Granite State results for real – finally

Remember when it seemed fairly certain that voters in November would have to choose between Clinton and Bush dynasties?  Over the last nine months, voter anger and dissatisfaction have laid waste to that aura of inevitability on both sides of the aisle.

Among the big winners Tuesday night were the pollsters. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders went into New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary with double digit leads over their closest challengers in their respective parties. And that’s the way they emerged. The record-breaking turnout even boosted the winners’ margins.

Going in, the cliff-hanging questions were which Republican challenger would come in second, and by how much could Hillary Clinton whittle down Sanders lead to get a positive message out of New Hampshire as she moved on to South Carolina.

The answers: John Kasich and not at all.  Sanders won in all groups, even among women, except those over 65 and those with annual incomes over $200,000.  He can expect to find more resistance elsewhere in the country, but there’s something to be said for momentum.

And Trump’s supporters proved that they could also go to the polls and be Trump voters. ( Could it be that losing NH Senate candidate Scott  Brown’s statewide GOTV organization made the difference?)

The GOP field is now down two. Chris Christie, mimicking Rudy Giuliani  as a presidential candidate (most everything said was subject, verb and 9/11.)  has gone back to New Jersey.  The irony is that it was Christie’s withering critique of Marco Rubio at last Saturday night’s debate that contributed to his fifth place finish in New Hampshire. Now the question is: where will Christie’s supporters go? to Kasich? Bush? Rubio? With all the surprises of this year’s campaign season, they could even go to second place Ted Cruz, who cleverly managed expectations and is now moving into his sweet spot of Southern primaries.

General election logic might dictate that Republican “establishment” money should coalesce around Kasich, who is nearly out of cash, with an eye to eventually pairing him with a chastened and much  improved Marco Rubio as the party’s best combo for winning the White House.  But Jeb Bush is still amply funded and seems well enough heeled to go another round or two to see if he can gain traction. So, it looks as if the GOP will still be a multi-candidate race, meaning Trump can continue to do well against a fragmented opposition. And, I fear, Ted Cruz is going to have his numbers grow.

Will the Democratic Party end up running a self-proclaimed Democratic socialist in November?  Will Biden supporters entice their man to save the party from a wounded Clinton? Could it really be Trump versus Sanders?  Will Michael Bloomberg get into the race? And if he did, could he effectively throw the ultimate decision into the Republican controlled House of Representatives? Are we having fun yet?

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Suffolk trustees botch the job

margaret McKennaSuffolk University board members should be ashamed of  themselves. They are passing up the chance to put the school back on the map as a proud and storied urban university and a meaningful player in greater Boston’s civic life. Its inbred board, concerned only about its own power, has launched an attack to undermine the school’s new president, Margaret McKenna, though she has only been in place for seven months and has clearly won the support of students and faculty.

The board has been slammed by NEASC, the eminent accreditation institution for colleges and universities, for having overreached its oversight and regulatory role and exercised inappropriate authority over functions that “best practices” dictate should belong to the president of an institution.  The board, for example, has been handling hiring and firing decisions normally carried out by the president acting as CEO.

The board seems to have trumped up charges of overspending, though McKenna’s scant seven-month record hardly constitutes evidence of that.  What mostly seems to have riled the board is that McKenna has hired and fired people without the board’s approval. As the Boston Globe’s Adrian Walker observes, she got fired in less time than it takes to flunk out.   But wasn’t she hired to shake up things at the fusty institution, which has had five presidents in five years?  Apparently not. Apparently the board wanted yet another puppet.

They also say she is “abrasive.” Meaning, I suppose, that she doesn’t kow-tow to the board.  As the Globe’s Shirley Leung so rightly observes in this morning’s paper, when GE’s Jack Welch or Apple’s late CEO Steve Jobs was abrasive, they are hailed as bold and decisive.  It’s hard to argue with Leung’s assessment that this is all about gender politics.

