Friday, March 30, 2007

Hardly a profile in courage

Political Intelligence

Kevin John Sowyrda

Here’s a question to ponder as state lawmakers recklessly careen ahead with plans to take a second vote on an amendment to the state constitution that would take away the civil marriage rights of same-sex couples: Where were these very same legislators in 2000 when voters, by 60 percent to 40 percent margin, ordered them to roll back the state income tax from 5.85 percent to 5 percent?

It’s a fair question. The argument they make today for holding a vote on the anti-gay marriage amendment is that they have a “constitutional obligation” to do so. Of course, they had a “constitutional obligation” to follow the law in 2000 and adhere to a legally binding plebiscite calling for a tax cut. But they ignored it for what they claimed was the good of the state.

You know what? They were right not to roll back the tax rate — which has been a topic of political debate ever since. The state went into a financial freefall in 2001 and lawmakers did something we all claim we want them to do: They acted like leaders.

Where is that leadership today? In 2004, when Gov. Mitt Romney was posturing about taxes in a spending bill he submitted to the legislature that June, declaring in a press conference, “It’s time to do what the voters recommended — not only recommended, but insisted on” and roll state income taxes back to 5 percent, state Sen. Therese Murray, who was then the chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, criticized Romney, according to a State House News Service account of budget flap.

Good for Murray for going with her conscience and not the mob. Good for her for rejecting the easy populist politics of tax cuts and standing up for what the Commonwealth needed.

Fast forward a couple of years. Murray has just brokered an historic political deal to become the state’s first Senate President. One of the first questions on the minds of reporters is whether Murray will force a vote on the anti-gay marriage amendment coming up at the next constitutional convention. If the amendment is approved (only 50 votes are needed), the question will be put to voters in a statewide popularity contest.

Murray, to the disappointment of everyone in the Commonwealth who wants to be spared the bloody battle of a statewide referendum on gay rights, says she is committed to holding a vote. “My vote is going to be just what it was the last time,” she told the Boston Globe, referring to her vote against the amendment. “But I am not going to move to adjourn. … I think it’s important that we vote.”

Hmmm. Why is it important to vote on an ugly, anti-gay signature-fraud-ridden measure — a vote, as Murray knows, we are all but certain to lose — rather than strangling it to death via any means possible? When it comes to being obedient to a duly held, state-wide election mandate, Murray goes with her conscience, and I say three cheers for her. But when it comes to saying no to petition papers for an initiative seeking to end civil marriage rights for same-sex couples, papers that were signed by a mere fraction of those who voted in that 2000 election, Murray sings the petitioners’ song. What are we to make of this? Do leadership qualities evaporate once one has achieved a leadership position?

Before I go any further, let me tell you just how much I respect Terry Murray. Although I’m at serious risk of engaging in an obnoxious Brian McGrory-esque rhetorical device, I’ve got to say that the Terry Murray I saw last week is not the Terry Murray I know.

I’ve worked with Murray in the past and unlike many politicians I know (like, say, her immediate predecessor in the Senate President’s chair), Murray is persuaded by few factors beyond walking distance of her heart and her conscience. I should note here that once upon a time I quarterbacked a fundraiser for Murray as a political consultant. And prior to that I worked with her in my capacity as a member of the Weld Administration. I was lobbying for the so called “dead beat dad bill” and Murray was an avid supporter of it. I found her to be one of the most savvy politicos I’ve ever observed at work on Beacon Hill. And she is savvy. Witness her new title: Senate President.

All that said, her statements last week about the amendment disappointed me. Murray is in a position to do something her predecessor Robert Travaglini refused to do. She can kill a poisonous amendment that could 1) impact the 2008 presidential election; 2) bring millions of evangelical ad dollars into the state in an attempt to convince voters to take away our rights; 3) reverse the most dramatic civil rights advance this country has seen since 1955’s Brown v. Board of Education. The Terry Murray that I know and have worked with not only knows what needs to be done but she knows what should be done. But that’s not the Terry Murray I saw last week.

Here’s what I’m hoping. I’m hoping that she’s even savvier than I ever believed and has something up her sleeve. As much as I wanted her to just come out and say to the reporters asking about the marriage amendment something like, “My belief in civil rights for all people tells me that the ballot box is not the venue for proscribing the personal freedoms for people in the Commonwealth,” I know that she can’t.

