Rick Perry's No Ernie Moniz, and Other Ramblings of an Under-Capacitated Brain

Friday, March 3, 2017

NUCLEAR STEWARD ON STEEP LEARNING CURVE - Former Texas governor Rick Perry was confirmed by the U.S. Senate yesterday as secretary of the federal agency he once advocated eliminating, Energy, but whose name he famously could not recall during a big moment in a presidential debate, a lapse that doomed his faltering  candidacy.   Yesterday, Perry was quickly sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence.  Nice color photos of him taking the oath of office soon appeared online.  Perry’s wearing a Trumpian tie of blazing red and Clark Kent-style glasses.  He’s standing tall, erect and confident -- so confident he must have banished, at least for the moment, all thoughts of his illustrious predecessor as Secretary of Energy, Fall River’s own Ernie Moniz, a Ph.D. from Stanford, long-time professor at MIT, and world-renowned physicist.  When Trump offered Perry the top position at Energy in December, the New York Times reported, Perry “gladly accepted, believing he was taking on a role as a global ambassador for the American oil and gas energy that he had long championed in his home state.”  Only later did he discover “he would be no such thing – that in fact, if confirmed by the Senate, he would become the steward of a vast national security complex he knew almost nothing about, caring for the most fearsome weapons on the planet, the United States’ nuclear arsenal.” 

A QUESTION THAT SCREAMS, ‘FINESSE ME’ - A late-January poll by WBUR and MassINC revealed that Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly favor the so-called “millionaire’s surtax,” which will be a referendum question on the November, 2018, statewide ballot.  Forty-eight percent of respondents indicated they “strongly support” the surtax; 29% said they support it “somewhat.”   If passed, the referendum would amend the state constitution in order to allow a 4% surtax on annual household incomes of $1 million or more.  The new tax would be in addition to the existing 5.1% flat income tax paid by all residents.  When he read those poll results, Charlie Baker reached, I imagine, for an aspirin bottle.  As a fiscal conservative, the flaws in the surtax are obvious to him.  As a practical politician, the risks of voicing opposition to it and/or openly campaigning against it next year are equally clear.  The beating he took this past November on highly contentious ballot questions is still fresh:  voters rejected Baker’s energetic and sustained arguments on legalizing marijuana for fun (against) and increasing the number of charter schools (for).   Referenda are rough for this Republican.  Running for re-election next year, and facing a Democrat who is certain to be hitting him hard for not hitting Trump hard, Baker will most likely punt on the surtax.   “I have some concerns about the possible unforeseen consequences of a surtax,” he will have to say, “but I will certainly abide by the will of the voters.”
TREADING CAREFULLY ROUND THE ‘PEOPLE’S LAWYER’ - Baker has to be relieved that Maura Healey, the Commonwealth’s popular, omnipresent Democrat attorney general, appears to have firmly ruled out running for governor next year.  About two weeks ago, responding to questions on WGBH Boston Public Radio, Healey said, “You know, as lawyers, sometimes you get in the courtroom and the other side objects and they say, ‘Asked and answered.’  That’s a little how I feel on this one (question of challenging Baker in 2018).  I’m running for re-election.  I think that my job as attorney general, it’s never been as important as it is now to do my job and do my job well.  Certainly we have our hands full, so that’s what I’m focused on.”  Others smiling broadly now that Healey’s staying put are Setti Warren, former mayor of Newton, and Jay Gonzalez, former secretary of administration and finance in the Deval Patrick administration, both of whom are already running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.  After one of Healey’s earlier disavowals of a run for governor, Warren issued a press release flowing with Maura love.  “I am glad that she will be a leader of the Democratic ticket in 2018 as she asks voters for another term as the People’s Lawyer,” Warren said.  You bet he is.

A LISTENING TOUR ON THE LEVEL FOR ONCE - There’s nothing I usually laugh at more than the notion of a would-be candidate going on a listening tour.  My problem with this staple of politics is that I’ve never seen anyone come back from such a jaunt and tell us he wasn’t going to run because he’d earnestly sought to discern the mood of the electorate and the electorate had told him, “We think you’d be a lousy candidate. Don’t run.  Please.”  I’m making an exception in the case of the estimable Dan Wolf of Harwich, former Democrat state senator from Cape Cod, as Dan is a sincere servant of the public, one who truly listens, and enjoys listening, to people.  Wolf also has the honesty to tell the world at the conclusion of his particular tour, which commenced on Feb. 16: “I’d like to be the governor of Massachusetts.  I believe I’d be a very good governor.  However, I did not sense that my candidacy would be successful.  Therefore, I shall not make the extraordinary effort required of a committed candidate for governor.”  Wolf did not build Cape Air, a regional airline, into a behemoth from scratch by missing the facts.  I hasten to add that Wolf’s listening/speaking tour could legitimately uncover much evidence that he’d be a strong candidate.  Charlie Baker, Setti Warren and Jay Gonzalez have likely already come to that conclusion.
A STRATEGIC RETREAT, PERHAPS  – Evan Falchuk’s dream of building his baby, the United Independent Party (UIP), into a legitimate third party expired quietly on Feb. 13, a purported victim of the widespread anxiety induced by the Trump presidency.  In an announcement that day, Falchuk said he was changing his party registration to Democrat because the Democratic Party is “the only organization strong enough for the fight against the excesses of the Trump administration.”  Normally, guys who start their own political parties are uncontrollable egomaniacs and/or conspiracy theorists.  Falchuk was the exception:  a young, charming family man and lawyer cum health care executive from Auburndale -- a graduate of Noble and Greenough, Lehigh, and the University of Pennsylvania Law School.  Not at all a nut.  I remember watching him in a televised debate in 2014 when he was running for governor.  He was patently intelligent, had charisma, and the camera loved him.  Thoroughly at ease, he actually seemed to be having fun, which made it fun to watch him.  Do not be surprised if Falchuk seeks some office as a Democrat next year, say lieutenant governor or secretary of state.  


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