Blogster's Miscellany: Slow Probe, Elevated Risks, River Like a Sewer, and More

Thursday, December 27, 2018

TURTLES ARE THEY. They are either being very careful and painstaking or there’s a hell of a lot to investigate.  Come January, it will be one year since the start of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against former casino magnate Steve Wynn and how his former company, Wynn Resorts, handled those allegations prior to Wynn being granted the Eastern Massachusetts casino license.  Wynn Resorts, which has renamed its casino-under-construction in Everett “Encore Boston Harbor,” could potentially lose its Massachusetts license because of the investigation, but I doubt it will -- and I don’t believe it should, given the tens of millions it has spent on the environmental clean-up and restoration of the casino site on the banks of the Mystic River, where a chemical manufactory once stood.   Without Wynn Resorts the place would have remained a nasty, multi-acre toxic heap in perpetuity.

HOPING HYPOTHETICALS STAY THAT WAY. Recent developments in the stock market have rendered even more unsettling a report this past September from S&P Global Ratings, which placed Massachusetts at “elevated risk” of financial distress during a hypothetical recession.  Under S&P’s “moderate” recession scenario, Massachusetts could expect to experience a 10 percent revenue shortfall and the state’s Stabilization (a.k.a. Rainy Day) Fund could make up for only 62 percent of it.   S&P said only 20 states are well-positioned to weather the next recession, and Massachusetts isn’t one of them.  
GOVERNMENT SHOULDER-SHRUGGING.  If you want to lose your holiday glow really fast, read the Eagle Tribune story of how a couple of commercial buildings apparently dumped thousands of gallons of raw sewage into the Merrimack River for as long as a decade, [“Lawrence buildings disconnected from sewers for years dumped waste into Merrimack River,” 12-2-18].  If you neglect to repair a failure of your car’s emissions control system, you can have your registration suspended, but some people can avoid sanction while allegedly grossly polluting a drinking water source for years.  Years.  Here’s the link:

GOLDEN AGE OF REALTORS. The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman, reported today that the median sale price for a single-family home in Massachusetts reached an all-time high last month, for a November, of $385,000, up from $368,000 a year earlier.  I like owning a home I could never afford to purchase today until I consider all the young couples out there with $3,000-a-month mortgages, brutally long commutes, and 50-hour-a-week-plus work weeks.

WHO’S LOSING WHAT? Steve Aylward of Watertown, one of 70-plus members of the Republican State Committee, sent a lengthy email to his colleagues yesterday asking them to face the “bitter truth” that the Massachusetts Republican Party “is all but irrelevant.”  It’s a long message.  Towards the end, Aylward, a Boston College grad who describes himself as a manager in the banking and information systems industries, gets to what really seems to be eating at him. “I could go on about our failings, why we lose and how our leadership maintains control in spite of those habitual losses,” he writes. “But while we fiddle, the country burns.  Because if you watch the News with any regularity, you know that we are losing our country.  There will be little left of the country we knew when our children and grand-children come of age.”
SOME PERSONS CAN DO AN AWFUL LOT IN 17 YEARS.  In January, 2002, Katherine Clark became a member of the Melrose School Committee, the first elective office she ever held.  In January, 2019, shortly after she takes the oath of office for the third time as the representative for the 5th Massachusetts District, Clark, 55, will assume the position of Democratic caucus vice chair, the sixth highest ranking position in the U.S. House of Representatives.  Clark was elected vice chair by her Democrat peers.

LOVES TRUMP, AND DeLEO!  Geoff Diehl, Republican rep from Whitman who went all-in for Donald Trump in 2016 and ever since, gave his farewell speech on the floor of the Massachusetts House on Tuesday, Dec. 4, recalling how he happened to get a seat next to House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, at an event DeLeo hosted in 2010 for Republican members of the body.  It was “one of the greatest evenings of my life,” said Diehl, who gave up his House seat to challenge U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren and is reported to be angling/interviewing for a federal job appointment.  He added, “I will never forget how welcome Bob made me feel and how gracious he has been to members on both sides of the aisle during my time in this chamber.”  As far as his personality and demeanor go, Diehl is the antithesis of Trump.  Never have I understood how he fell for The Donald.
DO I HEAR AN AMEN? The Rev. Rick Walsh, Catholic chaplain of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, is known for his thoughtful, history-based prayers with which he opens the sessions of the lower branch.  Take what he said on Thursday, Oct. 4, for example: “God of justice and righteousness, we pray for the efforts of legislators and staff in crafting laws for Massachusetts as we remember that it was on this day in 1636 when leaders of the Plymouth Colony wrote the first code of laws in America.  They were known as the General Fundamentals.  The legal code included a simple bill of rights that guaranteed trial by jury.  The General Court of Plymouth Colony (the first legislature) levied taxes, decreed the distribution of land, and set out punishments for certain crimes.  Several crimes carried the death penalty, including witchcraft and adultery.  The use of profanity was to be punished by no more than three hours in the stock, and if one travelled, worked or participated in sports on the sabbath, the person would be fined 40 shillings or (given) a whipping.  God of truth, we are grateful for the wisdom of today’s General Court and the greater leniency and morality exhibited in its legislation.  May God continue to bless our Commonwealth.”

What I Would Have Told Those Fresh Faces at Academy for New Legislators

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Last week, members-elect of the Massachusetts legislature and legislators who won special elections during the 2017-18 session attended an Academy for New Legislators at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. 

An event designed to prepare them for their new responsibilities and to smooth their transitions to life in the legislature, the Academy included simulated committee hearings on bills, a simulated legislative session, question-and-answer sessions with current legislators, panel discussions on weighty topics (e.g., “the new world of communications”), presentations on the state budget process, the rules of the House and Senate, legislative ethics, and more.  (There were three days to kill here.)
Perusing the Academy web site the other day, I found myself daydreaming about what I would have said to those legislative newbies if, by some massive error or misunderstanding on the part of UMass, I was invited to speak there.

Daydreaming led to jotting ideas on paper.  Before I knew it, I had drafted a series of steps I’d recommend to anyone aspiring to mover-and-shaker status on Beacon Hill.  The working title I scrawled at the top of the page was: What to Do at the State House If You Don’t Want to Be Irrelevant
Here’s the text:

