Sunday, October 29, 2006

Angling For The Corner Office

Four hundred years ago, my ancestor became the second governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony and helped his band of religious fundamentalists survive a harsh winter in this new land. I'm sure politics were nasty then, but in no way could he have foreseen the depths to which the battle to govern would descend. This year's gubernatorial race in Massachusetts has been the most vicious in memory.

Republican Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey has spent the better part of this past month slinging mud at her Democratic opponent, former Clinton Administration civil rights lawyer Deval Patrick. She ignored for the longest time any talk about her own agenda in order to push one issue to death, Patrick's professional advocacy for a convicted rapist, Benjamin LaGuer, who was convicted by a racist jury of a crime he DID actually commit, the proof determined years later after DNA testing became available. In a series of misleading attack ads, Healey harped on Patrick for having fallen for LaGuer's convincing protestations of innocence, claims which suckered a variety of other Bay State politicians and opinionmakers until the DNA evidence made things a lock. Healey's ads began with a simple format which took advantage of Patrick being caught flat-footed on this issue when it first arose, ending with the linguistically misleading tag: "even brutal rapists are entitled to a lawyer, but do we really want one as our governor". The final end featured a white woman walking alone in a deserted parking lot, conjuring images of thugs waiting underneath a car to slash her Achilles tendon or something, as the ad talks about how a woman (governor) would never praise a convicted rapist and ending with "Deval Patrick should be ashamed, not governor."

But Healey was fighting against a nationwide Democratic tide among other things. Patrick kept pure to his positive message, attacking Healey on substantive issues linked to her role as chief lackey of the outgoing Republican chief executive, Willard Mitt Romney. Seeing the rise in unfavorables go to Healey is one of the few times I have spent observing politics that made me feel good about my fellow voters. Most black politicians, even in our oh so educated and enlightened state, suffer from what is known as the Bradley Effect. This refers to the 1982 California gubernatorial campaign of African-American Tom Bradley, whom pollsters said was over 5 points in the lead and lost the race. People were believed to have told the pollsters that they would or had voted for Bradley, when inside the booth, they couldn't go through with it. Right now, Patrick is around 25 points ahead of Healey, a margin which, the Bradley effect aside, poses an insurmountable barrier to future Republican rule in the Bay State.

This leaves Republicans with one argument left, mirroring national GOP talking points. That is that more gridlock is necessary to prevent the Democratic legislature from uncontrolled spending, the threat of phantom taxes. So while Kerry Healey makes a big show out of signing a no new taxes pledge, she supports a massive fee increase to ride the T, which would wipe out whatever gains might go into the pocket of millions of commuters, a tax by any other name.

After 16 years of GOP rule, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is in trouble: we have the third-worst economy in the country; a crumbling transportation infrastructure; and a property tax that has gone up 42 percent in the past 5 years. Housing has become totally unaffordable, making Massachusetts the only state in the country that has lost population two years in a row. One unspoken factor in this campaign has been Romney's barnstorming around the country in support of his nascent presidential bid. It's pretty hard to govern Massachusetts from Iowa or even New Hampshire. Sure he may look good in a hard hat, but ultimately he gave an $8 million contract extension to the same firm he earlier called unreliable on safety, after the tunnel they shoddily built crushed a women to death. Even Romney's biggest triumph, the universal health care mandate, was enacted with little thought about how it would actually be funded except for the 'no new taxes' smokescreen, and seems pushed purely for the Romney campaign literature. Many people have gotten upset at how he uses 'Governor of Massachusetts' as a punchline to red-state crowds. But the voters have seen where his party's politics and specifically the tactics of personal vilification and dismissal of opposing viewpoints have lead our nation, and Patrick's lead is a sign they are beginning to lose their dreadful sway.

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