Wednesday, October 11, 2006

First, the big news...the Inkwell Productions "I Hate People" wristbands have arrived. They will be making their debut at the Rock and Shock Convention in Worcester, MA this weekend, but you can order one from me for just $4 ($3 plus a dollar postage). E-mail me for ordering details. Comes in two sizes: large and extra large.

The following post is my story on the recent gubernatorial debate here. If you're a non-Massachusetts resident, I'm sure this wil be fairly boring, but for in state readers, I hope it will be an alternative to the debate coverage from the other local press.

SPRINGFIELD - Some debates are like boxing matches with two opponents trying to take each other out.

Others resemble the elimination wrestling bouts in which participants gang up on each other until two are standing in the ring.

The western Massachusetts gubernatorial debate on Oct. 3 at American International College was definitely more of a wrestling match with the four candidates squaring off at each other.

Lt. Governor Kerry Healey, the Republican candidate, and Democratic candidate Deval Patrick were clearly interested in engaging each other in the issues. Standing in their way, literally and figuratively, was independent Christy Mihos who was taking pot shots at Healey every chance he could get.

And although Green-Rainbow Party candidate Grace Ross might have been initially discounted as too far to the left to be taken seriously as a candidate, she showed an ability to talk about issues aimed at both the middle class and voters who are middle road.

Patrick began his time in Springfield with an afternoon press conference at which he and his running mate Mayor Tim Murray of Worcester received the endorsements of Mayors Rick Sullivan of Westfield, John Barrett of North Adams, Michael Sullivan of Holyoke, Charles Ryan of Springfield, James Ruberto of Pittsfield, Mary Clare Higgins of Northampton, Christine Forgey of Greenfield, Michael Tautznik of Easthampton and Michael Bissonette of Chicopee.

Patrick also received the blessing of Congressman Richard Neal and, perhaps more significantly, the endorsement of the Springfield Patrolman's Union. The local has traditionally backed Republican candidates for the corner office and when asked why the change this year Union President Tom Scanlon replied with a smile, "We've finally smartened up."

Patrick said that unlike one of his opponents - Healey - he is not a "criminal theorist." He said that he headed at the Department of Justice under President Bill Clinton, the largest criminal investigation in the history of the department prior to the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

He pledged to put 1,000 new police officers on the streets of the Commonwealth if elected and to use resources to help prevent crime as well.

Patrick's stand on crime was both a subject of the debate and of the days following the debate with news stories breaking that Patrick had written letters in support of a convicted rapist who he thought may not have received a fair trial.

The Healey campaign also brought to light a Florida trial in which Patrick successfully argued to reduce police killer Carl Ray Songer's death sentence to life in prison.

In a statement released on Thursday by the Healey campaign former Florida prosecutor Tom Hogan wrote, "Every voter in Massachusetts needs to know and understand the facts of this case, and the devastating effect it had on Trooper Smith's family and our community. Massachusetts needs to know these are the types of cases Deval Patrick agreed to take as a private attorney.

"In my career, I prosecuted numerous capital murder cases. No one deserved the death penalty more than Carl Ray Songer. Unfortunately, Mr. Patrick came in and worked to get his sentence reduced, on a technicality."

The Patrick campaign was also questioning Healey and running mate Reed Hillman's past in law and order issues.

In an Oct. 4 statement, the Patrick campaign wrote, "It is the height of politics-as-usual that the Healey/Hillman campaign is criticizing Deval Patrick today, when their Lt. Governor candidate Reed Hillman's record includes contacting the parole board on behalf of James W. Mitchell, a 'buddy,' who was accused of assaulting a police officer and other crimes; when Kerry Healey skipped more than half of the meetings of the Criminal History Systems Board during her two year appointment there; and when the Romney/Healey Administration has vetoed support for the sex offender registry and their record on crime and public safety is one of cuts in public safety initiatives and rising crime and violence."

Public safety was a concern with some of the demonstrators outside of the Sprague Cultural Center on the AIC campus. About 200 people carrying signs for their Sprague Cultural Center on the AIC campus. About 200 people carrying signs for their candidates were gathered and one group had signs that were more provocative than most alluding to Healey as "soft on crime."

The protesters were from the Massachusetts Corrections Officers Federated Union. The union's president, Steve Kenneway, explained the 5,000 member union wants voters to know the Romney-Healey administration has taken steps which have "endangered officers" in the Commonwealth's correctional facilities.