  1. Before you take the oath of office, carefully study legislature’s committee structure.
  2. Identify a committee or two that offers best chance of ultimately delivering something your district badly needs and/or could benefit from in multiple ways.
  3. Upon taking office, establish friendships with alpha dogs in your branch: House Speaker, Senate President, Majority Leaders, Ways & Means Chairs, et al.
  4. Do not be shy about expressing your interest in serving on the committee of your dreams.
  5. If appointed to said committee, work hard and long at the business at hand.
  6. Constantly build and deepen relationships with alpha dogs.
  7. Become an expert on issues under your dream committee’s purview.
  8. Maximize all networking opportunities so that peers come to recognize your expertise.
  9. Get re-elected.
  10. During second term, successfully seek vice chairmanship of committee.
  11. Pay attention to everything “in the building.” Work hard, work smart.
  12. Get re-elected.
  13. During third term, secure committee chairmanship if it becomes available. (By virtue of chairmanship, you are now considered a member of leadership.)
  14. Over time, strongly define your leadership profile while remaining humble and helpful to all, and especially to Speaker or President.
  15. Become trusted, ever dependable insider on small team around Speaker or President.
  16. Get re-elected.
  17. When time is ripe, when all ducks are lined up, introduce your district’s dream project and start calling in chits to move it forward.
  18. Work hard but don’t ever show the strain. 
  19. Develop the patience of a sage.
  20. Help other leadership members with their priorities at every juncture.
  21. Don’t talk too much or issue oodles of press releases.
  22. Do everything possible, every little thing, to move dream project over goal lines in both House and Senate, while also cultivating Governor and staff on the side.  (You’ll need him or her to sign your bill or approve your budget item.)
  23. Get re-elected. 
  24. Repeat process next session.
If the new legislators doubted my formula, I would have encouraged them to do a little research on John D. Keenan of Salem, a Harvard grad and attorney who served in the House (2005-2014) and is now president of Salem State University.  When he entered the legislature, Keenan knew the big coal-fired power plant in his city, a major taxpayer and employer, was coming to the end of its useful life, and would have to be phased out at some time during his expected tenure. 

Keenan then set out to become a member and eventual House chairman of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, a perch from which he engineered a special section of an energy bill that delivered millions of dollars to Salem to compensate it for the loss of the plant and to help the city redevelop the site. 

This was a once-in-a-generation development for Keenan’s community.  He pulled the operation off masterfully with the state senator then responsible for Salem, the late, great Fred Berry of Peabody. 
Shamelessly, I would have recommended to Academy goers that they begin their research at a blog post I wrote in August of 2012.  Here’s a link to that post:

So Many Positives with George H.W. Bush. Then There's the War His Son Started.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

George H.W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States of America, was born in a home in Milton, Massachusetts, on June 12, 1924, and died yesterday shortly after 10:00 P.M. at his home in Houston, Texas.  In between, he led an incredibly meaningful and eventful life: he was a decorated Navy pilot in World War II, millionaire oilman, congressman, chairman of the Republican National Committee, ambassador to the United Nations, first U.S. envoy to communist China, director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Vice President, President, and father of the 43rd President, his namesake, George W. Bush.

Mr. Bush, who was 94 years old when he died, was a patriot in the oldest and deepest sense of the term.  The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor six months before he was to graduate from Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and he decided that day he would go off to war as soon he finished high school.  "I could hardly wait to get out of school and enlist," he wrote.  He became the youngest Navy pilot in the war and risked his life in 58 combat missions, flying a one-engine bomber off aircraft carriers in the Pacific.  He was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross.

Mr. Bush was what Massachusetts and other New England States used to be filled with: a Yankee Republican.  This was a breed of conservative, hard-working, understated, public-minded, country-loving patriots whose grandfathers built what used to be called more frequently than it is today "the party of Abraham Lincoln." 

To make his way in the world of politics in his adopted state, he morphed himself into a pork-rind-chewing, horseshoe tossing Texan who bragged about trying to "kick a little ass" in his vice presidential debate with Geraldine Ferraro in 1980 but he was never really convincing or even comfortable in that role.  At heart, he was a polite, considerate, charitable and self-effacing gentleman of means.  No wonder he spent so much time in Maine, his mother's state.  He always fit in better there than in Texas.

Had George H.W. Bush been born in America in the 18th Century rather than in the 20th, it's not hard to imagine him as a delegate to the Continental Congress from Massachusetts -- his ancestors were all over the Bay Colony -- and as an aide-de-camp to George Washington during the Revolutionary War, in which he would have fought valiantly.  That's how true of a true-blue American he was.

Mr. Bush was like our founding fathers in other ways, too, which is to say he was far from perfect -- and not always nearly as courageous in politics as in combat.  He spoke out against the Civil Rights Act when he was trying to get elected to Congress, and later expressed regrets at having done so.

Many years later, when he came out of the Republican convention in 1988 as the nominee for President and was 17 percentage points behind Massachusetts Governor Michael S. Dukakis, the Democrat nominee for President, he did not hesitate to adopt the strategy concocted by his handlers to demonize Dukakis as an ultra-liberal, card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union who was uncomfortable making schoolchildren recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag.  Mr. Bush also signed onto the racially tinged strategy devised by his campaign manager, Lee Atwater, to fill the airwaves with ads highlighting a Dukakis administration policy that granted weekend furloughs from prison to murderers, one of whom, Willie Horton, who was black, raped a white woman and stabbed her husband while on furlough.

In 1991, when Mr. Atwater was dying of a brain tumor, he made an apology to Mr. Dukakis in the pages of a national magazine.  He said, "...I said that I 'would strip the bark off the little bastard' and 'make Willie Horton his running mate.'  I am sorry for both statements: the first for its naked cruelty, the second because it makes me sound racist, which I am not."  Further, he said, "In part because of our successful manipulation of campaign themes, George Bush won handily," and this, "While I didn't invent negative politics, I am one of its most ardent practitioners."

Naked cruelty.  Manipulation of campaign themes.  Ardent practice of negative politics.

Because he benefited from all of the above, these are all a part of George H.W. Bush's legacy.

Although he was a man of physical courage, personal rectitude and decency, devotion to duty, strong family values, and deep love of country, there will always be one very large reason to regret there ever was a George H.W. Bush presidency, his many positive accomplishments as president, such as how he handled the peaceful demise of the Soviet Union and ended the war to liberate Kuwait early, notwithstanding.  I'm referring to the presidency of George W. Bush. 

Without the first President Bush there never would have been a second President Bush.  Without a second President Bush, there never would have been a misbegotten, needless, seven-year, trillion-dollar war in Iraq (March 2003-December 2011).

As Michael S. Dukakis lamented many a time, "If I hadn't lost to the father, we never would have had the son and that terrible war he started."

In addition to its monumentally stunning cost of $1.06 trillion, entirely financed by deficit spending, the war killed 4,424 Americans and wounded 31,952, many of whom were permanently disabled, blinded and/or maimed for life.  This was the war of bombs planted in roadsides, the improvised explosive devices.

Then there are the hellish costs on the Iraqi side of the ledger.  Close to half a million Iraqis died from war-related causes, according to an academic study published in the fall of 2013.  An article on the study published at that time in the Huffington Post, and updated in December 2017, stated:

"The latest estimate by university researchers in the United States, Canada and Baghdad in cooperation with the Iraqi Ministry of Health covers not only violent deaths but other avoidable deaths linked to the invasion, insurgencies and subsequent social breakdown. 

"It also differs from some previous counts by spanning a longer period of time and by using randomized surveys of households across Iraq to project a nationwide death toll from 2003 to mid-2011. 

"Violence caused most of the deaths, but about a third were indirectly linked to the war, and these deaths have been left out of previous counts, said lead author Amy Hagopian, a public health researcher at the University of Washington.

"Those included situations when a pregnant woman encountered difficult labor but could not leave the house due to fighting, or when a person drank contaminated water, or when a patient could not get treated at a hospital because staff was overwhelmed with war casualties."

