Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Anti-Bullying Proposals No Laughing Matter

The rules of the game have changed, and technology once again is ahead of policy. Take the case of new legislative proposals to confront bullying. My first reaction is to mock them. Waaaah! Toughen up. Learn to take it. How are you going to get along in the grown-up world if you don’t learn to suck it up and move forward?

But it’s not like things were when I was a kid, with schoolyard fights or intimidating threats if I didn’t hand over the answers to a homework problem. Some kids today have to confront a more vicious, more unrelenting kind of bullying. Combine a less civil society with the intrusiveness of hate and threats through texting, Facebook, twitter and email and you can end up with the tragic suicide of South Hadley 15-year-old Phoebe Prince.

As the Boston Herald’s Margery Eagan also points out, when we were kids we could keep the problem contained.

In 1996, when I was editorial director of WCVBTV Channel 5, I was on the receiving end of a series of threatening and frightening faxes, including one signed by “Son of Sam.” The District Attorney identified the perp and took the case all the way to the MA Supreme Judicial Court, which upheld lower court rulings that the state’s laws criminalizing telephone harassment didn’t cover such “high-tech communications” as faxes. The legislature set about remedying the situation and, in 2000, amended Chapter 265 of the General Laws to include harassment through electronic mails, internet or, yes, fax communications. Punishment can be up to 2 and ½ years and a $1000 fine. So the punishment is in place.

But the real solution to the Phoebe Prince’s of the world is bullying prevention and requiring school districts and principals to mandate training for teachers and anti-bullying classes for students.

Such programs do work. For several years, the social work department at Regis College (full disclosure: I consult with Regis) had an anti-bullying program one day a week at Sacred Heart School in Roslindale. Kids learned about what constitutes bullying and how to stop it. School administrators reported a definite improvement in kids’ behavior. In the wake of budget cuts, the MA Public Health Department has stopped funding the program.

In the legislature, Rep. Marty Walz of Boston, is in the midst of drafting anti-bullying legislation. For those of us who toughed it out in a previous generation, we shouldn’t simply deride or dismiss it. It could well mean the difference between life and death for students whose well-being in the face of predatory hurtful behavior of schoolmates lies with the diligence of teachers, principals and administrators. And if it takes legislation to do that, so be it.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Supremes Hit a Sour Note

Even as a First Amendment virtual absolutist (with the usual crying-fire-in-a-crowded-theater exceptions), I find it hard to believe there won’t be a flood of bad results from the recent Supreme Court decision lifting limits on corporate spending on behalf of political candidates.

Before McCain-Feingold and other post-Watergate restrictions on corporate spending, we have images of Richard Nixon—and others from both parties-- receiving tons of money in brown bags from corporate executives (corporate free speech?). Remember Democrat Henry “Scoop” Jackson, who was known far and wide as the Senator from Boeing. We have long known that, while big money may not actually buy a congressman, it sure can rent him for a while. We haven’t always been able to prove the quid-pro-quo, but, as with Justice Potter Stewart’s wisdom about obscenity, we may not be able to define it, but we sure know it when we see it.

If a company now can spend freely from its general treasury in behalf of a political candidate, whose phone call will the busy elected official answer – the corporate chieftain, Susan small donor or the constituent who can’t afford the mortgage payment, much less donate to her elected representative? Unions are also now freed up to spend with abandon, but a declining union movement will likely be dwarfed by corporate capacity.

This ruling is unnerving, despite the assertions of highly regarded academics in today’s New York Times, that there are no metrics to support the belief that corporate money necessarily corrupts. They see no proof there is less public corruption or more public trust of government in states that have strict bans on corporate contributions to politicians than in states with no limits.

One Southern Congressman told NPR last week that, if a company decided to spend $10 million in his district on behalf of a candidate, that company could buy up all the television time and, with it, the election. One thoughtful and community-minded Massachusetts television executive sought to reassure me that this wouldn’t happen, that television executives have the power to turn down such over-the-top television buys in the interest of fairness, and that the broadcasters could just say no if there had been ample coverage of the race in the station’s regular news reports.