At least she can’t this week. But she sure can say it after she’s killed the amendment. And the Terry Murray I know, the Terry Murray I hope is still in office, despite her change of title, will do just that.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Posting Alert for March 21

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Patrick's two front battle

Boston and Beyond - The South End News -
Kevin John Sowyrda

Perhaps this is the inevitable consequence of piling on, the drip-drip-drip-drip of incessant and shallow investigative stories. Stories penned mostly by the city’s broad sheet paper. With the Commonwealth’s First Lady now ailing from depression — does anyone at Morrissey Boulevard dare feign ignorance or surprise? — questions abound on how fairly or not the media giant in Boston has covered the governor they endorsed and heaped praise upon when he was the 200-pound gorilla candidate of 2006.

Since assuming office, we’ve been treated to stories about the millions Gov. Deval Patrick has spent on tapestries, the billions he’s spent on personal transportation (helicopters and Cadillacs) and other “scandals” we are supposed to care about. There was the scheduler hired for Mrs. Patrick and the trumped up “story” about a fattened state pension for the husband of a state senator. The only story worth the trees that were killed to print it would be Patrick’s ill-considered call to former treasury secretary Robert Rubin on behalf of Ameriquest Mortgage, a predatory lending company that Patrick was, until this summer, affiliated with. God — I mean the Globe — only knows what else the state’s most influential newspaper will inflect on us (and Patrick). I’m sure any day now the New York Times subsidiary will discover that Patrick once double-parked in front of an orphanage back in 1972 or that Mrs. Patrick failed to get her inspection sticker on time in 1973 because her driver’s side blinker was burned out in her lime-colored Ford Pinto.

So why is the press having Deval Patrick for breakfast day after day as if he were the morning omelet at Garden of Eden? There are at least four theories being floated by longtime observers of the press and politics in this town. First, the Globe is infamous for building careers one day and nuking them the next. I call it their “love ‘em and leave ‘em” policy. It’s one of the many eccentricities of a Byzantine newspaper organization that is as much a political entity in this town as it is a news outlet. Second, the Globe is facing a tidal wave of red ink, sort of like that scene from The Day After Tomorrow, where New York City gets wiped out by an uncontrollable wall of water. What better way to generate interest and (maybe, hopefully, pretty please with a cherry on top?) some ad dollars than with some good, old-fashioned muckraking? Third, the Globe is just a pathetic, not worth the two quarters — or is it three? — it costs on the newsstands and, well, what’s to be expected from such a rag?

The fourth theory is only tangentially related to the Globe. And this is the one I believe is the closest to the truth. Patrick and his team have handled the media in general, and the Globe in particular, like a bunch of amateurs. Here’s something any press officer knows before his or her first day on the job: if you don’t give the press something to write about, they will find something to write about. Patrick’s problem? He hasn’t done — or proposed — anything big enough to fill the void that daily deadline oriented reporters need to fill.

This dynamic is illustrated perfectly in my favorite line from the film The Paper starring Robert Duvall in the role of a crusty tabloid editor. “Everyday we start from scratch,” Duvall tells his troops. It’s a truth that sums up the daily news business better than any other. And it’s one that Patrick and his team seem unaware of: The reporters who float around the fourth floor of the State House looking for stories start each day from scratch. They need to write something if they’re going to get their bylines in the paper, which is what they need to do to keep their jobs in their increasingly unstable business. So guess what they did when Patrick didn’t give them anything? They went on the prowl, dug up some minor indiscretions and filled the void that Patrick wasn’t smart enough to fill himself. It’s that simple.

Patrick needs do the following. First, keep the lieutenant governor busy and go home on time. It will be the first time in state history that a lieutenant governor has actually earned their salary. Mrs. Patrick’s health is far more important than the evening cocktail circuit. Second, the governor needs to present a Contract with Massachusetts. Pardon the Newt Gingrich-like sound of the thing, but ideas garner ink just as much as political trivialities. This means making the big, out of the box proposals he promised (or at least seemed to promise) on the campaign trail. How about increasing the school year from 180 to 240 days, phased in over a six fiscal year period? If that doesn’t keep the Globe’s political reporters scribbling substantive news copy, I don’t know what would.

