Imagine More People on Beacon Hill Interrupting Their Careers Than Launching Them

Friday, February 28, 2014

Another long-time state rep resigned a few weeks ago to take a better paying job as a lobbyist. The State House News Service asked one of the departing rep’s colleagues to comment.  That legislator said:

“I think the financial remuneration (as a lobbyist) is such that it makes people think, if you’re trying to make ends meet with $60,000 a year, you want to offer me a job for $120,000?  I’ll leave tomorrow.  If you have a chance to go out and better yourself both financially and professionally, these are the times to do it.”

That was a simple, honest answer.  If someone of modest means has a legitimate opportunity to improve his finances, you can’t blame him for taking it.  Most people would do the same.  

Since the start of the current session in January, 2013, twelve members of the House have either left the chamber for more lucrative jobs or announced they will not seek re-election.  So it was not surprising that WBZ-TV’s Jon Keller asked House Speaker Robert DeLeo on Monday if an effort to increase legislative salaries might be in the offing.  The Speaker quickly answered, “Not yet, no.” 

Base pay for members of both the House and Senate is $60,032 per year.

For a moment, let’s consider a question more profound than why a legislator quits mid-term to take a better paying job.  Let’s think about why we pay legislators $60,032 in the first place.

That figure implies that a legislator is a full-time employee.  As performed by the majority of Massachusetts legislators in recent decades, the job does seem to require at least 40 hours a week.

As Senate President Therese Murray commented to the State House News Service last year, “I know people think that it’s a good salary, but when you’re working sometimes 18 hours a day, 20 hours a day and not seeing your family, it takes a big toll financially and time-wise from your family.”
A position with full-time pay, benefits and pension attracts people who need exactly that.

In earlier times, legislators derived most of their incomes from enterprises, trades and professions. Being a legislator was more like an avocation or, more precisely, an extra burden taken up for the public good, personal glory, or both.   

The world is obviously much more complex than it was one hundred or two hundred years ago.  We can’t bring back the old days, and I don’t want to.   I’m also not suggesting that a typical incumbent’s service is worth less than $60,032.
It’s just that I see greater sacrifices for everyone up ahead.  We will have to contribute more over the next 10 to 20 years to preserve the public services and infrastructure that underpin the quality of life in our Commonwealth.  If we want future generations to have a life as good as we have had, and who doesn’t, we will need to spend more on public higher education, more on public transit, roads and bridges, and more on the preservation of the natural resources that keep us healthy: clean air, water and soil.

We the people will be more willing to make those sacrifices, I believe, if our elected leaders are making demonstrable sacrifices, too. 
Let’s have some inspiration here.

The last office holder I’m aware of who refused to accept his salary was Mitt Romney, who was also noteworthy for eschewing patronage hiring.    

We need more rich men of strong character like Romney (and rich women like that, too) who’ll serve in elective office while declining their salaries. 
We need more men and women of average means who’ll put their careers on hold for two, four or even six years to serve in the legislature while accepting only a small portion of their salaries and returning the rest to the public coffers.

In short, we need more givers.  That’s who built this country.


Stakes Could Not Be Higher for Scott Brown as His Moment of Truth Approaches in NH

Friday, February 21, 2014

"There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.  Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.” 
       -Brutus, from “Julius Caesar,” by Wm. Shakespeare

If I were Scott Brown, I’d be sweating bullets right now.

Every day the pressure on him builds to make a decision on challenging Democratic U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, who’s up for re-election in November.

Theoretically, Brown can wait until just before the candidate filing deadline in June to decide.  Two factors will compel him to decide much sooner:

One, the Republican Party in New Hampshire can't wait indefinitely and will have to find someone else if he won't commit.  Coyness has a shelf life.

Two, he's cutting it close if he hopes to have a legitimate shot at winning Shaheen's, er, the People's Seat, up north.  Every day of added dithering means lost fundraising opportunities and less time for actual campaigning.  Successful Senate campaigns often begin a year in advance of an election.

Brown positioned himself to run late last year when he sold his house in Wrentham, established residency at what had been his family’s vacation home in Rye, New Hampshire, and set up a political action committee in the state. Those moves created self-renewing waves of speculation on his political future, which have kept him in the news and on the minds of New Hampshire voters ever since.

Republican hearts are galloping at the thought of a Brown candidacy, especially after a recent poll had him tied with Shaheen at 44% favorability.  The party pros are telling him, “You’re the one, Scotty.  You can do it.  Help us take the Senate and cripple that Obama for the rest of his term.  Do it!”

What an ego lift.  Your party needs you, it really needs YOU.  In that atmosphere, you can’t help but believe your country needs you, too.

The downside is Republicans will start writing you out of the history books if you stiff them now.   If you play it safe on the sidelines, lawyering, pontificating on Fox, doing guest appearances with Cheap Trick, etc., they’ll drop you fast and say you were a one-hit wonder, a good looking guy who had the soft luck to run against Martha Coakley.

Your party is offering you so much it hurts. 

There’s the chance to be the GOP savior again and recreate the magic of 2009-10, when you beat Coakley and deprived Democrats of their filibuster-proof Senate majority.  There’s the opportunity to attain historic stature as a man who was elected to the Senate in two states.  There’s the promise of redemption after that awful loss to Elizabeth Warren.