Although there are more debates scheduled this was the only one for western Massachusetts. Produced by WGBY, moderator Jim Madigan policed the debate's time limits to the best of his abilities, but it was clear that candidates were willing to stretch the rules.

Healey asked the first question to her opponents on whether or not they would go with the will of the voters and roll back the state income tax to five percent.

"Is your will more important than the will of the people," she asked.

Mihos said he would support a rollback, but any governor would need the support of the Legislature, something he said Healey has not sought.

Patrick said he would rather reduce property tax and fees.

Ross said that people in Massachusetts have talked about "no new taxes for 16 years and we're drowning in no new taxes."
She said she would work for a new formula for the state income tax so the lower economic groups would pay only their fair share.

Healey declared that no one had answered her question, a statement that might have been technically true - no one did address whether or not their will was more important than the will of the voter - but was disingenuous. All of the candidates had stated their goals for revamping the state income tax.

Mihos asked a question about all of the candidates crashing a closed door meeting on health care. Ross said with a smile, 'We're going," but Mihos's questions was clearly aimed at Healey and the transparency of a Healey administration.

"Answer me," he asked Healey. "You didn't answer me."

Looking at Patrick, Mihos said, "He'd go to the opening of a letter."

Finally, a slightly exasperated Healey said, "I'm not with you."

Patrick, taking on a parental role, said, "All right, you two."

Within the first few minutes of the debate the pattern of relationship had been struck, Mihos, who briefly discussed how he had been removed from the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and the board of the University of Massachusetts by Acting Governor Jane Swift as part of political payback, seemingly was in this race to be a spoiler.

He seemed fixed on a course on challenging Healey when political wisdom would have called on his challenging the status quo represented by both Healey and Patrick.

With the release of his television commercial in which officials place their heads in a difficult place to reach to avoid answering questions about Big Dig cost over-runs, one wonders if Mihos simply wants to be the monkey wrench tossed into the machine of this election.

Mihos, who in his concluding statement said with a broad smile, "It has been a pretty good debate," did get to specifics at several points during the hour-long forum.

When Patrick asked what three specific steps each candidate would take to rebuild the state's economy, Mihos said he would put a cap on property taxes; increase local aide to communities from 28 percent of the state budget to 40 percent; and eliminate any busing fee for Massachusetts school children.

Ross said that bringing in big corporations to develop jobs was a failed policy and she said she would increase the state minimum wage; develop a single payer healthcare and put more money into local infrastructure to " take the weight off of the taxpayer and small businesses."

Healey said she would lower taxes, reform the permitting procedures businesses face and change the state's automobile insurance system.

Patrick asked her why she and Governor Mitt Romney haven't already accomplished these goals, especially streamlining the permitting process. For Healey, this was an example of the double edged sword of having a record. She is both running on her record as the junior partner of the administration, while at the same time distancing herself enough to be seen as someone out of Romney's shadow.

Patrick said that he would be a governor who wouldn't go around the nation making Massachusetts the butt of his jokes as Romney has during his undeclared run for the Republican presidential nomination.

With the debate in Springfield questions on local affairs were raised including the future of the Finance Control Board (FCB) set in place by Romney and the Legislature to take over much of the governing of the financially strapped city of Springfield.

Patrick said that, while the FCB has been helpful in managing the city of its crisis, he would speak to local officials about the Board's future to ensure Springfield could stand on its own.

"I want to be an active participant" in the city's recovery, he said.
Healey credited the FCB for the city's ability to recover from a $40 million deficit and work toward a balanced budget. She thought the reforms the FCB instituted - putting the city's pension fund and health insurance plan into the systems run by the state and instituting merit pay for teachers - could be implemented around the state.

Mihos would "take the Board out as soon as possible." He thinks annual outside audits would prevent another financial collapse from happening again.

Ross said she didn't know the Romney administration supported democracy as they had "removed most of Springfield's." She said she would look for "realistic" plans to help the city.

"Springfield has brilliance that's not being tapped," she said.

The clumping of reporters around the candidates after the debate always is an interesting barometer of their popularity. The reporters seeking a post-debate quote mobbed Healey and Patrick, while Mihos attracted substantially less interest.

Ross seemed to care less about the ritual. She left the stage and went about the audience greeting supporters and talking with people.

© 2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs. My words alone. Blame no one else.

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