Martha Coakley and Larry Summers

There was an interesting juxtaposition of stories on the pages of the Boston Globe this morning. On the front page was the news that Larry Summers, former Secretary of the Treasury under Bill Clinton, former president of Harvard, and former chief economic adviser to President Obama, had withdrawn his name from consideration as the next chairman of the Federal Reserve. According to the article, Summers wanted the job and Obama wanted him in the job, but several key Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee have announced that they would not vote for his nomination. Without their votes, he would need Republican support which is unlikely and so the withdrawal.

Summers is perhaps best known in popular culture for remarks he made about the mathematical and scientific abilities of women at a Harvard conference in 2005. As is so often the case, I suspect, what he really said differed substantially from what he is thought to have said, but whatever his intent (and his content), the episode significantly damaged his reputation.

More damaging in my view was Summers’ preference for deregulation. As Clinton’s Treasury Secretary, Summers support for deregulation of the financial services industry played a part in the creation of “too big to fail” financial institutions and of derivatives, both of which played a substantial role in the financial collapse that occurred just five years ago.

The second story of interest was the news that Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley will be launching her campaign for governor today. Coakley, whose first job as an assistant district attorney back in the late 1980s was at the Lowell District Court, is best known in popular culture for her 2010 loss to Scott Brown in the US Senate special election to replace the deceased Ted Kennedy. Coakley won a tough Democratic primary in that race and seemed to let up on the gas when it came to running against a relatively unknown Republican state senator in the final. Scott Brown was not “unknown” for long, however. He was an excellent campaigner and he caught the national wave of anti-government anger that also gave birth to the Tea Party and won the Senate race by a healthy margin.

Many in the state Democratic Party still harbor animosity towards Coakley for the 2010 outcome, but I figure that if she hadn’t lost that race, Elizabeth Warren would still be teaching bankruptcy law at Harvard Law School and not serving in the United States Senate. More importantly, Coakley has a long and distinguished record both as Middlesex District Attorney and as Attorney General. Her work there has been very much pro-consumer, especially when it comes to rectifying abuses in the home mortgage industry. Based on her record in office, I believe she would be a very effective governor.

Coakley’s entry into the gubernatorial race is another circumstance that will make 2014 one of the most politically transformational in recent Massachusetts history. There are six so-called Constitutional Offices in the Commonwealth. They are governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, attorney general, secretary of state and auditor. The current auditor, Suzanne Bump, intends to seek reelection to that post I believe, but the other five offices might be open seats if current secretary of state Bill Galvin decides to run for the office of Attorney General being vacated by Coakley. Governor Patrick is not running again so that office is open. The office of Lieutenant Governor is vacant since Tim Murray’s resignation earlier this year. And Treasurer Steve Grossman is running for governor as is Martha Coakley.

To appear on the Democratic primary election ballot for any of these offices requires the votes of at least 15% of the delegates to next summer’s Democratic state convention. Those delegates will be selected at city and town caucuses held throughout the state next February which is just five months away. So even as we here in Lowell are focused on the upcoming city election, state political operatives will be toiling away lining up support for their candidates at the rapidly approaching caucuses.