Here are a couple of thoughts from the Gabrieli-Patrick-Reilly debate that just finished taping (and that I just live-blogged) at Channel 56.
- Did we learn anything new? Not really. But I think that, for people who haven’t been following the race up ’til now, this will be a useful thing to watch. The “up close and personal” segments at the beginning give some basic biographical facts on each candidate, as well as a sentence or two on why each is running, and that’s useful context for the substantive discussion. And the debate itself covered a lot of ground and should give viewers new to some or all of these candidates a decent idea of where they’re coming from. So it should serve as a good one-hour introduction to the Democratic primary for Governor.
- Best and worst moments for each candidate. OK, here goes, in alphabetical order.
- Gabrieli: Gabrieli was, I thought, quite effective in the “question the other guy” section in going after Reilly on both gay marriage and Cape Wind. His “shucks, y’know, I’m not a lawyer so I don’t really understand all this confusing legal stuff, but it sure seems odd for you to say you’re against gay marriage yet keep defending these laws designed to stamp it out” was pretty clever, putting Reilly in the awkward position of essentially saying “lawyers sometimes have to defend laws they don’t like” – not generally a line that works very well on the campaign trail. And Gabrieli turned Reilly’s line about Cape Wind – that it’s a “ripoff” – against him, by pressing Reilly on whether Reilly would be for it if a good enough deal could be negotiated such that it wasn’t a “ripoff” anymore. Reilly wasn’t ready for that, didn’t have a good response for it, and ended up looking defensive.
On the negative side of the ledger, I didn’t think Gabrieli did a very good job of reconciling his advocacy for the tax rollback with his position that we have to spend more money on education. Debate moderator Karen Marinella noted that in her own community the school system is suffering budget cuts and that Prop. 2-1/2 overrides are perpetually on the agenda, and she asked, “where is the money going to come from?” Gabrieli’s only answer was that if we can generate more jobs, more income tax revenues will come in, so jobs are the answer. To me, this is not very satisfactory. Much as we might wish it were otherwise, the Governor cannot just “create jobs.” Sure, government can put in place policies that might encourage job growth. But the actual growth of jobs is subject to factors way beyond the control of government. And yet, the schools are hurting now, their budgets are being cut now, and Prop. 2-1/2 overrides are increasing people’s property taxes now, so any plan to solve those problems is not, IMHO, convincingly addressed by just saying “more jobs equals more tax revenues, so we’ll just create more jobs.” Plus, though “more jobs” is always better, our unemployment rate is a relatively low 4.9%, so it’s fair to ask whether “more jobs” will really create enough of an expanded tax base to fund the schools to the extent we want to if we also roll the income tax back to 5%.
- Patrick: I thought that Patrick was perhaps the most convincing he’s yet been on the importance of addressing property taxes before the income tax. At two different points in the debate, he made a strong case that property taxes hit the people who can least afford them the hardest, and he also linked the income tax to school budget cuts and Prop. 2-1/2 overrides. This line, in response to Marinella’s asking where the money was coming from for all the education expansion everyone was backing, was one of Patrick’s best: “that help is nowhere to be found unless we postpone the income tax rollback and we take that surplus and return it to the cities and towns in the form of local aid.” One sentence, clearly stated, that nicely encapsulates his position on one of the biggest issues in this campaign. If voters agree with it, he’ll win, and if not, he’ll lose, but that’s as it should be.
Patrick (along with Gabrieli – they kind of tag-teamed this issue) also did well with Cape Wind against Reilly. After Reilly made his “ripoff” claim and said that the state needed compensation, Patrick pulled out some details that Reilly either wasn’t aware of or chose not to acknowledge: that the state will be getting compensation under some aspect of the deal, the details of which I did not catch but which didn’t appear to be in dispute. This information, which both Patrick and Gabrieli returned to several times, significantly weakened Reilly’s “ripoff” position and made him look like he didn’t have any very good reasons for opposing the project.
However, Patrick’s response to Reilly’s question about a plan to increase sentences for sex offenders wasn’t all that great. Reilly proposed increasing mandatory minimum sentences to 25 years for child rape, and asked whether the other two candidates supported that. Patrick, instead of answering directly, tried to turn it back on Reilly by asking whether he had been pushing this proposal before or whether it was an election-year stunt. Didn’t do much for me – it just seemed like picking a fight where it wasn’t necessary to do so. Especially because, at the end of the discussion, Reilly finally got both Patrick and Gabrieli to agree that they supported his plan. So score that one for Reilly.
- Reilly: Reilly handled the immigration question well, showing his law-and-order streak while also showing compassion for the children of illegal immigrants who are here by no fault of their own. (Gabrieli, by contrast, came off as the hardass on immigration, apparently not willing to cut the kids any slack; Reilly and Patrick seemed pretty close on this issue.) Also, as noted above, he did well on his sex offender question by stating a policy proposal that should sell well, getting the other two candidates to endorse it, and parrying an attack from Patrick effectively.
As I’ve already said, however, I thought Reilly got hammered pretty hard on Cape Wind by both of his opponents. It’s OK to be against the project if you can explain clearly why you’re against it – and if you’re ready for your opponents to throw inconvenient facts in your face, but he didn’t seem ready. And more generally, Reilly has got to get more specific on some of these issues. Several times he said something like “Massachusetts is a great state, and we just need strong leadership.” (He said that almost verbatim when asked about his plan to make housing more affordable.) If that’s all he’s got, Kerry Healey will eat him alive if he wins the primary.
- Other thoughts. The surprise, if there was one, was the extent to which Patrick and Gabrieli tag-teamed Reilly on both Cape Wind and gay marriage. The gay marriage question was particularly interesting: Gabrieli’s question to Patrick, in which he said that he wasn’t a lawyer so he was looking for a lawyer’s take on whether Reilly did the right thing, couldn’t have been a better set-up. Patrick used his one-minute response to explain why Reilly didn’t have to do what he did, which then forced Reilly onto the defensive in the three-minute discussion with Patrick playing lawyer and Gabrieli playing the layman “gosh, Tom, I just don’t understand your position” card. You’d almost think they planned that one in advance….
Was there a “winner”? As I’ve said before, I don’t think that’s
a constructive question, so I won’t offer an opinion on it. I do think that Reilly needs to sharpen his message beyond standing for “strong leadership” if he wants to come out of events like this one looking like he knows what he wants to do with his governorship. I’ve expressed concern for over a year now about whether Reilly can offer a real vision for this race. I didn’t see it today.
There you have it. Watch it for yourself tomorrow (Thursday) night at 10:30 pm on Channel 56, and tell me what I got wrong.