Monday, May 3, 2010

Tim Cahill's Independent Candidacy: Neither Here Nor There

Tim Cahill appears to be a nice guy with a pleasant sense of humor. Over time he has become more relaxed and articulate in his public presentations, but when he speaks—and when he answers questions-- he skims the surface of topics, offering messaging themes and often avoiding specifics. Right now, his function is to divide the anti-Deval Patrick vote and drive Charlie Baker further to the right.

Speaking at a recent breakfast sponsored by Denterlein Worldwide and Associated Industries of Massachusetts, he said why he is running as an Independent, without providing any sophisticated critique of partisan politics or explaining how an Independent governorship here would actually work.

His line: “The two-party system can no longer solve our problems. It’s not fixing our economy. Jobs are the #1 concern. We need good people from both sides. There’s too much partisan bickering.” It appears he is simply making a generalized appeal to unenrolled voters here, who make up the plurality of the MA electorate, without fully appreciating the variations, subtleties and different motivations of those who choose to be officially unaffiliated. Most unenrolled voters are not without partisan predilections. And those who are truly non-partisan often end up not voting.

Certainly the two-party system at the federal level is stymied by toxic partisanship, and worse. But in Massachusetts there’s not enough partisan bickering, let alone rational debate. Frustration with the longtime one-party domination of the legislature, tied to the powers and personalities of strong leaders, contributed to the ticket-spitting that put Weld, Cellucci and Romney in the corner office. And Cahill probably assumes that this gives him his opening. But what is he offering?

Cahill insists the state’s health law, what he calls “RomneyCare,” is “ruining the state” and that he’d increase access through competition. But that horse has left the barn. For decades, unfettered competition was the approach, and it meant skyrocketing prices that froze many out of coverage. As for the big teaching hospitals’ controlling the market and raising costs, Cahill thinks consumers should be able to shop around in this competitive market, which would incentivize them to go to outlying hospitals, smaller and less costly than the teaching hospitals. This may work in theory, but are you going to price shop when you’re facing an emergency appendectomy or a brain tumor?

He says that Deval Patrick’s effort to control health premiums to help small businesses (by having state regulators reject excessive rates) “may help in the short term but is not a long-term solution.” Cahill’s support of letting insurance companies sell across state lines and introducing more insurance products into the marketplace has some appeal, but he puts too much faith in the competitive model in health care. And shouldn’t we be focused on making the state’s health law work rather than vaporizing it at this stage of the process?

“Incentivizing” is a big theme for Cahill, who cites the strategy he adopted as Treasurer in funding school construction (districts that choose one of the state’s architectural designs will get more state construction dollars). He criticizes as the wrong incentive bailing out the city of Lawrence when it had mired itself in debt. Would he let it go bankrupt? He agrees that municipal workers should all be in the state’s insurance plan, but he’d get there through incentivizing them to support it and, as governor, wouldn’t take on the legislature to remove the requirement that 70% of them must approve such a move. He said he’d go along with it if the legislature passes that a bill to that effect, but prefers that it be collectively bargained. Fat chance that the legislature will go that route!

Cahill’s incentivizing call has its limits. When it comes to a gas tax increase designed to incentive conservation, his opposition to taxes trumps incentivizing the reduction of gas guzzling. And, while opposing Cape Wind because of the cost to ratepayers, he doesn’t say how he’d incentivize the development of non-fossil-fuel-based energy sources.

Cahill takes several pages from the Republicans’ playbook and says he’d stimulate jobs by cutting taxes (sales, corporate, income and capital gains). He’d oppose recent legislation to direct government monies be invested in areas that create jobs. “Government shouldn’t have an industrial policy,” he said. But he would support Speaker DeLeo’s casino and racino gambling proposal.

Here and there Cahill makes a point (e.g., his position on school construction). But this business of running as an Independent comes across as a kind of splatter painting, bold strokes of opposition to how things are but no sense of how realistically he’d use the power of the office to do much beyond dismantling.

- Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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