There are those who believe that George W. Bush went to war in Iraq to finish the job his father should have when he called an early halt to the war in Kuwait, as our troops were advancing toward Baghdad. It has been said the younger Bush was driven by vengeance against Iraq President Saddam Hussein because Hussein was involved in an unsuccessful plot to assassinate his father after he had left the presidency.  We'll never know if these things are true.

We know for sure, however, that George and Barbara Bush produced a son of such hubris that he readily bought into the wildly ill-founded and absurd-in-retrospect premise of his Vice President, Dick Cheney, to wit, that the Iraqi people would welcome the conquering Americans in 2003 with flowers, and that the U.S. would be able to pay for what they hoped and believed would be a short war with the proceeds from the sale of Iraqi oil.

Deval Patrick's Running for President and, Don't Laugh, He Could Win

Friday, November 30, 2018

You and I will never have a credible pathway to the presidency of the United States, but if we did, we would take it.

That's why former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (2007-15) will be a candidate for president in 2020.   He probably won't win, but he could win; therefore, he'd be crazy not to give it a shot..

Here's how a successful candidacy could unroll for the man I call, admiringly, the Buddha of America politics:

A naturally gifted, superb one-on-one campaigner, Patrick goes to Iowa early and often.  He connects exceptionally well with small audiences everywhere he goes, and, after weeks of  quietly going about the business of retail campaigning in small towns and at rural farm crossroads, his candidacy catches fire.  One day the sun comes up in Iowa and everyone's talking about this guy from Massachusetts by way of Chicago.

In the state caucuses on Feb. 3, 2020, he manages a strong second-place finish.

The wind in his sails, the campaign moves to New Hampshire, where a smitten national media covers every move of the Patrick campaign and every word on the stump of Patrick himself.  A legion of Deval loyalists from Massachusetts pours into the state to volunteer in the campaign and testify to the goodness of their man.

Patrick wins the February 11, 2020, New Hampshire primary and is now a legitimate presidential contender.  Several prominent Democratic governors and senators join his campaign. 

The first truly huge day of the 2020 race for the nomination, Super Tuesday, is coming up fast, on March 3. There will likely be primaries in 10 states that day: Alabama, California, Georgia, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Vermont. Patrick, as the Democratic frontrunner coming out of New Hampshire, wins six of them: California, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Vermont.

Then he picks up victories in Florida and Illinois, which will be holding their primaries on Tuesday, March 17.

From there, he's virtually a shoe-in for the Democratic nomination for president.  He's too smart, and too good a campaigner to blow it at that point.

In November, he goes up against a beleaguered Donald Trump, presuming the president is not indicted or impeached by then.  With the economy in recession and the Make America Great Again vow looking increasingly ridiculous, Patrick wins by 50 electoral votes, 294 to 244.

Writing in a recent edition of The New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin said, "Patrick would enter the (presidential) race with one significant distinction: he is a kind of political heir to Barack Obama, and enjoys broad support from people close to the former President."

Toobin quoted David Axelrod, one of the few true masterminds of Obama's political ascent, who later worked in Patrick's 2006 gubernatorial campaign, as saying about Patrick, "He is a guy who makes people feel comfortable.  He's very principled, you can see that -- just like Obama."

I don't think Patrick can win the nomination in 2020.   But he has a chance.  If he did capture the nomination, he'd have a good chance of beating Trump and a decent chance of beating some other Republican.  The man has to run.

Post-Script, 12/6/18:  My crystal ball is broken: Deval Patrick announced today that he will not be a candidate for president in 2020.

You Don't Need a Study to Figure Out Declining T Ridership

Monday, November 26, 2018

The economy of metropolitan Boston is booming, employment is near historic highs, and more young people than ever want to live and work in Boston, so one would think that ridership on the MBTA would be increasing.  One would think wrong.

According to a report delivered during a meeting of the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board today in Boston, overall subway ridership is down 1.6 percent for the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2019 (July 1-September 30, 2018).

Things are worse on the subway line I frequent. The board was informed that, over the past five years, ridership has declined 2.5 percent on the Orange Line, which runs from Oak Grove Station in Malden, at the Melrose line, to Forest Hills Station in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston.

I hope they won't spend on a marketing study to determine why riders are shunning the T. The reasons are obvious to anyone who has to use the T: on the Orange and Red subway lines, for example, service is generally slow, equipment breakdowns and "signal problems" are common, and the cars are packed tighter than a carry-on bag on an airplane.

During rush hours, you often can't get on a train when one finally arrives, and if you are able to squeeze in one of the fully functioning doors, you have an involuntary up-close-and-personal experience with total strangers for next 15 or 20 minutes.  The strangers love it as much as you.

We ride the Orange and Red lines because we have no other way of getting to or from work.  Captive audiences are us. 

If you can opt out of the T, you have.

A few minutes after I read the State House News Service account of today's control board session, I happened upon Globe reporter Adam Vaccaro's article on, "Old Orange Line cars gear up for their final rides."The first cars of what will be a new fleet of 150 Orange Line cars are expected to be put into service late this year or early next, the article said.  Hallelujah!

I'm not going out on a limb when I predict Orange Line ridership will be up at least a couple of points by this time next year.

Here's another discouraging number that emerged at the control board:  since the FY 19 T budget was adopted several months ago, the projected overall cost of paying pensions to T employees this fiscal year has risen from $97 million to $103 million.

T pension cost are "entirely unsustainable" if you look at the trend line, said board member Brian Shortsleeve.  Will he please give us his sleeve to cry on?

A metro area taxpayer may have a choice of whether to ride the T but no choice on supporting its retirees.  Ouch.

Like Franklin Roosevelt, the Late Senator Berry, D-Peabody, Was Super-Abled

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Whenever I think of Freddie Berry, the late Majority Leader of the Massachusetts Senate who will be buried this weekend, God rest his magnificent soul, I can't help but smile because he was such a naturally funny and attractive human being, the kind of person who constantly surprised and delighted you with his slyly camouflaged wit and high intellectual voltage, and because every day that he ventured forth into this brutish world he was a walking, talking Exhibit A of how much a righteous person possessed of an unswerving, ferocious determination could achieve in the face of obstacles the nature of which normally crush 9,999 out of a 10,000 souls.  I doubt that Freddie's soul was ever seriously dented, so formidable was his inner strength. 

Berry died this past Tuesday at age 68 following a long period of declining health.  He was born with cerebral palsy, and though he bore the effects of that condition his entire life, he was defined, first and last, by his remarkable, soaring spirit and his innate, irrepressible sense of humor, and not by the condition that sometimes contorted his speech and limited his physical movements.

On the day of Berry's death, the State House News Service noted that he, as a member of the Peabody City Council, had won a five-way Democratic primary for an open Senate seat in 1982 "as the only candidate who said he was pro-choice."  Undoubtedly, this discomforted some at his alma mater, Bishop Fenwick High School in Peabody.  The SHNS also reported that, right after his election to the Senate, Berry and his wife, Gayle, started and ran the Fred Berry Charitable Foundation out of their Peabody home, an organization that raised more than $1 million over three decades to help food pantries, homeless shelters, educational programs and various human services agencies. In the Senate, he was the tribune of the poor, the chronically ill, the physically and mentally challenged, the homeless, and every hard-luck, forgotten, friendless, family-less, invisible person who had no chance of surviving without a hand from our government.

