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The People Spoke

Posted by Scott Harshbarger November 4, 2010 01:16 PM

We have heard from commentators, pundits, polls, candidates, and advertisements. Tuesday, the People finally had their chance – and they spoke clearly. Here are a few of my "Reflections" on what we learned from all of you.

In Massachusetts, we learned that the "Scott Brown Movement” created by his sweeping election in January was no more a movement than Obama's sweeping election in 2008. While they both were excellent candidates who ran great campaigns, they both had flawed opponents and misread the "mood and mandate". In fact, they benefited from "perfect storms": In Brown's case, anger and frustration, triggered by reactions to the arrogance of the leaders of one-party rule in Massachusetts, insider games on Beacon Hill and inside the Beltway, and excessive spending with still record unemployment; in Obama's case, 8 years of Bush-Cheney fatigue, unregulated financial markets, two wars and international crises, and profligate spending; and, for both, by voters who had had it with the status quo and just wanted change, new perspectives and voices, and solutions and problem solving.

And, of course, Deval Patrick ran a great campaign. But Brown’s election in January was a wake-up call for Democrats, who ran a brutal coordinated field campaign statewide. Republicans meanwhile fielded too many weak and flawed candidates, ideologues who spouted used slogans and cookie-cutter campaign themes. In doing so they missed the human dimension entirely, failing to realize the need for candidates to actually earn support, have experience, and stand for something themselves. Charlie Baker, a political newcomer but a very solid, competent leader, fell victim to this. He never figured out how to define himself as a candidate, except one who was angry at Deval and Democrats, who actually had worked hard to mitigate national trends.

Patrick, Sydney Asbury, Doug Rubin, John Walsh, were an exceptional political team and strategists. They won the old-fashioned way – with GOTV and a very, very good candidate with a positive message, (helped a lot by Bob Haynes who single-handedly rallied labor in the 10th and elsewhere to stay with Deval).

For all the rightful criticism the media and commentators/pundits get and got, a few kudos are in order. There was far more comprehensive coverage of governor candidates than before, including personal and campaign stories, good coverage of all the issues, and plenty of debates. As a result, the electorate came to realize how competent this group of candidates was and is. But at some point, the line must be drawn in terms of who is entitled to equal footing in debates or coverage, as the final election campaign comes to closure.

In terms of ongoing commentary – no one is better than Payne and Domke on BUR, or their blogs. And as tough and opinionated as she is, Emily Rooney consistently fosters good political discussions and forums.

Nationally, "money in politics" made a huge difference – in local TV revenue, consultants compensation, and negative campaigning; while money alone may have only defeated a few incumbents, it did make this mid-term election national not local! And the impact of the Supreme Court decision in "Citizens United' should not be discounted. Every member of Congress knows now that he or she must raise money to win and/or to fend off challengers who may be funded by labor unions on one side, or major corporate interests on the other, without limit. Therefore, they will shape their actions accordingly and money will again dictate the agenda. On the other hand, several major candidates – Whitman, Fiorina and McMahon – lost, in spite of spending hundreds of millions of their own dollars!

In terms of the economy and spending, the wars and the fact that we have spent over $1 Trillion in Iraq and Afghanistan were not mentioned here or nationally. And very few pointed out the obvious – a cessation of this wildly profligate and unaccountable spending could be a remedy for the current economic downturn. Sure, that money has created a ton of jobs and revenue for private contractors and major corporations, but not for small businesses and the unemployed here. In addition, do we really think the new Republican majority in Congress will now claw back the TARP and bail-out dollars from banks, AIG, GM, the financial institutions, or claw back the stimulus dollars from projects in all their districts? Do they really believe an unregulated/unfettered "free market" will provide a competitive level playing field and consumer protections for the middle class, the unemployed and small businesses? They will come to understand that you need to be careful what you wish for! As Peter Parker’s Uncle so wisely told a young Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility. The Republicans now have both, the latter of which may cause a sobering post-election hangover.

Finally, the question now is what Deval Patrick learned and will do differently, and will he actually stay for 4 years? My personal wish list is not only that he stay as governor for his duly elected four years (unlike the previous four Republican governors who won and then fled the state) but that he take two action steps immediately – steps that I believe are major investments in prevention, in fiscal accountability, and that cost nothing – investments that "look up and forward; not down and to the past":

First, select a leader and task force to launch a major, coordinated urban violence reduction action plan; and designate leaders to launch major Corrections, Probation and Criminal Justice reform efforts – both with timelines and a sense of urgency.

Second, prepare now for a renewed debate on proposals for expanded gambling by conducting – before the end of the year – an independent regulatory and cost/benefit review, similar to the New Hampshire Gaming Study Commission. At a minimum, I hope the Governor will ensure that Massachusetts has a regulatory and enforcement structure in place that will protect the public and consumers, and represent the public interest. A best practices and data-driven process evaluating the complexities of expanding gambling can provide the economic, legal and social framework for a comprehensive debate and serve as the basis for our public policy decision-making.

