The Time Will Come When 'Social Cohesion' Gets Into the Universal Health Care Equation

Thursday, June 30, 2011

"A trend will continue until it cannot."

I wish I'd come up with that but I did not. It's an adage that's been around for years, heard most frequently in the context of economics.

"A trend will continue until it cannot."

It sounds like something uttered by a Zen monk, but that's not why I like it.

Its true appeal, and its descriptive utility, comes, I believe, from its implied message of finality and woe.

It's kind of like a doctor telling an alcoholic, "Don't worry, that stuff won't kill you until it does."

Thoughts of "uncontinuable" trends were rampant this week in Boston as the Division of Health Care Finance and Policy conducted hearings on how Massachusetts can contain the ever-rising cost of health care and thereby preserve its first-in-the-nation system of universal health coverage, now five years old.

According to testimony given the other day by Massachusetts Secretary of Administration and Finance Jay Gonzalez, health care spending will consume half of the entire state budget by 2020 if current trends continue. Half!

That prediction made me think of how Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist, describes the U.S. government: "A giant insurance company that also has an army."

If Secretary Gonzalez's prediction comes true, Massachusetts in 2020 will be a giant insurance company that also has state troopers.

Health care costs that keep growing at five times the inflation rate literally eat other government programs alive.

Looking at the recession-fueled jump in the number of residents enrolled in Medicaid, the State House News Service observed, "The trends point toward an entitlement program with runaway costs that's devouring new state revenues and leaving other services in areas like public safety, human services, education and local aid subject to continuing budget cuts amid a sluggish economic recovery and dried-up federal revenue sources." (That was from a 12/13/10 article headlined, "Medicaid Costs Surge Past $10 Billion, Devouring Uptick in Tax Receipts.")

Massachusetts today finds itself in a health care financing crisis. Thus, we can expect our state government to make changes it would not even consider in gentler times, and to move in directions it would rather not go. That's what crises force you to do.

So what kind of changes might Massachusetts be compelled to make?

I'm no seer, but I can see the day when everyone on Medicaid has to obtain primary care at state-run clinics staffed by nurse practitioners, and when most members of the middle class are restricted to lower-cost care providers and networks, and are discouraged from seeking advanced diagnostic testing by financial penalties and disincentives.

In other words, it could be a bare bones health care future for most of us.

Of course, that would lead to serious problems in our society. The poor and the working class would see the affluent getting better care, and more health care services, and they would burn with resentment. They'd look upon government as the enemy of their children and grandchildren. Social divisions would widen. Class resentments would spread like viruses to places they hadn't been seen since the Great Depression.

At that point, the Governor of Massachusetts would have no choice but to step forward and promise to fix this horrible mess. He or she would vow to create a new system based on equal access to state-of-the-art health care. No slack would be given to any vested interest in our huge insurance-medical-hospital complex.

The Governor would emphasize the extreme difficulty of this noble task and ask for universal sacrifices -- everyone giving something up or paying some price -- to correct and resurrect the Massachusetts system of universal care.

And the Governor would base this historic struggle on the social cohesion that would result from an equitable system of universal care, which is what President Obama should have done when reforming health care in 2009.

State Budget Considerations Become Agonizingly Real When the Subject Is Mental Health

Monday, June 27, 2011

The case of the late Stephanie Moulton stands as a rebuke to anyone who believes the state's mental health budget can be cut further than it already has been over the past few years.

A woman of compassion and uncompromising ideals, Stephanie went to work as a counselor at a group home for mental patients in Revere and was brutally murdered by one of her clients on January 20, 2011.

Small of stature and only 25 years old, Stephanie was working alone that day at the home when she was attacked for no reason by a schizophrenic male resident with a history of violence. Her attacker was much bigger and stronger than Stephanie; she didn't have a prayer when he went into a murderous rage.

How Stephanie came to be alone in that house with a severely disturbed 27-year-old man was not an accident, nor was it a quirk of scheduling or staffing. Rather, it was the direct result of a state policy to reduce beds at in-patient facilities for the mentally ill and to restrict funding for out-patient care to the point that the lowest-paid workers are frequently the sole care-givers.