All you have to do is endure a tough campaign where the Dems direct millions to Shaheen’s defense and hit you night and day for being a carpetbagger, an office shopper.

All you have to do is risk losing to a formidable woman.   Again.

Also, if you put your money down on the number for U.S. Senate, N.H., and they spin the wheel and you lose, you know the media will be pouring concrete into a mold that says: As a politician, Brown was a good male model.

Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say he thought through all of the above before he burned his boats on the Rye shore, in which case we can expect a Brown for Senate announcement soon, very soon.

Sal DiMasi's Health Continues Down. Time for Governor to Ask for a Commutation.

Friday, February 14, 2014

It was good to see Norfolk County Sheriff Mike Bellotti’s letter recommending that Sal DiMasi be allowed to serve his prison sentence in Massachusetts: “Bring DiMasi Home,” Boston Herald, 2-13-14.

The feds have the cancer-stricken former House Speaker locked up in Butner, North Carolina, 684 miles from Boston.  Bellotti and many other people believe he should be serving his time instead at the Devens correctional institute, less than 30 miles from Boston.  There’s a hospital at Devens.

In his letter to the Herald editor, Bellotti reminded us that the judge who sentenced DiMasi  had recommended that DiMasi be put at Devens.  He wrote: 

“It is time to follow Judge Wolf’s recommendation.  During his 30 years on Beacon Hill, DiMasi did a lot of good for the people of Massachusetts.  He deserves to come home.”

On November 30, 2011, DiMasi began serving an eight-year sentence on bribery charges related to a shady deal involving the sale of software to the state.  Not long afterwards, he began complaining to prison authorities about his physical condition.  There were suspicious lumps on his neck he wanted checked.

DiMasi had to wait almost five full months to see a cancer specialist.  He underwent a series of tests.  About a month after that, he was informed he had Stage 4 tongue cancer.  The disease had spread from his mouth to his neck.  It was a threat to his life.

When DiMasi’s wife, Debbie, was interviewed by TV reporter Janet Wu last week, we learned he has also suffered from lung cancer since at least August, 2012.  Mrs. DiMasi said she found that out only recently when she obtained a copy of his medical file.  No one responsible for supervising his incarceration or treating his cancer had ever bothered to inform them of the cancer in his lungs, she lamented.

If your worst enemy needed top-notch cancer diagnostic services and treatment, you’d wish he was in the clutches of the federal prison system.

It was good to see a respected public official like Bellotti try publicly to do something for Sal DiMasi, who was quick to help the misfortunate and the downtrodden when he had the power of the Majority Leader of the House, and later Speaker, in his hands.

I’m still waiting for one prominent office holder to step forward and urge Governor Deval Patrick to appeal to President Obama to commute DiMasi’s sentence and set him free immediately.   Our president will take our governor’s call.  They’re close.

Janet Wu noted that, under federal guidelines, DiMasi will be eligible for early release on compassionate grounds once he’s served half of his eight-year sentence.  That would be in November, 2015, roughly one year, nine months from now.  He could be dead long before that.

I will always acknowledge the seriousness of the offenses DiMasi committed.  I will never be dismissive of the fact he betrayed the trust placed in him by the voters of his district and the citizens of our Commonwealth.

I will also never forget the way, when he was Majority Leader and Speaker, he helped people who were not from his district, folks who would never be in a position to do anything for him in return.  He had a big heart, an instinctively generous bent.

How much punishment is enough?

Sal DiMasi is 68 years old.  He lost his reputation, his license to practice law, his means of earning a living, his pension.  He exhausted his savings in his legal defense.   Then he lost his freedom and his health.   Recent reports indicate that he’s lost a great deal of weight and has difficulty swallowing solid food.  If that is not the definition of a “broken man,” I’ve never seen one.

Here’s another pertinent consideration:

If DiMasi had pleaded guilty before trial, he would have received a much lighter sentence, maybe as “light” as four years, in which case he’d now be eligible for a compassionate release because his health is so bad.

Yes, a significant part of his punishment is due the fact he believed in his innocence and had the temerity to act on that belief.  It’s always been that way when defendants deal with the prosecution.  It doesn’t make it right.  Too often it makes for too much punishment.

Worcester Mayor Favors Guv Longshot and Other Disparate, Attention Grabbing Items

Monday, February 10, 2014

Worcester Mayor Joe Petty publicly endorsed way-under-dog Joe Avellone for governor last week.  Avellone, an executive at a drug-development company and a former selectman in the Town of Wellesley, is one of five candidates in the Democratic primary.  This obviously disappointed Attorney General Martha Coakley, who holds a huge lead in polls among Democrats and Independents who say they will take a Democratic ballot in the primary, and State Treasurer Steve Grossman.  Apart from the mayor’s obvious affection for Avellone, whose wife is from a prominent Worcester family, the endorsement was a good move for Petty in that it made news around the state and it reminded statewide office holders and would-be office holders that they have to pay attention to New England’s second largest city.  You can be sure Charlie Baker, the presumptive Republican nominee, will be energetically courting Mayor Petty in the likely event Avellone does not win the nomination.  There are a lot of votes in Worcester County, a fact Ed Markey never lost sight in his race for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate last year.

