In Cambridge May Be Found One Reticent Pol/GoodSon/Serious Legislator

Thursday, June 30, 2016

I’m trying to decide what I like most about Cambridge rep David Rogers’s maiden speech.  It’s a toss-up among three things:

One, Rogers waited three-and-a-half years to give his maiden speech; two, Rogers spoke lovingly of his recently deceased mother; three, Rogers was advocating for a good bill he’s sponsoring that would increase penalties on anyone convicted of trying to get someone else to commit a felony.
An attorney, Rogers is obviously no show-off or camera hog.  On the contrary, he seems remarkably secure and low-key for someone of his ilk.  Rogers was first elected in the fall of 2012 and re-elected two years later.  Yet he waited til the second year of his second term was almost half over before formally addressing his colleagues from the House rostrum on June 22.  Most politicians get this over with in their rookie years.

Lyndon Johnson famously divided legislators into two categories: show horses and workhorses.  This Rogers has to be a workhorse
Thanks to the State House News Service, we have a pretty good transcript of Rogers’s speech, which went as follows:

“I rise in strong support of this bill (An Act to Properly Punish the Solicitation of Felony Crimes), which I introduced.  Given that this is the first time I’ve addressed my colleagues, I want to offer some thanks.  First, I want to thank my constituents: I never take for granted your support.  Mr. Speaker (Robert DeLeo), I’d like to thank you for your guidance and leadership.  Louis Brandeis said the states are laboratories of our democracy.  If that was true when he first said it, it has never been truer than right now.  With our federal government gridlocked, the states have had to sept into the void and provide leadership.  Under you, Mr. Speaker, that’s exactly what we have done.  We have had tremendous leadership.
“I also want to thank my family.  My campaign in 2012 was largely a family affair.  I also want to acknowledge my mom.  Many of you know I recently lost my mom, and I want to thank you all for offering your kindness during this time.  She grew up on a tiny farm in Iowa; they lost everything in the Great Depression.  My father came back from World War Two and started a family.  I lost my father when I was 12 and my mom stepped up tremendously.  My mom loved this place, Mr. Speaker.  I remember calling you to ask if she could sit next to me when I was sworn in, and before I even put the phone down, work came back that you would set up a chair for her.  My mom loved the stories of this place. 

“When I was running, a guy asked me what I was going to do about Putin.  I thought President Obama had joined me at my event or something.  I told him that I was running for the state legislature, not a federal office.  He said, ‘You aren’t even in office yet and you’re already making excuses.’  So I told him, ‘If I’m elected, I’ll sit down with Vladimir Putin and tell him a thing or two.’  The guy said, ‘Well, you’ve got my vote!’
“I come from Cambridge and 12 of the bills I introduced this session had to do with lightening the foot of our criminal justice system.  I think we’ve gone too far with things like mandatory minimums and mass incarceration.  The district attorney came to me and said a guy went to an undercover cop to have his wife killed.  But, because the cop did not have the intent to kill (since he was a police officer), the guy could only be charged with solicitation and not conspiracy.  This bill fixes a major shortcoming in our system and I’m proud to support it.  Thank you, Mr. Speaker.”  

One of the better rituals of the legislature revolves around the importance of a legislator’s maiden speech.  The presiding officer always gives the rep or senator in this situation a special introduction. All members remain quietly and attentively in their seats while the speech is being delivered, which rarely happens otherwise.  And at the end, there’s loud applause and every member quickly lines up to shake the maiden orator’s hand and offer effusive congratulations.  Legislators always remember the time they gave their maiden speeches and can easily recall what they spoke about on those occasions.
Beyond the above (unfamiliar to him) pleasures of the spotlight, Rep. Rogers got to enjoy the thrill of having his maiden speech lead immediately to a unanimous 153-0 vote to enact An Act to Properly Punish the Solicitation of Felony Crimes, now numbered House Bill 4005.  The bill has been sent to the Senate, where it would seem, by virtue of having no apparent, serious opposition in or outside the State House, to have a good chance of passage before the legislature must end all formal sessions on July 31.

