circumstances, had to keep a discernable professional barrier between them.

To Run or Not to Run? That Is the (Pretend) Question for JPK III.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

I guess it's possible to believe that U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy, III, is truly agonizing over his decision to challenge U.S. Senator Edward J. Markey in the Democratic primary next year.

It's also possible to believe that Donald Trump's face looks orange on TV because of Obama-mandated energy efficient lightbulbs (as the president told fellow Republicans yesterday in Baltimore).

Me, I'm keeping it simple.  This is the great-grandson and namesake of the patriarch of the Kennedy political dynasty.  If it seems like he's dragging out this decision to keep hogging the media spotlight, create suspense for the moment when he inevitably announces he's running, and torture his future opponent, it's because he is.

Old Joe wouldn't have had it any other way.

Joe the Third, most would agree, looked like a Senate candidate today when he left the Massachusetts Democratic Party convention in Springfield and walked across the street to address supporters at a "Jump in Joe" meet-and-greet, even though he coyly told them it was "not an easy thing" to make a decision on challenging Markey.  They no doubt felt his pain.

Markey has been in the Congress for 43 years -- longer than JPK III has been alive.  He's been a good senator, and before that, a good U.S. Rep.  There's no mandatory retirement age and no term limits for members of Congress.  Why shouldn't Markey run for re-election?

And why shouldn't anyone who dreams of replacing him run, too, despite hand-wringing from the likes of Barney Frank.  Frank and many others see a Kennedy-Markey primary in 2020 as a pointless, massive, destructive waste of Democratic campaign resources (money), given how ideologically close these two are.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, a man who always thinks before he speaks, who always chooses his words carefully, had it right this past Monday when he was asked by the State House News Service if he will stand by the re-election endorsement he gave to Markey before JPK III told the world he was thinking of taking Markey on.

"I've known the senator since he was a congressman in my particular district," DeLeo responded.  "Known him for a period of time, respect the work he did.  In addition to that, I have to say I've also worked with and known Congressman Kennedy, as well, and respect the work he does in Congress, but I would also intend to keep my commitment to Senator Markey."

SHNS reporter Matt Murphy asked DeLeo if an intraparty fight for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts could be harmful to Democrats?  He would not be surprised to hear some people say that, DeLeo said, but he doesn't see it that way.

In our democracy, he said, "Everyone and anyone has a right to choose to run for whatever seat they wish to do so -- and that's the democratic way."

Joe Kennedy's great-grandson told reporters in Springfield today he doesn't "think primaries are something people should shy away from."

I'd think that, too, if I were a boyish 38 years old, had a beautiful head of auburn hair, and the Kennedy mystique emanated from me like a mysterious light.

Unlike his great-grandfather, young Joe is no businessman.  But it's not hard to see him sending a trusted underling to Markey one morning fairly soon with this message: "The boss says, 'It's nothing personal.  He's always liked you. It's just business.' He's announcing at noon."

Thoughts on Aviation's Importance and What Might Have Been for Revere

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Reading a press release the other day from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation on federal grants for improvements to ten "general aviation" airports in the state, I found myself thinking about the long-vanished airport in the city where I grew up.

The Revere Airport, in existence for only 34 years (1927-61), was located off of Squire Road (Route 60) on a site now mainly occupied by the Northgate Shopping Center.  It adjoined Rumney Marsh, a huge tidal basin and marshland on the back side of Revere Beach.  Within the marsh was a seaplane basin, remnants of which can still be seen from a passing vehicle on the Northeast Expressway.

Decades before tycoons began spinning dreams of travelling to meetings in Boston on seaplanes to the Seaport District, a.k.a. the South Boston Waterfront, there were seaplanes touching down in the great city of Revere, Massachusetts.

When he was looking for something to do with us after church on a Sunday morning, my father would drive with me and two or three of my brothers to the parking lot of the Revere Airport to watch planes take off and land.  An hour of this counted as real fun for kids in late-1950s America.

