As noted below, former State Senator Ben Downing is running for Governor. I think I saw this coming, and I’m pretty pleased that he’s taking the plunge. I hope other rank-and-file Democrats can allow themselves to get interested and even a little bit excited about this candidacy. (I sent his campaign a few bucks.)
Firstly for me: Downing is an environment/climate/energy person. He’s now a Vice-President at Nexamp, a community-solar company which allows people to buy in to solar projects that are not on their own roofs. When he was a State Senator he worked to pass a “green collar” jobs program (Pathways Out of Poverty) and became known as the Senate’s clean energy point-person, evolving Massachusetts’ solar net-metering regime.
Governor Baker has only fitfully and intermittently led on climate and energy, in spite of his “back seat to no one” rhetoric; the best and boldest ideas mostly seem to come from the legislature. I do applaud his advocacy for the Transportation Climate Initiative, which is brave, politically-constrained, and unfortunately thankless; I support his initiative on transit-oriented development; there is much to support in the 2050 Decarbonization plan. But we need to have public transit. In spite of much action and attention — and no shortage of great and bold ideas within his own administration and the public sphere — Baker will leave the MBTA (for example) in effectively worse condition in 2022 than when he started in 2014. That’s not just COVID’s fault — it’s Baker’s lack of vision and attention, for which this NY Times editorial specifically called him out: “small-minded and short-sighted”. Baker’s own 2050 decarbonization plan envisions precious little emissions savings from public transit – no, we’ll all be driving electric cars to nowhere, still stuck in traffic.
Why should we not be surprised at Downing’s run? Downing has kept his voice active in the public sphere. He has not been shy about taking on the failures of the Baker administration, even as our entire political establishment has seemed charmed and intoxicated by the Governor’s managerial mystique and aura. Downing’s refrain in this years-long Twitter thread is “Focus on the record”: The trooper scandal; the deadly RMV scandal with proof of corner office interference; hospice care for the MBTA instead of a thriving system; his greasing the skids for state approval of the Weymouth compressor; and on and on. Baker’s feet of clay have never been so apparent as in the botched vaccination rollout, which is merely the continuation of a tepid, vaccillating response with a disdain for transparency. Again, Downing is taking notes: “It’s not working.”
Even after leaving office, Downing has continued to publish his blunt-but-eloquent reflections on public policy on WAMC (the Albany NY NPR affiliate, which reaches much of Western Mass and covers Massachusetts matters). Read this commentary, nominally on the Transportation Climate Initiative but moving on and encompassing much more. He’s held forth on immigration, poverty, and foster care. You’ll see big-picture, impatient-visionary thinking — “necessary but not sufficient”, connecting the dots. He admits a strong influence of Bobby Kennedy’s humane vision. Like RFK, you don’t feel pandered-to; there is an element of moral challenge evident in his writings.
In addition, Downing is from Pittsfield. Western Mass. deserves greater attention, and has greater potential, than our Boston-centric political culture imagines. It’s a different economy between I-91 and Pittsfield, but it doesn’t have to be. (Let’s get that train and send it through Pittsfield to Albany.)
The 2022 election is 21 months away. As a Republican who is indeed nothing at all like Donald Trump, Baker has enjoyed unaccountably high, Stockholm-Syndrome approval ratings — even from Democrats. But he’s getting stale. With some unexpected bright spots on the legislative scene, we’re actually on the brink of becoming awesome.
Give Ben Downing a good long look.
This ad is obviously an introduction and the phrase Make Massachusetts Work for Everyone is a good one (he can drop the everywhere since it’s clunky, but the signal it sends is a good one. The Chelsea’s and Pittsfields need to be heard).
I do think you made a better case against Baker in this thread than he did in the ad, so while I like his commitments, I question his toughness and his fire. He reminds me of Pete Buttigieg in good and bad ways connecting everything back to South Bend on the mend. It was a powerful story, but he needed to take another step to convince me he could beat Trump.
I think to beat Trump you needed someone like Biden who was already tested and someone trusted to beat Trump like a drum. So I want someone who is tough enough to take on Bakers record while appealing to the many independents and moderate Democrats who voted for him. It’s a tall task and I’ll keep an open mind, but I’m glad it’s already a stronger field than last time.
Charley on the MTA says
I think Ben’s got a little more depth than Buttigieg (who is nonetheless off to a good start).
A few days ago David Bernstein made a sideways reference to Sonia Chang-Diaz running. Maybe he knows something we don’t. I mean, at that point it’s an embarrassment of riches. She’s brilliant.
And oh, there’s Maura Healey.
Massachusetts has an actually deep bench, folks! There are always plenty of Democrats, but I think in the past, that depth was more aspirational than real. Now there are a bunch of really interesting folks who are ready to move up — plenty of over-qualified legislators and city councilors, mayors …
Remember that Ayanna Pressley won because she is awesome, not because Capuano was bad. It was a referendum on giving her a chance to shine.