The next few weeks could be the most significant we’ve seen in Massachusetts politics in many decades. Patrick is simultaneously facing a personal crisis and a political one. It’s a two-front war that would test the mettle of any man. The days ahead will show if he’s up to the task.

Kevin John Sowyrda is a political writer and commentator.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Posting Alert for March 14


Monday, March 12, 2007


Howie Carr is a "fat phony, fraud hypocrite and cry baby." No doubt, many Bay Windows subscribers would embrace that sentiment about the Hub's most acerbic and socially right wing commentator, however less than diplomatic it may be. And it's purely ironic when this delicious declaration of war comes not from the usual suspects but from the airwaves of Carr's own crow's nest, WRKO AM 680.

You can attribute the verbal blitzkrieg to Carr's eternal nemesis, former Massachusetts House Speaker Tom Finneran. The freshman talk-master explained on the air Tuesday morning, "we're havin a little feud heeaah at aaahko." So it was actually Finneran who lectured us on Carr's girth and other shortcomings. This was after Carr had delivered an endless soliloquy on Finneran's moral shortcomings and Carr's view that a convicted felon - Finneran - has no place hosting the coveted morning drive time slot at RKO.

Even presidential candidates don't get this down and dirty and we'd be remiss not to cover the nuclear exchange between two of the most prominent - and shameless - Gay bashers in Boston; who, if we're lucky, will prove true the Cold War theory of mutually assured destruction.

First, a brief history primer for those of you who've been sunning and getting buffed in South Beach. Finneran is the newest addition to the ultra conservative line up at RKO, having been fired from his lucrative gig at the Bio-Tech Council. The council unceremoniously dumped the speaker after the Mattapan Democrat did an about face and pled guilty on perjury charges involving a long forgotten legislative redistricting case. Like most convicted fellons, Finneran went into radio. If it works for Oliver North and G.Gordon Libby, why not he?

Finneran's retainer at RKO is reminiscent of when the Boston Herald sheepishly hired deposed Boston Globe columnist Mike Barnacle, after having made a cottage industry for vilifying the street savy, broad sheet writer over a period of years. On the RKO airwaves, Finneran was similarly demonized with regularity, with Carr as the cheerleader-in-chief. Hence, Carr's welcome matt to Finneran has been imbedded with land mines and Finneran is fighting back, like the scrapper he is.

When Finneran recently jested with Governor Deval Patrick on the RKO airwaves that they should both take "Howie Carr for a ride," and return without him (sounds like a Mario Puzo plot line) the gloves were off and an obvious publicity stunt ensued. In what's the most ridiculous stunt follow-up I've seen in Boston journalism history, the Boston Herald actually ran a front page story that Carr, their coveted columnist, interpreted the jesting between Finneran and Patrick to mean that he'd soon be sleeping with the fishes. Carr even penned a letter to Judge Richard G. Stearns, who would have jurisdiction concerning Finneran's probation. The Herald had the audacity to imply in a news article on Tuesday that the judge was taking the matter under advisement. Please!! "I'd call it a stunt and I wouldn't even call it a giant stunt," said Boston Phoenix media critic Dan Kennedy, who teaches journalism at Northeastern University. "This is just Howie being Howie and the Herald having fun with it."

What will all this fun do for the ratings? About as much as all the other Hail Mary passes have done for a station which once defined civilized talk radio - something that isn't necessarily oxymoron if you are actually smart enough to hire talk show hosts who aren't morons. The once, great WRKO is being managed just like the Titanic was navigated and it's increasingly hard to remember that this is the place on the dial people once flocked to for real, substantive discussion on the issues of the day courtesy of Gene Burns, Paul Benzaquin, Jerry Williams and other adults who behaved like adults.

Here's how I see the feud of the homophobes playing out. Given Carr's uncontrollable propensity to incessantly utter slurs about Gay men and women (am I the only one to notice that Howie Carr and Ann Coulter have never been seen together at the same place?) and Finneran's on-air incest with the anti Gay lobby - these groups grow like mold on the political careers of the Finneran's of the world - I predict the giant stunt will shortly leave both careers in further ruin. And the radio station which loves to hate Gay people will soon be garnering Arbitron ratings second only to those of the campus station at Westfield State College (and I mean no disrespect to the great scholars at Westfield State).

The only thing that could make this episode even sweeter would be for 96.9 FM radio entertainer and homophobe Jay Severan to jump into the frey. Time will tell.