Thursday, January 28, 2010

Fun with redistricting

A couple of weeks ago, I came across this web application that allows the use to create congressional district maps with accurate information from every voting precinct in the country. As you assign precincts to a district, it calculates the population in the proposed district and the deviation from the perfect district size...the thing is absolutely incredible.

As you can imagine, I've been geeked up on this thing, creating different scenarios for Massachusetts when we come up for redistricting in 2012. So far, I've run  four scenarios. In all of them, I'm assuming that Massachusetts will be left with just nine districts, which means that one congressional seat has to vanish. In three of the four scenarios, I'm also assuming that incumbents will remain in their districts and that the Democratic legislature is the ones doing the redistricting.

The first scenario I ran is one that has been seen as likely ever since it became clear that Massachusetts would lose a district. There has been speculation that 1st District Representative John Olver might retire after the 2011-12 session, allowing the first district to be the one that is dissolved. Here is the way I would redistrict the state based on that assumption:


Here, I've combined the western parts of the first and second districts to create one district that is essentially the Connecticut River Valley and the Berkshires. To compensate for that, I've moved Jim McGovern's district north and west, to include most of the populated areas of Worcester County west to the liberal bastion of Amherst. The southern leg of McGovern's old district is now split between Ed Markey and Barney Frank. Finally, I've extended Niki Tsongas's district west along the NH border, giving her a district where most of her population is in the Merrimack Valley and most of her land area is in the rural north.

In scenario 2, Niki Tsongas is defeated by a Republican challenger (not necessarily likely, but she is probably the most vulnerable to a challenge).

In this case, I have carved up the old fifth district into the first, third, fourth, sixth, and seventh districts, essentially leaving the old district with no base on which a Republican incumbent could run. I've also put Carlisle--home of top Republican candidate Jon Golnik--into the district of powerful Rep. Jim McGovern, along with urban centers like Worcester, Fitchburg, Leominster, Marlborough, and Lowell. Actually, this isn't a bad map at all.

There has been a lot of buzz over challengers to Bill Delahunt in the 10th district. In scenario 3, I combine the ninth and 10th districts, forcing a Republican to have to run against Conservative Boston Democrat Steven Lynch to retain his seat.

This scenario forces some pretty significant gerrymandering south of Boston and in Metro West (for instance, the 40 miles from Grafton to Logan Airport would take one across seven districts). I don't really like this solution, but the legislature will do what it has to do to give a Democrat the chance to retake the seat.

Finally, I gamed out a district map with no regard to incumbency or current borders:

District 1 would be Springfield and the Berkshires. District 2 is Central Mass. and the Quabbin region to Amherst. District 3 is the 495 belt. District 4 is the Merrimack Valley. District 5 is 128 and Metro West. District 6 is the North Shore. District 7 is Boston and Quincy. District 8 is 95 South, and District 9 is the South Shore, South Coast, and the Cape and Islands. I really like this.

Oh, and since you can set the number of districts you want in the application (up to 500), one could also game out maps for the 40 State Senate and 160 State Representative Districts. But even that might be a little too geeky for me.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Evangelidis is out, Ken O'Brien to run

According to Red Mass Group, Representative Lew Evangelidis announced to his supporters yesterday that he is definitively running for Sheriff. The announcement opens up the seat in the First Worcester District, which Evangelidis has held for eight years. Holden Selectman Ken O'Brien announced last night at the Sterling Democratic Town Committee meeting that he intends to run for the seat, with a formal announcement early in February.*

First, the email from Evangelidis:
I wanted all of you to know that I will be a candidate for Worcester County Sheriff this coming November.  As a former assistant district attorney, assistant state prosecutor and having worked in the private sector for many years I hope you would see me as an ideal candidate for Worcester County Sheriff.  With your help I think that we can break down the old Worcester County political machine and have an independent and professional Sheriff's Department.
In making his pitch last night to our committee, O'Brien said that he is a socially progressive, fiscally conservative Democrat. He said he will make bringing federal stimulus dollars and other state aid to the district a priority. He also said that he will fight to make sure that any future budget cuts do not affect local aid.

He said that his experience as a Holden Selectman and his relationships with local, state, and congressional Democrats make him an ideal candidate for the seat. The district includes the western half of Sterling, along with Holden, Princeton, Rutland, Oakham, Hubbardston, and Westminster.