The tributes to  Berry have been gushing forth from those who knew him and served with him at the State House.  Two of the most resonant remembrances were offered by Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr of Gloucester and Mayor Kim Driscoll of Salem.

Tarr said: "Former Majority Leader Fred Berry was an outstanding senator, a champion for the needs of his district and people across the state, and a dear friend.  He was an extraordinary public servant with a kind heart, and a sharp intellect.  Despite a lifetime impacted by cerebral palsy, Fred gave strength to those who needed a champion.  In the years that we spent together in the Senate, I knew of nobody more capable of being both uproariously humorous and profoundly poignant, the effect of which often better informed the thinking of those in the Senate Chamber.  Known not only for his abilities as a legislative leader, he was also acclaimed for his decades of civic engagement by helping those in need through his charitable work.  Word of his passing is truly saddening and I extend my sympathies to his family and friends.  I hope that they will be comforted by knowing that his legacy will live on through his lifetime of accomplishments, the close associations that he made, and the love that he shared with so many."

Driscoll said: "He was always the funniest guy in the far.  More importantly, he had an indefatigable zest for life and served Salem and nearby North Shore communities with distinction during his decades' long service as our state senator.  Underneath his outward humorous personality, Fred Berry was a force to be reckoned with -- a true champion who always stood up for those who didn't have a voice or political clout on Beacon Hill, in particular children in need."

When I think of Berry, there is one scene that almost always comes to mind.  One day, back around the turn of the century, I had set up a meeting for a then client of ours, the American Cancer Society , with him in his office at the State House.  A professional colleague of mine at the time was supposed to attend that meeting with me and three persons from the ACS.  That colleague, in fact, was supposed to lead our presentation because he had formerly served in the legislature and knew Berry well.  But, at the last moment, he was unable to attend and asked me to explain his absence and apologize to the senator for his being a no-show. 

Dutifully, I opened the meeting with an explanation of my colleague having to be somewhere else and an expression of his regard for the senator and his regrets at not attending. 

I had no history with Berry.  I had never met with him before on a piece of client business and was nervous about having to carry the ball at the meeting. I was sitting right next to him and Berry kept eye contact with me throughout my opening spiel and listened patiently to what I said; I could not tell how he was taking it.

When I was through, he paused for three or four seconds, silent, still fixing me with his eyes.  At last he responded.  "Your friend is a very busy man," he said, "a very busy man.  I'm just glad that, with everything he has to do, he would stop and think of me, and be sure to tell you to tell me that he is thinking of me.  He wishes he was here and is sorry he is not!  Well, I'm just glad that he, a busy man, such a very busy man, with big responsibilities, important things, is thinking of me.  He's thinking of me!  You tell your friend not to worry.  He's an important man.  You tell him, Thank you for thinking of me."

Given my limited perspicacity, I didn't realize until Berry was done offering reassurances that he was actually puncturing a pal who dared to have better things to do than meet at that moment with one of the Senate's top dogs -- and a widely beloved dog at that.  Had it not been out of line to do so, I would have burst out laughing at how well, how artfully, he had just pulled my pants down.  Instead, my face broke into a big, stupid grin, and a welcome sense of relaxation came over me.  "This guy has a wicked sense of humor," I said to myself. "Everything's going to be alright."  And so it was that day for me and the folks from the American Cancer Society

What a man, and what apiece of work, he was.

Good for Capuano: Beaten Badly, He Did Not Look Crushed or Even a Tad Angry

Friday, September 7, 2018

Now that Mike Capuano has lost, I’m hearing some grumbling to the effect he could have run a better campaign.  Some say he wasted too much time talking about Trump when he should have been taking the fight hard, much harder than he did, to Ayanna Pressley.

“In terms of experience and ability to get things done, she doesn’t belong in the same ring with him,” said one lifelong resident of the district who was sorry to see the curtain come down on Capuano's career.  “For whatever reason, or reasons, he decided it was too risky to attack her.  Well, look where that got him.”
At first, this line of reasoning made sense to me. But, the longer I thought about it, the less convincing it became. 

I’d try to conjure a mental picture of Capuano ripping into Pressley on the stage at some candidates’ forum or on the set of some TV program, and every time I did, Capuano came across as a bully and the audience looked pained.
It now seems to me that Capuano's candidacy was simply doomed on Tuesday, September 4, 2018.  There was nothing he could have done to beat Pressley.  She was a force of nature, an agent of fate.  His number came up.  He had to go.

Based on repeated viewings on the Internet of his concession speech, I suspect that’s what Capuano also thinks.
It was an extremely brief speech, less than two minutes, delivered extemporaneously.  There was no text, no checklist of persons and organizations to thank, no scripted paeans to the glories of public service and the majesty of the electoral process.

He had the air of a coach whose team has just lost the Superbowl by 40 points and knows he has to say something before the cameras but has zero appetite at the moment for analysis and reflection. 
“The district is very upset with lots of things that are going on,” Capuano said.  “I don’t blame them.  I’m just as upset as they are.  But, so be it.  That’s the way life goes.”

He did not look sad or beaten down.  It was as if he had known in his heart two days before he was going to lose and had willed himself to put the whole damn thing behind him.
He talked about how honored and grateful he was to have had the support of the folks in the room for so many years, over so many campaigns, then wrapped up with kind of a verbal shoulder shrug:

“We did everything we could to get this thing done…I’m sorry it did not work out.  But this is life.  This is OK.  America is going to be OK.  Ayanna Pressley is going to be a good congressman.  And I will tell you that Massachusetts is going to be well served.”
As Capuano exited the stage, the smile on his face was entirely genuine.  “You are all invited down to the Caribbean to have a drink with me on the beach!” he exclaimed.

I will not be surprised if he stays on that beach a long time.  Eight years as Mayor of Somerville.  Twenty years as a United States Representative in Washington.  Mike Capuano has a lot to think about, so much of it good.




Unfortunately for Stat Smith, He Had More House Signs in Everett than Votes

Thursday, September 6, 2018

In the case of Steven “Stat” Smith, the people of Everett were not willing to let bygones be bygones.  Thank God.

On Tuesday voters there decisively rejected Smith’s bid to regain his old seat in the Massachusetts House, a position he was forced from in 2012 by the U.S. Attorney because he’d abused the absentee ballot process.

Smith paid a $20,000 fine, was sentenced to four months in federal prison, and banned from running for public office again for a period of five years.  That ban was up in April.

Within days Smith was asking his townspeople to sign nomination papers to put him on the September 4 ballot in the Democratic primary for representative in the 28th Middlesex District.  He amassed more than 500 signatures in one weekend -- many multiples of the required number.
Smith ran an energetic, high-visibility campaign throughout the spring and summer.  He persuaded untold hundreds of Everett homeowners to put signs up promoting his candidacy.  You could not go a tenth of a mile without seeing a Stat Smith sign.  Smith even snagged the editorial endorsement of the newspaper of record, the Everett Leader Herald!