But here’s the thing: in an increasingly fragmented media marketplace where each station is struggling with shrinking revenues, will even the best -intentioned television executive today not begin to view the Supreme Court ruling as some kind of goose that lays the golden egg?

An even greater concern, raised by Justice John Paul Stevens in his dissent, and picked up by a Newsweek blogger, is the potential impact of this decision on money that can be spent on our elections by foreign corporations operating in the US, often influenced by their national governments.

Is this what the strict constructionist Supreme Court justices really think our Founding Fathers intended?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Patrick Speech: the To-Do's not the How-to's

The largest personage in the House chamber for Governor Deval Patrick’s state-of-the-state address wasn’t there at all. It was, of course, Scott Brown. The address, the Governor’s first chance to turn around an outraged electorate and rally his partisans in his reelection bid, was an opportunity to tout his accomplishments – and they are many – and list the challenges that must still be addressed – and they are daunting.

His finely crafted and, for the most part, well-delivered speech reflected an awareness of what’s bothering people and what propelled Scott Brown’s upset victory in the race for U.S. Senate.

He acknowledged people’s anger but urged that they ”channel it in a positive direction.” He made clear he feels their pain and sense of powerlessness and tried to link policy accomplishments and challenges to real people’s real lives. He spoke repeatedly about “making it personal.” He is an empathetic person and perhaps persuaded some people on this score.

Taking another page from Scott Brown, Patrick positioned himself as an agent of change, both in his 2006 campaign running against the status quo and even today. “Change is never easy, and it’s rarely quick,” he said. Since the time of Republican Governor Frank Sargent, officials in the corner office have tried to be anti-establishment, but, if you want the legislature to work with you on your agenda, you can only beat up on them so much.

With the help of the legislature, the Governor has accomplished a great deal: reforms in ethics, pensions, transportation, education, automobile insurance, health law implementation, investments in clean energy and biotech, and, my own personal favorite, partial introduction of civilian flaggers at work sites. And, at the same time, they had to close a $9 billion budget gap. These initiatives are not flawless but are areas that for years had cried out for reform, with nothing happening.

Now the Governor pledges to fully fund education, put people back to work, lower health insurance costs, reform sentencing and modernize CORI laws, streamline government and bring property taxes down. Good luck to him and the Red Sox! If he has a plan to achieve that, he didn’t let on in his address.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker’s immediate spin was to say that Patrick had claimed “Massachusetts is just fine, and we’re making progress.” Baker, too, promises to cut spending, streamline government and break up the culture on Beacon Hill. But, as BlueMassGroup points out, he will be tagged as the “ultimate establishment candidate,” with the baggage that entails.

Massachusetts still faces a $3 billion deficit. We all want to know where it’s going to come from. Human services have already taken a huge hit. Neither Baker (a former Human Services Secretary) nor Patrick uttered the words “human services.”

At the end of the Governor’s address, he spent a long time applauding a Brockton High School volunteer program and praising its spirit of community. Is he looking for volunteerism to cover even deeper cuts in compassionate government services? Scary to think so. Scary times we live in.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Talking the Talk

If Congress tries to ram the Senate health bill through the House to avoid another Senate vote, there will be blood that will stain the rest of the Obama agenda and spill over into the congressional elections. President Obama said that the people of Massachusetts have spoken, and about-to-be Senator Scott Brown should be heard on the issue. This could be a good thing despite the clamor to redouble Democratic partisanship. Increasingly, the balance of voter power rests with activist independents who have no love for either of the parties or their representatives.

Another good thing is the tone of Brown’s first press conference after the election. This morning, he differentiated between the acidity of the campaign and what is needed to serve responsibly. He stressed his independence from reflexive Republican obstructionism. He voiced his distaste with “behind-the-scenes deals.” He called for transparency. He even praised Massachusetts Senate Presidents Travaligni and Murray for working collaboratively across the aisle on ethics, pension,and transportation reform, even stem cell research.