Although the district leans strongly Republican (For instance, in 2006 Kerry Healey and Christy Mihos combined for 50% of the vote in the district, compared with 42% statewide; in 2008, McCain won 49% of the district, compared to just 36% statewide), O'Brien believes that he can make up the difference through a strong organization and get out the vote effort. He certainly has ties to a successful organization: his brother Joe was easily elected mayor of Worcester last fall.

It's possible that O'Brien might have to get through a primary. Last month, Worcester Magazine reported that Worcester radio and TV personality Hank Stolz is exploring a candidacy as a Democrat. There will definitely be at least one Republican running for the seat. Rumors in the district are that fellow Holden Select Board member Kimberly Ferguson is exploring a run, among others.

*-- Even though Ken O'Brien has not officially announced, since his comments last night were at a public meeting held in a public building, I am comfortable writing about them.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Standout Tuesday

Despite my disappointment and frustration at the results of Tuesday’s election, I otherwise had a very good day. For the first time, I spent much of the day out at the polls holding signs and greeting voters on behalf of my candidate, and even though she lost, the experience was well worth it.

There is an old adage that lawn signs don’t vote. I believe that. I also believe that standing out at the polls doesn’t actually win any votes. I imagine everyone who came out to vote Tuesday already had an idea who they were voting for.

But I think visibility at the polls saves votes. There were most likely some voters who came out whose support for Martha Coakley was tepid, at best. Had they arrived at the polling place and seen enthusiasm for Scott Brown and no support for Coakley, I can see some of them saying “Well, if she doesn’t care enough to get people out and campaign, why should I care enough to give her my vote?”

But more importantly than that, I learned that the visibility boosts the morale of those who do come out to vote and that—more than anything—made the day worth it.

Sterling is a Republican town. Those who vote Democratic know that, and it’s clear that they are much more apt to go about their business quietly. So it was nice to see so many smiles and clandestine thumbs-up as we greeted voters. A number of voters thanked me and the other Democrats who stood out to support Coakley. Some went as far as to say that they didn’t expect to see any support out there and they were happy to see that they weren’t alone.

By 7:30 pm, I was about done. There were hardly any more voters left to cast ballots, and many of those who did come out were able to park right in front of the entrance to the school, so our signs weren’t visible to them anyway. Every once in a while, someone would park in the main parking lot and walk by our location, but by that time of night, it was very rare.

I had been debating whether or not I really wanted to stand out in the snow for another 30 minutes (I’d been there for seven hours already; I figured I’d done what I could) and was just about to pack up my signs when a young woman heading back to her car stopped to thank me for being out there. She told me that she was so thankful that I had taken the time to stand out there in the weather and that she was happy that there were others who shared her support. I figured that I couldn’t leave after that, so I stuck it out the rest of the night.

The point I took from that was that even if she and others were disappointed about their candidate or the result, because she knew that she wasn’t alone she might be apt to keep voting or volunteering or doing whatever it is that she does when election time comes around. My being there didn’t influence her vote Tuesday, but it might have some effect in the next election.

Another thing that heartened me was that my fellow Sterlingites are, if nothing else, very polite. Knowing that most of the folks who came out to vote were going to be opposing my candidate filled me with a little trepidation, but me and my follow Democrats holding signs were generally treated well.

I tried to greet everyone who came by and for the most part I got a hello in reply. Those neighbors who just couldn’t bear the thought of acknowledging a Democrat walked by with their heads down. There were a couple of scowls here and there, but with a few exceptions, nothing untoward.

One guy came by wearing a yellow windbreaker. He muttered “Communists!” when he walked in to vote and followed by rolling his window down and yelling “Communists!” out the window of his SUV as he left the parking lot. (‘Communists’ is so 60’s. ‘European-style Socialists’ is much more in vogue, all though that is probably too many words for that guy to string together.) Otherwise, the only time I got yelled at was by two Coakley voters who wanted to let me know that they were voting for Coakley because they supported her issues, but that they were disgusted by the tone of her campaign. Fair enough.

I also took some good-natured ribbing from members of the Town Republican Committee who were out to hold signs for Scott Brown. I was wearing my Red Sox jacket and hat and they wanted to know if Martha Coakley thought I was a Yankees’ fan. I actually got that from a few people, now that I think of it, but each time we were able to share a laugh about it.

I had some good discussions with them about the campaign, how good or bad the schools in town were, what our kids like about Davis know, neighborly stuff. With all of the fire and anger that comes through in TV commercials and the internet, it was very nice to know that as neighbors, the difference in our politics wasn’t any different or more contentious than the difference in the brand of car we drive or TV shows we watch.

