State House Roundup: Seeing Spots
That strange clicking noise in the air, that incessant whine coming from the TV - it's the sound of 1,000 war chests creaking open simultaneously, unleashing an onslaught of mixed messages, half-truths and sound bites intended to inform and misinform voters all the way to Nov. 2.
It's that time when candidates blend the fruits of election-year fundraising into a puree of advertisements and mailers, each seeming to reach farther back into the past the closer voters get to deciding their future.
Relitigating history is nothing new for the political class, but rarely has it seemed so beside the point. "Jobs, jobs, jobs" has morphed into "rape, rape, rape" on Cape Cod, as Democrat Bill Keating and Republican Jeff Perry duke it out over who's a bigger coddler of sex offenders.
In the race for governor, the jobs prescription has amounted to repeated calls for investment in education and infrastructure by Democrat Deval Patrick and lower taxes and government spending by Republican Charles Baker, followed quickly by spitting and screaming over which former corporate executive had a bigger payday.
Even when they did talk about jobs - the state lost 20,900 in September, and 3,000 in August, but the unemployment rate fell to 8.4 percent - the candidates cherry-picked their way around solutions. The Baker camp seemed jubilant that some economic news broke their way, calling a press conference Friday to underscore Massachusetts's worst job month in 19 years. Meanwhile, the Patrick administration trotted out everyone but Diane to tout the drop in the unemployment rate, mixed messages be damned.
In other jobs news, Cape Wind and the Patrick administration stuck it to Rhode Island (unemployment rate 11.5 percent), initially eyed as the site for the offshore project's staging ground. The announcement that New Bedford would be the site afforded Patrick the opportunity to stand with Congressman Barney Frank for the third time in two weeks to make a major economic development announcement in support of the downtrodden city.
The week featured a relatively listless question-and-answer session between Patrick, Baker, Independent Tim Cahill and Green Rainbow candidate Jill Stein, their second to last televised meeting before the polls open. In a subtle inflection point, Patrick described his support for "an MCAS" - a prepositional sleight-of-hand that, unintentionally or not, reminded viewers of his plans to lead a national consortium in developing a new metric for student achievement. Maybe the MCAS is going somewhere after all.
The next 11 days can't go by fast enough for Rep. Perry, who finds himself in the crosshairs once again for his purported role in a lurid 1990s sexual assault that got his Wareham Police Department partner canned and has provided fodder for Democrats. Perry was never charged in the decades-old matter and has denied any wrongdoing, but the victim who was illegally strip-searched by Perry's partner came out this week and contended Perry stood by during the assault and allowed it to happen. Although the allegations are well-trodden, the victim's voice amplified them and led even some Republicans to pull back on their full-throated support for Perry. Democrats sensed opportunity and demanded that Baker withdraw support for Perry. Independent candidate for governor Tim Cahill said Friday that Baker should reconsider plans to campaign with Perry this week, and former Republican gubernatorial candidate Christy Mihos called on Perry to drop out of the race.
Election Day appears to have begun in earnest already, with candidates scraping for absentee ballots weeks before the polls officially open. Unenforceable rules that restrict the use of absentee ballots mean voters with access to a mailbox can cast their votes now - and thousands have. Parties are employing the loose rules as a get-out-the-vote method, sending ballot applications to potential supporters and urging them to cast their votes TODAY! - with the nominal stipulation that they should, in theory, expect to be outside their home districts Nov. 2.
It's not that there weren't chances for political candidates to put a stake in the ground on the most pressing policy issues facing Massachusetts. On Wednesday, the Massachusetts Medical Society described a worsening shortage of primary care physicians leading to months-long waits for new patients. On Monday, a pair of major New England utilities announced a multi-billion-dollar merger with potential implications for energy rates, service and renewable energy. A legislative push to penalize welfare recipients for using their benefits cards for booze and cigarettes began snaking its way through the House.
Barely a policy-oriented whisper from the campaigns, each visibly - sometimes painfully - striving to stay on message and avoid gaffes in the final hours. The lone exception came when Tim Cahill, late Friday morning, took an 11th-hour stab at a high-level health care policy he borrowed from the Scandinavian court system. The plan, he said, would be to transfer health care-related litigation to administrative health courts and out of the jury trial system, the same way worker compensation and labor disputes are handled. The change would save millions in health care costs for liability insurance, he said.
Cahill also took flak this week for shelling out $20,000 to his lawyer for a suit against former campaign aides days after he accepted $571,000 in public matching funds for his campaign. A poll released late Friday found that Stein is nipping at his heels, coming within the margin of error of Cahill in a Friday Western New England College poll that found Patrick leading Baker by 8 percentage points.
Patrick, meanwhile, appears to be hoping for a little divine intervention in the race, asking two audiences - the AARP Wednesday and Thursday's TV debate crowd - to send "your prayers" in his direction.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Jobs spin-job.
PAY-TO-MAIL: Another week, another entry into the political lexicon. Republicans, apprised of a slew of major donations from Democratic legislative candidates to the state Democratic Party, are calling on the U.S. Postal Service to investigate alleged "pay-to-mail" violations. In a pay-to-mail scenario, candidates take advantage of the party's non-profit status to pay for discounted mailers that are then distributed throughout their districts. Problem is, the U.S. Postal Service forbids the practice. Democratic Party officials say the funds they have raised and attracted from candidates are intended for a large-scale, coordinated get-out-the-vote effort.
FOR THE GOVERNOR'S ROLODEX: On Monday, Bill Vernon endorsed Charlie Baker, leading to a resounding "huh?" from Gov. Deval Patrick who said he wasn't sure who Vernon was. A quick perusal of Vernon's online bio reveals him as the 11-year state director of the National Federation for Independent Business - "the voice of small business" - a Republican state lawmaker from 1982 to 1991 and the chair of the state Republican Party from 1994 to 1997. Vernon, a Wesleyan University graduate with a law degree from Boston University, also served stints at the MBTA and the State Lottery.
This program aired on October 22, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.