Wednesday, August 29, 2012

States With No Destination Cities

I am in Connecticut this week at the Levanto beach compound in South Lyme. Earlier this week, my college friend Lauren and I were discussing the bad rap that New Jersey gets (she's from there). I must admit I know New Jersey in two ways: The large oil and gas containers that are alongside the New Jersey turnpike on the way to D.C., and, of course "The Jersey Shore."

Lauren and I think that New Jersey's problem from a PR perspective is the state really doesn't have a "destination city," or a city that people associate in a positive way with the state. Massachusetts has Boston. Maine has Portland. What does New Jersey have? Newark? You don't hear excitement when someone says: "I am going to Trenton!" And let's face it, Atlantic City just doesn't cut the mustard here.

Of course, Connecticut has the same problem. Hartford isn't really high on the list of vacation hot spots, and few realize that Connecticut's largest city is actually Bridgeport, and you don't want to go there.

Yet there's nothing really wrong with Connecticut and New Jersey. They are fine states. And those from each will talk passionately about them. Lauren says the water in New Jersey creates exceptionally tasty pizza, so much so that certain restaurants have their water imported. As for Connecticut, I must say there are many days in Boston when what I really want is a nice large Italian grinder to go, from a grinder shop in Norwich. But they don't deliver to Boston.

Ironically enough, in my adult life, I have more connections to New Jersey than Connecticut. Which is why there will be a day when I travel there, and venture off the New Jersey turnpike into the real New Jersey. Let's hope Snooki and her baby are out of state.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Mass. Primary September 6-- I already voted

As many of you know, I am off to Charlotte in about a week for the Democratic National Convention, where I am honored to serve as a delegate.

It a crazy twist of irony, while I am in Charlotte there will be an election in Massachusetts-- the state primary is scheduled for Thursday, September 6.

Now don't get me started on why the primary is on a Thursday. Long story short, many objected to holding the primary on September 11. The Tuesday before, is right after Labor Day, and waiting later than September 11 would interfere with religious holidays. [In case you're wondering, I think the election should be held on September 11; there's nothing more patriotic than voting!]

Since September 6 is the day President Barack Obama will address delegates in Charlotte, for the first time since moving to Massachusetts, I am voting in the primary by absentee ballot. I guess you could say it's part of my preparations for the trip to the convention.

Among the contested races on my Democratic ballot, here were my choices:

Clerk of Suffolk County, Civil Division
I voted for my friend Mike Dash, a fellow Boston Ward 5 Democratic Committee member. Mike is a good guy and will be a fresh face for the office.

Clerk of Suffolk County, Criminal Division
As much as I hate to do it, I left this race blank. I don't know enough about the challenger to make a good judgement on the race.

Suffolk County Register of Probate
I voted for Sal LaMattina, the current Boston City Councilor. As many have pointed out, it's strange that this post is elected by the people, given it's not really a political office. However, I have known Councilor LaMattina for a long time as a hard working public servant. I believe he will do an excellent job in this role.

The other races on my ballot were uncontested, though for the record, I did cast a vote for Elizabeth Warren to be our next U.S. Senator.

Don't forget to vote on September 6!

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Endorsement: President Barack Obama

The funny thing is, before he ran for President the first time, I kind of liked Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. I did not vote for him when he ran for Governor here in 2002. But mid-way through his term, I was seriously considering voting for him when I assumed he would run for re-election in 2006 (which would have been my first vote for a Republican candidate, ever).

Governor Romney supported the rights of women and was pro-choice. He argued passionately for universal healthcare in Massachusetts, and he convinced me as to its merits. He was a moderate reformer who in many states would have been considered a Democrat.

Then Mitt decided to run for President. And ever since then, I have not been able to recognize the man. He's suddenly pro-life. He's suddenly closed off even to the idea of same-sex marriage. His universal healthcare law here is suddenly no longer the right prescription for the country's healthcare system.

Most of Mitt's changes on policy are not explainable. But his strategy from a PR perspective is to keep repeating his new, Republican-friendly policy positions until everyone will forget to ask why he's changed his mind---on all of them.

But we have not forgotten here in Massachusetts, and perhaps that's why Mitt trails President Obama here in polls by 20 points or more. Think about that. A Presidential candidate this year is not only going to lose his home state, he's going to lose in embarrassing fashion. Perhaps that's why, like on so many other issues, Romney waffles on which state is actually his home. It's Michigan ahead of the primary there. It's Utah when he's there. It's New Hampshire when he's interviewed on TV. But make no mistake, on election day, Mitt will have to travel to Belmont, Massachusetts to cast his own vote.

It baffles me that anyone would even consider voting for a man who has flip-flopped so much, who insulted world leaders on a recent trip abroad, and who claims to not even know when his own wife's participation in the Olympics will take place. Vice President Cheney was proud of his daughter's marriage to another women---even with the political consequences. But because his wife is associated with a sport that is positioned as elitist, Romney is programmed to not care about the sport, or his wife's involvement.

I would be laughing if it were not for the fact the polls are close. And that's why I will be working my butt off this Fall to earn re-election for President Barack Obama. I will be voting for President Obama in November. I will also be voting for him in early September when I serve as a delegate at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.

Trust me, I am wary of some of the things the President has done. I wish he would have done more when he had the chance to pass climate change legislation, as an example. But when it comes to this election, and this time, there's just no question among the candidates who is better equipped to lead our country.