Even though we lost, the whole experience was worth it. I definitely plan to be out there again in the fall. Hopefully it will be a bit warmer and a bit less snowy...and that we win a few more votes.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Lessons from Last Night

We Democrats have to learn a few things from last night's result. Martha Coakley lost the election for more reasons than I can get into here--and that's not really the point of this post anyway--but some of those reasons will come back to haunt us again in November if we don't do something about it now.

We have to assume that all contests will be hotly contested, high-turnout affairs and campaign as though we are behind, no matter what. Senator-elect Brown's victory has Republicans feeling like anything is possible. At every level, in every district, we need to assume that without using every tool we have we are going to lose. We cannot afford to say "Well, if we get enough votes here then we can afford to lose there..." We have to contest every vote.

We have to simplify the message. For instance, the discussion in this campaign should not have been about "Obama's health care plan." It should have been about prohibiting insurers from denying coverage due to preexisting conditions. It should have been about guaranteeing that if you get sick, your insurer can't drop your coverage. It should have been about expanding drug coverage for Seniors. It should have been about allowing 55-64 year olds the chance to buy into Medicare. There are dozens of good, popular things in that bill, but Coakley never spoke about them in simple, specific terms. We need to break our issues down to simple, easy to understand points and hammer away on those points.

We have to define our opponents and fight the campaign on our terms. Martha Coakley should have been out the day after the primary with a commercial similar to my video endorsement. She should have looked straight into the camera and told the people of Massachusetts what she stood for, and how that was different from Brown's position. Set a narrative about yourself and your opponent and make the opponent work to change people's minds.

We have to give people an affirmative reason to vote for our candidates; voting against the other guy isn't good enough. Did Coakley ever tell you why she wanted to be our Senator? Did she ever outline a rationale for her campaign? Anyone could have run under the mantle of carrying on Ted Kennedy's legacy and saving the President's agenda. In the end, people needed a reason to vote for Coakley and she never gave it to them. The entire theme of the Coakley campaign the last 10 days was "Don't vote for that scary Republican." That rarely works, and since Brown had already defined himself (see previous point), it was particularly ineffective this time.

We have to ask people for their votes. It seems like that should go unsaid, but did Coakley ever look you straight in the eye (through the magic of TV, or in person) and tell you she needed your vote? We cannot win on principles and issues alone. While those are extremely important, in the end we are electing a person, not an issue. That person needs to ask for our votes.

"Get out the vote" can't mean someone gets out the vote for us, it has to mean our candidates get out the vote themselves. Those of us who work on campaigns can hold signs and phone bank and all of that, but the candidate has to get on the ground in those areas where the base is. By and large, the urban centers had lower turnout than the suburbs and if Coakley was going to win, she needed those areas to turnout in high numbers. The people working the phones worked very hard to get folks out, but how many days did Coakley spend shaking hands in Senior Centers in Worcester, or Community Centers in Springfield, or in Churches in Roxbury? The point is that our candidates cannot take our reliable Democratic votes for granted, for fear that they may not be so reliable after all.

We have to ignore the "fundamentals." Every statistical model, every historical campaign, every last piece of data pointed to an easy Coakley win. We all believed it. Worse, the campaign believed it. We cannot afford to wake up after primary day this September and think "If all the Dems who came out for the primary vote in November, we can't lose." If it takes us until the end of October to get in gear, it will be too late.

Finally, those of us who are not candidates can't wait for our candidates to do the right thing. Unfortunately, some of our favorite people will need to be dragged kicking and screaming out to shake hands and meet with town and ward committees and work the phones with us and work to get themselves reelected. We have to get organized and motivated and committed NOW. Every town and ward committee has a role to play. Write letters to the editors of your newspapers touting your candidates. Find out what your opponent stands for and gently (but firmly) question him or her about it. Call your neighbors. Hold house parties. Whatever you can do. But do not wait until mid-September to get moving.

Yesterday is over. It is what it is. It's our job to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Martha Coakley for Senate

Final Forecast Forecast: Toss-Up

By popular demand, the final Forecast Forecast:

The Forecast Forecast: 37.1F  Light Rain or Snow
Toss-up (Temp: Coakley +3.1, Precip: Lean Brown)

See Thursday's post for how I arrive at the forecast.

Looks like a mixed bag on Election Day. Temperatures should be about three degrees above the 30-day median (which is now 34, due to three straight days above 33), which should bode well for turnout. However, there is expected to be some light rain and/or snow--especially late in the day--which could keep soft voters home.

