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The People Spoke

Posted by Scott Harshbarger  November 4, 2010 01:16 PM

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We have heard from commentators, pundits, polls, candidates, and advertisements. Tuesday, the People finally had their chance – and they spoke clearly. Here are a few of my "Reflections" on what we learned from all of you.

In Massachusetts, we learned that the "Scott Brown Movement” created by his sweeping election in January was no more a movement than Obama's sweeping election in 2008. While they both were excellent candidates who ran great campaigns, they both had flawed opponents and misread the "mood and mandate". In fact, they benefited from "perfect storms": In Brown's case, anger and frustration, triggered by reactions to the arrogance of the leaders of one-party rule in Massachusetts, insider games on Beacon Hill and inside the Beltway, and excessive spending with still record unemployment; in Obama's case, 8 years of Bush-Cheney fatigue, unregulated financial markets, two wars and international crises, and profligate spending; and, for both, by voters who had had it with the status quo and just wanted change, new perspectives and voices, and solutions and problem solving.

And, of course, Deval Patrick ran a great campaign. But Brown’s election in January was a wake-up call for Democrats, who ran a brutal coordinated field campaign statewide. Republicans meanwhile fielded too many weak and flawed candidates, ideologues who spouted used slogans and cookie-cutter campaign themes. In doing so they missed the human dimension entirely, failing to realize the need for candidates to actually earn support, have experience, and stand for something themselves. Charlie Baker, a political newcomer but a very solid, competent leader, fell victim to this. He never figured out how to define himself as a candidate, except one who was angry at Deval and Democrats, who actually had worked hard to mitigate national trends.

Patrick, Sydney Asbury, Doug Rubin, John Walsh, were an exceptional political team and strategists. They won the old-fashioned way – with GOTV and a very, very good candidate with a positive message, (helped a lot by Bob Haynes who single-handedly rallied labor in the 10th and elsewhere to stay with Deval).

For all the rightful criticism the media and commentators/pundits get and got, a few kudos are in order. There was far more comprehensive coverage of governor candidates than before, including personal and campaign stories, good coverage of all the issues, and plenty of debates. As a result, the electorate came to realize how competent this group of candidates was and is. But at some point, the line must be drawn in terms of who is entitled to equal footing in debates or coverage, as the final election campaign comes to closure.

In terms of ongoing commentary – no one is better than Payne and Domke on BUR, or their blogs. And as tough and opinionated as she is, Emily Rooney consistently fosters good political discussions and forums.

Nationally, "money in politics" made a huge difference – in local TV revenue, consultants compensation, and negative campaigning; while money alone may have only defeated a few incumbents, it did make this mid-term election national not local! And the impact of the Supreme Court decision in "Citizens United' should not be discounted. Every member of Congress knows now that he or she must raise money to win and/or to fend off challengers who may be funded by labor unions on one side, or major corporate interests on the other, without limit. Therefore, they will shape their actions accordingly and money will again dictate the agenda. On the other hand, several major candidates – Whitman, Fiorina and McMahon – lost, in spite of spending hundreds of millions of their own dollars!

In terms of the economy and spending, the wars and the fact that we have spent over $1 Trillion in Iraq and Afghanistan were not mentioned here or nationally. And very few pointed out the obvious – a cessation of this wildly profligate and unaccountable spending could be a remedy for the current economic downturn. Sure, that money has created a ton of jobs and revenue for private contractors and major corporations, but not for small businesses and the unemployed here. In addition, do we really think the new Republican majority in Congress will now claw back the TARP and bail-out dollars from banks, AIG, GM, the financial institutions, or claw back the stimulus dollars from projects in all their districts? Do they really believe an unregulated/unfettered "free market" will provide a competitive level playing field and consumer protections for the middle class, the unemployed and small businesses? They will come to understand that you need to be careful what you wish for! As Peter Parker’s Uncle so wisely told a young Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility. The Republicans now have both, the latter of which may cause a sobering post-election hangover.

Finally, the question now is what Deval Patrick learned and will do differently, and will he actually stay for 4 years? My personal wish list is not only that he stay as governor for his duly elected four years (unlike the previous four Republican governors who won and then fled the state) but that he take two action steps immediately – steps that I believe are major investments in prevention, in fiscal accountability, and that cost nothing – investments that "look up and forward; not down and to the past":

First, select a leader and task force to launch a major, coordinated urban violence reduction action plan; and designate leaders to launch major Corrections, Probation and Criminal Justice reform efforts – both with timelines and a sense of urgency.

Second, prepare now for a renewed debate on proposals for expanded gambling by conducting – before the end of the year – an independent regulatory and cost/benefit review, similar to the New Hampshire Gaming Study Commission. At a minimum, I hope the Governor will ensure that Massachusetts has a regulatory and enforcement structure in place that will protect the public and consumers, and represent the public interest. A best practices and data-driven process evaluating the complexities of expanding gambling can provide the economic, legal and social framework for a comprehensive debate and serve as the basis for our public policy decision-making.

ONE MORE KUDO: to the “people” who participated in this election, thank you for being active and engaged citizens, who recognize that, the office of “citizen” is the most important office in our democracy.

This is a Community Voices blog. This blog is not written or edited by the staff of Boston.com or The Boston Globe. The author is solely responsible for its contents.
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About the author

Scott Harshbarger's distinguished public career includes serving two terms as Massachusetts Attorney General (and President of the National Association of Attorneys General)  and as the Democratic candidate for Governor of More »

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