Friday, July 10, 2009

Sterling's Gettens to oppose Naughton in 2010. Why, and why now?

At the highest levels of our political culture it’s not unusual for a campaign cycle to begin long before election day. For instance, the first credible candidates for the 2008 presidential election announced in late-2006 and the first primary debates were held early in 2007...almost two years before President Obama was ultimately elected.

For better or for worse, the trend toward extended campaigns has trickled all the way down to the State Legislature’s 12th Worcester District, where Sterling resident James Gettens has announced his intention to run against Rep. Hank Naughton in 2010.

I know Gettens from the fight between Clinton and Sterling (or more accurately, a three-way battle between Clinton, the Sterling selectmen, and the people of Sterling) over the potential sale of water from the Wekepeke Reservoirs. As I have written a number of times I agreed with Gettens’s position that the commercial sale of the water would be illegal. I even posted a number of his opinions and letters on this blog.

More recently, both Gettens and I spoke at town meeting in favor of Sterling taking the first step toward a five-person Board of Selectmen. On the other hand, we have also been on opposite sides of some town issues: at the May town meeting I spoke strongly in favor of spending $52,000 to help develop the Sterling Greenery Park, a proposal that Gettens vigorously opposed.

Having said that, I am a strong supporter of Rep. Naughton and I contributed both time and money to his most recent house campaign. I believe he serves with the district’s best interests in mind, and expect to strongly support him again in 2010.

The announcement of Gettens’s candidacy begs a couple of questions, some which have been answered but many of which haven’t.

1. Why is Gettens running for the house? From the article in the Times and Courier:
Topics Gettens said he hopes to address if elected include limiting salaries to high-ranking state officials, bringing the income tax rate back to 5 percent and working to tighten the expenses of the state’s mandatory health care policy….

Gettens criticized Democrats in state office, stating, “the spending practices of the Democrats in control of the House and Senate are out of control, and I hope to help change this. I intend to speak out for the individual taxpayers in the district. The people who own businesses and the entrepreneurs — the people who have been exploited by entrenched government organizations.”

“It took 200 years of state history for the budget to go from zero dollars to $12.8 billion, a mark which was reached in 1988-89. The Democrats have been in control since 1988-89, and the Democrats, through wasteful government spending, have more than doubled this $12.8 billion budget in this time,” said Gettens.
A couple of things I find interesting here…first, Gettens proclaims his support for rolling back the income tax to 5%, not for repealing it altogether, which was the goal of the recent ballot question. The difference between 5% and 5.3% is largely symbolic. For a worker making $52,000 a year, a reduction of 0.3% would put $3.00 per week back in her paycheck. And Naughton will argue—as he did in a forum we held before the last election—that the current law already has triggers that would reduce the tax rate based on the state’s revenues.

(As an aside…if the legislature had set a scale that would slide up to 5.95% when revenues are down, and down to 5% when revenues are up—instead of just a downward scale—I wonder if sales taxes, alcohol taxes, meals taxes, etc. would have been necessary.)

Secondly, he wants to “tighten the expenses” of the health care plan. Not repeal it, or cut services, or even change the way the plan works, just tighten expenses. I wonder how such a progressive position on universal health care plays with the more conservative Republicans out there.

And the argument that the budget has doubled since 1988 is a straw man. Converting 1988 dollars into 2009 dollars, $12.8 billion in 1988 would be worth $23.14 billion today. According to population estimates, Massachusetts has grown by 7.6% since the 1990 census. Using 2009 dollars, if we increase the budget by 7.6% to keep up with the growth, we end up with a total of $24.9 billion. So of course the budget has doubled, it would take $24.9 billion just to provide the exact same services per capita as we did in 1988.

2. What are Gettens’ positions on social issues? Right now it appears that the election will be fought on economic grounds, but who knows what will happen between now and 2010. Earlier this week, Attorney General Martha Coakley filed suit to have portions of the Defense of Marriage Act stricken as it pertains to same-sex marriages in Massachusetts. Will this still be an issue in 2010? Gay marriage opponents have indicated that they may again try to petition for a constitutional amendment to repeal that part of the law. Would Gettens vote to support or oppose that effort? Both Gettens and Naughton serve in the Army Reserves. What are their positions on “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell?” Does the Republican support or oppose casino gambling and/or slot parlors in soon-to-be-former dog tracks?

3. Why announce the candidacy so early in the cycle? Was it meant to be a stake out a position to keep other Republicans out of the race? Is it an attempt to get an early jump on raising money (although a check on the Office of Campaign and Political Finance website suggests that Gettens has not yet formed a campaign committee to receive contributions)?

4. Why was the rollout so limited? The only article about Gettens’ candidacy to date is the one on the Times and Courier. There hasn’t been any announcement of it in the other newspapers that serve the region (The Landmark, the Clinton Item, the Telegram and Gazette, the Banner, or the Villager). There has been no posting or discussion on Red Mass Group or the Worcester County Republican Club’s blog. It seems that if a candidate is going to make an announcement he would try to reach as many voters, supporters, and potential donors as possible.

5. What will Lew Evangelidis do? On the one hand, Evangelidis is a Republican and the party is always desperate for fellow Republicans to run for office. On the other hand, I perceive that Lew and Hank are fairly close and work pretty well together on issues that affect the neighboring districts. Will Evangelidis support Gettens enthusiastically and campaign with him? Will he support him in name but not do any heavy lifting? Or will Lew sit it out entirely, effectively telegraphing his support for Naughton by staying on the sidelines?

6. How will Sterling’s town leadership respond? On the surface, having a Sterling resident run for state rep should be a good thing. But Gettens has sparred with the Board of Selectmen on a number of occasions, many times in public forums or at town meeting. Historically, two of the three members of the board have been financial contributors to Republicans running for state office.

Both Dick Sheppard and Paul Suschyk gave money to Republican David Schnaider, the last Sterlingite to run for a seat in the legislature (Nice touch, by the way, for Sushchyk to give $100.00 to David Schnaider before his 2004 senate race against Democrat Bob Antonioni and then give $150.00 to Antonioni a year later). And both have given to Evangelidis and state level Republicans to the tune of over $2,100 combined the last six years. Will they also support Gettens? Or have the disputes between Gettens and the board become too personal for these longtime Selectmen to support him?

(Newly elected selectman Russ Philpot is not listed in the OCPF database as having contributed to any candidates).

7. And finally, will the Republican candidate for Governor have any coattails, or will he follow the Romney-esque path of running for himself, completely disregarding the infrastructure of the sate party as a whole?

A lot of things to ponder. For better or for worse, we have a long 16 months of pondering to go.

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