A wildcard is the ability of cities like Worcester, Springfield, Lowell, and Lawrence to get their streets clear. With 6 or more inches of heavy wet snow last night and this morning, if soft voters don't feel safe getting out of their driveways and down the street, they aren't going to try. The other challenge is going to be to keep surfaces safe. Temps tonight are supposed to fall into the mid 20s, so all of the slush and slop will freeze and could make walking tomorrow dangerous. Some voters could just take a pass if their sidewalks are treacherous in the morning, and then they find after things have begun to thaw, it's started to rain or snow again.

Anyway, here is the data, as of 10:00am, January 18:

Channel 4: 35F Chance of Snow Showers
Channel 5: 38F Light Rain/Snow Mix
Channel 7: 34F Light Snow in the afternoon, 1-2" possible
Channel 25: 38F Chance of Light Rali/Snow
NECN: 39F Rain Showers
NWS: 38F Rain or Snow Likely, little or no accumulation
TWC: 37F 60% chance of Light Rain/Snow
WUND: 38F Rain Showers

(NECN: New England Cable News; NWS: National Weather Service; TWC: The Weather Channel; WUND: Weather Underground)

Friday, January 15, 2010

She just can't stop shooting herself in the foot

You know what's demoralizing? Every time anything good happens to this campaign, Coakley or one of her aides or supporters screws it up by committing some sort of gaffe.

Coakley goes on the offensive against Brown's anti-victim amendment? The ad she runs on the issue spells Massachusetts wrong.

The DSCC runs a good ad attacking Brown's opposition to Wall Street regulation, but all anyone talks about is the image of the WTC.

Bill Clinton comes to town to rally the troops, and I'll bet a dollar to a donut it will be given equal time to Coakley's gaffe tonight calling Curt Schilling a Yankees fan.

There are plenty of other examples.

Is all of that trivial? Yes. But it's not like the news media became interested in trivia just to screw Coakley. The've always focused on the trivial. Our people have to know that they cannot make little mistakes that step on the message. How a campaign allegedly run by our party's best and brightest can be so inept day after day is beyond me.

January 15 Forecast Forecast: Lean Coakley

Looking at the latest numbers, I'd say things are leaning slightly in Martha Coakley's direction. No, I don't mean the poll numbers, I mean temperature numbers.

The Forecast Forecast: 36.0F  More Clouds than Sun
Lean Coakley (Coakley +3.0)
Down 0.1 from Thursday

See Thursday's post for how I arrive at the forecast.

The weather is still pointing to a slight uptick in turnout, however there is one big caveat that wasn't as prominent yesterday. Apparently some models for the weekend storm (Sunday night into Monday) are calling for more snow than earlier forecasts. In fact, Channel 4's weather blog tonight suggests that areas north and west of 495 could get 6-12 inches of snow, with less as you head south and east.

If this is the case, it could depress turnout in critical Coakley areas of Worcester and Springfield (I don't know how Springfield is about clearing their side streets, but Worcester is not very good. One wonders how easy it will be to get around town less than 24 hours after getting a foot of snow).

Anyway, here is the data, as of 10:00pm, January 15:

Channel 4: 34F Mostly Cloudy
Channel 5: 32F Flurries
Channel 7: 35F Partly Cloudy
Channel 25: 35F Mostly Cloudy
NECN: 39F Mostly Cloudy
NWS: 39F Partly Sunny
TWC: 36F Mostly Cloudy
WUND: 38F Mostly Cloudy

(NECN: New England Cable News; NWS: National Weather Service; TWC: The Weather Channel; WUND: Weather Underground)

Patriot, my ass

Less than six weeks after 9/11, Scott Brown had the chance to vote in favor of a measure that allowed Red Cross workers to take a paid leave of absence to help with recovery efforts.

He voted no:
On October 17th, 2001, Brown voted against a bill that would authorize “leaves of absence for certain Red Cross employees participating in Red Cross emergencies.” The bill gave 15 days of paid leave each year to state workers called up by the Red Cross to respond to disasters. At the time, state workers called for such emergencies were required to use sick and vacation days.

The bill was initially filed before 9/11, and after the attacks, it was made retroactive to 9/11, covering the time spent by state workers who’d assisted with 9/11 recovery work for the Red Cross. Brown’s vote against the measure came a little more than a month after the attack.
The vote was 148-3.