The New York Times recently published an expose on this situation, "A Schizophrenic, a Slain Worker, Troubling Questions," (6/16/11), which may be found at:

Vicker V. DiGravio, III, chief executive of the Association for Behavioral Healthcare, was quoted as saying, "The outpatient treatment system in Massachusetts is dying on the vine."

The Times amplified that as follows:

"Providers have trouble finding psychiatrists and other clinicians who are willing to work in the community; they depend on recent social work graduates, who usually move on quickly to better-paying jobs at hospitals or in private practice. They also have difficulty recruiting and retaining quality workers for group homes, and many hired do not even have the college degree that Ms. Moulton possessed."

According to Mr. DiGravio, "The end result is a system where the folks with the least experience are serving the clients with the most intensive needs -- because the Department of Mental Health serves only those people with the most severe mental illness."

Last week there came a report that state tax collections during the first half of this month were 9.3% higher than the comparable period in 2010, news that prompted some at the Massachusetts State House to start talking about tax cuts.

" makes it much harder to argue that we should increase what are already unacceptably high tax rates when you have a significant increase in revenue," said one state senator.

I don't know if Stephanie Moulton's mother, Kimberly Flynn, will be at the State House when the legislature next debates tax cuts. But I hope she will be there, speaking up for the people like her daughter who do not hesitate to serve on the front lines of our mental health care system, to fight the good fight for the rest of us.

In the meantime, perhaps it would be good if the following words of Mrs. Flynn were copied and pasted into a few computer files at the State House. This was Mrs. Flynn's final lament to the reporter who wrote that excellent New York Times article, Deborah Sontag:

"Stephanie should be here now, planning her wedding and rolling her eyes at me like she always does. It was totally unnecessary for her to get killed and murdered on the job when all she was trying to do was help people."

Heavy Hitters Want a Supersized Convention Center, But They Have to Get Past Widmer First

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

All but three of the 27 members of an advisory panel studying a possible $2 billion expansion of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center (BCEC) endorsed the idea yesterday.

This is a very ambitious plan and it cannot pay for itself up front.

The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, which runs the BCEC in South Boston and the Hynes Convention Center in the Back Bay section of Boston, therefore has no choice but to look for public dollars (tax and fee increases) to make it happen.

There's precedence for this, of course: the original construction of the BCEC was funded through new hotel taxes and fees on taxi cabs, rental cars and tour buses.

Before the BCEC expansion can go forward, the City of Boston, the Massachusetts legislature and Gov. Deval Patrick all must bless it.

Boston Mayor Tom Menino definitely supports it and the governor's staff is making noises indicating that Patrick will embrace it, too.

You could probably mark this down as a sure thing were it not for one man: Michael J. Widmer, President of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation,

Although Widmer has never held elective office, he served with distinction in the administrations of Gov. Frank Sargent, a Republican, and Gov. Michael Dukakis, a Democrat, and has gained nearly oracular status in his two decades at the helm of the MTF, which bills itself as "the independent resource for the Commonwealth's decision makers."

Widmer got his reputation for integrity, independence and candor the old fashioned way: he earned it.

He knows, and is known by, everyone in state government. And everyone who knows him will tell you that, one, he's very smart, and, two, he never shades the truth for anyone.

So when Mike Widmer, a member of the advisory Convention Center Partnership that voted 24-3 yesterday to recommend the BCEC expansion, says, "I'm yet to be persuaded that the benefits of this project merit the large public expenditures that would be required," the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority has a problem.

Oh, by the way, the other two votes against the proposal were cast by Sonia Chang-Diaz, the state senator for the South End district adjoining South Boston, and Samuel Tyler, director of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a formally established fiscal watchdog within the apparatus of city government.

Higher hotel taxes and higher fees on other aspects of the tourist trade will be no easy sell in this legislature, which has for three years now resisted calls for higher taxes to address Great Recession-related deficits.

Interestingly, the Convention Center Authority is pushing expansion at a time when the number of conventioneers coming to Massachusetts is dropping. Since the recession started in 2008, the number of visitors to the BCEC and the Hynes declined 26%, from 870,000 per year to 645,000.

Wouldn't the Authority be better off waiting until the tide has turned on those numbers before asking the millions of tourists who visit here every year to pay for a bigger playpen in South Boston?

