2010 Midterms: The End, At Last

So, the 2010 election campaign comes mercifully to a close. Not that the 2012 cycle doesn’t start in the morning, but I’ll still feel something of a respite – at least for a while. When I voted at 7:20 this morning, I was the 42nd person in my precinct to cast a ballot. That’s a pretty good clip compared to other times I’ve voted early (admittedly, I’ve usually voted after work, so I’m using a small sample). There was, however, no line.

I tried to tune it all out over the past week or so, despite being a pretty highly motivated person politically. I’m just glad I don’t have to listen to Charlie Baker’s 30-second stump speech anymore. Maybe the mists of time are fogging my memory, but I can’t remember an election year in which so much wind was exhaled saying so little. Other than the attack ads, that is. My nine-year old can recite the smears; I guess she thinks this is how politics works. There has to be a better way.

My take on the candidates for significant offices on my ballot:

Despite being sick of his stump-speech stock answer to every question he’s been asked for months, I give Charlie Baker credit for proposing real, concrete spending changes – something he did very early, and no other serious candidate in the race ever countered. It’s been hard not to notice that the non-politician in the group has been displaying all the political courage. He’s been firmly committed to spending cuts to meet the constitutional mandate for a balanced budget, over against economy-suffocating tax increases, yet without sinking into politically expedient antiestablilshmentarianism and anti-tax fundamentalism . He’s made a high priority of regulatory reform to make the state more business-friendly. It’s clear to me that he has the right mix of policy and personal ability to make state government work from a fiscal perspective, and that’s a good thing, and Charlie Baker got my vote this morning. But he was not an effective campaigner, and I hope the policy and principle alignment that has been propelling the enthusiasm in the country this political season is broadly enough expressed at the polls at home today to overcome Baker’s lack of appeal to the less motivated. Rumored big turnouts bode well for him.

If Baker doesn’t win, it will be largely because sitting Governor Deval Patrick managed to spin campaign gold out of administrative straw. When Patrick ran four years ago, I deeply disliked him as a candidate, and saw him as nothing more than a con man. A string of bumbling gaffes at the beginning of his administration did nothing to improve my opinion of him. I still don’t like his policies, but I’ve grown rather fond of him as a public figure. He completely outclassed his opponents during the campaign – especially during the so-called debates, where he clearly excelled. But he’s wrong on just about everything. He’s wrong on how to help the poor, he’s wrong on how to help the immigrant community, he’s wrong on how to help kids achieve in school, he’s wrong on how to control costs in health care, he’s wrong on how to balance the budget, and he’s wrong on what the citizens of Massachusetts need from state government. I hope this kind, charming, and naive man is out of work in January – he’ll be at the back of a mighty long line if he is, and his own short-sightedness has already contributed to the length of it.

Tim Cahill’s candidacy never held too much appeal for me, despite Tim saying all the right things about fiscal conservatism and prudence, and (at least temporarily) working outside the stultifying two-party system – and besides him being a much more likable guy than Baker. Cahill’s ship hit the rocks for me back in the Spring, when Natick took a bond vote to finance a new high school through the MSBA (Massachusetts School Building Authority). Cahill’s major campaign talking point has been around how he, as Treasurer, has reduced the cost of building schools by managing state funding for school projects with the MSBA. He is right, to a point. Somewhere on my laptop, I have a draft of a long post examining how the MSBA has affected the school building economy in Massachusetts. I put it aside to do additional research – which never materialized – because I wanted to be as fair as I could be in my representation of it, but let’s just say that, having been on the taxpayer end of one of these projects, I’ve come to take what is a rather more complex view of the program’s worth than Mr. Cahill seems to take. While debt service costs are down considerably, and gold-plating in school building projects has been all but eliminated, the program itself creates a classic example of the government spending trough problem, with citizens literally competing for “free” money that will be paid for by being taken out of their pockets by compulsion before being returned to them “for free.” The economic incentives created by this program are to grab and spend as much of everyone else’s money as possible, before somebody else spends yours. If this is what you call fiscal conservatism, Mr. Cahill, you may want to go back to the Democrat party.

I don’t have much to say about Jill Stein except: Yikes. It’s not unusual for major-party candidates to say very little of substance during a campaign – they’re often primarily concerned with not offending any potential constituency. But a fringe candidate really has to have something to offer, and other than the requisite Green Party drivel about “green jobs” (little more than a euphemism for government subsidies for otherwise non-economically viable industries with public sector connections), and an oft-repeated overture to “educating the whole child” (whatever that means), this woman didn’t appear to have anything to say. She did knock Patrick for what she characterized as sweetheart deal tax breaks, but he properly rebuked for for failing to understand the importance of incentivizing job-providing employers to establish and maintain a presence in the state. The state should be competing for businesses, not competing against them by subsidizing bogus ventures, no matter how trendy they are in the academy.

For US Congress, I’m in the MA-7 district, which unfortunately will undoubtedly continue to be represented by “Malarkey Ed” Markey: the epitome of the lifetime politician, and everything that the ideal citizen-legislator is not. I envy folks in other parts of the state who had decent opposition candidates to vote for today. I was stuck with Woburn’s Dr. Gerry Dembrowski, and although I voted for him out of anti-leftist principle, I’d probably feel a bit guilty if he actually somehow pulls this off. I had a hard time finding much out about Dembrowski beyond the marketing pages on his web site, and when I finally tracked down a video of him in a “debate” with Markey on a local TV station, I was appalled at how childishly he acted: sneering at Markey, and taunting him like a junior high school bully. Markey didn’t seem to have any idea what to do with the guy, and I suppose his best bet was to just ignore him: that would be more than justifiable. I imagine it would be pretty hard to get anything accomplished in Congress if your strongest skill was mockery. Perhaps you could make it as a talk show host, but not as a congressman. Oh well, there’s always 2012!