Brown pointed out that he voted for the landmark health care law here and feels reform is an important issue nationally. “Past campaign mode, it’s important to do something about health care,” he said, adding “there are some very good things” in the pending bill. His primary concern was that we consider Massachusetts first.

Brown hints he may be a new breed of Republican (or perhaps a throwback to a way earlier time?) “I’ve had a great relationship with Senator Kerry,” he said. “I have great respect for what he’s done.” Dismissing a question on Kerry’s recent partisan attacks on him, he said “the campaign is over.”

A long generation ago, Massachusetts was served well by a split delegation whose members worked collaboratively and across the aisle for the state and the nation. But that was a far different world from the partisan snake pit of today. Scott Brown’s press conference rhetoric of reasonableness matched the affability that helped propel him into office. The looming test ahead will be how he translates this gracious independent spirit into action once he joins Mitch McConnell and the Republican caucus.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Independents Are Kingmakers in Brown's Victory

photo by Charles Krupa/AP

John Kerry and Tom Menino may be the only Democratic officials actually on crutches, but, make no mistake about it: the entire state Democratic Party is among the walking wounded. Today’s results, unimaginable six weeks ago, places a Republican in this Senate seat for the first time in 60 years.

Scott Brown ran a campaign blended of skill and luck, blessed by timing. He rode a wave of public discontent: dislike of big government programs in general, opposition to national health reform in particular; frustration with a too slow economic recovery; antipathy toward the arrogance and corruption of one-party control at the state level. His opponent contributed to his success by running an embarrassing campaign and being an inadequate campaigner, with poorly articulated messages, astonishing serial gaffes, lateness to use her money on television, a dispirited GOTV effort and on and on. The campaign was Martha Coakley’s to lose, and she lost it.

It would be ironic if national health reform died today in this, the only state in the nation to have virtually universal access to health care. Scott Brown said, “We can do better.” We will soon see how he fulfills his victory speech pledge to work across the aisle and dissipate the toxic partisanship he has attributed to one party in Washington.

As Brown gets ready to be sworn in, the 2012 campaign for U. S. Senate begins. But, before then, Democrats here and elsewhere will be reading and misreading the tea leaves of this election. The enduring "blue state" image must be tempered by recalling that Ronald Reagan won twice here. Democrats still vastly outnumber Republicans in Massachusetts, but the growing and now dominant political force are the “unenrolled” Independents, and they are a force to be reckoned with in upcoming state and congressional elections.

Electronic Democracy in Action?

Both Martha Coakley and Scott Brown have deluged potential voters with robocalls. Amid the calls on behalf of Brown, a household of independent voters received the following live call this afternoon.

Caller: I’m calling to ask you to please vote for Scott Brown today. It’s very important that you get out and vote for him today.
Response: Thank you. Could you tell me why it’s important.
Caller: Because he’s opposed to the HELP bill. The HELP bill is bad. It’s bad for America.
Response: The HELP bill? Are you saying the HELP bill. H-E –L-P?
Caller: Yes
Response: Where are you calling from? Who are you working for?
Caller: I’m calling from Alabama, from a call center for the Republican Party.
Response: Why is this HELP bill bad? Isn’t helping usually a good thing? What kind of help does this bad bill provide?
Caller: I don’t know. I’m just calling from the Alabama Republican Party and they told me to tell people to vote for Scott Brown and the HELP bill is a bad thing.
Response: I’m confused. Do you have a supervisor who can explain things to me so I can make the right decision today?


