Massachusetts used to be a hub of innovative public policies, but the state that gave America its first public school and first minimum wage seems to have lost its experimental nerve, along with its status as one of the great crucibles of transformative lawmaking.
Taking a broad view, University of Massachusetts Lowell historian Robert Forrant didn’t mince words:
“On several significant issues — school funding, the crumbling public transportation system, health care, the opioid crisis, immigration, climate change, the re-segregation of our public schools — there is nothing that I see that is innovative and represents collaborative thinking about the problem. The Legislature and governor have mastered the fine art of appearing very, very busy while standing very, very still.”
As I keep saying, vision is just a fancy word for long-term planning … and responsive, accountable government.
This is your governor’s race right here, in a nutshell: The cautious governor, intent on “preserving political capital”, doesn’t bother to challenge the legislature. In turn, legislators give him occasional pats on the head, and aren’t made uncomfortable by any policy ambitions from the corner office. As far as it goes, there’s nothing particularly wrong with governing by broad consensus, where the things that get done are already non-controversial.
But if you’re sitting in traffic in an hour-plus-long commute; if your 10-minute T ride is more often taking 20, 30, or 40 minutes because another train caught on fire; when your commuter rail doesn’t show up; when you can’t find decent, affordable child care so that you can progress in your job; when your medical bills continue to go up; when your grown kids can’t afford to live nearby anymore; when your house lies on ground increasingly vulnerable to sea level rise …
… You might wish that our politicians had taken a risk on your behalf, instead of circling the wagons and insisting that Everything Is Fine.
As former MassDems chair John Walsh put it to me on Saturday at the convention:
It’s up to all our Democratic elected officials to stand up … Why do we need to go to the ballot [for the Fair Share amendment]? Why do we need to go to the ballot in Massachusetts to get a $15 minimum wage, or paid family leave? We have supermajorities in the legislature — vote the goddamned things in. Stand up!
So if the Democratic gubernatorial candidates adopt this line of attack against Charlie Baker — and they should — they’d better be prepared to give it to our legislature as well.