The 28-member board is highly influenced by powerful public relations guru George Regan.  Walker’s column says he was paid a startling $366,000 a year to handle the university’s public relations. In today’s Boston Business Journal, Regan, apparently deeply offended, says it’s only $250,000.  He has handled Suffolk’s public relations at least back to David Sargent’s very long reign as president and was put on the board briefly in 2008.  That ended quickly because of the obvious conflict of interest.  Now Julie Kahn, a senior executive at Regan Communications, sits there.  Along, I might add, with a roster of other Regan clients. Again according to the BBJ, five of Suffolk’s trustees are Regan clients.

The tone-deaf board had actually made overtures to former Attorney General Martha Coakley to take over as president.  Her public statement today rejecting the idea was one of the smartest moves Coakley ever made.  What thinking person would want to become president of a university with that dysfunctional governing board? What accomplished woman would walk into such an old-boy-dominated snake pit?

A smart board, one worthy of running a university like Suffolk, would recognize the gem they have in Margaret McKenna.  They would let her run the institution according to her best judgment, with advice not micromanagement from the board, input from students and faculty, and judge her fairly on the basis of at least a full year’s performance.  It takes time to correct the course of an institution that has been botched for a long time.

I knew McKenna slightly when she was at the Justice Department under President Jimmy Carter. I worked with her briefly when she was president of Lesley University, where she did an excellent job and really put the school on the map. I watched from afar when she ran the Walmart Foundation, inching the retrograde Walmart reputation  into more socially responsible sensibilities. She is a highly intelligent, creative and experienced executive, who has the capacity to improve and lead Suffolk University, if only the board will get out of the way and let her do the job.

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Democratic race a battle of heart versus head

Bernie SandersBernie Sanders has given Democrats what they needed and what many wanted: a healthy debate on issues. Not just stock positions on this or that, because he and Hillary Clinton agree on most goals. His willingness to take on the presumptive nominee has provided an exploration of philosophy and style of governance and a choice between leading with the heart and leading with the head.

In some ways, the 2016 primary race recalls the 1972 contest between Senators George McGovern and Edmund Muskie. McGovern was the passionate anti-war liberal with a willingness to tackle institutional entrenchment that stirred the hearts of the left-leaning part of the party, especially young people. Muskie was more middle of the road, supported by the establishment and resented by young people for being late on matters of war and social justice. In the November election, McGovern won only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. Either candidate would have been preferable to Richard Nixon.

Bernie Sanders’ passion resonates on many issues. In the recent Democratic Town Hall, he was well modulated for all of 30 seconds, then, his anger rising, his fingers jabbing, moving quickly to full-throated passion about his commitment to economic security, calling for a populist revolution and an end to government “by the billionaire class.”  What pleasantly came through were more relaxed moments in which he was humorous, down to earth and had a mensch-like appeal. But one wonders if we could stand four years of his typical anger and intensity, and to what extent it would impede his ability to get anything done in Congress.

Hillary Clinton is the establishment candidate in the race,  taking a more moderate position on any number of issues, including minimum wage, restoration of Glass-Steagall, determining who should get free public higher education, taxing the middle class. She is all about building on and going further than Obama’s accomplishments. While the former Secretary of State was particularly high energy in the recent town hall, her laugh, which can be appealingly infectious can sometimes seem forced.  She is not the natural politician her husband is and has difficulty faking authenticity.

She is at her strongest when detailing her foreign policy experience, for example, how she had negotiated to halt Israel’s reintroducing group troops into Gaza. Her accounting suggests the strength she would bring to the role of Commander-in-Chief. Sanders’ foreign policy badge is having voted against the Iraq War, an affirmative vote that, with the advantage of hindsight, Clinton now regrets. She touts experience; he touts judgment.

Voters who have distrusted Hillary for any number of reasons (email practices and her refusal to release the content of her highly paid speeches to the likes of Goldman Sachs  to name just two) wonder if she can be depended on to implement her evolutionary positions or if she is too closely aligned with powerful interests who might prove to be the devils in the details of issues she might champion. But those who are gung ho for Bernie’s self-described revolution need to ask hard questions about his proposals. It’s time to take him and his plans seriously.