Supervisor: We’re talking about the health bill. It’s just bad for America. It’s important to stop it.
Response: Why is it bad?
Supervisor: It’s just bad.
Response: Why?
Supervisor: It’s all over the news. Look at Scott Brown’s website to see why it’s bad. It’s important to stop it.
Response: OK, If I agree that the bill’s a bad thing and should be stopped, what will Scott Brown do after stopping the bill to make health care better for Americans?
Supervisor: It doesn’t tell us what to say.
Response: Is health care in Alabama as good as it can be? Are you satisfied with your health care plan?
Supervisor: No
Response: So, if I vote for Scott Brown, what’s he going to do to make healthcare better for you and your family in Alabama and for others in America?
Supervisor: It doesn’t tell us what he’s gonna do. I guess with any politician you just gotta wait and see. I don’t know what to tell you to do.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Boston Children's Chorus Celebrates Martin Luther King

Under the superb direction of Artistic Director Anthony Trecek-King, the Boston Children's Chorus celebrated today's holiday with a glorious concert this evening at Jordan Hall in Boston. The vocal arrangements were sensitive and moving and included a tribute to the late Senator Edward Kennedy, whose unexpired term will be filled by voters tomorrow.

A speech by Martin Luther King at Boston’s Jordan Hall in the 1960’s inspired Hubie Jones to a lifetime fighting for social justice. Hubie, known simply by his first name in liberal activist circles, is equally recognized throughout the Commonwealth for his 20 + years of dueling Republican analyst and talk-meister Avi Nelson on WCVB’s oft missed “Five on Five” Sunday morning discussion program (which I admit to having produced and often hosted.)

City Year photo

Nowadays Hubie is back in Jordan Hall for the annual Martin Luther King Concert. If it weren’t for Hubie, there might not be such a stirring concert, and there most certainly would not be a Boston Children’s Chorus and all that it means for Greater Boston.

Hubie Jones’ life has been one of fighting for the disadvantaged, whether as Dean of the Boston University School of Social Work, playing a key role in Mass. Advocates for Children, or as a driving force behind City Year, which became a national model. It was at a City Year convention that he heard the Chicago Children’s Chorus and said “Wow, this is something that Boston ought to have."

He saw such a chorus as a way of bringing together children from different racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds to learn about singing, form friendships and have fun. And so he set about doing it, raising money, helping to identify musical talent, and making the Chorus the capstone of his long career.

Today more than 350 children are involved in one of the nine BCC choruses, and the Martin Luther King Concert is seen across the country, thanks to WCVB. The chorus has gone international, to Japan, Mexico, and most recently to Jordan, at the invitation of King Abdullah.

The Martin Luther King concert is a signature event for the Boston Children's Chorus, but these "Ambassadors of Harmony" do 50 performances throughout the year that are well worth taking in.

Blue Massachusetts Sees Red?

The final polling results from Public Policy Polling in the U.S. Senate race show Scott Brown ahead of Martha Coakley by 51 percent to 46 percent, more comfortable than last week but still, it says, within its margin of error. Independents are running two to one in favor of Brown. Remember, it was Independents that tilted for Obama in 2008, and in this race they're in flight the other way.

Today's Boston Globe has a reasonable chart of the issues at stake, and, more broadly, it's clear that the stakes are as high as the survival of President Obama's domestic agenda.

AP photo

If blue Massachusetts goes red, it may not cost the President a second term in and of itself, but it would accelerate the downward trend in public support of Democrats nationwide in the mid-term elections. It could leave some queasy Democratic members of Congress heading for the doors, leaving a gridlocked Congress unable to do much about health care, jobs, energy, and regulation of the excesses of financial institutions. Midterm strategy for Democrats coming out of the closeness of this race (regardless of the outcome, as the New York Times' John Harwood puts it, should be pitting economic populism against Tea Party-type anti-government populism.

Turnout is always the key to outcome, no more so than in an off-year special election in the middle of winter. A month ago, with outcome foreordained, you could say about the race, who cares? Now, with attention dramatically aroused, the stakes painfully high and outcome uncertain, the question is: who cares more?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Wake Up Massachusetts!

