Finally it’s time for the BMG editors to show our cards in endorsing a candidate for Governor. It should come as no surprise that we’re endorsing Don Berwick. He is prodigiously qualified, and evinces a universal humane empathy and passion for social justice. Any progressive can be satisfied with this choice, and proud to choose Berwick to carry on, expand, and even improve upon (*cough* casinos *cough*) the progressive vision laid out by Governor Patrick.
As our readers know, Berwick is a pediatrician by training, and created the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, which is dedicated to using data to help health care providers achieve better results at lower cost. Massachusetts suffers from mind-boggling health care costs, due primarily to the market power of a few platinum name-plate organizations (Partners chief among them). The high cost of health care, and its dizzying inflation, cannibalize budgets for every single other priority: Education, infrastructure, social services, public safety. This is an issue absolutely at the heart of our state’s business, and Berwick has been tending this very garden for decades, with great results. It is not an exaggeration to say that he is a giant and a legend in this field. Among his volunteers we have met several folks in the medical fields who have found IHI’s work transformative — who have seen it up close.
Berwick then took his expertise to the political meat-grinder of Washington DC, as the recess-appointed chief of Medicare and Medicaid — an agency with a budget of $819.4 billion in FY 2012 (the last fiscal year he was at CMS). This responsibility dwarfs anything run by either of his rivals for the Democratic nomination.
Berwick has been mostly very direct and forthright about outlining his priorities and values: Single-payer health care; ending homelessness; against casinos; for clean energy and a post-carbon economy. This is in welcome distinction to his two rivals, particularly the nebulous Coakley. This combination of an empathetic philosophy and technocratic skill makes Berwick the best candidate.
It must be said, however, that we are disappointed by the performance of his campaign. His web and TV ads have been dull, awkward, and uninspired; they certainly do not represent why his is the urgent choice, why he is the person of the political moment. This is one reason why his campaign has not caught fire; but another reason is his failure to pick advantageous fights with his rivals. One hoped that he might be able to use the momentum from a reasonably-successful caucus and convention showing to really insert himself into the thick of the campaign, but somehow this never materialized. Why not? There is no excuse for his dismal name-recognition numbers, so late in the primary campaign (this week’s Globe poll (p. 37) shows that over half of likely voters don’t recognize his name, and another 12% responded “recognize but can’t rate”).
As for his rivals, we welcome Steve Grossman’s committed voice for kitchen-table economic issues, and Martha Coakley’s career of dedicated public service. They are both qualified and reasonably progressive, and either would be a credible candidate for the general election. But we find Grossman’s position on casinos, together with his record as Treasurer of enthusiastically supporting an expanded lottery — $30 scratch tickets? internet gambling? — to be disappointing and inconsistent with the rest of his platform.
And Coakley seems to want good things as long as she doesn’t have to make any tough decisions and can make everyone happy. In so doing, she is re-running her tepid, uninspired 2009-2010 campaign for Senate: A nice person, a résumé candidate, only with fewer obvious gaffes, and — it must be acknowledged — a superior organization to that of either of her rivals. But we still have no idea what her highest priorities are: What does Gov. Coakley do on Day One? What’s her Top Five list of accomplishments as of 2018? What does she really think about casinos? About the market power of Partners and its effect on health care costs? Will she really go to the wall for clean energy? If you know, do tell us.
In any event, we are headed for a step back from Gov. Patrick, who so easily re-framed many controversial issues from a place of compassion and decency, because he believed what he said. From taxation, to corporate tax loopholes, to transportation, to taking in child refugees from Central America, he used the bully pulpit well. Whatever his weaknesses, he was so deft at this critical aspect of the job that we may not yet realize how much we’ll miss it. Of the candidates, Berwick comes closest to embodying a politics of conviction.
And that is why we are for Berwick: He knows what he wants, and says it.