Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Political Family

Shuana and Meghan Murphy’s deaths are a tragedy to be sure. A Southborough family lost two teenage daughters in a car crash in October 2005.

The reverberations of which are being felt throughout the Commonwealth today, because a candidate for governor attempted to do the politically expedient thing.

There appears to have been a fundraiser in Southborough for gubenatorial candidate and Attorney General Tom Reilly, back in June of 2005. A lot of people who are or want to be well connected, contributed up to $500 to meet the AG. Southborough and its neighboring town Northborough, where the accident occurred, are suburbs along Route 495, where the well heeled who work in the city, live and raise their kids.

Although their business is in Boston, their politics are in Worcester County. This is a city that the AG needs to win to be nominated and elected Governor.

He would like to have the Mayor of the Worcester supporting him, which maybe he did. Tim Murray contributed to him last year, before he himself jumped in the race for Lt. Governor. Being a former DA, Reilly has leaned on the DAs across the state for their support, some of whom he knows well, like the Worcester DA, John Conte.

Back to the point. At these fundraisers, candidates meet with potential supporters, ostensibly friends of donors. There is a hierarchy of political giving, at the top of which are the guys who raise money for the candidate by inviting their friends to contribute. And Southborough is typical. On the very same street, there are several major contributors to Tom Reilly.

Reilly has admitted to doing one of them, Chris Murphy, a favor, by calling the DA in Worcester to withhold the release of information in the drunk driving deaths of his daughters.

But the likelihood is that Reilly, sensing the loss to not just one family, but "his political family", took the call from either Bob Davis, or Joe Shay both next door neighbors of Murphy, both major contributors and both scions of the Boston business establishment, and followed up by making a political call on their behalf to the DA.

How did a simple plea to spare the Murphy family further pain turn into a political favor? This son of Springfield needs to win an election, and this is how it works.

On a purely political level, the AG should not have made the call himself. That’s what campaign staff is for. Or better yet, no one should have made the call at all.

Despite his protests of good intentions, his actions reveal the most base of instincts in the AG. He was attempting to serve and protect his political family by using his position as the Commonwealth’s Chief Law Enforcement Officer. Can he differentiate between responding to a request from a friend and a political favor for a donor? The question goes not only to Tom Reilly’s political, but his professional judgment.

Friday, December 30, 2005


Today is the deadline NStar imposed on the Commonwealth for a $90 million deal in rate hikes for its electricity customers.

Nstar supplies electricity, which they don’t produce, to hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts customers. They also distribute electricity to even more customers by virtue of owning the transmissions lines that they all use to get electricity.

Most are familiar with the two charges on the electric bill. Here on the Cape the vast majority of us buy our electricity from the Cape Light Compact (CLC), the county sponsored aggregator of Cape and Island users, kind of a buyers club for electricity. In this function, the CLC competes with Nstar to supply us our electricity. But Nstar still distributes it.

Now comes the intrigue. Nstar wants to raise its rates. Maybe with good reason maybe not. But in order to minimize the impact on their electricity customers, they want to raise the charges on transmission and keep the prices on supply fixed for 7 years. In the sum total, Nstar is still raising rates to all their customers by some 40%, but not the 50% other companies are this year.

They need approval to do this from the Department of Telecommunication and Energy (DTE). But rather than go to the DTE for a rate hearing, they went to Attorney General (AG) Tom Reilly for a deal, a Rate Settlement, because they knew that they were treating different customers differently. Namely, the Cape and a couple other areas that get their electricity from other suppliers, would end up paying the higher transmission rates, while not benefiting from the “less-than-otherwise” price increases in supply.

This would be catastrophic for the Cape Light Compact if it comes to pass. It would put Nstar in a competitive advantage over the CLC, because we would all then move back over to NStar to get the better deal on electricity. Also, to sweeten the deal, Nstar is willing to defer these higher transmissions charges, to be paid later with interest. By the way, the deferral of transmission charges for now, would come with a usury interest rate of 11%, to be paid after 7 years.

The AG saw some political hay to be made with this deal. While making it look like he was brokering a deal for less of an increase for most of the Commonwealth, if not all Nstar customers, he made a political calculation that we on the Cape wouldn’t notice. By the way, the main benefactors of the rate deal, are industrial customers, big consumers, and poverty advocates. The guys that have real political clout.

The AG thought he had kissed the Cape on the lips by opposing the wind farm. That was easy, it didn’t cost any money, and only a few votes in a County he wouldn’t win anyway. But now we’re getting the royal treatment from the AG. Personally, I don’t liked getting kissed before I get screwed.

