Somewhat to our surprise, the three of us find ourselves in wholehearted agreement in support of John Bonifaz’s challenge to 12-year incumbent Bill Galvin in the Democratic primary for Secretary of State. At the outset, each of us expected to back Galvin in this race (though we didn’t expect to be terribly vocal about it). But as we’ve explored the details of the race and seen the way the two candidates are conducting it, we’ve changed our minds. Why?
- Galvin did some good things earlier in his time in office (like getting rid of punch card ballots), but lately he seems to have lost his way. The fact that there are four different voting rights investigations ongoing in Massachusetts – by the Bush Justice Department, no less – doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.
- Galvin’s failure to comply with the Help America Vote Act‘s requirement that the state provide adequate voting facilities for the disabled among us by next week’s primary election appears emblematic of the long-term incumbent’s flagging ability to do his job properly. That law has been on the books since 2002. Four years was plenty of time to get it done.
- For heaven’s sakes, one can’t even download a voter registration form from the state government in Massachusetts, where the building blocks of the web were invented.
- Galvin’s now-legendary refusal to debate his primary opponent reflects a near-terminal case of incumbentitis. The details of this ongoing issue have been discussed in the posts linked above, but the bottom line seems clear: Galvin is hoping to ride his superior (if modest) name recognition back into office by starving his opponent of oxygen in what he hopes and predicts will be a low-turnout primary. A tragic way for the state’s chief elections officer to behave.
Are we just against Galvin, rather than being for Bonifaz? No. Bonifaz is a nationally-recognized, MacArthur “genius award” winning leader in voting rights, and without fair elections, nothing else will work very well. He wants to use the office of Secretary of State as a bully pulpit for elections reform and has some good thoughts on how to do that; and he wants Massachusetts to be a national leader in this area, which strikes us as a fine idea. In addition, he favors moving state government toward open documents format, rather than allowing Microsoft to wrap its tentacles ever more tightly around our collective windpipes.
A good deal of attention, and some criticism, has been directed at Bonifaz’s “corporate citizenship initiatives.” Some argued that they will simply enrich lawyers and accountants, and will make Massachusetts a less attractive place to do business. We asked Boston College Law Professor Kent Greenfield, who has been advising the Bonifaz campaign on this subject, to write a little more about the merits of these proposals. Here’s an excerpt (you can read all of what Prof. Greenfield sent us at this link):
At their base, these ideas are founded on a couple of important assumptions. First, that high road business practices caring about more than short-term profits are better for Massachusetts and for most corporations themselves in the long run. Second, that government has a role to play in encouraging such high road practices….
- Enforce Massachusetts Right to Govern Massachusetts Corporations. This is simply an assertion on the part of Massachusetts to have a say in the corporate governance of companies based here and with most of their employees and shareholders here…. This matters most in situations where a Massachusetts company is the target of a takeover attempt. Now, there is not much Massachusetts law or lawmakers can do about it (remember Gillette?). But the harmful effects of the takeover will fall on Massachusetts shareholders, employees, and communities. Massachusetts ought to be able to protect itself better….
- Establish Responsible Business Corporations. This seems like a no-brainer. We should encourage high-road companies. No one is hurt by this, and companies that want to do the right thing can do so at lower cost….
- Establish a Small Business Task Force. Another no-brainer….
- Require Public Interest Decision-Making. Probably the most controversial of the initiatives, but it makes sense. Corporations benefit the public now by making money and providing goods and services. But sometimes, the public interest conflicts with the short-term interests of companies (remember how Enron manipulated the energy markets to make billions of dollars?). Most executives are mindful of their obligations to the public, but corporate law (especially Delaware corporate law) shoves the public interest aside when the going gets tough. Massachusetts ought to protect the high-road companies that want to do the right thing by leveling the playing field for everyone.
- Advance Employee Protection. Again, here is a place where good companies are at a disadvantage now. Under current law, a company that lies to its employees can do so with near impunity. The company that tells the truth to its employees whether about good news or bad is at a disadvantage, since a dishonest company will sound exactly the same. In any event, if companies have to tell the truth to shareholders, they should have to tell the truth to employees…. It’s better for the market, but it’s also just the right thing to do.
- Ensure Corporate Tax Accountability. This is just another tell the truth requirement, which only hurts companies that dont….
- Create an Election Day Holiday. Another no-brainer….
So. Do we all agree with Bonifaz on everything? No. We continue to harbor reservations about some of his corporate law proposals — though we take some comfort in the fact that the more far-reaching of them seem unlikely to be adopted by the legislature. And Bonifaz strongly backs public campaign financing – Charley’s with him on that one, and Bob too, but David remains skeptical. David also thinks Bonifaz could stand to tone down the rhetoric now and again.
Nonetheless, after Bob and David (Charley couldn’t make it) talked with Bonifaz for over an hour last week, we came away convinced. Bonifaz has a lot of good ideas, particularly about election reform, and he wants to use the Secretary of State’s office to advance them, rather than as a jumping-off point for a campaign for higher office. Galvin is perpetually “considering” a campaign for Governor, and we’d hate to see the Secretary
of State treading water for four more years wondering whether 2010 will be “the year” for a Galvin for Gov campaign. As described above, Galvin seems to have lost interest in the day-to-day work of the office. It’s time for new energy and new ideas to reinvigorate that office, and the Editors of BMG are pleased to announce their unanimous support for John Bonifaz’s candidacy.