Just remember that the next time Scott Brown suggests Democrats are unpatriotic. He had a chance to do the right thing for those who cared enough to help those affected by 9/11 and he said no.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

January 14 Forecast Forecast: Lean Coakley

Looking at the latest numbers, I'd say things are leaning slightly in Martha Coakley's direction. No, I don't mean the poll numbers, I mean temperature numbers.

The Forecast Forecast: 36.1F (Coakley +3.1) More Clouds than Sun -- Lean Coakley

It's a widely held belief that the higher the turnout on Tuesday, the higher the chances that Coakley will win the election. The thought is that Brown's voters are more motivated right now and will come out to vote no matter what, while Coakley's support is a little softer, and rain, sleet, snow or cold might depress her numbers.

So in the fine tradition of,, swing state project, and others who try to predict elections based on poll aggregation, I am introducing the Forecast Forecast, which will predict turnout (and therefore chances of winning) based on an aggregate of forecasts from eight sources.

The median temperature over the last 31 days is 33F, so a prediction above 33F would suggest a higher turnout, and a prediction of under 33 would suggest lower turnout. Precipitation would drive turnout down, where lots of sun would move it up.

So here is the data, as of 10:00pm, January 14:

Channel 4: 34F Mostly Cloudy
Channel 5: 34F Mostly Cloudy
Channel 7: 33F Sunny
Channel 25: 40F Mostly Cloudy, 30% chance of rain/snow late
NECN: 39F Mostly Cloudy
NWS: 37F Partly Sunny
TWC: 36F Mostly Cloudy
WUND: 36F Partly Cloudy

Based on the eight forecasts available Thursday evening, the Forecast Forecast predicts a temperature of 36.1 with more clouds than sun, and a very tiny chance of rain. Which means the forecast for Tuesday is Lean Coakley.

(NECN: New England Cable News; NWS: National Weather Service; TWC: The Weather Channel; WUND: Weather Underground)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Six days to go

Six days and an hour or two from now we'll find out if all of the craziness of the last week of this Senate race has been a bunch of nothing, or if Martha Coakley's campaign is the political version of the 2004 Yankees collapse at the hands of the Red Sox. The final result will be nowhere in between. It will either be an historic win or an epic collapse. From this vantage point, here is where things stand...

Coakley's strategy seems clear. If she gets Democratic and Democratic-leaning women out to the polls, she will win. It's been clear since about the 40 minute mark of Monday's debate that this is her strategy. She set the trap by mentioning Scott Brown's sponsorship of an amendment that would allow hospitals and/or hospital workers to refuse to provide emergency contraception to a rape victim based on religious objections.

She followed up with a pretty tough advertisement linking Scott Brown to "Washington Republicans" and mentioning that Brown voted to deny treatment to rape victims.

Brown took the bait by sending his daughters out to hold a press conference defending their dad's honor, then swallowed it whole by following up today with a radio ad featuring his daughters.

In theory, this works out like so: women who traditionally vote Democratic but have not warmed up to Coakley learn that Brown cares more about protecting the Church than he does about them. They figure that there is no way that they can allow someone with those views to become our next senator, so they make sure they come out to vote.

If that isn't enough, Brown isn't even man enough to defend himself, so he hides behind his college-age daughters. (This opinion doesn't come out of the blue from me. In the debate, he responded to Coakley's charge by referencing his daughters. My wife was watching with me and bringing his family into the debate didn't sit well with her at all).

Or at least that's the way it was supposed to work. But this is the Coakley campaign and true to form, they've been stomping all over their message. That attack ad that they revealed immediately after the debate was a bit too strong. It includes an image of a woman crying in a stair well to represent a rape victim and frankly, I think that might turn off as many voters as it brings in. (It reminded me of the Kerry Healey ad from the 2006 governor's race showing the soon-to-be rape victim being stalked in the parking lot ).

Maybe even worse than that, the disclaimer at the end of the ad spelled Massachusetts incorrectly (Massachusettes). So the Coakley story on the 11 o'clock news that night was the misspelling of the ad, which means she completely wasted one of the last seven days of the campaign, at least from a free media standpoint.

Of course, Coakley wasn't in Massachusetts--however you want to spell it--to push the issue. Instead, she went to Washington, DC to raise money from big donors. Now, raising money is part of the deal. I certainly don't fault her for that. But this has become such a high-profile race that Coakley could have raised a boatload of money in Washington without leaving the campaign trail for a day. To compound things, one of her advisers got into an altercation with a reporter from a right-wing magazine, which fueled more bad press.