Sanders, a proponent of expanding Social Security, free higher education, single payer health care, universal paid leave, should be pressed on how he’d really pay for all of that. He says he’d definitely raise taxes, starting with “super rich” individuals and corporations.  Wall Street “will pay a tax on speculation.” He’d repatriate funds stashed in tax havens like the Cayman Islands to pay for infrastructure improvements, lift the cap on Social Security  income, and other measures.

It’s hard to imagine that there is enough money from those proposals to cover his expansive program or enough billionaires and millionaires to cover the costs without increasing taxes for the middle class. How would his plans for universal free public higher education work if the states can’t afford their match to the federal share? (Just look at what’s happening with next year’s Massachusetts revenue shrinkage.)  Do we really want to provide free public higher education for Donald Trump’s grandkids?

While single payer health care is appealing, how actually would it work, and what would be covered? Yes, eliminating private insurance could save more than their immediate tax increase. But economists warn he is underestimating the costs, which, they say, would lead to tax increases twice as high as Sanders projects, or blow out our deficit.  Either way, the media should start delving into these substantive realities.

The clash between Sanders’  version of European socialism and Clinton’s realpolitik pragmatism has been called a battle for the soul of the Democratic Party.  I’d like to see them go beyond discussions of minimum wage and the job impact of the Trans Pacific trade agreement and talk about the costs and benefits of unrelenting  globalization and of technologies that make us more productive with fewer employees.

Beyond issue positions, however, voters and media have to compare the two on leadership skills and character.

Establishment Democrats want to avoid a Sanders-topped ticket, preferring not to repeat the George McGovern debacle of 1972.  McGovern opponents dismissed him as the candidate of acid, amnesty and abortion.  Today the country is liberalizing its marijuana policies, abortion is available to women choosing it (though it is certainly under attack) and amnesty today is not for Vietnam War protesters but for certain illegal immigrants well settled into this country. McGovern was ahead of his time in 1972, and Bernie Sanders may well be in the same position today. That said, he has moved and shaped the national debate in a remarkable and healthy way.

Bernie Sanders reflects Barack Obama the candidate, and Hillary Clinton represents Barack Obama the President.  As late New York Governor Mario Cuomo often said, you campaign in poetry but govern in prose.

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Fleeting impressions from Trumpless debate

Seven GOP debatersFox News may have missed Donald Trump. Its viewership was down to 11-13 million viewers, half what they got in the first debate last fall. (The Democrats’ debates have had only eight million viewers, thanks to DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s scheduling them at low viewership times to protect Hillary Clinton.) But, if the eyeballs were down, the substance was up.

Trump was absent, but he still hovered over the event like Banquo’s ghost. The non-Trump candidates were feisty.  In Cruz’ case, he battled as much with the moderators as with other candidates.  The audience didn’t like his whining about the questioners and booed Cruz appropriately. His debate with Marco Rubio over immigration,  who had changed positions and when, was spirited and caught both between statements playing to their base and those made when actual legislation was on the Senate floor. It was substantive but a bit inside-the-Beltway, and Chris Christie was probably right when he said we needed a Washington-to-English dictionary to understand the back-and-forth.

Absent Trump, Cruz was the mean and nasty one, and the evening didn’t go well for him. One of his calmer moments was when asked, given his fight to repeal Obamacare, what he would replace it with.  His (questionable) premise is that the competitive marketplace could work and that he would permit the purchase of insurance across state lines and expand health savings accounts. The moderator failed to ask about pre-existing conditions or allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ policies, and Cruz was mum on these important points.

Marco Rubio was like a well-packaged Ken doll,  programmed to respond to every question with part of his stump speech.  He seems to have only one level of modulation.

Christie seems to be channeling Rudy Giuliani from 2008.  Though he does get off some good one-liners, everything goes back to his 9/11 experience and ends with his promise to defeat the demonized Hillary Clinton.

In Trump’s absence, Jeb Bush had a good evening.  Beyond pushing his “proven record as a conservative who can govern,” he was particularly strong on defense issues and on immigration. More than one pundit ascribed his good performance to “not having Trump in his head,” leaving one to speculate on how his being cowed by bully Trump augurs for his standing up to the Vladimir Putins of the world.

