Choosing a governor: let’s get on with it!

“Ground Hog Day” is how Boston University Assistant Professor John Carroll, speaking on Jim Braude’s debate analysis on NECN, described last night’s debate. Helicopter into the debate at any point and you know you’ve been here before. The only slightly new matter under discussion was today’s revelation of a memo written by Charlie Baker when he was Administration and Finance Secretary in the Paul Cellucci administration. The memo “to the file” confirms Baker knew how staggering were the costs of the Big Dig and its “draconian” implications for other infrastructure projects. The possible solutions were, he wrote, to be revealed after the gubernatorial election.
Treasurer Tim Cahill made the most out of the matter by stressing that the public wants straight talk from its chief executive; Baker cleverly countered that he hoped someone in the Patrick administration was writing him a memo about how to deal with the looming $2 billion state deficit. Patrick replied that Baker’s line would have more credibility if he had actually “written that memo to someone, instead of just stuffing it in a drawer.’’ Jeff Jacoby calls the memo Baker’s Achilles heel.

On all other issues, there was nothing new. So where are we now, with (thankfully) no more debates to go, one week prior to the election? As we have been all along, we have Deval Patrick who has preserved his likable image, showing himself to be compassionate, consistent, optimistic, knowledgeable about the nuts and bolts of day-to-day governing, patient about working our way out of our economic dilemma one day at a time, but somehow disinclined to land – or try to land – a knock-out punch. In fact, when invited, he refused to critique his opponents’ recommendations.

Baker did nothing to shake up the race. He came across as intelligent and unerringly on message about cutting government, cutting taxes, cutting government regulation. He was able to demonstrate some sharp elbows but was unable to paint his vision of the Commonwealth under Governor Baker. Except by exhorting “leadership,” he was unable to explain to moderator Charlie Gibson how he was going to get his proposals through a legislature that had already rejected half of them.

Like the other candidates, he’s opposed to the extremes of Question Three, but cutting taxes is still his mantra, and if he had his way he’d roll them back to 5 percent now, even in the face of the looming budget deficit, believing his regulatory reforms can make up the difference. (Patrick, too, says he’d like to go back to five percent, but not with the current deficit.) Baker perhaps scored some points by advocating a more muscular approach to illegal immigrants, a position more aligned with Massachusetts’ public support of the Arizona approach than the Governor’s.

Tim Cahill, despite his weak standing in the polls, showed himself to be clearcut, if occasionally simplistic, and rather likable in a way that makes his longshot staying in the race a plausible decision. Jill Stein can’t be labeled a flake, but her insistence that a major way out of the state’s deficit woes is by going to a single payer health care system underlines her irrelevance. It’s not going to happen. She dismissed any concern that she, like Ralph Nader in 2000, could ultimately be a spoiler in the race.

So here we are. Deval Patrick has maintained a slim lead in the polls throughout the campaign, but, depending on the survey, it’s close to the margin of error. And it’s less than that if more anti Patrick “undecideds” or Cahill supporters end up voting for Baker and if disaffected Democrats and Democrat-leaning Independents stay home.

Charlie Baker offers a contrast in stated philosophy and an opportunity for change. But what are his chances of success and with what consequences if he fails ? Is the “devil” we know, who has learned from his early mistakes, better than the “devil” we don’t, who has yet to make his rookie blunders?

We campaign in poetry and govern in prose, Mario Cuomo said, and voters must look beyond the over simplified rhetoric of the candidates and their political ads to understand the serious choice that must be made. Next Tuesday is not Groundhog Day, it’s Election Day. Which of the candidates do we really trust not only to make the difficult decisions ahead but then to persuade the legislature, conflicting interest groups and the public in effecting the policies necessary to make our lives and the lives of children better?


Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below

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