Defending the Special Joint Committee on Redistricting Will Not Be Done on the Cheap

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Special Joint Committee on Redistricting is now conducting hearings to give citizens in different parts of the state the opportunity to have their say on how Congressional districts should be redrawn when Massachusetts loses one seat in the U.S. House of Representatives next year.

"It's essentially a 'Survivor' series and one congressman is going to get voted off the island," says Massachusetts House Minority Leader Brad Jones, R-North Reading.

We now have 11 Congressmen; next year we'll have 10.

The task of the Special Joint Committee on Redistricting would be made much easier if one of the sitting Congressman, say John Olver, who qualified for Medicare long ago, or John Tierney, who was badly wounded by his wife's money-laundering conviction, would volunteer to turn his summer recess into a permanent one, but that's not likely to happen.

Thus, in at least one area of the state, two incumbent Democrats who have been friends and colleagues for years will have to go into the redistricting cage for a Texas death match. It won't be pretty.

But the sorriest aspect of redistricting, which is required after every federal census at the start of a new decade, could well be the cost to the taxpayers of Massachusetts, who will have to pay to defend the work of the Special Joint Committee on Redistricting against the inevitable lawsuits by parties who feel aggrieved by the process.

If one former longtime member of the Massachusetts House has it right, that cost could total in the high seven figures!

"Just look at the record," said this ex-lawmaker, who was never known as an alarmist during his chairmanship of the Taxation Committee. "In 1991, the state spent maybe $30,000 addressing the legal fall-out from redistricting. In 2001, that figure jumped to $2,000,000. I will not be surprised if the redistricting defense costs to the state this year and next reach $6,000,000."

One of the big reasons this former legislator, and many others, anticipate legal challenges to the work of the redistricting committee is the push coming from many quarters, including stalwarts of the Republican Party, to create a minority-majority district in Greater Boston.

Redrawing the Congressional lines in the state capital to accommodate this desire would mean that some longtime incumbents (Hello, Mike Capuano and Steve Lynch!) would lose reliable parts of their districts in Boston. Many political observers don't believe the special committee will have the stomach for that.

Indeed, the chairman of the special committee, Stan Rosenberg, Amherst's state senator, is on record as basically saying that a nicely shaped, geographically sensible district is not a priority for those who have to redraw the Congressional lines.

The MetroWest Daily News quoted Rosenberg in May as asserting, "Shape is irrelevant. What really counts is that we can elect someone who can meet our needs and is reflective of our needs."

The conventional wisdom is that the map of a district decides the result of an election there, but not everyone buys that.

For example, Tim Storey, a senior fellow and redistricting expert at the National Conference of State Legislatures, believes that district lines are important in determining who wins the first post-redistricting election but are not the ultimate determinant.

"Redistricting does not determine elections; other things have a big impact on elections," Storey flatly told the MetroWest Daily News.

As the special committee conducts its hearings around the state, it can count on the sitting Congressman in each district to show up and argue eloquently for the preservation of that district in more or less its current shape and scope.

Their speeches all boil down to: This situation cries out for tweaking, not bold action!

Ed Markey was at the committee hearing in Framingham last week, for example, urging its members to protect the integrity of his district, which includes Framingham, Natick and Wayland.

If he didn't, the folks out there would think he didn't love them. And Markey hasn't managed to stay in the Congress since 1976, where he now ranks ninth in seniority, by appearing indifferent to his constituents.

Inside Bulfinch's Masterpiece, the Massachusetts State House, an Office Building Pulses with Life

Friday, June 17, 2011

Beacon Hill was buzzing this week and last after word got out that the Speaker of the House was looking into an after-hours incident in the House chamber involving a young, single state representative and a female aide to another representative.

Supposedly, late on the night of April 28, after the House had wrapped up work on the new state budget, a security officer came upon the legislator and the aide, both of whom are in their twenties, in the deserted House chamber.

The chamber was locked at the time, but the pair apparently entered through a door in the Speaker's adjoining office, where a post-session, social gathering was underway.

How the incident (if it can be called that) came to light is not known outside the State House, but once it became general knowledge in the building, it inevitably seeped into the public realm. Before you knew it, tongues were wagging all over Boston.

