Representative Daniel B. Winslow likes to eat Marshmallow Fluff, the made-in-Massachusetts confection that makes up in sugary nostalgia what it lacks in nutrition. But that is not why Winslow left 10 tubs of Fluff stacked in a pyramid outside the office of Governor Deval Patrick’s budget director in December, a red bow on top.
Patrick had just proposed fixing a deficit partly by cutting aid to cities and towns. Winslow objected and was certain he had better ideas to offer. Nobody however “reads six-page, single-spaced letters in state government,” especially from a freshman Republican, he explained later. So he affixed his ideas to the marshmallow props, invited reporters along for the delivery, and tweeted every step of the way. When his Fluff was rebuffed by the administration, he gave it to charity, tweeting about that, too.
“I’ve been kicked out of better places than the governor’s budget office,” he later quipped.
The episode was classic Winslow, who brings to his current campaign for Senate not just an unusual resume — having served in all three branches of state government — but a reputation as both an ideas person and a showman.
Unquestionably bright and eminently quotable, Winslow is now trying to convince voters that he is the right fit to replace John F. Kerry in the Senate.
As a judge and a Norfolk town official, as the top lawyer for Governor Mitt Romney’s administration, and now as a GOP representative in a Legislature dominated by Democrats, the 54-year-old Winslow, a married father of three, has won honors for innovation and drawn an outsized share of media attention.
Admirers see him as a rare policy wonk with a glint in his eye, able to think big, dive deep, and sell serious ideas with ebullience. Skeptics, especially in the state Legislature, see him as a self-promoting maverick, too clever by half.
In 2007, Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly named him one of the 35 most influential bar members of the previous 35 years, for his effort to remake the judiciary as Romney’s top lawyer. The designation landed him alongside touchstones such as Governor Michael Dukakis and W. Arthur Garrity Jr., the judge who ordered busing to desegregate Boston’s schools.
Winslow’s frenetic first term in the Legislature prompted the nonpartisan Governing magazine to name him in 2012 one of “12 State Legislators to Watch” nationally.
This is the same Winslow who held a “beer pong” fund-raiser — albeit with water — to attract millennial Republicans, hired his own private detective to investigate a controversial Patrick administration nominee, and weighs in as a regular commentator on the true-crime current affairs show “Nancy Grace.”
Particularly unfiltered on Twitter, Winslow has likened Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo to a North Korean dictator and riffed that US House leaders from both parties in Washington needed “psychotherapy or an enema” for failing to compromise on a payroll-tax dispute, addressing them, “Dear Idiots...”
In the first debate for the three Republican primary candidates, Winslow arrived dramatically late — “We hear you’re looking for a candidate,” he joked, breezing through the lobby — and landed the most one-liners.
When the moderator cited the Fluff incident and asked whether his “out-of-the-box theatrics” make him a poor fit for the often-staid Senate, Winslow didn’t bristle so much as embrace the question.
The Fluff, he said, was not a gimmick but a means to an end, noting that Patrick’s budget chief later sent him a note saying he would incorporate some of his suggestions. Plus, Winslow added, there should be more room for fun in the give-and-take of politics.
“I’m in the loyal opposition. My role is to poke back against and speak truth to power, and I intend to do the same thing down in Washington,” he said that night. He called his “theatrics” no more fanciful than the founding fathers donning headdresses and dumping tea overboard instead of writing letters.
Performance, with a purpose
To Winslow, his stunts are always in service of ideas, always in good humor. “For god’s sake, can’t we have people in politics who can take a joke or poke some fun at themselves?”, he asked in a recent interview. “Everybody’s so damn stuffy in this business.”
Eric Kriss, a Bain Capital co-founder who worked with Winslow in the Romney administration, called him an uncommon blend of optimism and tenacity, pragmatism and creativity.
“I don’t think he’s wacky for the sake of being wacky. He’s not unstable,” said Kriss, who was budget chief for Romney when Winslow was the governor’s legal counsel a decade ago. “He is trying to participate in the game of political theater in an attempt to get his views better known.”Continued...