I don't know what fascinated us most about plane-watching in Revere.  It had something to do, I think, with the size of the planes -- they were so tiny against the immensity of the sky and seemingly so fragile as they bounced down on the runway -- and something to do with the great distances they may have traveled and the unknown places they may have visited.  They were marvelous machines from far away, imagination stokers.

Considering how much aviation and air travel have changed in the nearly 60 years since the demise of the Revere Airport, it's easy to dismiss that time and place as insignificant and quaint.

Had one now-forgotten-but-fate-making decision gone differently, however, we might be talking today about Revere as the home of one of the nation's (and the world's) super-airports and, hence, as an economic powerhouse.  

In 1939, Revere was under serious consideration as the site of Massachusetts's first state airport, a selection that fell to Jeffrey Field in East Boston, and that led, of course, to the colossus we know and depend upon today as Logan International Airport.

Revere Airport and Jeffrey Field did not differ much in 1939.  Revere Airport was a sleepy, small-time operation consisting of 156 acres of mostly empty land.  Jeffrey Field occupied 189 acres of smelly tidal flats, had one runway paved with cinders, and was used primarily as a base for the U.S. Army Air Corps and the Massachusetts Air National Guard, then the poor stepchildren of national defense.

No one could have foreseen in 1939 how important, how incredibly large, how far reaching aviation would become in the modern world, nor predict its contributions to our prosperity and way of life, nor fathom the ways it would affect our understandings of our planet and its distances...

And, as the August 28th press release I mentioned at the beginning attests, it is not just the Logans of the world that matter greatly to us.

There are 38 entities in Massachusetts categorized as "public use airports," not including airports like Logan and Hanscom in Bedford.  Collectively, they support more than 199,000 jobs, with $7.2 billion in total annual payroll, and generate annual economic activity totaling $24.7 billion, according to the 8-28-19 release, ("MassDOT Announces Award of $27 Million in Federal Aviation Administration Airport Improvement Program Grants").

The new Airport Improvement Program grants, or AIPS, in Massachusetts were as follows:
  • $904,000 to Barnstable Municipal Airport (Hyannis) to update its Airport Master Plan Study;
  • $1.8 million to Beverly Regional Airport to develop an Airport Master Plan Study and  reconstruct its runway;
  • $13.8 million to Fitchburg Municipal Airport to extend and reconstruct its runway and  rehabilitate its taxiway;
  • $1 million to Martha's Vineyard Airport to acquire an aircraft rescue and firefighting vehicle and conduct an environmental study;
  • $106,000 to New Bedford Regional Airport to install perimeter fencing;
  • $131,855 to North Adams Municipal Airport to install perimeter fencing and conduct a wildlife hazard assessment;
  • $53,550 to Orange Municipal Airport for an environmental assessment pertaining to a new hazard beacon light for navigation;
  • $152,292 to Plymouth Municipal Airport for the demolition of an existing administration building;
  • $2.3 million to Provincetown Municipal Airport to construct a taxiway, install perimeter fencing and do environmental mitigation work;
  • $6.9 million to Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport in Westfield for runway reconstruction and improvements.
Public use airport projects are eligible for AIP grants if they are included in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems.  Published every two years, this plan identifies public-use airports that are "important to public transportation and also contribute to the needs of civil aviation, national defense and the U.S. Postal Service."

This Moment in Corrution: Yet Another Misbehaving Home Health Agency

Thursday, August 22, 2019

In the latest announcement (Aug. 15) from Attorney General Maura Healey concerning the work of her department's Medicaid Fraud Division, we learn that a Boston-based home health company, Guardian Healthcare, will be paying $1.95 million "to resolve allegations that it filed claims for payment...that were not certified as medically necessary."

From April 2010 through July 2016, the AG's office said, Guardian "failed to obtain and/or maintain plans of care authorized by a physician for certain patients."

In order for a home health agency to bill MassHealth (the name we give to Medicaid in Massachusetts), a MassHealth patient's physician must review and sign a plan of care certifying that home health services are medically necessary.  Further, home health agencies are required to maintain good records for at least six years after care has been provided and claims for payment have been made.