And once the reporters started calling late last week, Speaker Robert DeLeo had no choice but to look into the matter and report publicly on what he found.

Tuesday of this week, DeLeo released a statement that his investigation had concluded that the rep and the aide had not violated any law, House rule, or House personnel policy, "and, most importantly, that there was no inappropriate behavior" by either party.

In the statement, DeLeo emphasized the unique place that the House chamber occupies in the affairs of the Commonwealth and made it clear that he expects legislators to act in a manner always befitting the history and grandeur of their surroundings.

"The House chamber belongs to the people of Massachusetts," he said. "It is a place where we make laws and conduct the people's business. It is a place where important occasions and addresses are marked by ceremony, and its traditions span much of the Bay State's a matter of policy, the chamber should be reserved for official business and ceremony only."

One reason to envy members of the legislature, I have always felt, is that they get to work in the Massachusetts State House, a magnificent structure designed by Charles Bulfinch (1763-1844), a protege of Thomas Jefferson, the father of American architecture.

No matter how many times you've walked into the State House, you can't help but be impressed by its classical beauty, its perfect dimensions, and its overshadowing dignity whenever you come through the door and stride its portrait-bedecked hallways. It has the power literally to stop your thoughts or to change your mood.

The State House is drenched in history, but it is not frozen in time. You experience it simultaneously as you would a museum, an art gallery, a shrine, and an office building -- a building that shows a lot of wear in places and that has many more small and non-descript offices for back-benchers than palatial digs for committee chairmen.

Hundreds of people go to work at the State House every day and they do what people everywhere do at work. They eat their lunches at messy desks. They telephone their spouses and try to keep their voices low. They misplace things in file cabinets, which just happen to be pressed against ornate, ancient fireplaces.

This very combination of the incredibly special and the terribly ordinary gives the State House its unquestionable charisma. It has expanded in stages since the cornerstone was laid for Bulfinch's original structure on July 4, 1795, by Governor Samuel Adams and Paul Revere, and it could never be duplicated.

You have to feel bad for that rep who became tabloid fodder and the object of an official investigation after being caught in the House chamber with a woman late at night. He was only doing what young people have always done after a lot of work and a little partying. Others have certainly stretched the bounds of acceptable behavior at the State House in greater ways through the years. Many others.

There was, for example, a trio of legislators, all fairly new to the House, who made their way to "the lantern" atop the building's golden dome on a July 4th night in the late-1970s.

Carrying a six-pack of beer, they moved stealthily to the fifth floor, made their way through the dark to a restricted area, ascended stairs as narrow and steep as a ladder, crawled over the wooden framework of the dome, forced open a hatch, and shimmied into the lantern. From that marvelous perch, they drank and enjoyed the fireworks shooting high into the sky above the Charles River Esplanade.

Security was lax at the State House in those days; these guys were never discovered, never reprimanded.

The very existence of "acceptable behavior" challenges humans to misbehave. Standards and expectations create a tension that often lends excitement, irresistibly so, to a prohibited act. Mr. Bulfinch lived in Paris when he was young and acquiring his wondrous skills, so he would no doubt understand such things. I do not think he would be offended by a kiss in the House chamber or a beer toast atop his iconic dome.

If There's a Downside to a Politician Being a Hockey Fan, I Haven't Seen It

Monday, June 13, 2011

Roars at a touchdown
slums near the harbors
liquor for the poor
uphold the State.

from "Three Talks on Civilization"
by Czeslaw Milosz

If I were a genuine, longtime hockey fan, and if I held a statewide office in Massachusetts, or were running for such an office, there is only one place I'd be tonight: the TD Garden, where the Boston Bruins will be playing the Vancouver Canucks in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals.

Sports have always been a good way for politicians to connect with the voters. Just ask our state's junior U.S. senator, Scott Brown, who was reportedly known as "Downtown Scotty Brown" during his basketball playing days at Tufts.

Remember how Brown campaigned so effectively outside Fenway Park during the "Winter Classic" National Hockey League game there? And do you remember how things seemed to go downhill for his opponent, Martha Coakley, when it sounded later like she was dismissing the importance of campaigning at sporting events -- and coming across at the same time like she couldn't take the cold?