For his part, Brown is clearly rattled by the revelation of his anti-rape victim amendment. He denied it completely at the debate on Monday. He overreacted by sending his kids out to defend him (as if they have anything to do with the amendment he proposed. Remarkably, he even said that he couldn't remember even filing the amendment, implying, I guess, that the official Senate journal might be incorrect?

He appears to be vulnerable when directly confronted on his record. At the debate, he denied saying that he was skeptical of global warming, even when read back a direct quote. He denied and then claimed he didn't remember the details of the anti-rape victim amendment.  The question is whether or not he will have to answer for those. (This is a major reason, by the way, that I thought Coakley should have jumped at the chance to debate him one-on-one).

Of course, it should not have even come to this. When the primary was over, Coakley had a 20-point or better lead in the polls. Brown had little statewide name recognition. If Coakley had taken the three weeks after the primary to do what she is scrambling to do now--define Scott Brown as a cookie cutter Republican out of touch with Massachusetts values--the race would have been over long ago. Instead, she let Brown define himself.

Now, Coakley has to try to convince voters that the handsome man who drives a truck is really some sort of monster. Had she done her job in December, Brown would be the one having to convince voters he is not a monster, but a good guy with a truck.

As terrible as her campaign has been, Coakley is still in the driver's seat. In every poll but one--whether up two points or 15 points--she has polled at least 49%. 49% will win. But she needs all of us who are supporting her to get out and vote on Tuesday.

No Drumlins Nation: 50,000 strong

This morning at 1:14 am Eastern Time, No Drumlins welcomed it's 50,000th visitor. The lucky reader logged on from Mendocino, California.

Other milestones:

1,000: July 31, 2006
5,000: October 21, 2006
10,000: February 1, 2007
15,000: June 24, 2007
20,000: October 20, 2007
25,000: February 24, 2008
30,000: June 18, 2008
35,000: October 8, 2008
40,000: February 24, 2009

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Asian Longhorn Beetle Battle

With apologies to the great Dr. Seuss...

If the tweetle beetles battle
While the fuddy duddies huddle,
And the huddle o’er the battle
Is a feeble fuddled muddle.

We call that a

Feebly fuddled huddled fuddy duddy tweetle beetle battle muddle.

Inspiration from today's Telegram headline.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Coakley should agree to one-on-one debates...she'd win them

I just finished watching the replay of tonight's Senate Debate on WGBY-TV in Springfield and I was struck with one overriding thought:

Martha Coakley should agree to debate Scott Brown one-on-one. She won tonight's debate (which no one saw) and she would win again in another debate with the same format.

Frankly, I think WGBY host Jim Madigan should be hired to be the permanent host of these events. He was very good. I've seen him moderate debates in previous elections and I was impressed with him then. I'm still impressed. The format was very freewheeling and allowed the candidates to carry on a conversation. It also allowed the candidates to question one another relatively freely.

Coakley did a very good job asking questions of Brown and trying to pin him down on some issues. He appeared flustered at times--not out of control by any means--but it seemed clear that he was not completely prepared to be challenged directly. Being calm and reasonable is Coakley's strength, and it came through in the handful of confrontations she and Brown had directly.

She needs to do more of it. She ought to call up the Globe or the League of Women Voters, or whoever wants to have one-on-one debates and tell them that as long as it is a free-wheeling round-table (as opposed to a stodgy debate with a panel of questioners), she is on board. She won tonight and would likely win this format again. The best thing she can do to stem whatever momentum Brown has is to get on TV and beat him again.

A couple of specific thoughts on tonight's discussion:

Coakley was successful in attacking Brown on health care. She pointed out that Brown has filed a bill in the Mass. Legislature to cut out the mandates in the Massachusetts health care program. Brown attempted to turn it around as some sort of a gender-based attack, but he seemed to be knocked off his talking points.

(For what it's worth, he also committed a verbal gaffe that is a pet peeve of mine. He suggested that Coakley inferred that he was against women's health issues when the correct charge is that Coakley implied that Brown was against the issues. I realize that it is a peeve of mine and 90% of the viewers wouldn't have noticed, but I'd hate for him to make that mistake in some big policy debate in the Senate chamber).

Brown rolled out a new (or at least new to me) line of attack on the topic of terrorism and the Christmas Day bombing attempt. He repeatedly used some version of this argument against trying terrorists in domestic courts:
"To have us pay for the attorneys for people trying to kill us is wrong."
Well, what does Brown think happens in a military tribunal? The defendant gets a military lawyer. Who pays for military lawyers? Unless we're sending recovery operations out of Guantanamo to dredge pirate booty off the bottom of the sea, we are still paying "for the attorneys for people trying to kill us." It is a ridiculous argument, and Coakley needs to call him out on it directly. She missed her chances to do so.