In addition to laying nearly $2 million on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Guardian has agreed to implement "a multi-year, independent compliance program which will involve updating its policies and procedures, training its staff, and conducting annual audits to ensure compliance with federal and state regulations."

The AG's office said the Guardian settlement "is part of a larger effort to combat fraud in the home health program," and cited these other cases:
  • The conviction of the owner of a home health company in May on charges related to fraudulent billing to the tune of $2.5 million.
  • The payment in April of more than $10 million by two home health companies to resolve allegations of billing for unauthorized services.
  • The conviction of the owner of a Boston home health company in August of 2018 on charges stemming from a scheme "to steal millions from MassHealth."
At roughly $17 billion in total spending, MassHealth will account for more than 40 percent of the entire state budget during the current fiscal year, 2020.  (It's important to note that the federal government will reimburse the state for more than half of all that spending.)  The program covers 1.8 million Massachusetts residents, one in every four.

The latest available figures indicate that, in FY 2018, Healey's Medicaid Fraud Division recovered over $45 million for MassHealth.

Spending tax proceeds on the Medicaid Fraud Division is a good investment.  For every dollar earmarked by the legislature for this purpose in FY 18, the Division recovered $11 from the program's bad actors. 

If Former Gaming Chair's a Little Worried, Maybe We All Should Be

Friday, August 9, 2019

The Boston Globe's Shirley Leung had a great idea for a column this past week: invite Steve Crosby, the original (now former) chair of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, to lunch at the newly opened Encore Boston Harbor casino in Everett and get his reactions to the Wynn Corporation's lavish gambling mecca on the Mystic, ("Ex-chief of gaming panel is wowed by new casino," 8-8-2019). It was Crosby's first visit to the completed casino.

Now, Crosby did a superb job as founding chief executive of the government entity that had the tall order of bringing casino gambling appropriately to life -- of actualizing the will and the vision of the legislature when, in 2011, it legalized gambling at one slots parlor and as many as three casinos in Massachusetts.

He has not yet received the credit due for his model service as commission chair. Over time, I hope what Crosby did in that high-pressure/high-stakes role will be seen in a proper light and he will be esteemed accordingly.

The best part of Leung's column, I felt, was its conclusion, where Crosby expressed concern that Encore Boston Harbor might not generate sufficient revenue to justify the Wynn Corporation's multi-billion-dollar investment -- that is, to make it sufficiently profitable in the eyes of those who make big investments in publicly traded companies. 

My long-lingering, oft-expressed fear that, one day in the not-too-distant future, we will see a casino rescue bill filed in the Massachusetts legislature seemed all of a sudden reasonable.

Excerpt from Leung:

"...then there's the question of whether Wynn Resorts can make a return on its investment.  When the company won the license in 2014, it planned to spend only $1.6 billion, not a billion dollars beyond that.

" 'It's got to cause everyone to pause,' Crosby said. 'Now we all just hold our breath and hope it works.'

"As for his role in shaping the state's casino industry, here's a bit of self reflection: 'Even with many years of experience in high level politics and public life, I underestimated the PR, political and legal maelstrom that establishing casinos would engender.  On top of it, I made my share of mistakes.  So how has it worked out?  I would say so far, so good.  But the truth is we will not know the long-term cost/benefit trade-offs of destination resort casinos for years or even decades.' "

We can thank Crosby for his honesty and candor. 

How's this whole thing with casinos going to work out for Massachusetts?  Who really knows?  Time will tell.

In the meantime, I'd say the odds of a bill being filed to reduce the level of taxation on gambling establishment proceeds from 25%, where it now stands, to somewhere between 15% and 20%, are better than even. 

If the rate isn't cut, gambling chiefs will say, many hundreds of casino and slots parlor jobs will have to be eliminated.

Consider that, in April, revenue at the MGM casino in downtown Springfield was $4 million lower than it had been in March, and that, in no month since it opened (in August, 2018), has MGM Springfield reached its pre-opening projections of $34.8 million in monthly gross revenues.    In April, for example, it grossed $21.8 million.

MGM Springfield officials say they are pleased with its overall performance.  How long will their patience last?