It was probably unfair to Coakley, who grew up in North Adams and never puts on airs, but such are the perilous snapshots one stumbles into when campaigning.

Although I can barely stand up on skates and my knowledge of the sport is thinner than a Zamboni's water trail, I have long believed that hockey is the ideal sport for a politician in our part of America to be perceived as a fan of.

Pound for pound, hockey players are at once the toughest, most skilled, least narcissistic and lowest compensated professional athletes. Average people like and respect and identify with hockey players. Average people also relate to hockey players in ways they never will with the millionaire specialists who play baseball, basketball, football and (God forbid) golf for a living.

So here's my recommendation to young office holders who desire a career in politics and dream of bigger things:

Get season tickets to the Bruins and go to as many games as possible. The tickets will put a big bite in your wallet every year and the games will use up a lot of your time, but eventually you'll become associated with the game of working class heroes in the public's mind. Voters will then tend to believe you possess virtues in common with hockey players and to reward you accordingly.

If nothing else, the experience will have been worth it if it confers an understanding of what constitutes a beating. A mugging in the media is easier to take than a pounding on the ice.

STANLEY CUP SIDELIGHT: I have a friend who works in an industry with a lot of blue collar, unionized workers and his company has four season tickets to the Bruins. Last Wednesday, the company hosted some 40 of its employees at a pre-game dinner in the North End of Boston. Then they put everyone's name in a hat, drew three names and gave the winners tickets to Game 4. "Why didn't you raffle off all four tickets?" I inquired. "Because," my friend said, "we had to have one of the bosses go with the three winners to the game. Otherwise, those guys would have scalped the tickets and gone home with the dough. Do you have any idea what those tickets were going for on the sidewalk? Our guys love hockey, but they're not stupid."

When Covering Accusations and Exonerations, the Media Often Has Two Different Speeds

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Almost three months ago, the Boston Globe published an article on the first page of its Metro section on the forced resignation of Michael Festa, president of the Carroll Center for the Blind, Newton, ("Board ousts Carroll Center for the Blind's president," 3/18/11).

The article said Festa, a former state rep from Melrose and Gov. Deval Patrick's first Secretary of Elder Affairs, had been "abruptly forced out" during an emergency meeting of the center's board of directors two nights before "amid issues about his performance and an internal investigation into whether he harassed a visually-impaired female employee..."

All the damaging information in the report came from two unidentified, nebulous "officials," who talked to the Globe "only on the condition of anonymity because it involved a personnel matter..."

According to the Globe, the nameless duo "...said that an outside lawyer was hired to investigate concerns over inappropriate behavior by Festa and that the lawyer made a roughly 90-minute presentation to the board," which "focused on two incidents, both of which involved Festa touching female workers, the officials said. The first was allegedly at a school holiday party in December, and the second involved a witness seeing Festa embrace the visually-impaired worker in the basement of the school, the officials said."

The harassment claim caught Festa by surprise. He was quoted in the 3/18/11 Globe as saying, "That's totally out of the blue. I can assure you on my father's grave I've never heard any of that."

When contacted later by a Melrose publication, Festa emphatically denied harassing anyone at the Carroll Center. "I agreed to resign -- not having any knowledge when I gave that statement, and sent that letter of resignation by email -- that any discussion about harassment had occurred at that (board) meeting," he told "Wicked Local Melrose," the online arm of the Melrose Free Press. "Anything that had to do with harassment of any kind I totally dispute...(the allegations of harassment) are baseless, and the human resources director (at the Carroll Center) has assured me that she has never heard any such allegations from any employee."

He added: "I am going to vigorously contest, and deal with, what I consider to be a very slanderous and terrible way I've been treated."

On May 18, the Carroll Center released the following statement:

"On March 18, 2011, the Boston Globe published an article concerning the March 17, 2011 resignation of Michael Festa as president of the Carroll Center for the Blind that included inaccurate and misleading statements regarding certain deliberations of our Board of Directors on March 16, 2011. The Carroll Center and its Board of Directors deplore the unauthorized disclosure regarding the Board meeting made by at least one of our Board members.

