With just over a week to go before Massachusetts selects a new governor, here’s my summary opinion of the candidates and the issues. For anyone reading this that doesn’t know me, I’m generally pretty middle of the road when it comes to politics – middle of the road for Massachusetts, that is. Therefore, I believe I’m starting from a fairly neutral position and with no party bias. I’ve voted for Republicans for governor slightly more frequently than for Democrats. And I’ve voted for Independents and 3rd party candidates almost as often as I’ve voted for Democrats.
Deval Patrick (D) comes across as very bright and quite comfortable in the public spotlight. He can articulate his points effectively. He should have responded to Healey’s attack advert more quickly but when he did respond, he took the right approach by answering the question and moving on rather than responding with an in-kind attack. In the most recent debate, Patrick’s non-answer on how he voted on the question of tax rollback was weak but he’s been pretty strong in the debates overall. And when he tells Healey to come down off her high horse, the rehearsed line somehow still comes across as being genuine to what Patrick believes.
The current Lt. Governor, Kerry Healey (R), was barely visible during Mitt Romney’s gubernatorial tenure. Besides helping to pass the tougher drunk driving law and tougher sex offender law, for which she does deserve some credit, the Lt. Governor had minimal impact on the state. She was even less of a presence than Jane Swift when she was Lt. Governor. I have no idea why the Massachusetts Republican Party has chosen her – perhaps there were no suitable alternatives? She is weak as a public speaker and seems uncomfortable in the debates. Everything she does and says comes across as rehearsed Republican dogma. Her attacks on Patrick’s support of criminals and her discussion of Patrick’s family trouble don’t seem like things that she would do. In those cases, and in the case of the campaign workers showing up at Patrick’s house in orange jumpsuits, it is clear that she isn’t running her own campaign. She is the chosen Republican, but the Republican machinery is what is in control. If elected, it seems clear to me that her reign as governor will be similar – a figurehead responsible for executing the wishes of the Massachusetts Republican Party. (Sounds like a certain President, doesn’t it.)
Christy Mihos has been a lot of fun in this race. A little like Perot in how he can be cantankerous, and how he periodically comes out with a verbal zinger (“God forbid!”), he is also a little like Perot in that most people are probably grateful that he is unlikely to be elected. Mihos seems like the perfect guy to stir things up. He is obviously passionate, clearly has few aspirations beyond governor of Massachusetts, and has some interesting ideas. Should he get elected, he’d stand no chance of getting anything done, though. It isn’t because he is an Independent. Hell, I’ve considered voting for him just as a protest against a 2-party system and to show other Independents that they stand a chance. Mihos won’t succeed because he’s the kind of guy who will make too many enemies. He’s already made enemies while running and he’d continue to do that as Governor. Although dictators are more efficient at enacting their platforms, there are reasons why there are checks and balances in government. And I believe Christy is wholly unprepared for them. While Jesse Ventura may have seemed like a tough guy, he clearly had what it took to not only get elected, but to be at least somewhat effective as a Governor in getting people to occasionally go along with him.
I really like Grace Ross. Although I don’t think she is running for governor of Massachusetts so much as running for Mayor of Utopia, she has some startlingly good points. Excepting the one tic she has when making a point (tilt head back and flick the long hair she doesn’t have), she is quite an effective public speaker. In the debates so far, she has been much smoother than Mihos and she is more comfortable than both Mihos and Healey. She is also amazingly good at staying on message and knows her stuff. (As was Jill Stein 4 years ago – the Green Party is putting out some knowledgeable candidates!) Her support of a progressive tax makes good economic sense and she definitely has the backs of the working class. While I don’t support her for governor, I am happy that there are people like her who are working as activists for the greater good.
Should there be a 2-person debate? Do Mihos and Ross deserve equal time in the debates as Patrick and Healey? There are good arguments on both sides. The polls show clearly that Patrick is well in the lead with Healey a solid second. There is little chance that either Mihos or Ross will be our next Governor. But what is the cutoff for determining who is a viable candidate for debate? Is it only the Republican and Democratic Parties? Definitely not because I still harbor hope that we’ll achieve a true multi-party or even non-party based system in this country and the only way to do that is to not always consider Republican and Democrat the only game in town. Then how else can you determine viability? Of course you can’t go by polls because then the poll becomes a de facto primary of sorts, eliminating potential candidates from a debate forum where they could increase their support base. What’s left? A version of American Idol for politics where the candidates only get to continue debating if the poll at the end of each debate allows them to? For now, I think the current system is working – the debates are sponsored by the media and the candidates can decide to participate or not. If Patrick and Healey agreed that they wanted to debate head to head, then fine. But since Patrick clearly doesn’t need the additional support, good for him for not acceding to Healey’s annoying adverts.
Although there are some peripheral issues, by and large, the defining issue in this gubernatorial race has become the issue of taxes. Healey wants to honor the voters’ wishes and roll back income taxes to 5% while Patrick wants to postpone the rollback in favor of reductions to property taxes. Mihos has an idea similar to Patrick’s for giving local aid back while somehow simultaneously reducing taxes. And Ross seems to hint that she’d keep taxes down for the working class while increasing taxes for the middle class.