It was all for naught. 
When the votes were tallied Tuesday night, Smith was dead last behind the incumbent representative, Joe McGonagle, a well-liked and effective figure at the State House, and Gerly Adrien, a woman highly qualified for public office.  The results were: McGonagle, 1,968; Adrien, 1,800; Smith, 893. 

With no Republican opponent in November, McGonagle’s a lock for another term.
Smith was elected to the House three times.  I often bumped into him at the State House during his years there, 2007-2012.  He was a long-time friend of my late brother-in-law, Joe Curnane, Jr.  Joe thought the world of him.  Stat and I never had trouble finding something to talk about.  He was a good Everett guy, easy to like.  I liked him.

But I believe Smith’s guilty plea made him permanently undeserving of a vote for public office, any office.  Voting is the essence of a free and just democratic society.  Our system of government demands that the ballot be kept sacrosanct.
That is not to say Smith should never re-enter public life in some role, say as a member of the board of health or as a library trustee, or that he should be shunned in the community.   Smith paid the price for his crimes, two misdemeanor counts of voter fraud, and deserves every good chance at forgiveness and redemption -- as long as he isn’t trying to redeem himself, that is, through the local ballot box.

My first reaction to his candidacy was that Smith did not have a prayer.  Then I witnessed the steady proliferation of Smith house signs and started thinking, maybe I am missing something?
I kept expecting to see an ad in the local papers – there are three weeklies in Everett – or a flyer from the McGonagle or Adrien camps calling Smith out for having been a jailbird.  If such was produced, it escaped me.  Smith was getting a pass on his biggest weakness as a candidate!

I never expected to see a Leader-Herald editorial endorsing Smith. When it appeared just before the primary, on Thursday, August 30, the thought crossed my mind that the momentum might be shifting Smith’s way. I braced for a Stat comeback.
Turns out I worried needlessly. 

On Tuesday the voters of Everett restored my faith in humanity.  There’s a proverb that holds, “The judgment of the village is never wrong.”  Everett has a population of well over 50,000 but it is still like a village in many respects.  Everybody knows everybody.
Sitting on my desk is a copy of the pro-Smith editorial, headlined simply, “Smith for Rep.”  I read it again before starting to write this post.  Again, I marveled at how well it says basically nothing.  It has the feel of having come from the keyboard of a conscript whose heart wasn’t in it.  Here are three typical lines, followed by my comments in italic type…

“We believe he is the best choice because he is willing to work, and to work hard.”  80 percent of the Everett population qualifies for the legislature on that basis.
“Steven Smith has overcome trials and tribulations in his life.”  Where’s the person in Everett who, at 63 years (Smith’s age), has not overcome?

“He has worked hard and smart.” Except, of course, for that little absentee ballot caper.
“Smith for Rep” was written simply, which is usually a virtue in writing.  Had the Leader Herald wished to attain an even purer form of simplicity, it could have gone with a two-sentence editorial along these lines:

Yes, folks, a good smile has long been an element of success on Beacon Hill.  Stat gets our vote because he brushes and flosses.

Public Law School, Once a Controversial Concept in MA, Now Well Established

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Deval Patrick, a former two-term governor of Massachusetts, must be smiling at the news out of the University of Massachusetts School of Law at Dartmouth, formerly Southern New England School of Law.

On Thursday of last week, the school announced that its incoming class of first-year students, numbering 94, is 17.5 percent larger than last year’s, which had 80.  In a press release marking the start of the academic year, the school also said:

- Its incoming class is 42% larger than the class that entered in 2016, the year the school first earned full accreditation by the American Bar Association;
- First-year students come from 25 different states;

- Average age of first-year students is 27;

- Applications for admission increased this past year by more than 20 percent, from 782 to 940;

- 57 percent of applicants were admitted this year, whereas 64 percent were the previous year; It's getting harder to get in.

- Members of the Class of 2017 passed the bar exam on their first try at a rate of 72.7 percent, which placed them fifth behind the graduates of the law schools of Harvard, Boston College, Boston University and Northeastern;  The press release was discrete in that it did not mention the four in-state law schools whose 2017 graduates were bested in this category: Massachusetts School of Law in Andover, New England School of Law and Suffolk University in Boston, and Western New England School of Law in Springfield.

- UMass Law ranked first in New England in 2017 and 11th in nation for percentage of graduates holding jobs in public service: 27 percent.

Although it was a contentious and controversial idea for years prior to becoming a reality in 2010, UMass's operation of a law school no longer provokes argument or questioning. 

UMass Law was created through a take-over of Southern New England School of Law, or what some described as a "gift" by the school of itself to the state.  Southern New England, whose properties and facilities were valued at $23.2 million, had long experienced financial difficulties.

When the UMass take-over was first formally put forth, in 2005, the UMass board of trustees said no.  There were concerns over a possible negative impact on the state budget of a big, new division of UMass, and at least three of the existing private law schools in the state lobbied against the move.
Around that same time, when Deval Patrick was making his first run for governor, he campaigned in the southeastern part of the state on the theme that UMass should absorb and rejuvenate Southern New England and that Massachusetts residents seeking a career in the law, or related to the law, needed and deserved a lower-cost route to a degree.

In February, 2010, when the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education unanimously approved the take-over, Patrick was beginning his second term.  Richard Freeland, former president of Northeastern University and then the state’s commissioner of higher education, noted that the “politics were different” in 2010 than in 2005.
“You clearly had a very supportive governor who wanted to make this happen (the second time around),” Freeland said.

To further its objective of affordability, UMass Law has entered into “3 + 3 agreements” with seven different Massachusetts colleges and universities under which students may fulfill their undergraduate course requirements in three years, enroll at UMass, and earn law degrees in three years; 3 + 3 schools are: Becker College (Worcester), Fitchburg State, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (North Adams), UMass Boston, UMass Dartmouth, UMass Lowell, and Worcester State.

Massachusetts was quite late to the public law school arena, becoming the 45th state to have one.  New Hampshire, then Delaware followed suit.  Only Alaska, Rhode Island and Vermont now do not have public law schools.

Tuition at UMass Law is approximately 40 percent lower than the national average.

It Seems the Stock Market Doesn't Care What Joe Curtatone Drinks

Friday, August 24, 2018

With all due respect to the mayor of Somerville, sometimes you just got to have a Sam -- a Sam Adams beer, that is.

Which is why, today, it’s looking like the recent Trump-favorable remarks by the inventor of Sam Adams are not going to hurt beer sales, calls for a boycott notwithstanding.
Let’s back up to the start of this story.

