Clock ticking on state gov. candidates by Marjorie Arons-Barron

The entry below is being cross posted from Marjorie Arons-Barron’s own blog.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate state treasurer Steve Grossman has  narrowed the gap between Attorney General Martha Coakley and him, but it’s unclear if he can make up a remaining 12-point deficit in the last two weeks before the state primary. Right now, however, those same polls show Coakley holding a 23-percentage lead over Grossman among women voters, some of whom are intent on reversing the history of women failing to make it to the corner office. I wonder if he regrets not sharing some of his convention delegates with erstwhile candidate Juliette Kayyem to keep another woman in the race.

The ever uncharismatic Grossman has become a much better candidate in the last two months, projecting competence.  He has sharpened his message (job creator in both private and public sectors) and has mastered being forceful without seeming a bully, always tricky for a male candidate running against a female.

He has scored points criticizing Coakley’s “pattern of poor judgment”  for sanctioning Partners Health Care acquisitions of community hospitals in seeming disregard of impact on health costs and “allowing to walk”  a lobbyist/former donor who charged a hospital on a possibly illegal contingency basis. Coakley, in turn, counters that Grossman has raised $150,000 from industries he regulates and that he has “sent jobs out of state” by having campaign signs printed elsewhere. Hardly equivalent criticisms to be sure.

During that heated exchange in Monday’s Boston Herald debate, former Medicaid/Medicare administrator Don Berwick, the third candidate in the race, scolded them both  for their “politics as usual.”  “It doesn’t help people,” he said, to good effect. Dr. Berwick,  smart and progressive, likes to “take the long view,” and embraces values of social justice, compassion and equality of opportunity. He even pledges “to end hunger and chronic homelessness in my first term.”  Oh, my.  But, much as we like to fault politicians for not taking the long view, Berwick seems singularly disinclined to talk specifics about the here and now.  He is a single-minded proponent of a single-payer health care system, but I have never heard him explain how exactly he would move the state there.

All three Democrats faulted Republican Charlie Baker for “mismanaging” the Big Dig, an issue that seems dredged from the Paleolithic era, with blame for the (wildly successful) project costs being shared by two decades of Republican and Democratic governors.

How they all deal with the casino issue becomes a prism for viewing the candidates. Both Coakley and Grossman favor casinos, while Berwick decidedly does not.  If the repeal referendum passes in November, Republican Charlie Baker would file a bill to create a single casino – in Springfield.  So would the Dems also advance a one-casino bill?  Coakley is classically non-committal, saying “Let’s take it one step at a time, see where the vote goes.”  Grossman is clear cut. Despite being a casino supporter, he “wouldn’t go that route……out of respect for the people’s vote.” Berwick passionately opposes casinos. Period.

The more interesting question: if repeal passes, how would each make up the $73 million in casino revenues that the state budget counts on? Coakley, in full frontrunner mode, didn’t specify (read: I don’t have to commit until I see if the repeal referendum passes?). Grossman was certain that, in a $40 billion state budget, “we’ll find it,” even if it means invading the state’s rainy day fund. Berwick, as with most spending issues, would cover costs with savings from health care reform.  But that wouldn’t  happen overnight, and meanwhile there’s that nasty $73 million gap.

In a parallel vein, on the matter of funding universal pre-K education, Berwick said that, in addition to savings from heath care,  he’d go after $2 billion in tax expenditures (loopholes). Plus, he supports a graduated income tax.  Apparently his taking the long view forward is not retrospective. Perhaps he’s not aware of  repeated anti-grad tax votes for many decades?

Attorneys general, it seems, have difficulty getting elected governor. Think, Eddie McCormack, Bob Quinn, George Fingold, Frank Bellotti,  Scott Harshbarger, and Tom Reilly; all failed trying.  The last Attorney General to be elected governor was Paul Dever, who tried it once and failed but finally succeeded in 1948, after military service.  Prior to that, I can only find James Sullivan, at the beginning of the 19th century.  Will Coakley break the pattern of half a century?She is a better candidate than when she ran against Scott Brown in 2010, but many questions still remain.

Most independents, the majority of Massachusetts voters, won’t weigh in until the general election. Recent polls suggest that some 47 percent of Grossman supporters would jump to Baker in the general election rather than support Coakley. But Baker, whose  performances to date are nothing if not uneven, is not a shoo-in. Of course, if Berwick ( now trailing badly, but who has said he’s “in it to win it“)  got out of the race, things would really be stirred up, and both Democratic and Republican primary winners could assert that they were supported by the majority of their parties.

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