But what’s the AG-running-for-Governor supposed to do? The numbers are with NStar. More customers are getting a better price, even though some, like the Cape, are getting screwed. And besides, there’s another numbers game that matters too. Thomas May, the overpaid CEO, (salary $4.5Million plus options) of the very profitable NStar (earnings up over 15% this year, and stock price at recent highs), covers his bet by contributing heavily to Reilly for Governor.

Had enough? The story gets better. Not to be out tacked by changing political winds, the firm hired by Nstar to argue the case for the deal, (Robert) Keegan and (Robert) Werlin are heavy political contributors to Governor Mitt Romney and Governor-wannabe Kerry Healy. How does this matter? Romney recently appointed a political crony to chair the DTE, the agency charged with making a decision on this scheme, non other than Judith Jackson, the same DTE Commissioner who was doing the Governors’ bidding when she voted against the transmission line for the Cape Wind project.

Last night there was a last minute hearing in Yarmouth to take testimony from the Cape electricity customers. Present were all the usual suspects, State Legislators, County officials, and CLC representatives. But the only one with any courage to call out the snake was County Commission Bill Doherty. “And keep in mind,” Doherty told the DTE staff, “that next year one of the parties to this agreement is running for Governor.”

State Senator Rob O’Leary, one time County Commissioner and driving force behind the creation of the CLC, was left wondering out loud, how could the AG make such a deal without first consulting the affected parties, like the pols who are supporting him in his run for Governor. Well, to borrow the famous line from Edward G. Robinson, “Where is your Moses now?”

Is Tom Reilly feeling the heat? Maybe. He sent down an Assistant AG last night to read a statement. Nstar also sent down a manager to handle the media. They were sitting together.

But the best line of the week comes from a staffer from the CLC, who shall remain anonymous for obvious reasons, who said, “I wish I was a Democrat, so I could vote against Reilly twice next year.”

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Barnstable Manifesto

Dateline: Charter Review Committee Report
to the Assembly of Delegates

Barnstable County undergoes a review of its Charter every five years. It may be easy to miss since it's a fairly archaic exercise. The Review Committee is appointed by the Speaker of the Assembly Tom Bernardo, who over a year ago appointed 11 citizens of various categories to the committee. Since almost all of them are political cronies, it was easy to get to the end game this time around: maintain the Status Quo.

Of all the deficiencies in County goverment the Committee could have addressed, they chose to focus only on minutia allowing them to keep things just as they are. This is an election year after all. No use rocking the boat. Everyone County official is up for re-election, again. They all want to keep their jobs. Assembly and Commissioners alike.

The Speaker recently decided he wants to be a Commissioner too. Any major overhaul of the County at this time would require the full commitment of the Speaker to see them though. Not possible while running for the Commissioner's job. Not that it had anything to do with it.

The Charter Review Committee's first recommendation involves appointing a Standing Committee on County Governance. In other words, a permanent Charter Review Committee, ready to punt at a year's notice when changes are warranted to the Charter.

The second recommendation leaves the current structure of Assembly Delegates and Commissioners alone. Of course. Everyone gets to keep their parking spaces. No reason to make the Assembly more responsive to the electorate. Not having any competitive races last year except one, (out of 15) means the voters must be extremely happy with the Delegates, so they keep voting them in by acclamation. The Reveiw Committee could have devised a better system to make the election of Delegates meaningful.

The next recommendation involves removing the residency requirement for the County Adminstrator. He no longer has to live in Barnstable County. Not that he ever has, going against the County's Charter for the last 4 years. The Review Committee simply removed this little impediment, er embarassment, from the books. The County Adminstrator for the record lives in Attleboro.

Call me old fashioned, but I think that anyone who gets paid by the County tax, should have to pay it. Including the elitests who work at the Commission. More than 1/3 of them don't live on Cape Cod, but they get to tell us how we should.

The Review Committee further recommended that the Adminstrator's job and that of the County Treasurer be seperated, thereby creating 2 full time $100k year jobs in the County. Having the proper check and balance, is important. Let's see if they can find someone who lives on Cape Cod to fill the new position.

Most of the Committee's attention was focused on alleviating any future budget crisis. Like when the Assembly doesn't agree with the Commissioners' budget proposal. The next recommendation sets up a strict review and submit schedule between the two bodies with a reconciliation committee appointed to broker any potential compromise. In effect, it's the system that exists now, but a little friendlier.

Budget surpluses are tricky things. The practice of late has been that the County spends them before they occur. That was supposed to avoid an ugly food fight over who get the leftovers. But that was what the confrontation last spring was about, anyway.