John Kasich, who in some new polls is now running second in New Hampshire, is also pushing a can-do Presidency and managed to remain positive last night, not showing his tetchy  side. It’s his combination of congressional and gubernatorial experience as a pragmatic moderate and his refusal to go negative that helped account for the Boston Globe’s recent endorsement.

Rand Paul came across with dignity and a clearer articulation of his conservative/libertarian values, from budget cutting, to foreign engagements, to government intrusion into personal lives. If he were to leave the race now, he could do it with his head held high.

Could anyone be more irrelevant than Ben Carson? For his closing statement, he recited the preamble to the U. S. Constitution.  I had to learn to recite that as a seventh grader, but it didn’t qualify me to be President. He has plunged in the polls, but probably has achieved his goal of boosting books sales and speaking fees.

Forty percent of Iowa Republicans say they might still change their minds about whom to support. So how did first-place Trump’s tantrum and holding a counter event for veterans affect his vote? We’ll know in a couple of days. While the debate was enhanced by his absence, Google reported that a preponderance of the evening’s social media were still focused on the Donald’s fundraiser, which  raised about $6 million for the vets from Trump and his friends.)  CNN and MSNBC carried parts of the Trump gimmick fundraiser, with a quarter of the Fox audience. CBS streamed it.   The question for Trump is: will his supporters show up to the caucuses and vote?

Knowledgeable analysts say to watch the turnout.  Usually 110,00 to 120,000 Republicans go to the caucuses. If 130,000 show up, they say, it will reflect that Ted Cruz has gotten out the evangelical vote (Evangelicals represent 25 percent of the population but can be as much as 60 percent of the Republican caucus vote.)  If turnout reaches 150,000, they say Trump will have turned out enough new participants to make the difference.

Just 30 Republican delegates will emerge from the Monday caucuses. To get the nomination, a candidate will need 1236 delegates.  And remember, most who win Iowa end up losing the nomination. The fun is just beginning.

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A fan’s lament

Tom BradyI feel as if I’ve been hit by a truck. Hung over, despite the fact that I had no alcoholic beverages yesterday or all of last week. The Patriots have let me down. Me. Personally.

It was hard to get out of bed this morning.

If only the Pats had beaten lowly Miami in their last game of the regular season. They would have been #1 seed and had home field advantage. They would have played in Foxboro with all their loving fans cheering them on. Instead, they had those bloodthirsty, orange-garbed Bronco boosters roaring their hearts out at Sports Authority Field.

If only the Pats had gone out to Denver a few days earlier to acclimate to the thinner air in the mile-high city.

If only Stephen Gostkowski hadn’t missed his first point after touchdown in nine years. That’s nine years. After 523 consecutive extra points kicked. If he hadn’t missed, the Patriots wouldn’t have had to go for a two-point conversion to tie the game in the last seconds.

If only the Broncos hadn’t hit Tom Brady 20 times. If only his teammates had protected him. If only Denver’s defense hadn’t been so good. If only the Patriots and the media hadn’t overestimated the physical impairments of Peyton Manning.

If only Tom Brady hadn’t publicly supported his good friend, Donald Trump. The curse of Donald Trump now means no distracting Super Bowl victory parade the day of the New Hampshire primary.

If only, if only.

If ifs and ands were pots and pans, then cabbages would be kings.

The night after the Broncos defeated New England in the 2006 playoff game in Denver, I saw Myra Kraft at a pre-concert gathering for the Boston Children’s Chorus. I marveled that she was ambulatory after such a crushing defeat. I barely was. Her attitude? “Really, Margie. It’s only entertainment.” She was a wise lady, but I’m sure Bob Kraft didn’t feel that way.

Still, Bob Kraft has skin in the game. Skin – and big money. Fans not betting on the game do not. So why do we feel so rotten after such a disappointment? Why do we get so bound up in the outcomes of our favorite teams? Of what significance is it, in the grand scheme of things? It is, after all, as Myra Kraft said, only entertainment.

