Grace Ross is dressing me down. “You didn’t do your homework,” says Ross, the Green-Rainbow Party’s candidate for governor, her tone a mix of disappointment and frustration.
NOT EASY BEING GREEN: Grace Ross tries to fight invisibility.
She’s right. A few weeks back, I wrote that three of the candidates then running for governor — Democrats Chris Gabrieli and Deval Patrick and Republican Kerry Healey — were graduates of Harvard College. But I didn’t mention that Ross, too, is a Harvard alum. Why not? Simple: I didn’t know. And I didn’t know because I didn’t check. And I didn’t check because I didn’t think of Ross as a real candidate.
I’m not the only one. Even though her place on November’s general-election ballot is assured, and even though she’s shared the stage with her better-known rivals at debates and forums for the past several months, Ross is treated as an afterthought when the governor’s race comes up, if she’s lucky enough to be mentioned at all. (The September 25 Boston Herald/FOX-25 debate was a notable exception.) There are a host of possible explanations, all fairly obvious and reasonably convincing: Jill Stein, the 2002 Green-Rainbow nominee, got just three percent of the vote; Ross has barely registered in the polls so far; she doesn’t have any money; there’s absolutely no way she’ll win. Of course, the rejoinder is equally obvious: how can Ross become a viable candidate if everyone refuses to take her seriously?
Not your average lefty
Just to be clear: these are my words, not Ross’s. During a lengthy interview with the Phoenix, the topic of her treatment at the hands of the mainstream media came up only a couple of times — a pleasant surprise, since all too many public figures on Ross’s end of the political spectrum (e.g., Dennis Kucinich) tend to luxuriate in their perceived victimhood.
In fact, even though Ross looks like an agonizingly earnest lefty from central casting — billowy clothes, dangly earrings, bad haircut — she plays against type, coming across as pragmatic and self-effacing, and demonstrating a wry sense of humor. (However you read it, Ross's description of her most embarrassing moment in the Herald’s pre-debate questionnaire — “I was a budding teenager and my mother said to our minister, within my hearing, ‘Who’d have thought I would have a daughter who was such a sex-pot?’ ” — was inspired stuff.)
Her political critiques, meanwhile, tend to be pretty incisive. For example, here’s Ross on Massachusetts’s new health-care-reform bill, which was passed with much fanfare earlier this year: “They say they passed a universal plan: it is neither universal, nor is it a plan. It was cobbled together from the very right and the very far left, and what we got is so shaky that [Governor Mitt] Romney — the next day, when he was signing the bill — vetoed four pieces of it. So whatever consensus they supposedly reached didn’t even last through the night. What we have is a mishmash. It’s not going to work.”
What’s more, Ross notes, the originally proposed penalty on companies that don’t insure their employees — $295 per employee per year — is a bargain compared with actually providing insurance. “The problem is the folks who don’t have any health coverage at all. They didn’t provide health coverage for them; what they did was say, ‘If you don’t get it yourself, we’re gonna take your individual tax deduction away.’”
Ross concludes: “They’re talking about penalizing us way more money than they’re talking about penalizing big corporations like Wal-Mart, where most of their workers don’t have health coverage. They’re not even going to be paying $295 for each of those workers. But those workers themselves could end up paying in the thousands.” That’s about as succinct a critique of the Massachusetts health-care-reform legislation as you’re going to find.
And here’s Ross parsing the notion — recently advanced by Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, the Republican nominee — that small businesses around Massachusetts are hurting because high crime rates make street-side shopping unappealing. “I was laughing! I’m like, you’re kidding! The reason I don’t stop at a store and pick up a muffin, or something like that, is because I’ve got to choose where I spend my money.”
Which brings us to one of the changes Ross would make as governor, if she managed to get elected and if she could get the Democrat-controlled legislature to go along. Under Ross’s watch, the minimum wage would go up — way up, to somewhere in the neighborhood of $16 an hour.
If you’re a small-business owner, you’re probably gasping with horror right about now, since this increase would jack up your payroll costs a good 100 or 200 percent. But Ross argues that higher wages for low-earning workers would lead to more discretionary spending and higher profits for mom-and-pop stores around the state. Until this trickle-down effect kicks in, she’d have state government ease the transition, possibly by providing expanded credit for small businesses. (Ross is vague on exactly how this would work — “My leadership’s about facilitating the folks who know the specifics in a particular field” — but hey, she’s a politician.)