Not super enthusiastic about Maura Healey. She has been a fantastic AG, particularly in the age of Trump, and she was a rare incumbent I was enthusiastic about re-electing despite actually being with her primary opponent the first time around. I will certainly support her if she is the nominee and won’t completely rule out supporting her in the primary depending on the rest of the field. I hope she doesn’t fall into the trap Shannon O’Brien did of just running because everyone seemed to tell her she should, then still end up making a better case for why she should be re-elected Treasurer rather than promoted to Governor. I’m not convinced Healey wants the Corner Office and I think a large part of her still doesn’t see herself as a politician. The only reason she put her name on a ballot at all is because she wanted specifically to be AG and in Massachusetts seeking election is how you get the gig. Then there’s the sense that I feel like I’ve seen the AG-tries-for-Governor movie a few times and I know how it ends.
Have to agree with Christopher on this one, and her offices public properties were really focused on using federalism to protect the Commonwealth from the Trump administration. Now that we have an ally in the White House, I would like to see her office focus on more local issues. Particularly getting aggressive on corruption and corporate oversight. I see her or Ayanna shining as a future Markey or Warren successor rather than a Baker challenger.
Charley on the MTA says
I don’t know … MH is a different breed of cat from Coakley, Reilly, or Harshbarger. More savvy politician, more charismatic. She’s been better at building a politically-intelligible profile: Not too down in the weeds like Coakley; not a grumpus like Reilly. And the Trump admin gave her a big old target for lawsuits.
Her drawback is having to do the actual job of AG, which is defending the state’s agencies. The Weymouth folks, e.g., are not happy with her tiptoeing around the compressor issue, but I’ve never been sure how much discretion she has in taking on MassDEP. It would be … a departure.
Anyway, I think she’d be formidable.
Can they beat Baker? That’s the only question that matters. I think it’s unlikely Ayanna (or any of the other House members) gives up a safe seat to run in what is looking to be a crowded field for Governor. She’s already making a national profile for herself that it would arguably be a step down. It’s why she shouldn’t run for Mayor either. I could see Sonia giving up her seat if she feels the legislature is no longer a place where anything gets done. She and Ben could make for an interesting ticket too.
Charley on the MTA says
If I could, I’d modify the question: “How, and with what, would they beat Baker?” That’s the question that is yet to be fleshed out. Early on, candidates float trial balloons as answers to this question. Just asking “can they”, stated bluntly, will elicit an obvious answer: No, Baker’s too popular. And yet there are all these loose ends of his administration lying around, things done and left undone. A viable candidate has to gather them all up and credibly posit an alternate future.
I agree with that framing and would still say I have reservations about the viability of the announced and rumored candidates so far. That said Downing is on the right track in his Twitter thread of calling out specific failures and avoiding the connect Baker to Trump/national Republican strategy. It failed for Coakley and failed for Gonzalez. That crap works in Illinois but our voters here are too sophisticated for it.
My standard question to anyone running for office in Massachusetts was “In Deep Blue Massachusetts, Scott Brown won and election with a barn jacket and a pickup truck. What do you have?”
The longer their reply, the more I doubted that they understood how elections are won, and lost. The more detailed their reply, the more I realized that they did not understand their audience.
Barn jackets and pickup trucks have nothing to do with governance and I for one don’t want to sink to that level. Scott Brown won due to depressed Dem turnout and people being turned off by Coakley. Remember Brown got about the same number of raw votes as McCain did in MA in 2008 yet McCain got trounced by Obama here.
That’s a good way to lose an election, denigrating the common voter. Simple works. If I ask you what time it is, don’t tell me how you intend to build a clock, no matter how much that will display your engineering talent. I don’t care. I’m not interested in your high level skill set.
I never went to school for it, but I ran an advertising agency back in the 80’s. Our media was a 30 second TV spot or a 60 second radio spot.
My advice to all our clients was the same, keep it simple. Those that took my advice did well.
When Stephen Hawking wrote A brief History of Time he was warned that for every equation in the book, the readership would be halved, hence it includes only one. He “sunk to the level of his readers” and sold a lot of books.
So explain the issues! Don’t parade around like a phony. There’s a way to explain things in a way that is understandable without dumbing things down and being patronizing. I will never apologize for having high expectations and standards for the American voter.
You don’t get a chance to explain the issues until you get someone’s attention, and the typical voter has a couple hot buttons, a few misconceptions, and a short attention span.
Yes, there are ways to explain things in a way that is understandable without dumbing things down and being patronizing, Elizabeth Warren is clear example of that.
She starts out by telling her audience that as a young girl, she wasn’t pretty, didn’t have the highest grades, didn’t play sports or play a musical instrument…not by telling them she’s an accomplished law professor from Harvard.
I have no problem with candidates introducing themselves with a personal story.
Good. Personal stories work. Policy papers put people to sleep. No, not you and not me, not those of us on BMG….but the people that can rattle off the starting lineup for the Sox, the names of the people on The Bachelor, but not the names of their state rep or senator (and didn’t even know they have one)…..they like the barn jackets, pickup trucks, tall people, handsome candidates, and easy to understand slogans.