Scott Brown's Trump-Dream Erupts from a Spring of Intrinsic Ambition

Friday, June 17, 2016

This past Sunday night, June 12, before all of the dead had been identified on the premises of Pulse, the gay nightclub in Orlando, Donald Trump sent out a Tweet that said:

“Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism.”
Ignore for a minute what that says about Trump’s selfishness and narcissism, which impel him to seek immediate political gain from a mass murder, and consider what it says about his impulse toward snap decisions on incomplete evidence.  Might this be a warning sign regarding the character of a potential commander-in-chief?

While the slaughter was unfolding, the gunman had proclaimed his allegiance to the Islamic State. Within 36 hours, it was revealed that he had patronized the club on at least several occasions, suggesting that inner conflicts and turmoil contributed as much to the rampage as distorted religious convictions may have.
Now consider the former junior United States senator from Massachusetts, Scott Brown, an early endorser of Trump.

On Monday, June 13, while in the company of Trump in New Hampshire, Brown told NBC News that he felt “comfortable” with the direction the campaign was taking.  “I’m pleased in the direction of the campaign. They’re focusing on things that people care about – the economy, and, obviously, terrorism,” he said.
There’s a man I know in Wakefield, Massachusetts, where Brown grew up.  This man is a contemporary and lifelong friend of Brown; he and Brown are close friends.  I very much respect this person and his judgment. When he tells me Brown is a good person and a great guy, which he does, I believe him. Wholeheartedly.

One of the knocks on Brown has always been that he’s more show than substance.  He was a professional male model in his younger days and remains exceptionally handsome and buff at age 56.  He’s frequently photographed alongside his glamorous and similarly youthful wife, Gail Huff, after doing something strenuous and dashing, like competing in a triathalon.
Brown had a so-so career in the Massachusetts House and Senate.  Then he unexpectedly caught fire in the 2010 Senate campaign against Martha Coakley; was a media superstar for about a year; then flamed out against Elizabeth Warren when trying for re-election.  Many political pros dismissed his campaign against Warren as clunky and uninspired.

I have never accepted the notion that Brown is a lightweight.
Someone lacking in intelligence could not have done what Brown did in pulling himself through -- and up from -- a very hard and difficult childhood in Wakefield, as detailed in his 2011 memoir, “Against All Odds.”  Many kids who endure similar hardships never make it out of high school.

A dullard could not have earned degrees from Tufts University (with honors) and the law school at Boston College, as Brown did, in 1981 and 1985, respectively.  While at Tufts, he further demonstrated quickness of mind on the inter-collegiate basketball circuit.
So Brown most certainly grasps how offensive Trump is when he scapegoats immigrants, casts suspicion on all Muslims, treats women as bimbos, makes fun of the handicapped, encourages people at his rallies to punch out protesters, etc.  Here we have a smart, savvy, mature man, a moderate Republican who has always worked hard at being likeable, as most every politician has, a man who’s willing to overlook a lot of unsavory stuff about Trump even though he knows some of that stuff is rubbing off on him now and will likely stick to him for years.

One must conclude that Brown really, truly is hoping to become Trump’s choice for vice president.  Speculation to that effect has been rife for months.  Brown might well see the Trump express as his last ticket to political power and glory.  This small-town kid has always had within him biggest-town ambition. 
Ambition. It’s the explanation behind all other explanations in everyone who seeks high office. 

Brown’s thinking of the vice presidency, meaning he’s thinking of his chances of becoming president. [FACT: 14 vice presidents have become president, 8 on the occasion of the death of the sitting president.]
Remember, they called him Downtown Scotty Brown in high school and college because he had a marvelous way with a long shot.

In conclusion, consider the words of President Obama on the afternoon of June 14:

“This is a country founded on basic freedoms, including freedom of religion.  We don’t have religious tests here.  Our founders, our Constitution, our Bill of Rights are clear about that.  And, if we ever abandon those values, we would not only make it a lot easier to radicalize people here and around the world but we would have betrayed the very things we were trying to protect: the pluralism and the openness, our rule of law, our civil liberties.  The very things that make this country great.  The very things that make us exceptional.  And then the terrorists would have won.  And we cannot let that happen.  I will not let that happen.”

Romney Wants to Be Above Battle in Utah but Battle Keeps Reaching for Him

Friday, June 10, 2016

I don’t think Trump is qualified to be president. I don’t think it is possible for Trump to win the general election, his impressive string of Republican primary victories notwithstanding.  I’ve felt that way for a long time.