But it’s not entertaining to lose. The masochist in every fan will return to be beaten up again, starting every season with a renewal of hope. Blind devotion kept Red Sox fans coming back for more for 86 years before they won a World Series. Blind devotion has kept Chicago Cubs fans going through the painful cycle of hope and disappointment for 107 years since their last World Series win!

Every “morning after,” I swear off my addiction. But, time and again, I let myself be carried away. I fail to learn from my experience.

This time I shall. I really mean it. Oh, and by the way, it’s only 18 days before the equipment trucks leave Fenway Park for spring training. On February 18th, pitchers and catchers report to JetBlue Park in Fort Myers.

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The milkman’s son rises to the top

Ed Markey Jan 2016 NECEd Markey’s 40+ year  political career has come a long way.  His biggest state legislative accomplishment (a bill eliminating part-time district attorneys) incurred the wrath of then-House Speaker Tommy McGee, who threw Markey off the Judiciary Committee and moved his desk into the hall.  Markey, a  tall and skinny 29-year old two-term state rep from Malden, went from the state  legislature to the U.S. House of Representatives on the slogan “They can tell me where to sit, but nobody tells me where to stand.”  When he arrived in Washington in 1976, he had never before been to the nation’s Capitol.

He was a refreshing blend of old school B.C. politico and new politics reformer. New House Speaker Tip O’Neill made sure Markey had choice committee assignments. Over four decades, now-Senator Markey has made good use of those opportunities. He has been ahead of the curve on era-changing developments, drilling down on the intricacies of issues, learning from experts he reached out to. Notwithstanding his often unabashed Democratic partisanship, he has been able to work collaboratively across the aisle.

He was heavily involved in shaping the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which sparked a trillion dollar investment in new technologies and helped bring about the world’s transition from analog to digital. Ever since, he has remained at the forefront of  new developments, now advanced manufacturing and  “the Internet of Things.” Friday, our junior Senator looked out the Seaport Hotel windows at The New England Council luncheon and reflected on the significance of what’s happening in Massachusetts. “It’s all the internet,” he said, noting that all appliances and machinery today have to be “smart,” and, as General Electric’s decision to move here validates, “we are at the epicenter of all that is taking place.”  He is right that “we are the cutting edge.”

Markey’s committee assignments have also enabled him to be a key player in the development of clean energy, which accounts for 100,000 Massachusetts jobs. “We are the Saudi Arabia of offshore wind energy on the planet,” he declared. His language speaks to our potential. Our work is cut out for us because China is clearly at the top of the list of wind energy producers, generating nearly twice as much wind power as we. Markey is trying to stop the phasing out of tax incentives to wind companies. He’s been just as active on the solar front, where the United States is the fifth largest producer and has a long way to go.  He opposed a vote to export oil, believing it ill-advised because our level of oil imports still complicates our Middle East foreign policy.

Markey predicts that by 2030, if we sustain our push on wind, solar, hydro, and keep nuclear in the mix, the percentage of our non-polluting power could reach the mid 60’s.  But, he warns, we have to make conditions right for young people to go into clean energy.   This, too, is happening right here, just as their older brothers and sisters flocked to Massachusetts for the telecom revolution.

One more figure he threw out: Right now there are 65,000 coal miners left in the country, and by end of 2016 there will be more than 300,000  workers in New England solar alone.  I’m sure that those in Wyoming, West Virginia and Kentucky are not terribly enthusiastic about Senator Markey’s push for renewables, but he stands out for taking the long view.

Another magnet for young people is the research money that Massachusetts gets from the federal budget.  Just one example: we get ten percent of all funding for the National Institutes for Health (NIH), a staggering $2.3 billion.  Another half a billion comes from the National Science Foundation, with $150 from the Centers for Disease Control coming to Massachusetts.  This all represents a dramatic turn-around from funding cuts under President George W. Bush.

