At first blush, one wonders what former state and federal Homeland Security official Juliette Kayyem has done that would prepare her to be governor of Massachusetts, overseeing a more than $6o billion budget and God knows how many departments, agencies, boards and authorities. Her Boston Globe columns on national security matters were often interesting but hardly preparation for being the Commonwealth’s chief executive.
She is not without experience. She started out as a civil rights attorney for the U.S. Justice Department under President Clinton, advised on homeland security for the Patrick administration and served the Obama administration as an assistant secretary overseeing intergovernmental affairs in homeland security. This involved a variety of issues, from immigration to intelligence sharing, military affairs, border security, flu outbreaks, oil spills, earthquakes, and security efforts at major sporting events. She has a strong, confident personality, hinting at real leadership potential.
At a recent house party, she engaged the interests of the curious. Her hostess praised her “energy, intelligence and vision,” but Kayyem’s prepared remarks didn’t exactly reflect that. She introduced herself as a mother of three girls, daughter of a Lebanese immigrant family, wife of a Jewish attorney, a woman who has played many roles. So far so good. But then she sounded like every other candidate with breath on the mirror, saying things like her belief in this state inspired her to get into the race. She has faith in the capacity of government to do good. So what else is new? Prepare for the future of Massachusetts. Harness the collective good will. Take advantage of the state’s connections to the global economy. Level the playing field. Cliché after cliché. Yawn.
She’d have been better off shortening her opening remarks and going straight to a lively question-and-answer session. First-time candidates often make this mistake, for it was in Q-and-A that she came across as thoughtful and incisive.
Kayyem’s fundamental precepts are the need to invest in human capacity and infrastructure, essential to growth in Massachusetts. Her infrastructure plan is at least as robust as Governor Deval’s ambitious proposal, slashed by the legislature. Why, I asked, does she think she would be any more successful? She didn’t miss a beat in responding that the Governor should have sought out strategic partners in the General Court in advance rather than just drop the proposal on them.
“Thank God for Deval Patrick making the big ask,” she said but added, “The Governor didn’t have two against one, didn’t get one of the two branches behind him. I’m not going to win with this legislature unless I have one of the two houses. Then you (go) get grassroots, including the NGO’s. Also, you need to get a whole new generation of mayors to voice their commitment as well.” If the legislature continued to be recalcitrant, she added, refreshingly, “get more people to run against Democrats.”
I disagree with Kayyem’s opposition to the casino referendum, but her reasoning is realpolitik: you’d need to replace the casino revenue, already counted on in the state budget, with no clear option for replacement and no stomach in the legislature for new taxes. She’s also articulate on the compelling need for better data management across state departments and agencies but named no price tag for making the improvements she urges.
Conventional wisdom has it that Democratic convention frontrunner Treasurer Steve Grossman, after scoring his 15 percent threshold of support, would do well to try to split the women’s primary vote (with Attorney General Martha Coakley) by throwing delegates to Kayyem at the June convention. She insists not, saying he wouldn’t want competition from her in September. I’m agnostic on the strategy. But I do know that Kayyem is, indeed, thoughtful and fresh, and I hope she makes it at least to the primary because she adds an intriguing dimension to what is so far shaping up as an uninspired race.
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