Today's Suffolk University/7 News poll shows Scott Brown ahead of Martha Coakley for the first time -by four points, essentially a margin-of-error difference. This dramatic news is somewhat understandable when you look at how the people of Massachusetts have shifted on the state's 3-year-old health care law (making this race more than ever a proxy on health reform legislation). Given the relative success so far of the Mass. health reform law, this was a real shocker.

According to Jessica Van Sack's article in today's Boston Herald, a slight majority of voters are opposed to national health reform legislation, and nearly two thirds say it's unaffordable. Asked about support for the Mass. law, just 54 percent were supportive. This is stunning since a Blue Cross Blue Shield report last spring, three years into the law,put public support for it at 71 percent.

It could be that Scott Brown's claim that a national health law would hurt Massachusetts has frightened voters. Or it may be that public support in Massachusetts has gone south on its own. If this attitudinal change is real and figures significantly in the outcome of the Senate race, it would end the fillibuster-proof majority in the U.S. Senate for health reform and will dramatically undercut the Obama Presidency. For both Democrats and Republicans, the stakes here are very very high.

Coakley’s comment in the final debate that Al Qaeda is gone from Afghanistan is reminiscent of President Gerald Ford's denial in a 1976 debate that Poland was behind the Iron Curtain. Coakley's assertion may have been a misspeak, but it certainly didn’t play well on a day when three Americans were killed there.

Late fall of 1994, Ted Kennedy and Mitt Romney were running even. On election day, Kennedy won 58 percent to 41 percent. The next 100 hours in Massachusetts will make all the difference.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Economic Development in Haiti: can you say Jatropha?

I keep thinking about what Boston, Lowell, Minneapolis or New York would look like after a 7.0 earthquake, the crumbling buildings, bodies pinned beneath, the unavailability of food, water and electricity, the difficulty of getting medical care. The anguish is unimaginable. But the reality is now in the poorest country in our hemisphere. One wonders if Haiti will ever be able to make economic and social progress. Grinding poverty combines with repeated natural catastrophes to worsen an already bleak outlook. Right now, the only thing standing between Haiti and oblivion is the promise of massive (and hopefully coordinated) relief efforts. Nations and individuals must make good on that promise. But, as Haiti moves from rescue to recovery to rebuilding, what hope is there for the future?

Roger Jean-Charles is a doctor of internal medicine who has worked at Boston Medical Center and teaches medicine in Haiti. Haiti is his primary focus. In addition to his medical duties, which are undoubtedly today's overriding concern, he has been working for years to raise support to develop a Jatropha alternative fuel industry in Haiti.

Never heard of Jatropha? Voodoo practitioners in some parts of Haiti are said to use it to get rid of evil spirits. But in China, India and parts of Africa, scientists are looking at jatropha for its potential as bio-fuel.

Haiti suffers from, among many things, a chronic lack of electricity. The world suffers from over-dependence on fossil fuels. Jean-Charles is convinced that the jatropha seeds, which yield a kind of oil, can be processed into fuel. He believes that commercial cultivation of jatropha can benefit Haiti. Some projects are already underway.

Jean-Charles wants Haiti to be a leader in the alternative fuels movement. That will take collaboration among scientists, venture capitalists, politicians and even the world’s biggest fuel producers. The benefit would be to Haiti, the Caribbean economies and, yes, the world’s energy users.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Last Senate Debate.....Mercifully

A vote for Republican state Senator Scott Brown is a vote against health reform legislation. A vote for Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley is a vote against deficit reduction. Those are the main take-aways from last night's final debate among candidates seeking to fill Ted Kennedy's seat in the U.S. Senate. Conclusion: they may sit in it but they can't fill it. At least, not yet.

Brown is for the war in Afghanistan; Coakley is against it. Brown wants to try terrorists in military tribunals; Coakley is fine with civilian courts. Brown is for Roe v. Wade but is supported by pro-life organizations for his opposition to other pro-choice issues; Coakley is for Roe v. Wade and so strongly pro-choice that she'd vote down a health care bill if it included anything like the ultra restrictive House-passed Stupak amendment . Brown would stimulate job creation by cutting taxes; Coakley's considering a second stimulus package. And on and on.