There must be something about terrorism policy that brings the crazy out in candidates, because Joe Kennedy might have done Brown one better. Kennedy says that because living in a jail is better than living in a cave, affording potential bombers legal rights is an invitation for them to come over here. Seriously. He thinks that al Qaeda will intentionally fail to blow up planes because if they are unsuccessful, they'll get to sleep under a bunk instead of a stalactite?

Finally, Brown badly mischaracterized Obama's tax policy. On at least two occasions he said, "The fact that we have not done an across the board tax cut, and a payroll tax reduction, is wrong." Well, Brown is wrong. Obama did propose--and Congress approved--a payroll tax deduction for the vast majority of Americans as part of the stimulus package. Families like Brown's who likely made over $250,000 per year may not have received it, but 98% of the rest of us did. To suggest that Obama and Democrats did not authorize an across-the-board payroll tax reduction is wrong. Coakley should forcefully defend that as well.

The best way for her to do it is to agree to more debates immediately.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

What's the difference between Scott Brown and Elmo?

When Elmo helps Big Bird count to five, Gordon gives him a pat on the head.

When Scott Brown helps Bob Hedlund count to five, the taxpayers of Massachusetts give him $15,000.

Brown is the Assistant Minority Whip in the State Senate. As such, it is his job to help Minority Whip Hedlund round up and count Republican votes.

There are five Republicans in the State Senate.

The Assistant Minority Whip gets a stipend of $15,000 for his additional duties...helping the Whip count to five.

(I wonder...when Scott Brown helps count to five, is he responsible for the odds or the evens?)

So remember, the next time Scott Brown suggests that he is a fiscal conservative who cares about what happens to our money, what he really means is that he cares about the 15,000 clams we put into his pocket last year because he helped another Republican count to five.

I’ll bet he didn’t need any help counting our $15,000.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Please, Martha. Do something!

Unfortunately, nothing has happened in the last 48 hours to convince me that Martha Coakley is going to come out of her cocoon and actually run for the Senate seat she allegedly wants to win.

Monday, I wrote that I hoped Coakley was going to use yesterday’s radio debate as a springboard for a two-week blitz on the open Senate seat. My fear was that by staying silent for two weeks, Coakley had allowed Scott Brown to remain competitive in a race that didn’t need to be close.

Well, two days later I think I was wrong about the first point and right about the second.

I only heard part of the debate, but what I heard frustrated me. Most frustrating of all was Brown’s answer to the question of how to deal with the failed bombing of a U.S.-bound airplane on Christmas day. Brown said this:
“It's time we stopped acting like lawyers and start acting like Patriots,” Mr. Brown said.

“If there is a time bomb situation and they know of a person who in fact has information, it should be up to the president to determine what tools he wants to use to gather information,” Mr. Brown said, including waterboarding. “I believe it's not torture.”
Coakley’s response?
“I don't agree with John McCain on much, but I respect him. He was a war hero and he was tortured and he says he thinks it is. So this is one area where Scott Brown can pick and choose what he believes, but this is an area that he is really more like Bush-Cheney than he is like John F. Kennedy,” she said.

No, no, no, no, no! The issue is not about waterboading or Bush-Cheney or any of that. Scott Brown just said that there are times when we should set aside the law in the name of patriotism. He implied that there are times when American ideals and the promise of liberty should be set aside in the interest of security.

Scott Brown said our system of government—our way of life—is not strong enough to withstand the threat of a guy with nitro in his underpants and that we should be willing to set aside our ideals to, interrogate in an enhanced manner...him and you cannot muster up enough life to defend the way we have operated for 230 years?

You are the Attorney General, the highest law enforcement officer in the state. He is basically saying that you, and Eric Holder, and Barack Obama, and people like me who believe that American laws and ideals and liberties are stronger than any terrorist threat are weak. And your response is that he’s more like George Bush than John Kennedy?

Martha, please, for the sake of those of us who are supporting you and want you to win...stand up for us! Do...something!

Admittedly, I didn’t get a chance to hear the whole debate Tuesday. The venue should have been a slam dunk for Coakley. Moderators Jim Braude and Marjorie Egan are both Coakley supporters. Braude is an unabashed liberal and Egan has made no secret of her hope that a woman becomes the next senator.