Spend it all the Commissioner Bill Doherty said. Give some more to the Commission. And make sure there is no surplus to send back to the Towns. Speaker Bernardo disagreed, so now he running for the Commissioner's job.

After presentations by the County departments, it was decided that they were all necessary and function well. As a matter of fact, greater services may be needed in the future and that the County should be prepearing to deliver them. The Cape Cod Commission was of particular interest since it is a department of the County but not part of the Charter.

The Review Committee decided better communication betwen the County and Commission was needed and that should be translated that to the public, so as to make sure that people understand that when the Commission screws them, its not the County's fault.

And, oh yes, the Review Committee recommended changing Barnstable County Government to Cape Cod Regional Government. This nominclature would give them a better chance of getting any future enabling legislation passed by the State House. In other words, hide the fact that we are an archaic form of government slated for extinction by the State, so call it something else in hopes that they won't notice.

So there you have it. After a year of review, the Charter Review Committee recommended that we that we keep things just as they are. That if it ain't broke don't fix it. And if it is, don't fix it either. We have an ever expanding County, er Regional government, and let's make it even more obscure to the electorate. But let's enhance and institutionize the bureaucracy.

The Report now goes to the full Assembly and the Commissioners for approval. They will no doubt protect their collective sinecures and vote for the Status Quo.

Sleeping with the Enemy

The Cape Wind project can make for strange political bedfellows. Take the for instance of the newly minted co-chairs of the Alliance to Save our Sound (ASS).

Bill Koch of Kansas, Palm Beach and Osterville, would appear to be a dyed in the wool Democrat from a quick look at his political largesse. Who would have thought the industrialist was a (D). His favorite playing field seems to be the US Senate, with multiple contributions to Democratic Senators from all over the country, including Rockefeller, Harken, Daschle, Torricelli, Graham, Grassley, and others. And when they couldn't find a candidate to run, like in Montana, he contributed to that state's Democratic Senatorial Committee. He also favors the Democratic National Committee with extra large donations, as well as some State Democratic Committees.

But last year ('04) Koch shifted gears and donated large sums to the Republican National Committee. Wonder what that was about? He must not like John Kerry. No do-re-me for JFK.

For the record, Jim Gordon, developer of Cape Wind, seems to be a Democrat as well. Something about renewable energy that makes Democrats out of developers like Gordon and Koch. Gordon, a straight line (D) contributed to John Kerry, who hasn't come out yet on the wind farm.

Christy Mihos, though not born to the manner, unlike his cohort Koch, is a staunch Republican. He has supported mostly in-state (R)s. Particularly Mitt Romney and Kerry Healy, and a smattering of other Republicans running for office, as well as the Massachusetts Republican Congressional Committee.

But here's the fun part. Both Alliance co-chairs broke ranks to contribute to local candidates in the other camps. In Democrat Koch's case, he gave to Larry Wheatly, a Republican. In Republican Mihos's case, he gave to Demetrius Atsalis, a Democrat. What do both local candidates have in common? They both oppose the wind farm.

As for their predecessor at the Alliance, the old line energy CEO emeritus, Doug Yearley, normally contributes to Republican candidates. In keeping with his pattern, he contributed $1000 to Republican Lamar Alexander's Political Action Committee this year. At just about the time the Tennessee Senator was proposing legislation taking the tops off mountains in West Virginia and Kentucky for mining interests, while blocking a wind farm on Nantucket Sound where he owns land.

But Yearley did a more curious thing when it came to the local races, he contributed $500 to the Massachusetts Republican Congressional Committee in the last election cycle, thereby masking his contribution to Congressional candidate Mike Jones (R). Then 2 weeks later he contributed $1000 to his opponent Democrat Bill Delahunt, more than effectively canceling out the partisan contribution. This time both candidates were opposed to the wind farm. Yearley prone to excesses, was just hedging his bet.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Time to Call an Audible

Things don't always work out as planned.

The Massachusetts Democratic party should be commended for attempting to get its political house in order. Especially in light of the debacles of the last 4 gubenatorial elections. They've had the means to do so, they've just lacked the will. Until this year.

Relegated to political irrelevancy since Phil Johnston took over the party machinery, the MassDems almost got it right this year. To most it might appear as an act of desperation, but it was actually a pretty shrewd move, frontloading the party calendar. First to nominate a candidate early enough next year to set up a head to head race with the incumbent Republican well before the primary.