I began reconsidering that assumption this morning when I read a Washington Post article on how former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney had convened his annual “ideas festival” last night in that one-percenters heaven, Park City, Utah.  The official name of the Mitt-fest is “Experts and Enthusiasts Summit,” or E2 for short.  (Please tell me you’re surprised I was not invited.)
The E2 Summit is “not intended to be a political forum,” according to the Post, “but rather is a Romney-designed version of the Aspen Ideas Festival.”  (Aspen, why don’t you ever call me?)

The Post article said:
“The E2 summit is the first of what will be many events in which Republican elites begin to talk and think about a post-Trump era, in the event he loses to presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.  Many of the roughly 300 people assembling at the five-star Stein Eriksen Lodge Deer Valley for three days of colloquiums and seminars will be thinking about who might lead their party after November…

“The event comes amid chatter in some Republican circles about ways to establish party rules that could somehow deny Trump the nomination at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland next month.  Those conversations underscore the continuing discomfort with Trump, yet have produced nothing concrete, either in terms of a clear strategy or a consensus alternative candidate.”
If Romney thinks Trump’s a goner, I’m scared.  Very scared. 

Mitt is an exceptional human being in so many respects but the trait for politicking is totally absent from his DNA.  On political matters, he has the opposite of “touch.”  Recall, please, how he went public March 3 with a scathing attack on Trump as a “fake” and how Trump promptly went up in the polls.

Juicily, the E2 Summit has led to speculation that folks in Romney’s camp are hoping to deny the nomination to Trump or to draw Romney into some new third party kind of try for the presidency this November.
“Romney has steadfastly refused to run again, though the reunion here of his friends and allies is expected to produce some encouragement from well-wishers for him to reconsider, as it has the previous two years here,” said the Post.

A Republican strategist, Rick Wilson, was quoted as saying, “We’re at the point now where Mitt is the last dog in this fight who can run a credible third-party effort.  There will be tremendous pressure on him.”
Republicans would be wise to devise a means of stealing the nomination from Trump and bestowing it on Romney next month.  Sure, there’d be a lot of screaming from the Republican rank and file, roughly 62% of whom voted for Trump in the primaries, but it would die down in a matter of weeks.  The Trumpophiles would then realize they’d rather have Romney in the White House than Hillary and Bill again.

With Romney as the standard bearer, the G.O.P. would win even if Romney lost because it would have been spared the damage to down-ticket Republican congressional candidates and the irreparable harm to its standing among minority voters and immigrants that would have resulted from a Trump candidacy.
On balance, there’s an excellent chance Mitt “Spotless” Romney could match up well in this race against Hillary “Server-in-Home” Clinton.

For a gleeful take on how Republican bigwigs could maneuver Trump out of the nomination, see an article published yesterday in the online version of The New Yorker, “How to Feel the G.O.P.’s Pain Over Donald Trump,” by John Cassidy:

For Cassidy’s benefit, Hugh Hewitt, a conservative radio talk show host, offered a couple of possible methods (to screw Trump). “One was to make the first two ballots advisory,” Cassidy writes, “which would allow delegates who are committed to Trump to switch preferences on the third ballot.  Another was to require a supermajority of votes on the first ballot, which could conceivably prevent Trump from scoring a decisive victory.”
Further, Cassidy writes, “Once you grasp the idea that the G.O.P. conventioneers can make up their own rules, the possibilities seem endless.”

It is these possibilities that will likely keep Mitt tossing in his five-star bed this weekend.
Speaking of upright Republicans, I can’t understand why Geoff Diehl, a G.O.P. state rep from Whitman and a Trump supporter, has entered the fray as Trump fends off charges – from Republican U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan of all people – that he, Trump, was racist in his comments about Judge Gonzalo Curiel.  Then again, I can’t understand why Diehl, a very decent guy and a gentleman in every sense of the word, decided to support Trump, an obnoxious blowhard and natural-born bully, in the first place.