On the night of Tuesday, August 7, Jim Koch, founder of the Boston Beer Co., which produces Sam Adams, was among 13 business leaders invited to a dinner-conference at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.  It was a political event designed to highlight the president’s economic agenda and record.
Following a brief speech, the president asked every business leader in the room to stand, introduce himself, and offer brief remarks.  When Koch’s turn came, he said, in part:

“I’m not quite sure why I’m here.  I’m like the smallest company by far.  I’m Jim Koch and I started making Sam Adams Beer in my kitchen 37 years ago…I guess I’m sort of speaking on behalf of what is now 7,000 small brewers in the United States.
“When I started Sam Adams, American beer was a joke, and it pissed me off…now, American brewers make the best beer in the world…the (Trump/Republican Party) tax reform was a very big deal for all of us because 85 percent of the beer made in the United States is owned by foreign companies…

“I’m the largest American-owned brewery at 2 percent market share.  We were paying 38 percent taxes…and competing against people (foreign brewers) who were paying 20…now we have a level playing field and we’re going to kick their ass.” 
The next day, I read Koch’s comments in The Boston Globe and was surprised he had stuck his neck out that far.  Maybe he’d been over-served his own product last night, I thought.  Purveyors of consumer products are famously reluctant to take outspoken positions for or against policies and elected office holders for fear of turning off their customers who might feel otherwise. When you live and die by volume sales, it’s best to steer clear of hot-button political issues.

And here we had one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the history of Massachusetts, if not the USA, throwing political caution to the wind. 
Koch is a genius-level business visionary and one of the world’s best salesmen --  a man with three Harvard degrees (BA, MBA and JD) who quit a $250,000-a-year job with the Boston Consulting Group in 1984, took his life savings and parlayed it into a company that, 34 years later, is worth more than a billion dollars.

Soon there were calls for a boycott of all Boston Beer Co. products, with the sharpest-edged one delivered by eight-term Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone.  “We need to hold these complicit profiteers of Trump’s white nationalist agenda accountable!” Curtatone tweeted, adding a few minutes later:
“I will never drink Sam Adams beer again!”

It’s been over a week since Curtatone slammed Koch for “sucking up to Trump” and floated his boycott idea.  There have been no reports so far of a negative impact on sales of Sam Adams.
One thing is clear, however. The controversy has not hurt the price of Boston Beer Co. stock.  As of this morning, company shares were trading at $307.70 apiece, only slightly below their all-time high of $314.52 in January, 2015, and miles above their low point of recent years, $163.05, which was recorded in February of this year, a mere seven months ago. 

I waver on Koch’s Bedminster escapade.  I think he was acting servilely and selfishly when he endorsed Trump’s deficits-be-damned/make-the-grandkids-pay-for-our-lifestyle approach to stoking the economy.  On the other hand, I think he deserves credit for having the guts to stand up in public and hail a widely reviled and detested president for actions that have strengthened his company and benefited his shareholders.



These Dazey Days of Summer, It Happens in Politics...

Thursday, August 23, 2018

THAT the Massachusetts Senate, during its brief informal session today, adopted a resolution congratulating David Sullivan, special counsel in the Office of the Senate President, on his retirement from state government, where he served ably for 41 years, winning countless friends and admirers along the way.  Sullivan provided counsel to former Secretary of State Mike Connolly (Bill Galvin’s predecessor), the Ethics Commission, and the Senate Ways & Means Committee.  He also served as general counsel in the budget office of former Governor Deval Patrick, now rumored to be considering a run for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President in 2020.

THAT Whitman’s state representative, Geoff Diehl, a candidate for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat held by Elizabeth Warren, yesterday found a novel way of distinguishing himself from the incumbent by vowing not to write a book if he’s elected to the Senate.   Reacting to the news that Warren, in 2017, earned $430,379 in royalties from her book, “This Fight Is Our Fight,” Diehl asserted that a senator should be so busy working for his or her constituents that he/she does not have time to write books.
THAT Geoff Diehl, in my humble political view, may be overlooking the possibility that Senator Warren, while undoubtedly a capable wordsmith, may have had some help in penning “This Fight Is Our Fight.”  I had my mind on such matters permanently altered many years ago by something told to me by a gentleman who had been a manager in John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign.  This was around the time a book or article had been published, in which it was asserted that Ted Sorensen, not Kennedy, was the main author of Kennedy’s bestseller, “Profiles in Courage.”  Said I to this Kennedy hand, “That can’t be true, can it?  Kennedy was an excellent writer, right?”  Said he to me, “Kid, you have to understand, rich people would hire someone to go to the bathroom for them if they could.”

THAT Geoff Diehl and Scott Brown, a former Wrentham state representative who earned a surprise victory over former Attorney General Martha Coakley in the 2010 special election for U.S. Senate, only to lose the seat two years later to Elizabeth Warren, have much in common.  They’re both from humble backgrounds.  They’re both Republicans.  They’re both good looking and honorable. And they both perplex me out of my mind because they adore Donald Trump.  Brown’s Trump-love got him the ambassadorship to New Zealand, the best job on the planet.  I can’t help but wonder: what good deal could the cheddar-colored billionaire (thanks, Maureen Dowd) have in store for Diehl should Diehl be dealt defeat? 
THAT sometimes I can't help but conclude that Charlie Baker got the guy who’s challenging him for the gubernatorial nomination in the Republican primary, the Rev. Dr. Scott Lively, from Rent-a-Candidate.  There’s no possible way Baker can lose to a guy who, the day after Trump’s ex-personal lawyer/fixer pleads guilty to various crimes, puts out a press release with this opening paragraph: “The Fake News bloc is simply giddy over the betrayal of President Trump by his snake-in-the-grass former lawyer Michael Cohen (whose sleazy demeanor suggests he would give his own mother to cannibals to save himself from the ruthless Mueller political death squad) and the concurrent guilty verdict of former campaign manager Paul Manafort (whose years-old supposed financial crimes have absolutely nothing to do with Trump, the 2016 election, or Russian collusion).”

THAT, even though the Rev. Dr. Lively may be dwelling in an alternative political universe, I am beguiled by his verbal flair.  I wish I could come up with something as neat as Cohen would “give his own mother to cannibals to save himself from the ruthless Mueller political death squad.”  Were I so dexterous as to devise that, however, I wouldn’t waste it on the little problem, Cohen, when it applies so well to the big one, Trump.
THAT the Rev. Dr. Lively’s press releases are so much my guilty pleasure that I can’t help but quote now the last sentence of his “Fake-News-bloc-is-simply-giddy” masterpiece of the imaginative arts, which was: “In any case, whatever President Trump might have done in his past life as a New York liberal, he is today quite obviously a changed man with solid conservative principles and a deep respect for God and our constitution, and as such he deserves our full support in his role as Chief Executive of the United States.”

THAT the Mahhty Magic appears to be rubbing off on young Dan Koh, who aspires to succeed Niki Tsongas in the U.S. House of Representatives.  According to a UMass Lowell poll out today, Koh, who served as chief of staff to Boston Mayor Martin Walsh before being infected with the electoral virus, has a narrow lead in the 10-person race for the Democrat nomination in the state’s 3rd Congressional District. The poll indicates that Koh, with less than two weeks to go to the September 4 primary, has the support of 19 percent of likely voters.  Tied at second place, with the support of 13 percent of likely voters, were Rufus Gifford, a former ambassador to Denmark (second-best job on the planet) and State Senator Barbara L’Italien.  Is it just me, or does it seem to everyone like this race has been going on since the Clinton administration?  I cannot wait for September 5 to arrive. 
THAT the Massachusetts House, near the end of its brief informal session today, held a moment of silence in honor of and respect for two valiant young men from Saudi Arabia, Jaser Daham Al-Rakkah and Theeb Al-Yami, who drowned in the Chicopee River on June 29 while helping to save several children who were caught in an overpowering current.  Rep. Paul Donato of Medford, the presiding officer, said, “Both men selflessly put themselves in peril to try to save the children, and while the children were rescued, both Mr. Al-Rakah and Mr. Al-Yami perished. Mr. Al-Rakah was a student in the engineering program at Western New England University and Mr. Al-Yami was studying engineering at the University of Hartford.  Both will receive posthumous degrees from their respective universities.”  How can pessimism ever overtake optimism when there are human beings as good as Jaser and Theeb in this world?  The motion for the moment of silence/respect was made by Rep. Angelo Puppolo of Springfield. 