And a couple of other changes to create party discipline, like the 15% recent rule on the first ballot at the convention to keep non starters out of the race, this knocked Secretary of State Bill Galvin out of the race. And the "Nominee Designation" on the primary ballot in September, that was designed to scare away money (political donations) from going to any other challengers.

The party favorite was Tom Reilly, current office holder and party stalwart. Despite his personal failings, let's face it he's dull, and his institutional ones, the last Attorney General elected to higher office was John Volpe, he's managed to amass a warchest largely because the regular Dems thought they were going to have to run against Mitt Romney next year.

The problem is that Romney's not running for re-election. Now the Democrats are getting wedding night jitters. Not so much because they might lose with Reilly, but because they might win with him. He's the wrong guy. They're not in love with him.

THE Democratic party of Massachusetts is largely made up of liberals. And not the run of the mill kind. The hardcore, in your face, lefties. Most of us outgrew this phase of life when we started making money and having kids. But not the party insiders.

A marriage of convenience with Reilly was OK with the liberals so long as the honeymoon was going to be in the Corner office. But now that Romney has cleared the way back to the Statehouse, the wedding bed doesn't seem so inviting anymore.

With Romney no longer the obstacle, the Dems could whip likely Republican nominee Kerry Healy with a liberal. Only thing left to do is convince the independents (the majority of voters) that a liberal won't give away the store, in other words, give in to the legislature. (The liberals retook the two houses of the legislature since the last election with the ouster of moderates Finneran and Birmingham.)

Ironically, the best way to stand up to the Statehouse mafia is not with a Republican but with a Democrat that didn't need their support to get elected Governor. Dimasi and Travaligni are not so much about tax and spend liberalism as they are about patronage, pork and power, self interest and special interests. Find a Democrat that will stand up to that, even from the left, and you've got a Governor.

Enter Deval Patrick. A historic candidacy in the making. And not just for the obvious reason. But also for a compelling story of the rise to political power that rivals any immigrant son's. And for the tale the Dems will get to tell of how they won back the Governor's office with a real liberal.

The Dems set up at the line of scrimmage with one play. Now they have to call an audible. Will they do it?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Our Winter of Discontent

This year's heating bills are going to be brutal. Keyspan expects natural gas prices to go up by 50%. And in case you haven’t already heard, our electric bills will be going up too. NSTAR got a 27% rate increase approved. And that’s not even the bad news.

The Cape Light Compact may go out of business next year.

The Compact originally set up as a municipal buying cooperative, decided to go into the aggregation business by offering consumers and business the ability to opt in to the power supply buying pool. Over the past couple of years, they have had success negotiating lower electricity rates for the larger pool of customers.

Until now, those who were in the Cape Light Compact pool have enjoyed competitive electric rates. But this year will be different. The Compact hasn’t arranged for a contract when this one expires. With ConEdison or any other supplier. Chances are that all the suppliers will not only be getting higher prices, higher than Nstar’s, but they may not even be in a position to contract with the Compact.

The result will be that the Compact customers will be paying more, more than the Nstar customers, maybe lot more. That’s if they stay in the Compact. For the first time in recent years, Nstar may have the better rates, as lousy as they will be.

Therefore, customers will be opting out of the Compact over to Nstar. Except of course for the municipalities that are bound to stay in the Compact. The Compact may avoid going out of business altogether because of those municipal customers, but they too will be very unhappy that they are stuck in the high cost pool. No matter though, it’s the tax-payers that will be footing that bill. But if the Compact can’t find a lower cost source of energy, they may eventually have to vote to disband.

Governance does matter. You may rightly be asking, who’s been running the Compact? A fair answer would be a competent staff, covering for a not so competent Governing Board. Appointed by their respective Boards of Selectmen, the Representatives are not elected by the rate payers. And therein lies the pitfall.

The Towns appoint the Representatives to the Compact. A system designed when the only customers were the municipalities. But if the Compact now includes residential and commercial customers as well, who represents them? Their interests are not necessarily the same as the municipalities. Especially when one group can opt out while the other has to stay in. The Compact Representatives will never vote to favor the whole over the part that appoints them.

See the problem, enter the solution. Representative Matt Patrick (D-Falmouth), who has alot of experience in these issues thinks that the Cape Light Compact should have elected representatives. This would balance the financial interests of both constituencies. He is filing legislation authorizing it.

The Towns oppose this, of course. They would lose control. The Compact Representatives oppose it too. Most of them would lose their sinecure. The County opposes this because, well, it goes against its go along to get along culture. The Cape Cod Times is opposed to the proposal because they are deaf to anything Rep. Patrick has to say, (he’s beaten them twice at the polls).