"Most importantly, the article did not fairly describe the Board's deliberations of March 16 regarding a report made to the Board during only one portion of the meeting. As a result the article was very unfair to Mike Festa in that it presented a distorted picture of the various considerations that led the Board to request his resignation.

"In particular, the Board wishes to make clear that no employee or service provider to the Carroll Center, or any other person, has complained that Mr. Festa subjected them to any unwanted or inappropriate contact or harassment. No finding of harassment or improper contact was made by the Board. At the time that Mr. Festa informed our Chairman of his resignatioon, it was made clear to Mr. Festa that our Board had not determined that any cause for termination existed under his employment contract.

"We were stunned by the unauthorized disclosure of matters intended to be discussed in a confidential manner by the Carroll Center Board. The Carroll Center respects and appreciates Mr. Festa's efforts and many positive contributions during his tenure as President, and the restraint and dignity he has shown in addressing this most unfortunate situation. We wish him well in his future endeavors."

Twenty-two days ago, the story that Festa had acted inappropriately was definitively refuted, ("No finding of harassment or improper contact was by made by the board"), and so far, there's been not a word in the Boston Globe about that.

They're very busy on Morrissey Boulevard; I'm sure they'll get to it soon.

Reflecting on his exoneration in "Wicked Local Melrose," Festa said, "I've come to realize over these last few months many profound things: how truly fragile our reputations can be, the loyalty of family and friends, the importance of faith, and the knowledge that truth will eventually find a way to express itself."

There's a Time in Every Legislator's Life When City Hall Looks Better than the State House

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

If State Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral's brand new campaign for mayor of New Bedford is successful, he will join a long line of politicians who decided they could get more done at City Hall than at the State House.

Just a few years ago, for example, we saw Chip Clancy leave the Massachusetts Senate and Bob Correia leave the House to become, respectively, the mayors of Lynn and Fall River.

After a long stay in the Massachusetts legislature, where no one can get a law enacted or a budget item adopted on his own, it's understandable that one may look longingly at the strong, unilateral powers that many cities grant their mayors.

You can shape the political dialogue, and you can control the outcome of a political showdown, more easily as a mayor than when you are one of 160 state reps or 40 state senators.

Legislators are no different from the rest of us who drag ourselves out of bed and go to work every morning: they want to get results. They want to be able to point to something good and say, "I did that."

If you're a big-city mayor -- and with a population of 95,000 and a land mass of 24 square miles, New Bedford is a big city -- you get to play in a big urban sandbox.

You can build roads, schools and playgrounds. You can move police and fire departments with a phone call. You can make millionaire developers and Ph.D. sociologists dance to whatever tune you feel like playing.

Compared to a big urban sandbox, the legislature can be like a waiting room at a bus station where the schedules keep changing and every driver is running late, not that it isn't an honor to be in that room.

I've watched Tony Cabral in action for years and I can tell you he is one smart, tenacious and formidable guy. A former teacher, he understands not only how the gears of government turn, but also how they can be made to turn, or not.

At the Massachusetts State House, one of the highest compliments they can give is, So and so "knows how to move an issue." Friends and adversaries alike say that about Tony Cabral.

During budget deliberations, it was always instructive to watch how Cabral moved constantly about the floor of the House while so many others were sitting still. He always seemed to be putting a word in with this chairman or that, or to be on the podium, checking something out with the Speaker and his staff, or to be consulting the papers he carried in his hands and pockets.

Cabral has the natural ability to ask nicely for something while conveying the impression he will not make it easy for you to say no, and that, no, he will not "understand" if you feel you are compelled by circumstances beyond your control to deny him. This bodes well for his effectiveness as New Bedford's chief executive, should he prevail in a multi-candidate field this fall.

Since arriving in the legislature in 1991, he has amassed significant power under a succession of Speakers and is currently a member of leadership by virtue of holding the House chair of the Joint Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Administration. But there are many ahead of him in that inertia-wrapped chain of leadership.

I suspect that Cabral, at age 56, was getting impatient for new leadership opportunities and that his hometown looked better and better to him the longer he commuted to the State House . (It is 51 miles from New Bedford to Boston.)

Incumbent New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang's decision not to seek re-election gave Cabral the opportunity to make a move and he seized it yesterday during a spirited outdoor rally in The Whaling City.