Political Life of MA Has Always Had a Distinct Cape Cod Flavor

Monday, August 6, 2018

One of the great things about computers and the Internet is they allow you to appear as if you are hard at work when you are not -- and when you are in fact loafing at some remote location and merely checking your emails and returning the occasional phone call to create the appearance of serious engagement. 

For example, today I am in Harwich on Cape Cod, where my wife and I are enjoying the hospitality of her sister at a house on a beautiful quiet side street, shaded by ancient pines and oaks and punctuated with birdsong during the day, while back in the urban heat island of Boston, my diligent colleagues are suffering the tortures of the damned.

But do not fear.  Our president has assured us that climate change is totally not real -- "fake news" propagated by Democrats, eco-terrorists and those horrendous "enemies of the people," the news media.  (Joe Stalin does a jig beneath the Kremlin Wall every time Trump trots out that "enemies" stuff.)

Speaking of Cape Cod, I noticed on the State House News Service that Father Rick Walsh, chaplain of the Massachusetts House, opened today's informal session of the lower branch at 11:03 a.m. with the following prayer:

"We give thanks for the seasonal heat and humidity and we pray that it does not last too long.  We pray today for those in danger of heat exhaustion and our women and men who work to bring us just and fair legislation, as well as their support staff.  Tomorrow marks the 57th anniversary of the creation of the Cape Cod National Seashore, the first time the federal government created a national park from land owned primarily by private entities.  We pray those who are enjoying that park today know the blessing that it is."

Note to Father Rick:  I am not on the National Seashore but I know how blessed I am to have a very kind and giving sister-in-law, Rosemary, and to have the opportunity to be on the Cape with her anytime we wish. 

Note to Father Rick's boss:  Thanks for that heavenly 76-degree ocean every day on my early-morning swim.

Speaking further of Cape Cod, I noticed on the State House News Service that the Massachusetts Senate adjourned its informal session today at 11:25 a.m. in memory of the late John Francis "Jack" Aylmer of Barnstable, who served six terms in the Senate (1971-82), was assistant minority leader for the Republicans in the Senate, and had a distinguished career as president (1981-91) of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, his alma mater (Class of 1957).  A Navy veteran and longtime merchant mariner, Aylmer held the rank of Rear Admiral at Mass. Maritime.  He died at his home on July 8 at the age of 84.

I looked up Aylmer's obituary online and learned that he was "raised in the villages of Osterville and Centerville." (That was in the days when the Cape was not close to being the rich man's preserve that it has regrettably become in so many locales.)  He graduated from Barnstable High School in 1952 and did a post-graduate year at Admiral Billard Academy, New London, CT.  Befitting a man of the sea, Aylmer financed his college education at the maritime academy by operating a tug boat for the New England Dock and Dredge Co.  He later earned a master's degree in education and a law degree. 

An outstanding athlete in his younger days, Aylmer played for the former Barnstable Barons in the Cape Cod (college all stars) Baseball League (1952) and participated in the founding of not one but two teams in the league, the Hyannis Harbor Hawks (1976) and the Bourne Braves (1988).  In 2012, he was named to the league's hall of fame as an administrator. 

May you rest in peace, Admiral.

Report Identifies 'Major Concern' in Otherwise Booming MA Economy

Monday, July 30, 2018

The Donahue Institute at the University of Massachusetts, named in honor of the late Maurice A. Donahue of Holyoke, who served as president of the Massachusetts Senate (1964-71) and ran unsuccessfully for governor in the 1970 Democratic primary, issues a quarterly report on the state of our economy called MassBenchmarks. The latest one came out this past Friday, July 27, describing, in unequivocal detail, a Massachusetts economy that had expanded at a “torrid pace” in April, May and June.

“The Massachusetts economy accelerated sharply in the second quarter,” the report states, “bucking the expectation of slower growth due to low unemployment and demographic constraints.” 
Here are some highlights:

-The state’s gross domestic product grew at a 7.3% annualized rate while, nationally, it increased by 4.1%.
-The number of payroll jobs expanded at a rate of 2.9%, compared to a 1.7% rate for the rest of the U.S.

-Wage and salary income, as measured by state tax collections, grew by 6.2%.

-Consumer spending grew by 6.7%, as measured by regular sales tax receipts and motor vehicle sales taxes.

-Unemployment remained at “a near historical low” of 3.5%.

Job growth in the technology and knowledge-based sectors was especially strong, the report noted, and many of the new jobs in these areas “were filled by workers who either migrated to the state or remained in the state after moving here to go to college.”
The incomes “generated by these relatively well-paid jobs,” the report said, “can be expected to boost demand for jobs in all sectors, many of them in more moderately-paid or lower-paid service roles.”

In the category of job growth, however, the report did identify a “major concern” going forward: the capacity of the state to “provide all of these new workers with adequate housing and transportation options...”  What that means, obviously, is:
If mass transit (MBTA and commuter rail) is not seriously upgraded, if traffic congestion in and around Boston is not at least somewhat mitigated, and if the supply of housing in eastern Massachusetts is not sufficiently expanded to halt the so-far-unstoppable rise in housing prices, we won’t be able to attract and keep the highly educated and skilled workforce that is now the main driver of our economy.

MassBenchmarks is published by the Donahue Institute in cooperation with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

For more on the report, go to:



With Apologies to Tip O'Neill, All Politics Is Not Always Local

Friday, July 6, 2018

Tip O’Neill’s dictum notwithstanding, national issues sometimes shape local politics in significant ways.  Now is such a time in Massachusetts.

The legislature is quite late in producing a state budget for Fiscal Year 2019, which began July 1.  A big reason for the hold-up is the inability of the branches to agree on what if anything should be stated in the budget document regarding federal immigration practices.
In late April, the House produced its version of the FY 19 budget; a month later, the Senate produced its version.  The House’s contained nothing about immigration while the Senate’s had a section that would prohibit state and local police from asking a person about his immigration status.  It would also prohibit agreements under which state and county officials essentially become deputies of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

In early June, a six-member House-Senate budget conference committee began working on a compromise, unified budget.  As of this moment, the committee is still chipping away at that task.
Two Thousand and Eighteen is the second year of a two-year legislative session; the legislature must adjourn by midnight on July 31 in Year 2 under a rule adopted long ago as part of a legislative reform effort. 

