This year’s Massachusetts governor’s race was fraught with significance. On the Democratic side, we had Deval Patrick, an outsider with Bill Clinton’s communication skills and Howard Dean’s affinity for Web-driven grassroots organizing. If Patrick wins on November 7, he’ll be the first black governor in Massachusetts history and the second elected in the US. The GOP countered with Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, an inexperienced but fabulously wealthy candidate who vowed early allegiance to moderate Republicanism. If Healey wins next week, she’ll be our first elected female governor. Add the teetering national balance between Democrats and Republicans, throw in the potential implications for outgoing Republican governor Mitt Romney’s presidential hopes, and the stage was set for reams of incisive, thought-provoking political reportage.
But what stories ended up defining the race? Here’s my short list: Patrick’s reluctance to admit his ties to (perhaps wrongly) convicted rapist Ben LaGuer. Healey’s foolish, fear-mongering ad about LaGuer and Patrick. The revelation (from a still-unknown source) that Patrick’s sister was raped by her husband, Bernard Sigh, years ago in California, and that Sigh, who reconciled with his wife and now lives in Massachusetts, never registered as a sex offender.
Now let’s try a different question: without going to Patrick and Healey’s Web sites, what’s at the top of each candidate’s to-do list if he or she wins on November 7?
Well . . . Healey wants to finish cutting the income tax to five percent per the electorate’s 1998 vote. But I can’t tell you why Healey thinks she could pull this off when Republican governors Mitt Romney and Paul Cellucci couldn’t, or how much money Massachusetts would lose if she did, or how the rollback would be reflected in a Healey-administration budget. She’d also add charter schools, apparently, and get tough on illegal immigrants and sex offenders, somehow.
As for Patrick, who’s got a fat lead in the polls and seems certain to win, I know he says he’ll cut property taxes instead of the income tax, and spiff up roads and bridges. Apparently he’ll cut property taxes by beefing up local aid, theoretically. And he’ll fund those local-aid hikes and road and bridge improvements by raiding the state’s budget surplus — unless the surplus vanishes, in which case he’ll get the money somewhere else, maybe. Patrick also says we need to fix the funding mechanism for charter schools, which has some flaw I don’t fully understand.
It’s embarrassing to be this half-assed after covering the governor’s race for almost two years. My consolation, such as it is, is that I’m not the only member of the press who’s frustrated by his or her grasp of key public-policy issues — or who thinks that, collectively, we may have let Massachusetts down.
One reporter I spoke with recently rattled off a slew of key topics — taxes, the MCAS, charter schools, the funding mechanism for local aid — and offered this disheartening assessment: “The problem is, I feel like I don’t understand any more about any of these issues than I did before the whole thing started. No one has made any sense of these things. That’s our job, and I don’t think we’ve done it.”