October 01, 2017

Is the 2018 Massachusetts gubernatorial election a repeat of 1970 or 1974?  Depends on which party you ask.

Republicans see a repeat of 1970 while Democrats hope to turn the election into 1974.  In their zeal, however, Democrats risk misreading the public mood by firing off trumped up charges that couldn’t deliver Cushman’s bread, let alone victory (ask Professor Mo).

Boston Mayor Kevin White was never going to beat incumbent Republican Governor Frank Sargent in the 1970 gubernatorial election. 

Affable and politically astute, Sargent outflanked White at every turn.   Democrats entered the race divided amongst themselves with some withholding support from White while others backed the liberal Sargent. 

The election results were a foregone conclusion.

Not so just four years later as the Democrat’s leading reformer, Michael Dukakis, won the nomination, and was able to capitalize on a turnaround in Sargent’s political fortunes.

No two elections are alike, and the politics of the state have changed significantly since the early 1970s and the cast of characters are also quite different.

Still, Republicans see in Governor Charlie Baker a repeat of 1970.  Popular and happy to work with Beacon Hill Democrats (to the chagrin of activists on both sides), Baker embodies the spirit of the late Frank Sargent.  It will surprise no one if leading Democrats remain somewhat neutral in the 2018 election or shed their partisan attachment and endorse Baker.  Indeed, as Professor Cunningham reminded me, Sargent once noted that “I pissed off some Republicans, but there was no other way to get anything done.”

Democrats hope for a repeat of 1974.  But their desperation might get the better of them. 

Consider the political talking points of the past week.

Newton Mayor Setti Warren joined the conversation on Amazon’s second headquarters by suggesting Worcester as a viable alternative to Boston.  Then before any pro-growth message could be amplified, the Mayor and his team stepped on their messaging by inventing a story that suggests Charlie Baker has been refusing to help the people of Puerto Rico.

As White himself might have said upon hearing this baseless charge, “Mawtha a'Gawd!"

According to Baker, his team is following the established protocols of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).  With NEMA, state-to-state assistance is logged and coordinated through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC). Requests to EMAC for National Guard assets allows Governors to strategically deploy troops.

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) works with EMAC to handle the requests and coordination.  MEMA's Director is Kurt Schwartz, appointed by Democratic Governor Deval Patrick in 2010.

It is hard to imagine any circumstances where a Governor would ignore protocols and deploy the National Guard without coordination.  Indeed, any such scenario would create logistical nightmares and add unnecessary stress on local officials, those on the front lines of a disaster. 

Warren’s team responded by calling all of this “bureaucratic gobbledegook.”  Later, they declared that Baker “deferred to Trump,” which we might politely call a falsehood.

The White House's response to the suffering in Puerto Rico is contemptible and Warren's team seems to believe that tying Baker to Trump and the unfolding humanitarian disaster will benefit them politically.

Given the nature of the accusation, some, like NECN host Sue O’Connell pushed back.  As if on cue, Warren’s campaign called her “lazy” and again faulted journalists for not doing their job, as defined by the Warren campaign.

It’s a flashback to earlier in the summer when Team Warren, seemingly angry at the press coverage of the Governor, tweeted that WGBH host Jim Braude was soft on Baker because “rich guys look out for each other.”

If there is a strategy behind all of this, it is the overt attempt to turn Baker into the Frank Sargent of 1974 instead of what voters seem to see: the Sargent of 1970. 

But when your leading candidate’s team is attacking the press, complaining about coverage, and making up an incendiary charge, the political terrain isn’t working for them. 

Unless Baker has refused the assistance that Puerto Rico has requested via NEMA & EMAC, this charge is without merit.  

What seems to grate on many Massachusetts Democratic activists is the popularity of Charlie Baker.  Voters like him.  Beacon Hill Democrats like him. Gloria Steinem hopes he might take a bigger role in the GOP.

When journalist Salena Zito visited Harvard recently, she noted “I couldn’t find anyone who didn’t approve of their Republican Gov. Charlie Baker. From the leafy halls of Harvard to locals grabbing lunch at Charlie’s Kitchen on Eliot Street, everyone I talked to was a Democrat — and everyone gave him high marks as the state’s manager.”

 The visiting Yinzer nailed it.

What voters typically want in the Governor’s office is a manager.  The largely suburban professionals who support the managerial class value rationality and efficiency.  Edgar Litt wrote about this subculture of Massachusetts back in 1965.  They are socially tolerant and supportive of measures to reduce inequality but carefully watch how their tax dollars are used.  Given the many managerial challenges left by the last administration on Beacon Hill and the ongoing crises of governance in DC, a staid manager in the Corner Office seems to fit the moment.

Frank Sargent, Kevin White, managers, Salena Zito, Puerto Rico, Charlie Baker

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