In an article today on the State House News Service, (“Diehl Stands by Trump Following His Comments on Judge”), Diehl was quoted as saying:
“I don’t understand why we talk about Mexico as a race.  Mexico is a country.  This is a nation.  We’re trying to have a secure border along the Mexican border, right?  He’s talking about the potential bias of the judge who’s worked clearly with LaRaza (a Latino lawyers association in California), who has efforts to try to get people into America.”




Think Tank's Alarming Report on MA Fiscal Health Not Shaking State House Walls

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

From what I can tell about the Mercatus Center, it won’t be going out of its way soon to hire anyone who worked for Ted Kennedy, or Tom Birmingham for that matter. 

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider, if only for a moment, what the center has to say about the financial health of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts – although there’s been no outward sign  anyone in a position of power in the legislature has given it even that much thought.
Last Wednesday, June 1, the center released the results of its 2016 study on the financial health of all 50 states, in which it ranked Massachusetts 49th.

Massachusetts deserves to be categorized among the worst five states, the center said, largely because it has low amounts of on-hand cash and large debt obligations. 
“Each of the bottom five states exhibits serious signs of fiscal distress, making these states’ debt levels look more like Puerto Rico,” the report asserts.  “Though the states’ economies may be stronger than Puerto Rico’s, allowing them to better navigate fiscal crises, their large debt levels still raise serious concerns.”

The report also asserted that “…High deficits and debt obligations in the forms of unfunded pensions and healthcare benefits continue to drive” each of the bottom five states “into fiscal peril.” 
Massachusetts and the other Mercatus bottom-dwellers  – Connecticut, New Jersey, Illinois and Kentucky – each hold “tens, if not hundreds, of billions of dollars in unfunded liabilities,” which constitute “a significant risk to taxpayers in both the short and long term,” the report said.

States ranked by the center in the top five, fiscal health-wise, were Alaska, Nebraska, Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota.  The report may be found in its entirety at:

Governor Charlie Baker was quick to throw cold water on the report.  In an interview with the Boston Herald, Baker pointed to the state’s high bond rating, which assures the state of favorable interest rates when borrowing, and the overall strength of the Massachusetts economy.
“Fitch (one of the agencies that issues bond ratings) actually came out and affirmed their (AA+) rating today and said that, among other things, we have a diversified and very successful economy,” Baker told the Herald.  “They also said we have a very strong working relationship with the legislature.  When we see problems, we articulate them and we solve them, and that’s going to continue to be the way we handle our fiscal situation…”

Two days after the release of the Mercatus report, on Friday, June 3, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue reported that, through May 31, state tax revenue is running $311 million below projections for Fiscal Year 2017 (July 1, 2015-June 30, 2016).  That picture is unlikely to improve much in one month, meaning the governor and legislature will be straining soon to close the gap before the fiscal year ends.
The Mercatus Center has been described as “a free-market-oriented research, education, and outreach think tank.”  (Mercatus is Latin for market.)  The center, a non-profit, is a big deal at George Mason University in Alexandria, Virginia, where it’s headquartered: it has an annual budget in excess of $10 million, and employs 71 persons on its faculty and 53 on its staff.

Tyler Cowen, who holds a doctorate in economics from Harvard, directs the Mercatus Center.  A prolific writer of books (“The Great Stagnation”) and journal articles, Cowen, age 54, was once described by the Los Angeles Times as “a man who can talk about Haitian voodoo flags, Iranian cinema, Hong Kong cuisine, Abstract Expressionism, Zairian music and Mexican folk art with seemingly equal facility.”
Wouldn’t you like to be a fly on the wall if Cowen ever got together for lunch at the State House with his fellow Harvard alum Baker?  They could discuss the GDP of the Netherlands and compare notes on their favorite health care accounting software.

In the next two years, there will likely come a time when Baker, struggling to make a point about how state government has to really tighten its belt, will be tempted to cite the work of the Mercatus Center.
After all, Greg Sullivan, a leader at the Pioneer Institute in Boston, which Baker once served as executive director, has called the Mercatus report “a wake-up call to elected officials, ” warning that “billions of dollars of unfunded obligations” is “looming beyond the (Massachusetts) horizon.”

For fear of offending the Democrats, who maintain total dominance of the legislature  -- and of being associated with the Koch brothers, the bogeymen of liberal bogeymen,  who have donated generously to the Mercatus Center – Baker will not give in to that temptation.