As the President would say, "so, let's review":

-- President Obama reformed our healthcare system, including codifying many rules that are just human: eliminating the proclivity of insurance companies to deny coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, mandating coverage for young adults on their parents' policies, and eliminating lifetime caps on insurance benefits. This is NOT a government takeover of healthcare, and if you look at the monetary estimates, the law as written will reduce government spending. (I know, that's not what we've heard repeated many times from Republicans, who again believe if you say it enough times, people will assume it's true.)

-- President Obama killed Osama Bin Laden. He has been focused since day one on taking on those who wish to harm the United States where they are actually located (in Afghanistan as opposed to Iraq).

-- President Obama fully supports equal protection under the law for all Americans, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. This is in lockstep with where our country is headed. We are a diverse, supportive bunch. As President Clinton famously said in the 90's, our diversity is our strength. We must embrace it and not go backwards. On women's rights, I was frankly embarrassed by some of the views Mitt Romney had to stand next to during his party's primary fight. No doubt he will change his views this summer. He has to, as the Republican stances are out of step with where the country needs to go.

The biggest criticism of the President from voters at large is his handling of the economy. The problem with the economy right now is uncertainty. The ironic truth is that the President has been certain in his prescription for the economy. However, since Congress is not doing anything, it's creating uncertainty. The further irony is that Mitt Romney has not said anything about how he would help the economy. If anything, his election would create more uncertainty for businesses of all sizes.

When I first thought to write this column, I was going to relate this year's election to that of 1996. Then, as now, a Democrat was seeking re-election. That Democrat had ideas that would move the country forward (remember "the bridge to the 21st century"?). His opponent was a respected Republican who preferred the nostalgia of the past. I was going to talk about how elections are not times for nostalgia; they are times to look forward.

Except comparing Bob Dole to Mitt Romney is an insult to Bob Dole. Mitt Romney is a caricature of a candidate, saying what he needs to say so people will like him. He said what he needed to say when he was my governor to potentially convince me to vote for him back in 2004. I urge you: Don't be fooled now.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

On Healthcare, Massachusetts Leads The Way, Again

Amid the hoopla about local Massachusetts star Aly Raisman, the Massachusetts legislature this past week wrapped up its session with a frenetic pace, passing dozens of bills in a matter of hours Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning. The local papers really don't care much about what happens at the State House, and the majority of that attention was focused on a new crime bill, which imposes mandatory strict sentences for multiple offenders of certain laws.

In the meantime, Massachusetts legislators passed (and Governor Patrick is expected to sign) an amazing new healthcare bill that has slipped under the radars of almost everyone. The law is focused on healthcare cost containment, and it sets limits as to the growth of healthcare costs.

There's a paragraph break here to let that sit in. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has taken on squarely the challenge of controlling healthcare costs, opening the new chapter in my state's healthcare experiment. Round one was universal healthcare. Check. Round two is reining in spending.

I could not be more proud of the legislature, and my Governor, who worked on the healthcare cost control legislation. Unlike their counterparts in Washington, they actually get things done. The healthcare cost containment law contains many controversial parts. It may not work. But it is addressing what in my opinion is the biggest problem with our healthcare system today-- runaway costs. And it's happening here in Massachusetts, which has already shown it can lead the way with regard to healthcare. (Footnote: This bill passed without the help of a Governor named Romney.)

I don't know for a fact, but I am sure various industry groups were lobbying their brains out around this bill. To be sure, I am not entirely clear how the law will work. The state government is dictating a maximum level of growth for an industry that historically has been ruled by supply and demand. I will be investigating this more among those who are in the know.

The law also encourages the entire healthcare apparatus-- hospitals, doctors, etc.-- to look at their jobs from the standpoint of keeping people healthy, rather than just ordering tests and procedures. The healthcare system in the U.S. makes money by ordering tests and procedures (and prescribing medication), so it follows that the system orders a lot of tests and procedures (and arguably prescribes too much medication). Incenting the system to focus on keeping people healthy-- and rewarding the system for doing so-- will cut out costly procedures and lower costs.

There are many parts of the law that are ambitious and could very well work; one part of the law that in my opinion just won't work encourages end users to evaluate the costs of their own healthcare options. By providing transparency to the healthcare consumer about available procedures and options, the law believes the consumer will become a bargain shopper and pick the less expensive-- and still effective-- option. The problem with this thinking is two-fold. First, as the lion's share of costs are still covered by insurance, there's no real incentive for the end user to pick a cheaper option. Second, and more importantly, most consumers believe more expensive healthcare procedures are better procedures. One is not likely to go on the cheap when it comes to their healthcare.

Still, I applaud my state, its legislature, and Governor Patrick for accomplishing this momentous legislation. One of the biggest failures of universal healthcare in Massachusetts (in my opinion) is the fact that healthcare costs here are still rising. In theory, if everyone has access to basic care (which they now do in Massachusetts), the number of costly emergency room visits will be reduced dramatically, among other circumstances that would bring down costs. Unfortunately, the overall cost of healthcare has not gone down.

Governor Patrick and others realized this. No question about it, the universal healthcare experiment in Massachusetts has worked. Now on to round two. And if history is an accurate judge, we will be debating the same healthcare cost containment ideas on a national stage in the not-so-distant future.