Yet for the 30 minutes or so I listened, Brown was the aggressor. On taxes, on terrorism, you name it. Whether you liked his answers or not, he at least had some; Coakley was too equivocal. When Bruade, probably the most liberal commentator in the Boston market, is continually pressing Coakley to actually answer a question, then it’s not going well.

Brown reiterated the contention he makes in his TV ad that he is like John F. Kennedy in that both he and Kennedy believed in tax cuts (for what it’s worth, it’s a very good ad, even though it is misleading as hell). Coakley milquetoasted a response about how the top tax bracket at the time was 91% so it’s different, and the president Brown really should be compared to is George W. Bush...zzzzzz.

What she should have said is: “I too agree with JFK that a 91% tax bracket is too high and would have supported that tax cut. I also agree with Presidents Kennedy and Clinton that the top 1% of earners should pay their fair share, which is why I support rolling back the Bush tax cuts for the rich. Scott, do you think asking billionaires to pay 39% instead of 35% is too much of a burden on them?”

Maybe I’m just being too much of a worry-wart. Maybe Coakley figures that yesterday’s debate doesn’t mean two cents in the grand scheme since WTKK’s listeners are probably overwhelmingly Scott Brown voters anyway. Maybe she’s waiting for next Monday’s debate (the only one to be broadcast live in Eastern and Central Mass.) to get moving.

But the whole thing just doesn’t feel right.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Martha! Olly olly oxen free!

Hard to believe, but we are going to head to the polls just two weeks from tomorrow to elect our next U.S. Senator. Why is it hard to believe? Because as far as I can tell, there is only one candidate actually running for Senate. Every time I turn on the TV or read the news, I see and hear Scott Brown.

Scott Brown, Scott Brown, everywhere Scott Brown.

I believe--if my memory serves me correctly--that the Democrats nominated a candidate last month. It was Martha-something-or-another. Honestly, it’s hard for me to remember because I haven’t heard from her in weeks.

Too bad, really, because I am going to vote for her. She’s the best candidate in the race. She’s probably going to win. But unless she decides to start campaigning, she’s going to win by a hell of a lot smaller margin than she should. I mean...why should your every day Massachusetts voter brave the cold and the snow to cast a vote for her when she hasn’t found it worth her while to actually ask for a vote?

I’m hoping that this is all a matter of Martha Coakley waiting for the holidays to end, and starting with Tuesday's debate the airwaves and news shows will be wall-to-wall Martha. This has happened to me before--where I’ve wanted my candidate to get off the couch and into the press and it all worked out just fine in the end. Ultimately, I guess it doesn’t matter if she wins by 100 votes or 100,000 as long as she wins.

But allowing Brown to define the race by letting him have unfettered access to voters for the last two weeks seems like a bad idea to me. He has begun to generate some real buzz locally and nationally and that might not have happened if Coakley had tried to squash him immediately. Letting underdogs hang around until the end of the game is never a good strategy.

Happy New's what's in store for 2010

I hope everyone had a great New Year's Eve and Day. 2010 has to be better than 2009 (it does, right?). I'm not going to make any hard and fast resolutions, but here is what I hope to do with the blog over the next year...
  1. Continue commenting on local politics -- For better of for worse, it seems like this site has become pretty heavy on state politics. With a huge series of elections coming up this month and again in September and November, I can't imagine that will change.

  2. More local issues -- Looking around the Internet, it seems like there is a real void when it comes to opinion and coverage of really local issues. For instance, as far as I can tell I'm the only regular blogger in Sterling, there are none in Lancaster that comment on local issues, the only regular bloggers from Leominster are focused on personal and cultural items, and the issues-bloggers from Clinton come from a decidedly different political viewpoint that I do. Previously, I have spent a lot of effort on local issues in my four "hometowns," I'd like to get back to that.

  3. Less family -- Since finding Facebook, I've stopped posting personal updates here and started putting that stuff there. I think I'll keep it that way.

  4. More multi-media -- I'd like to pull out the video camera and put some of my commentaries on tape. I am under no illusion that this will bring in more the contrary, I'm sure.

  5. Continue to stay away from sports -- Those who know me are aware that I am a huge sports fan. Other than the rare rant about the Bruins, Red Sox, or Patriots, I've stayed away from regular sports commentary here. Not that I don't have opinions, but there are two-million-and-six sports sites out there and does anyone really need another?

  6. Stay regular -- More fiber, wait, no personal stuff, I almost forgot. I mean blog more regularly. Probably not daily, but more than six or seven times a month.
That's it. I hope you'll stay around to see how I do.


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