Speaking of Democrats, Peter Lucas had a great column in last week on how difficult it is for a state treasurer or an attorney general to be elected governor.  The only time a treasurer has won the top job in modern history, Lucas noted, was 60 years ago when Foster Furcolo did it.  “But perhaps the best thing he (Grossman) has going for him is that his main Democrat Party opponent for governor is Attorney General Martha Coakley,” Lucas wrote.  “Voters in Massachusetts do not elect attorney generals governor either.  Two of Coakley’s immediate incumbent predecessors – Tom Reilly and Scott Harshbarger – ran for governor and lost, as did former Attorney General Frank Bellotti in 1990, as well as the late Attorney General Robert H. Quinn in 1974.  The road to the governor’s office is simply strewn with candidates who came out of the offices of state treasurer and attorney general.”  You can find that Lucas column at: http://www/

Mitt Romney proved you could become governor, and actually govern, without developing a relationship with most members of the legislature, or even knowing who most legislators were.  This  must comfort Jeff McCormick as he recovers from an interview last week with Jim Braude on Boston public radio.  According to the State House News Service, Braude asked McCormick, a new Independent candidate for governor, if he had voted in local elections.  When McCormick assured him he had, Braude followed up, the SHNS reported, by asking whether he has done any work with local representatives or senators; when McCormick said he hadn’t, Braude asked if he knew who his local representatives in the legislature are.  McCormick reportedly responded:  “You know.  Do I know?  No. Our reps and senators – I never work with them.” 

When Senate President Therese Murray announced this past Saturday she would not seek re-election to the Senate this fall and would serve as president through 2014, the Boston Globe contacted several current and former legislative leaders for comment.  Former Minority Leader Richard Tisei paid Murray what may well be the highest compliment she will ever receive, in my opinion.  “Although we were on opposite sides of the aisle, I had a lot of respect for her, because she ran the Senate in a very professional and effective way,” Tisei was quoted as saying.  “At a time when you can look down in Washington and see how poisonous things are down there, she took great pains to make sure the atmosphere in the Senate was one in which everybody could work together…Democrat or Republican, everyone looked forward to going into work, and that’s a great legacy to leave behind.”  Everyone looked forward to going into work.  Can a boss generate higher praise than that?  I’m sure Tisei said that knowing Murray, a traditional, party-loyal Democrat, will never endorse him in his congressional race rematch with John Tierney.

To Shape His Message This Time, Baker Took the Talent from the Opposing Bench

Friday, February 7, 2014

You keep hearing from Republicans that Charlie Baker doesn’t need to be “packaged” in his campaign for governor this year.  “He just needs to be himself,” they say.

“It’s just a question of letting Charlie be Charlie,” opined Richard Tisei, who ran for lieutenant governor in 2010 on the ticket with Baker.

I would never put my judgment on a political matter above Richard’s.

So I add my voice to those who would say:

Get out of the way, you well-intentioned Republicans who somehow prevented or discouraged Charlie from being Charlie on the campaign trail four years ago.

Get out of the way and make room for the big guy’s new messaging guru, Will Keyser, President of Keyser Public Strategies, 18 Tremont St., Boston. 

This Keyser knows his stuff.  Otherwise, Marty Meehan and Ted Kennedy never would have hired him. 

And Mike Sheehan never would have made him a senior vice president at the renowned advertising agency of Hill Holiday.

You Grand Old Partiers want to win, right?  So listen to what this young (44) Democratic gunslinger has to say.

That Will Keyser made his bones working for the late liberal lion of the U.S. Senate and the tribune of the Lowell working class should not trouble you at all.

Who better to save your butts in a lopsidedly Democratic state than a former (and potentially future) Democratic mastermind?

Keyser graduated from George Washington University in 1991, served as Meehan’s chief of staff for a good part of the Nineties, then went to work as communications director for Senator Kennedy.  Hill Holiday snatched him from the political world in 2002. 

Keyser rose quickly in the agency and could have stayed there beyond the six-year run he had. Sheehan, Hill Holiday’s former chairman and the newly anointed president of John Henry’s Boston Globe, loves the guy.  On Keyser’s web site, there’s a blurb from him saying he trusts Keyser “implicitly.”

That should make Baker’s mandatory pilgrimages to Morrissey Boulevard a little easier.

Keyser went into business for himself in 2008 and has enjoyed a level of success that would make anyone in a creative field who ever dreamed of commanding his world from the comfort of a home office jealous.

Keyser’s a good fit in Baker’s inner circle -- a super-smart and tough-minded manager, like the man he answers to, and a non-doctrinaire moderate who knows how to craft a message that appeals to the largest possible audience.

There are roughly 700,000 more Independent voters in Massachusetts than Democrats.  And Democrats outnumber Republicans three to one.  One can see where Keyser’s ad agency experience will be of greater use to him in capturing Independent votes than his work with Democratic pooh-bahs.  But, any way you look at Keyser's resume, Charlie Baker benefits.