ONE MORE KUDO: to the “people” who participated in this election, thank you for being active and engaged citizens, who recognize that, the office of “citizen” is the most important office in our democracy.

The Caritas Deal Deserved AG Approval

Posted by Scott Harshbarger October 22, 2010 01:11 PM

On October 6, 2010, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley released a report related to the proposed transfer of the Caritas Christi Hospital System ("Caritas") to Steward Health Care System LLC, an affiliate of Cerberus Capital Management, L.P. The report, "The Statement" contains the Attorney General's analysis – under Massachusetts charitable law and the Attorney General's role as public charities overseer – of its five month evaluation and assessment of the proposed sale of Caritas to Steward, a newly-created for-profit entity, controlled, owned and funded by Cerberus, a private equity fund. The Attorney General supports the sale, with a variety of conditions designed to protect health care consumers in Massachusetts, and made that recommendation to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the ultimate arbiter. (A hearing before Single Justice Spina was held on October 20, and a decision is expected by end of the month.)

FULL ENTRY

YES WE CAN. Part II: Corrections Reform

Posted by Scott Harshbarger October 18, 2010 07:00 AM

The recent news that Department of Corrections Commissioner, Harold Clarke, will be leaving Massachusetts for the top Corrections post in the Commonwealth of Virginia comes as a surprise. Commissioner Clarke, who throughout his career has advanced community-based reentry programs, has been hand-picked by one of the country’s most conservative governors.

FULL ENTRY

PAST IS PROLOGUE: Comments on the 40th Anniversary of Common Cause

Posted by Scott Harshbarger October 13, 2010 03:24 PM

One of the great historic citizens lobbying, advocacy and government watchdog groups, Common Cause, celebrated its 40th anniversary in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, October 6, 2010. Founded by John Gardner in 1970 because, in his view, "the only group in Washington that was not organized was the people", Common Cause was a pioneer and model for a non-partisan, non-profit, 501(C)(4) organization mobilizing the people's voice and the public interest in the Halls of Congress, the Executive branch and State Houses around the country. The Gala event featured major tributes to, and speeches by Arianna Huffington, Robert Reich (the new Common Cause Board Chair), the actor-activist Sam Waterston, and Bill Moyers, among others.

FULL ENTRY

YES WE CAN Reduce Urban Violence. Part I

Posted by Scott Harshbarger September 28, 2010 11:14 AM

The headlines of the front page of the BOSTON GLOBE – Saturday, September 25, 2010: "Spike in violence has city on edge – calls for more patrols, tougher firearm penalties…Police say homicides, shootings and burglaries are on the rise again, spurred by drugs and gang feuds and abetted by cuts to crime-fighting budgets…Peace shattered, fear revisits a Boston neighborhood".

FULL ENTRY

Margaret Marshall: Exceptional and Powerful

Posted by Scott Harshbarger July 21, 2010 03:30 PM

My contemporary and friend, Margie Marshall, represented many things to many people, and at many different times in her life.

FULL ENTRY

Before we expand gambling, What are the odds? Part II

Posted by Scott Harshbarger July 9, 2010 10:29 AM

The Legislature seems determined to legalize Class III gambling in the state, passing proposals which include at least three major casinos and thousands of highly-addictive and economically-destructive slot machines.

In my first blog on this topic (June 21, 2010), I recommended 7 Essential Steps, before we launched this massive legislative change, to ensure we put in place established best practices for the essential regulatory, legal and fiscal regime – upfront – to minimize the predictable and unintended negative consequences that even supporters know will come with this kind of expanded gambling. These consequences include increased crime and corruption; economic "cannibalization"; major addiction and social harms; the fact that special interests will influence the selection, siting and implementation processes; and that the critical decisions will, just like the legislation itself, be made behind closed doors, without open and transparent disclosure, due diligence, and independent monitoring, regulating and oversight/enforcement. It is now or never, frankly, because once the legislation is enacted, and the race for the gold and the gold rush begins, this expansion will become a runaway express train.

FULL ENTRY

Before we expand gambling, 7 essential steps. Part I

Posted by Scott Harshbarger June 21, 2010 12:00 PM

Many seem to accept the reality that expanded gambling will bring new and significant social, economic, public health, criminal justice, regulatory, public and consumer protection costs and risks. Even with the hoped-for economic and entertainment benefits that are the only public policy justifications for casinos and slots, surely we should do all we can, to prepare for all of the identifiable and quantifiable consequences, and do so before, not after, the fact. We should also surely try to mitigate any predictable, albeit unintended consequences.

FULL ENTRY

About the author

Scott Harshbarger's distinguished public career includes serving two terms as Massachusetts Attorney General (and President of the National Association of Attorneys General)  and as the Democratic candidate for Governor of More »

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