From his perch on the Transportation Committee, Markey can work for the modern infrastructure  essential to making Massachusetts  a place those young people want to live.  Increasingly, they want to be downtown and build their lifestyle around mass transit. We are third in the country in car-free households. As of the last transportation budget, Massachusetts will get $1 billion a year for five years for transportation improvements.

Markey, a longtime fighter for improved port security, has also  looked ahead at the opportunities to be gained from  the Panama Canal expansion. That project, expected to be completed by the end of this year, will double the number and size of cargo ships going through.  For Massachusetts to be a global port, it has to be able to accommodate those larger vessels. Markey secured $300 million for Massport to improve Boston Harbor, and that money, he said, will leverage private dollars and represent a $2 billion investment in the state’s shipping capacity.

Like Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Governor Charlie Baker, Markey is concerned about the opioid crisis. This morning’s Globe reports he put a hold Obama’s nominee to head the FDA, because Dr.  Robert Califf seemed soft on reversing the FDA’s allowing pediatric use of OxyContin.  Markey proposed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that they had a common interest in addressing the opioid and heroine problem, he said, whether in Lexington, MA or Lexington, KY.  Markey’s idea? a Surgeon General study on the issue, directed to be complete by the end of the year, which he hopes will be as effective in tackling the opioid  crisis as was the Surgeon General’s 1964 report on the dangers of smoking.

Markey’s remarks included topics from gun safety to ISIS.  (He also sits on the Foreign Relations Committee.) His wide-ranging speech was long and substantive but unfortunately left no time for questions. A former colleague of his from the Massachusetts House said it was probably the best speech he’d ever heard Markey give, and I’d agree.

I started covering Ed Markey’s career when he was just a state rep and, in 1976,  (I was just ten years old) covered his race for Congress.  At that time, my co-author Jim Barron and I said that Markey was the best choice in the 12-candidate field. He was, we wrote somewhat snarkily, “light but educable.” That was four decades ago, and, over the years, he and we have laughed about the condescending language. I can say today that this man has grown and grown, in knowledge, experience, and effectiveness. He remembers his roots and is articulate and polished – a man of substance. He is Senatorial through and through – in the very best sense of the word.

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Baker: boring is good

Charlie Baker speech 2016Charlie Baker says that some folks think he is boring, and that’s fine, thank you very much.  The style of his State of the State speech confirms that assessment. His delivery, while polished, was flat, with monotonous pacing and few tonal variations.  The most significant exception was his discussion of the opioid crisis, in which he clearly is particularly invested emotionally.  Criticism of his delivery aside, Baker is just what the Commonwealth needs: a fixer, a problem solver, a Commonwealth mechanic who can make government work for the people. He is a compelling blend of MBA smarts and compassion.

Everyone else has to work hard on the job, and to perform,  Baker  said, and “So should we.”  His shout-out to those who had rallied behind him, including state employees at  all levels, sounded genuine and not contrived.

Beyond opioid abuse, he pushed for lifting the cap on charter schools; expanding energy supply, especially hydropower; modifying the costly tax credits on films made in Massachusetts (which the House thwarted him on in 2015.)

Much of Baker’s first year in office was driven by crises.  Achieving efficiencies was necessitated by revenue shortfall (a problem he is expected to have to face again this year).  Creating the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board was prompted when last winter’s snow stopped public transit dead in its tracks. Reforming Department of Children and Families was driven by deaths of children under the supervision of DCF.  In each instance, Baker responded by bringing the right people together and designing strategies to deal with the problems.  Stop-gap measures must now be followed with longer-term plans and successful implementation.

Critics say that Baker is all nuts-and-bolts governing and hasn’t articulated a big vision for the Commonwealth. But we’ve had our share of big dreamers with stirring rhetoric who lacked top-notch management skills.  As a veteran of previous Republican administrations said, Charlie is Bill Weld with a work ethic.

If Baker’s vision translates into a government that works for the people, that’s fine for now. Or at least until Democrats start trying to find someone to run against him in 2018.  If he sustains his performance and maintains anything close to his first-in-the-nation (among governors) favorability rating of 74 percent, that will be a tall order.

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