The July 31 adjournment was designed to keep legislators from playing politics with the budget into the fall of Year 2, when legislators who wish to remain in office must stand for re-election.   (Reps and senators have two-year terms.  Legislative elections are held in even-numbered years.)
In Year 2 there’s great pressure on the legislature to get a completed budget to the governor early enough to give legislators time to override gubernatorial vetoes and address sections of the budget the governor sends back to them with recommendations for changes.

Once the full House and full Senate have approved a conference committee budget, the governor has up to 10 days to review it, veto any items he wishes, and send back individual budget sections with recommended changes.
Overriding vetoes is straightforward, whereas governor-legislature disagreements over the objectives and nuances of various sections are complicated. 

Sometimes the legislature rejects the governor’s suggestions altogether and insists on its original language.  Other times the legislature redrafts its original language but still takes a slant markedly different from the governor’s.
All of that drafting and redrafting and all that back-and-forth end up requiring two rounds of gubernatorial review of the legislature’s budget, each of which may take up to 10 days.  

If a governor wants to run the clock on the legislature, he or she can keep the budget in play for 20 days. 
Anticipating that possibility, the legislature aims to produce a unified budget at least 21 days before it must adjourn in Year 2 so that it will have at least one day available at the end for veto overrides and final language changes.

Thus has July 10 (four days from now) become the drop-dead date for a legislative budget in Year 2. 
Members of the budget conference committee this year are Senators Karen Spilka of Ashland, Joan Lovely of Salem and Vinny deMacedo of Plymouth, and Representatives Jeffrey Sanchez of Boston, Stephen Kulik of Worthington and Todd Smola of Warren.  As the Senate and House chairs of Ways and Means, Spilka and Sanchez exercise the most sway over the process.

To put it mildly, a lot of hard-edged negotiating and old-fashioned horse trading goes on in legislative conference committees, and nowhere more so than in the budget conference committee.  It’s the toughest conference of all.  Conferees are expected to dig in and push hard to preserve their branch’s priorities in the final budget package, in the textual ways their branch has expressed those priorities.
But almost certainly Chairman Sanchez is not taking a stand against the Senate language on immigration status inquiries and ICE virtual-deputy-making because, on principle, he favors the Senate approach to these issues, and because a large proportion of the electorate in his Jamaica Plain district is strongly pro-immigrant and vehemently anti-Trump.

In an indication of how deeply this subject resonates in Sanchez’s district, his opponent for re-election in the September primary, Nika Elugardo, who is further to the left on the political spectrum than he, took the unusual step this past Tuesday of showing up at the door of House Ways and Means to try to hang it tightly around Sanchez’s neck. 
Sanchez “has the power to send this to a vote,” Elugardo told the reporters she’d summoned to the scene, implying that, if Sanchez so desired, he alone could ensure that the Senate immigration language would be in the budget coming out of conference, which would force every legislator to vote on it when the budget was put to floor votes.  The rules do not allow the conference budget to be amended on the floor.  Straight up-or-down votes are required.

Elugardo, who once worked as a senior policy advisor to Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz of Boston, asserted at the State House that Sanchez has the ability to make Governor Charlie Baker “say yes or no” on the Senate immigration language if Sanchez were only willing to insist on the language being in the budget.  This seemed an argument without a point, as the governor has already stated his intention to veto the language if it survives the conference process. 
Tellingly, Speaker Robert DeLeo was quoted by the State House News Service this week saying there’s no consensus in the House on this issue.  Having to vote on it must be a losing electoral proposition, one  way or the other, for too many reps.

My guess is the budget conference committee, warily eyeing the fall elections, will finesse the matter for the sake of most House members, not just of Sanchez. 
If, for example, there is language in the conference budget next week calling for the formation of a special commission to examine all state options for resisting Trump administration immigration enforcement actions and for the writing of an official report on those measures within, say, 45 days, that is what has happened.  


Big Ideas Shrink When All We Talk About Is Which Candidate Has Big Bucks

Thursday, May 31, 2018

News coverage of the candidates for governor this year seems fixated on campaign cash: how much Republican incumbent Charlie Baker has and how little the candidates in the Democratic primary, Jay Gonzalez and Robert Massie, have.

Yesterday, for example, The Boston Globe reported that Baker is sitting on a campaign account of more than $8 million and that Democrats Jay Gonzalez and Robert Massie have, combined, only $132,000.
Until after the Sept. 4 primary, and until the winner of the primary raises many millions of dollars, we are not likely to hear a whole lot about what Gonzalez and Massie stand for or what they want to do as governor.

That’s too bad.  Each Democrat is peddling some audacious ideas.
To ease the struggles of persons with addictions, Gonzalez, for example, wants to require health insurers to cover the cost of medical marijuana.  And, to reduce deaths by overdose, he wants the state to allow safe injection sites.

To combat climate change, Massie wants to block all investment in new fossil fuel infrastructure of any kind, such as gas pipelines and power generating facilities that burn oil and/or gas.
I, personally, don’t support safe injection sites or a freeze on new fossil fuel infrastructure. I think medical marijuana as a reimbursable treatment for addictions may have merit but should be approached with caution because of what it could do to exacerbate the already high cost of health coverage.

Nevertheless, the media should give Gonzalez and Massie all the space and air they need to make their cases.  Too much coverage of the political horse race they don’t have the money to run makes for a less exciting, less meaningful election.
At this point in the calendar, we already know that safe injection sites are an idea whose time has not come in Massachusetts.  The legislature’s Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse decided on May 3 to send Senate Bill 1081, An Act to Authorize Public Health Workers to Pursue New Measures to Reduce Harm and Stigma for People Affected by Substance Use Disorder, “to study,” legislature-speak for waste basket.  SB 1081 proposed to create safe spaces for drug users to take pre-obtained drugs under the supervision of health care professionals.

I’m probably missing something therapeutically valid or significant here but how does a safe injection site for morphine addicts do anything ultimately beyond ensuring the continuation of an addiction?  When SB 1081 was heard on Aug. 24, 2017, at least one witness, Ronald Hill, who described himself, according to the State House News Service, as a recovering addict, made this point better than I can. 
“If I’m high, you ain’t going to tell me about no treatment,” Hill told the members of the Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse.  “When I hear about treatment is when I got no money and I’m desperate.  But when I’m high, you can talk to me all day long.  I don’t hear you.”

Moving to medical marijuana as a component of addiction therapy, please consider the following from the web site of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), whose mission is to “advance addiction science.”  NIDA reports that it funded two studies exploring the relationship between marijuana legalization and adverse outcomes associated with prescription opioids. 
“The first study,” it said, “found an association between medical marijuana legalization and a reduction in overdose deaths from opioid pain relievers; an effect strengthened in each year following the implementation of legislation.”

The second study “was a more detailed analysis by the RAND Corporation that showed legally protected access to medical marijuana dispensaries is associated with lower levels of opioid prescribing, lower self-report of nonmedical prescription opioid use, lower treatment admissions for prescription opioid use disorders, and reduction in prescription opioid overdose deaths.”
Gonzalez could be onto something.  If he has the stuff to fight the uphill battle for a new insurance mandate, let him at it.