Well, if tall and handsome are the criteria then I guess I’m out! 🙂
We need to do something about the Sox/Bachelor vs. Rep./Senator comparison though. The latter is much more important to our actual lives. The Red Sox and Bachelor cast will not make sure you have a secure job, good schools, strong national defense, etc.
Yes the tall thing is real. There’s a reason why the average male CEO is taller than the average male, and it’s not because height gives one better business skills.
We used to teach Civics in high school.
We did until this year, now it’s an 8th grade requirement, although I worry Action Civics as a curriculum is too light on teaching the actual functions of government. It still has a lot of great resources and does teach students how to get involved locally. I think our hybrid of alternating between traditional civics and action civics at City on a Hill worked. The iCivics program is a great toolkit as well and is very well suited to remote learning.
Sadly, there are few more additions to your list —
If the number of Massachusetts voters who cast their vote based on “barn jackets, pickup trucks, tall people, [and] handsome candidates” is large enough to change the outcome of a gubernatorial election, then we might as well all pack up and go home.
And I’d like to believe that your bullet points apply to a distinct minority. Your first two especially are just QAnon.
I think those conspiracy addled voters are few and far between in this state. I think our bigger issue as a party is recognizing that the majority of voters in this state do not belong to it. A good 30% of the electorate voted for Baker twice and sent Markey and Warren back to Washington. I think this segment of the electorate is little studied or understood and thus, underutilized as a voting bloc.
They typically want liberal do gooders in Washington, but they also want a moderate Republican minding the store on Beacon Hill.
This pandemic should show us the limits of always putting business needs first and chronic parsimony toward public goods from vaccines to transit. We haven’t had real leadership in the Corner Office in a long time and it’s starting to show.
There is a middle ground between pickup trucks and policy papers that put people to sleep.
To the extent that you assert that we need to rely on pickup trucks and bumperstickers to win the corner office, then it is that assertion that is insulting to voters.
Scott Brown insulted every Massachusetts voter every time he opened his mouth. This is the guy who was literally selling his daughters to the highest bidder on live television the night of his one and only campaign victory. That was an insult to every viewer.
He got away with it exactly once (because the Democratic nominee was even worse). We’ve seen that Elizabeth Warren is not a professional campaigner — she doesn’t have political chops to match her colleagues (like Ed Markey). And yet Elizabeth Warren easily dispatched Scott Brown — wonky plans and all.
I’m not ready to lower myself to the behavior of today’s GOP. I’m just not.
I think John is advocating such a middle ground, he’s not talking about moving to the right on policy but moving from the Globe reading level to the Heralds in terms of campaign rhetoric. Biden and Bernie figured this out, it’s not something progressives can’t do.
A supporter once called out, “Governor Stevenson, all thinking people are for you!” And Adlai Stevenson answered, “That’s not enough. I need a majority.”
So what’s the secret to getting people to think?
A very good marketing communications consultant once gave my executive team and I some very good advice:
“In order to have an effective communications strategy, you must have something to communicate.”
My sense is that too many of our candidates don’t know why they want the office they seek, what they want to do if elected, and how to accomplish that.
Our own Tommy Vitolo (stomv) did not need a pickup truck and barn jacket to win his seat. He did have a very good idea of his answers to those “why”, “what” and “how” questions.
Having a crisp message doesn’t have to dumb down to anybody. Every successful entrepreneur has an “elevator pitch” — a good elevator pitch is MUCH harder to write than a 25 page proposal.
Barn jackets and pickup trucks are not required and, in my view, not really relevant. Scott Brown was a case study in a one-trick pony who got lucky exactly once.
We don’t need to emulate Mr. Brown to win.
We sent a regular Joe from Scranton to the White House and that worked out just fine. We need more candidates that sound like Biden and have a real ear for the hopes and fears of the middle class. Downing struck all the right notes in his ad, I just worry he won’t have enough time to get his name out there. Kennedy is the only candidate who could make the race instantly competitive and he beat Markey in the places where Baker beat Coakley and Gonzalez. He already won Pittsfield and Chelsea.
Um, comparing a Kennedy, even one who’s name really is Joe, to a regular guy seems a bit counterintuitive.
I realize that, but he kicked ass in the places that elect governors in the general.
Heh — I hope you’ll agree that a perfectly effective answer is “I’m not Martha Coakley, I don’t even play her on television.”
I don’t have standard questions, I actually prefer real face-to-face exchanges. I like to meet candidates in person. I like to think I’m pretty good at differentiating good from bad after two or three meetings. I can’t think of any candidates where I’ve regretted the outcome of that process.
I sent him a small donation as well. Thanks for your post. I think he’s onto something.
Can anyone imagine that somehow, Massachusetts lacked the technical and medical expertise to be a national leader with its vaccine rollout? The same state that lead the nation with an early version of the Affordable Care Act, the home of MIT, Harvard, and the highest ratio of PhD’s per capita of any state somehow can’t tell this 66 year old citizen with high blood pressure and asthma when he might expect to receive his vaccine. Or, as Charlie puts it…“We’re pretty good at it. We’re late, but we’re pretty good at it”