Coakley's prosecutorial demeanor was tightly wound and strictly disciplined, as always. The corners of her mouth bent slightly upward at 22 minutes into the debate. It was 36 minutes into it before she displayed a warm, authentic smile. We scarcely needed Scott Brown's admonition to her that "I'm not a defendant; I'd like to answer the question."

If you think this may be the last chance for health reform legislation in our generation, if you value the range of protections that devolve from Roe v. Wade, if you'd like to believe Coakley that she'd raise taxes for only the top two percent of the country, if you care about the intergenerational compact to support Social Security for seniors, it's best not to be suckered in by Scott Brown's easy-going style and general likability.

David Gergen challenged the candidates to let voters in on who they really are. Coakley said she likes downhill skiing, cooking, and "I can be funny, believe it or not." I hope so because, absent evidence of that, we're left to infer something warm and fuzzy about her from the fact that she's a dog lover and owns two labs. (Elsewhere, Coakley told the Boston Herald's Margery Eagan that "the passion that I have shows in the work I do.")

Independent/libertarian candidate Joe L. Kennedy declared himself, seriously as always, to be the small government candidate, saying he is "the only candidate who will cut spending."

It would be wonderful to be able to vote for someone whom we support on the issues and could warm to personally. It would be wonderful to have a grand persona like Ted Kennedy's. What we have is a watering down of the political gene pool, and this election can't be over soon enough!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Huntington Theatre's "All My Sons" a Home Run

This play has it all - powerful acting, taut story line, deft direction, exquisite set design, even top-notch sound. It's such a compelling production that you don't want to leave your seat at the end.

The themes of Arthur Miller's 1947 drama All My Sons, which opened last night at the Huntington Theatre, are as relevant today as they were more than 60 years ago: delusion, denial, accountability, career building versus truth, family relationships. It's Miller channelling Ibsen channeling Greek tragedies.

How many of us "of a certain age" remember our parents decrying so-called pillars of the community who earned their status from war profiteering? Makes you think about the back stories of the unarmored vehicles in Iraq and other tales we have yet to hear.

All My Sons is about a family in a typical middle American community, coming to grips with the fact that the father, the tragically flawed protagonist ably played by Will Lyman, grew his factory selling airplane cylinder heads to the military. When cracks appeared in some of the parts, he directed his then partner to patch them and ship them anyway. Twenty-one pilots died. The partner went to prison; the father got off.

Meanwhile, his son Chris, for whom the father claims to have built the business, wants to marry the partner's daughter, who had been his brother's sweetheart. (Chris, played stirringly by Lee Aaron Rosen, is the moral center of the play.)The brother went missing in the war and is presumed dead by everyone but the mother, movingly played by Karen MacDonald.

All My Sons is all about the lies we tell others and ourselves in order to survive and how ultimately the truth must be reckoned with.

The audience is involved every minute as the story unfolds. The emotions pack a punch. This is one of the best Huntington productions in a long time. See Sam Allis' interview with director David Esbjornson on January 8th. This production is a much better one than the play's 2008 revival on Broadway. Don't miss it!

Katrina victims still hanging out to dry

With all the riveting headline issues - Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, unemployment, terrorist bombing attempts - not to mention health care reform and the U.S. Senate race - it's easier to forget the continuing effects of hurricane Katrina on the least powerful residents of New Orleans. Levelled by winds, rain and flooding back in 2005, thousands are being ground down still further by unrelenting government bureaucracy as they try to get help for their desperate circumstances. Take the case of Chris Meehan, (son of a classmate of mine), whom the New Orleans Times-Picayune editorialized about yesterday.