Fundamentally, the tax issue is a money issue – where does the money come from to keep the state and its cities and towns running and how can we make state government more financially efficient. Healey’s view seems to be that the state is running fine right now but we can eliminate a little more state-level waste. Why was this state-level waste (like with the pension funds she wants to consolidate) not already addressed during the past 4 years? And every city and town in the state is hurting from decreased local aid – a number Healey was proud to point out to Patrick in the last debate was lower than he expected. It’s clear that continuing the status quo is only going to further damage cities and towns while also draining state-level funding for parks, roadways, and bridges.
I agree with Patrick that a key to the state’s overall health is to increase local aid with the aim of reducing property taxes. I’m happy to say that my city has had one of the smallest property tax increases of those in the Boston area. The mayor has done extremely well managing the resources he had but the city has still felt the sting of public service cuts – not just school athletic fees but also closing of fire stations. Increasing local aid to more reasonable levels will help the cities and towns of Massachusetts in their recovery.
So, who to vote for…
I voted for Romney 4 years ago. Not only was Shannon O’Brien a bad candidate, Romney was a good one. Romney had plans to cut out waste in government and shake things up. I believe he did that, at least initially. He was thwarted by Democrats from time to time, but he is the kind of guy who can get people to go along with him and make the deals that need to be made. In the end, I’m disappointed in Romney for two reasons. First, he didn’t get enough done in Massachusetts. Yes, universal health care is good but right now it is just theory; he’s leaving before it turns into reality. And he did take on some bureaucrats and win like streamlining the MDC. However even Healey is talking about places where there is government waste – why wasn’t that already tackled under the Romney Healey administration? And even though he consolidated the MDC into the DCR, he under-funded the new organization starving them for the equipment they needed. When that equipment shortage led to a kid getting hit by a car because he couldn’t walk on the unplowed sidewalk, Romney had the well-respected and well-liked DCR head Cathy Abbott resign instead of increasing the funding. Of course the second reason why Romney has turned out to be a disappointment is his personal cut and run from the state. I do give him credit for being honest enough to say that he was not going to seek reelection. And you can’t fault him for not saying that he’s running for President because everyone who is running for President isn’t saying that they are running for President. But his use of Massachusetts as the butt of jokes around the country in efforts to bolster his national cred is just sad. Yes, his political ambitions obviously always extended beyond Governor of Massachusetts – after all, he had run for US Senator before. And no, I’m not surprised that a Republican needs to distance himself from the state’s liberal reputation. However, why not just say that an elected official is expected to carry out the will of the people and that he did that job well in Massachusetts and would do that job well as President? By portraying the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as his foe in political battles and claiming that what appeared on the surface to be a time of success was actually a gauntlet from which he is relieved to be released, he has undermined his own accomplishments as Governor and revealed that he cannot be taken at face value.
Truth be told, if Romney was running for reelection, and if he hadn’t started wearing his “I’m With Stupid” t-shirt (with finger pointing at my state), I’d have considered voting for him over Patrick. Four more years of shaking things up and eliminating waste does hold some appeal to me and I believe there is more work to be done there. On the other hand, Patrick does seem to be a reformer also. Perhaps I am just falling for the rhetoric that he will reform so that he can spend.
But the race this year is much more clear for me than an incumbent Romney vs. Patrick would have been. Both Healey and Patrick claim to have plans to reduce government spending. And that’s great; I hope that whoever is elected succeeds. I continue to be amazed at how expensive government is while simultaneously being less effective than it should be. Healey may want to reduce waste but I don’t think she can get it done. If she can’t drive her own campaign, I don’t trust her to run the state. Ross can’t be successful as a governor because of her positions and Mihos can’t be successful as governor because of his personality.
Fortunately, the race this year does not conclude with me saying “so the only one left that doesn’t suck is”. This time, I actually am going to feel good about voting for Patrick because I am currently buying his seemingly genuine intent to reform while still sending more money to cities and towns. Reducing our taxes to 5% is a good goal and I hope we get there – but first, I’m happy to let the state keep my $200 (or whatever small amount that would work out to) in favor of seeing it be spent wisely. And I guess the issue still comes down to one of trust. I trust that Patrick will spend the money wisely.
I’m picturing the 4 candidates on the shelf at my local Best Buy. Healey’s tag says that she’s cheap and will save you money this year but you realize you may be wishing you bought a different model in a year or two. Mihos’s tag says that he’s cheapest of all and he loves the state – although Mihos looks like he might fall apart and doesn’t come with any warranty. Ross’s tag describes her as a modern-day Robin Hood which seems okay until you see the high price. Patrick’s tag shows his price is a little higher than Healey’s and Mihos’s but you realize that he has an Energy Star rating and therefore is a better bargain for the long run than Healey and more likely to work than Mihos.