If you want to get the best possible deal on electric rates, the combined buying power of the Compact is a good thing. Until it becomes too much of a good thing.

Blind to the obvious. The Compact needs to find a low cost energy solution to stay in business, and to, incidently, provide the maximum benefit to its customers. There is on our doorstep the potential for the mother of all lost cost energy supplies. But the Compact will not even contemplate buying electricity from Cape Wind, despite the obvious cost advantages stretching out for decades, and the other health, environmental and economic benefits to the Cape's residents. This would be a violation of the political code that exists on the subject.

We couldn't possibly expect the Representatives to consider such a thing in light of the fact that the very same Selectmen who appointed them also voted to oppose the wind farm. All the players understand the political ramifications of having the Compact negotiate to buy the electricity generated by Cape Wind. It would be political suicide for all concerned. The whole finely tuned political order would collapse.

Maybe, it will require an elected governing body to tackle the difficult decisions. Otherwise, it will be interesting to see if the Compact can swallow the hard political reality and re-consider buying Cape Wind's energy to save their own skin. Unfortunately, it will take a crisis to finally get the Compact to do the right thing.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Labor Day on Cape Cod: UMASS and Profiteering

20 years ago, the wise-guys of UMASS came up with an ingenious plan to rid the Cape of those pesky college kids during the most glorious weekend of the season, so they could savor it for themselves.

My neighbor on the not-Great-Island-side-of-Lewis-Bay, is a muckamuck in the office of the President of UMASS. He is down this weeknd, enjoying the holiday, while the students of UMASS are doing the same ... only elsewhere.

Ironic isn't it. UMASS starts its fall semester the week before Labor day, requiring all those kids to leave their summer jobs on the Cape early, leaving all those seasonal businesses stranded for help the last best weekend of the summer.

But not to worry, the patrons from UMASS are still here, like my neighbor from UMASS administration. I wonder if he appreciates the irony. He conscripted the students back to campus just as he was coming back down for the weekend. Probably not, because he still complains about the service around here, (lack thereof) during this weekend. Well, dah.

For years (former State Senator) Henri Raushenbach fought to get UMASS to officially start after Labor Day, so we could keep our seasonal help one more crucial week. Little did we all appreciate who's vacations he was stepping on.

And one more observation from my beach chair this Labor Day weekend.

As I was looking out over Great Island, I heard one of those obnoxious ads by the Alliance (to save the view for the priviledged few) on the radio, repeating the lies about the birds, the fish and the air, but mostly hocking their new tactic; CapeWind stands to make a profit from the project. Holy Wampum Batman!

So now it's about profits. Isn't it strange that this has come down to the capitlists from Osterville, and may I say uber-capitalists, objecting to the capitalist from Bass River making too much money. Didn't Egan make too much money selling computers? Didn't Koch make too much money selling, well, coke? For that matter, isn't Mihos making too much money selling gas and milk? And how about Kurker making too much money selling boats?

I think what the capitalists from Osterville object to most, is that the capitalist from Bass River is making too much money in their backyard. I bet that's what grates them the most. It would be better if they were the ones doing the profiting.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


With Desperate Housewives off the air for the summer, some of you may have tuned in the local Cape Wind saga again. The story plays like an English Farce, because nothing that the characters do matters a hoot to the powers that will decide the fate of the project. In case you've lost track of the cast of characters, here's a quick review.

For the Alliance to Save the Sound for the priviledged view of the few:

Sue Nickerson, like Isaac Rosen, her predecessor, hasn't lost the battle so much as her reputation as an ardent environmentalist and preservationist. But she can take solace in that she got paid a quarter million dollars to lose her innocence.

Audra Parker, truly peculiar character. She has nothing to gain in this fight, and everything to lose. She should know better with that MIT education, that even her children would be on the other side if it weren't for all that money.

Cliff Carroll, plays the heavy. Every team has its rabid fans, the guys that paint their chests and yell their heads off at the game. They're somebody's son, husband, or father. But who's?

Charles Vinick, newest member of the cast, brought in too late to save the production. He has nothing at stake, no skin in the game. He's been trading on someone else's reputation for years. The ultimate understudy.

Dan Wolf, like the man behind the curtain, figured it out before anyone else. He professes "extreme ambivalence", because he understands "the show must go on."

Christy Mihos, one of the producers of this farce, bought the future for his family and wants it to stay exactly where it is.

Cliff Schectman, played the role of status quo man. Carried water for the upper echelon. Wouldn't know the future if he ran into it. Like the boxer in On the Waterfront, he could have been a contender. Instead he's Gone with the Wind.