In announcing his candidacy, Cabral told of how he came to the U.S. with his family from the island of Pico in the Azores when he was 14 years old. "None of us spoke English. We had neither money nor connections nor an understanding of what life here would be like," he said. "So my parents survived by clinging to a promise, to America's promise: that through hard work and education, their children would succeed."

Best of all, politically, Cabral's run for mayor is low-risk: he does not have to forfeit his House seat to be in the race, although he has said he will not hold both jobs if elected mayor.

Speaking of risk, there's a lot more of it when you're a mayor than a legislator. Just ask Ex-Mayor Clancy and Ex-Mayor Correia, two once very popular gentlemen who ran afoul of ever-demanding and ever-changeable electorates.

With this mayoral campaign, Tony Cabral is clinging to the right promise. Again. He's a good man. I wish him well.

In Time, the Undiluted Joys of a First Election Must Yield to the Complicated Realities of Governing

Friday, June 3, 2011

There's something about the election to the state legislature of an idealistic young man or woman that does our hearts good. An eager, big-dreaming, 20-something, newly-minted state rep is a walking affirmation of The American Way.

We're happy for that nice young person who is now on her way to claim a seat at the State House. And we're happy with ourselves for putting her in that spot. If our community is capable of rallying behind someone that good, our silent reasoning goes, we must ourselves be pretty good, and, yes, we do have our heads screwed on straight for the future.

Having a case of incurable optimism and a sincere respect for our system of government in all its error-prone and delusional humanity, I'd normally be the last person to put a pin in such sentiments. But when I think of how government actually operates, and of how the imperatives of our system dictate to the human beings functioning within it, not vice-versa, I have to wonder if our high schools and colleges should be injecting more realism into their civics courses.

We shouldn't hesitate to emphasize to our children, for example, that the making of laws is inherently contentious-bordering-on-the-nasty, and that when we fight it out with words, ideas and emotions in the state houses of America, it is very good indeed, for the only alternative is physical force and coercion.

Ninth grade is definitely not too early to introduce impressionable young minds to Machiavelli's "The Prince," with such gems as this:

"Everyone admits how praiseworthy it is in a prince to keep faith, and to live with integrity and not with craft. Nevertheless our experience has been that those princes who have done great things have held good faith of little account, and have known how to circumvent the intellect of men by craft, and in the end have overcome those who have relied on their word. You must know there are two ways of contesting, the one by law, the other by force; the first method is proper to men, the second to beasts; but because the first is frequently not sufficient, it is necessary to have recourse to the second. Therefore it is necessary for a prince to understand how to avail himself of the beast and the man."

Anyone fortunate enough to hold elective office will accomplish more, will rise higher, if his understanding extends dispassionately to the depths of human nature and if he has left behind forever the framework of black-and-white when dealing with his peers. (The devil in the House chamber today could be tomorrow's angel.)

This summer we will come to the second anniversary of the death of Ted Kennedy, in whose name an institute for the study of the U.S. Senate will soon materialize on the shores of Dorchester Bay, next to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

Many of us cherish the memory of Ted Kennedy because of all that he did for Massachusetts and all that he accomplished, often against high odds, during 47 years in the Senate. We do not dwell, however, on the harder traits required of a Ted Kennedy to be a Master of the Senate.

A prince must always maintain "the majesty of his rank," Machiavelli advised.

This Ted Kennedy certainly did, even to the point of a majestic rejection of a formidable ally and benefactor, as when he turned down Bill Clinton's entreaties to endorse Hillary for President and embraced Obama instead.

I was reminded recently of the enormity of this move when I heard of a former Clinton cabinet member remarking on how Clinton did everything he could in 1994 to accelerate federal grants to Massachusetts when Kennedy was fending off a stiff re-election challenge from Mitt Romney.

When we delight in the election of an idealistic young newcomer to the legislature, we don't ponder how he or she might one day have to channel a Ted Kennedy or, say, an Everett Dirksen, for whom a majestic Senate office building in Washington, D.C. is named. (It was Dirksen, the great legislative leader from Illinois, who once famously said, "If you can't eat their food, drink their booze, screw their women, and still vote against them in the morning, you don't belong in this town.") Why invite the sadness in at such a hopeful juncture?