The details of his case were laid out dramatically in a Times-Picayune article by reporter David Hammer on December 23. Only one outrage among many was when Meehan's application for assistance was rejected on the basis of fraud. An inspector, Meehan says, from Boston, claimed Meehan couldn't possibly live where he said he lived because "a white person wouldn't live in a black neighborhood." Meehan was cleared of fraud. Will Boston ever be cleared of charges of racism?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Mass. politics yesterday and today

The Massachusetts political pipeline does seem to be opening up this year, uncorked at the top by the passing of Ted Kennedy, with a slight domino effect in lower level offices. David Bernstein predicts an unprecedented reshuffling in this year's upcoming political races in today's Boston Phoenix. Add to the mix the vacancy caused by 30-year veteran Joe DeNucci's departure from the Auditor's post, with at least 4 or 5 lower level pols contemplating moving up, which would create still more openings. For political junkies, this could be a banner year!

Most politicians are disinclined to tackle incumbents, so their upward mobility has been akin to watching the obituary pages to scope out when a house in a desirable neighborhood might go on the market. It has been a very slow process.

Bernstein speculates that Deval Patrick, John Kerry, Martha Coakley and Terry Murray will use their clout to support opposing candidates in some of these races. This is nothing new. Democratic party politics in Massachusetts has always been personality politics. We've had Bellotti Democrats, Dukakis Democrats, Ed King Democrats, Bob Quinn Democrats. You get the idea. You'd have to infer who stood for what from their affiliations. You couldn't say what the Democrats as a party stood for because often Republican candidates were ideologically more to left than Democrats. Republican U.S. Senator Ed Brooke's distinguished record was virtually indistinguishable from many on the other side of the aisle, (persuading conservative/libertarian Avi Nelson to challenge him from the right in the GOP primary in 1978). GOP Governor Frank Sargent was pro-consumer, pro-environment, etc and had little in common with Republicans on the scene today.

Brown v. Coakley has been easier to understand as a partisan slugfest! Each seems to fall in line with national party expectations. Yet, Brown's meeting yesterday with the Boston Herald editorial board (reported on by both Margery Eagan and Jessica Van Sack) suggests he's trying to position himself toward the center, believing if he makes himself more ideologically palatable, he could pull off an upset. It may be too little too late, unless Democratic voter fatigue, an election day blizzard and some of the Martha Coakley concerns raised by Joan Vennochi in today's Globe come together in a perfect storm.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Scott Brown, per diems and the big picture

Jessica Van Sack's article in today's Boston Herald questions Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown's consistency in holding himself up as the candidate of fiscal responsibility and taking over $3500 in per diems in 2009 in addition to his state Senate salary of $80,000. As I told her in the piece, it might not matter in good times, but, in a recession, we regular working stiffs get ticked off about things. Hey, no one pays us to commute to our regular job!

It's all a matter of context. Some legislators refuse to take their per diems. Some turn down their pay raises or turn them over to charity. Scott Brown told Jim Braude and Margery Eagan on this morning's WTKK Senate debate that he turned his pay raise over to 12 food pantries. As he pockets the per diems, I am more interested in how he votes on funding for the homeless and disabled.

Let's face it. With 600,000 voters participating in the Democratic primary and 160,000 taking a Republican ballot, the odds on the 19th are reminiscent of the Kennedy/Malone race in 1990. Is Scott Brown taking a page out of Malone's play book: be the GOP sacrificial lamb; stay nice in the campaign; have voters reward you when you run for statewide office? Can you say Brown for Governor in 2014?

That said, Laura Crimaldi has posted a piece on the Herald web that has Brown within striking distance of Democrat Attorney General Martha Coakley. The Globe has a similar posting and notes that, according to the Rasmussen poll, the margin is just two points among voters who say they absolutely positively will vote in the primary.

Is it possible that Massachusetts voters would replace Ted Kennedy with a Republican? It doesn't seem possible that voters in the Bay State, the first to provide nearly universal access to health insurance, would send to Washington someone who will deny the Senate the crucial 60th vote on health reform!