Local Politics

The Union Vote

By Sam Yoon   |   Monday, August 23, 2010
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"In less than 60 days the Boston City Council will be facing one of their toughest votes in recent memory. They’ll be voting to approve or reject a lucrative fire fighter’s contract that was awarded by a labor-management arbitrator.

For a whole host of reasons, many of them familiar to us by now, the right thing for the City Council to do is to vote no on this contract. But if they don’t, Boston residents will have only themselves to blame. That’s because historically, not enough people vote in city elections.

Which means that next year, when all 13 members of the city council face re-election, the votes of fire fighters and their families will count that much more – because the vast majority of the other registered voters will stay home. So in a sense, you can’t blame our city councilors for paying attention to the voters who keep them in office.

Put yourself in the shoes of a city councilor for a moment. You know that the average voter in a city election doesn’t have a litmus test for their city councilors, nor are they motivated by a single issue. But you can bet that fire fighters will remember who voted for or against their contract.

These firefighters – and their families – are motivated, and they vote. As so do all other city workers who live in the city, 80% of whom belong to unions. Therein lies the problem. Unions have too much influence when it comes to city elections. Why is that? Because so few other people vote. Voter turnout in the 2007 city council election was the lowest in decades. Less than 14% of registered voters cast ballots -- that’s 46,000 people. The City of Boston employs 18,000 people. If only a small fraction of the 350,000 registered voters in the city of Boston turns out to vote next year, as was the case in 2007, the union vote will again be a big fish swimming in a small pond.

You can’t blame the unions for using the influence they have. That’s what they’re for.

But if this contract is good for Boston firefighters, but bad for just about everyone else, then it’s time for everyone else in Boston to step up to the plate, urge our councilors to vote NO on this contract, then tell them we will back them up at the ballot box. If we want courage from our city councilors to do the right thing, we need to honor them with our civic participation."

Big Government

By Kerry Healey   |   Thursday, August 19, 2010
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"Government needs more than its current two gears: inert and glacial."

Big Government drives me crazy: Some friends recently filed a 100 page application to form a non-profit—a 501c3 in IRS parlance—and have been not-so-patiently waiting to hear the fate of the charitable venture since. An anxious call to the IRS this week revealed the following Kafkaesque situation: application is stuck in “unassigned inventory”. Please, let’s contemplate this euphemism, “Unassigned Inventory”. The “I Haven’t Gotten to it Yet” pile might be more transparent. Worse yet, they won’t be assigned a person to whom they can complain until—yes, that’s right!—until the application is removed from “Unassigned Inventory.” Beckett or Pinter could have done something with this plot line!

Their Big Government story is surreal, but affects only a few people. Sometimes, however, our government’s sluggishness hurts thousands and costs the economy millions. When I was Lieutenant Governor, I advocated with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for an emergency review of draconian federal fishing regulations that would eventually drive hundreds of fishing families in Massachusetts into bankruptcy. I was told—with a straight face—that an emergency regulatory review would take three months. How long, one had to ask, would a “Take your sweet time” regulatory review take? Three years? Clearly, our emergency was clearly not theirs.

In May, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal struggled to gain emergency federal approval to build 80 miles of sand bar berms to protect the fragile Louisiana coastline--and his state’s fishing economy—from the on-coming black tide of British Petroleum. I read with horror, that he was delayed for weeks while the Army Corps of Engineers mulled over the merits of the plan!

Then there were the oil-clean up boats that lost critical days of operation while the Coast Guard checked to see if they had enough fire extinguishers and life vests on board. That’s days—not hours. How could this process take longer than the time it takes to board, inspect and count?

The bottom line is that some government regulation is necessary and good—for example, let’s all agree that we could have done with stricter enforcement of banking and mortgage industry regulations leading up to the global financial crisis. But there are times when standard operating procedure simply should not apply. Government needs more than its current two gears: inert and glacial. It needs to be nimble enough to actually respond to real national emergencies—like the BP oil gusher—not in months, weeks or days but in hours.

Taking Issue with the Electoral College

By Kelly Bates   |   Thursday, August 19, 2010
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Our Country can take a simple idea and make it complex. I have a deep abiding respect for our founding fathers that came up with great ideas for how our country should run. But I also recognize they made some mistakes. Certainly making a slave three-fifths of a person in our constitution was one, and denying women the right to vote was another. But I take special issue with the obscure and quite bizarre Electoral College system that we use to elect Presidents.

In just one year, election campaigning will start in earnest for the 2012 Presidential election. It feels like yesterday when Obama and McCain were touting the slogans “Change we can believe in” and “Country first”. Yet in the blink of an eye, a new Presidential season will be upon us.

The Massachusetts legislature is considering a bill that calls on our country to adopt a national popular vote system. Changing this system may prove difficult, but it’s certainly not impossible and it’s worthy of every voter’s serious consideration.

The United States elects our President not by direct election where each voter casts a ballot and whoever gets the majority vote wins. That would be too easy and too democratic. Instead, each state has a number of electors equal to its total Congressional representation. Most states award all electors, usually state elected officials or party leaders, to the winner of the popular vote in their state, regardless of whether the winner was ahead by one vote or by millions. The founders didn’t trust ordinary voters to make their own decisions. They were also concerned about the fate of smaller states that have smaller populations.

Because of this, Presidential candidates only campaign in the states that are equally divided between Republicans and Democrats, so called “battleground” states. More than 98% of all campaign events and spending take place in only 15 states. And Massachusetts isn’t one of them. That is not fair to our state, our voters, and our democracy.

Four times in history, the candidate who placed second in the popular vote actually won the presidency under the current system. The most recent example was in 2000, when Presidential contender Al Gore won the popular vote by over 500,000 votes, but ultimately lost to George Bush who had more electoral votes.

In order for the system to change to a popular vote, states representing a majority of the Electoral College will need to pass laws like the bill in Massachusetts. Five states have already passed the popular vote proposal. Every vote and every state should count. Let’s see if Massachusetts agrees.

Basic Black ONLINE Exclusive: Gay Rights and the Civil Rights Movement (November 5, 2009)

Thursday, August 19, 2010
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After the television broadcast, our panelists continued to explore the intersection of the gay rights movement and the modern civil rights movement.

Maria's Conversation with Queen Noor

By Maria Hinojosa   |   Thursday, August 19, 2010
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Getting ready to interview Her Majesty Queen Noor was one of the few times that I felt just a bit nervous. I had never interviewed official royalty on Maria Hinojosa: One-on-One and of course the first thing that comes to mind is protocol. One never touches royalty unless they extend a hand. Queen Noor more than extended a hand. She was gracious and engaging with everyone in the studio. She is not a fast speaker--thoughtful and smart is more her style. It was an honest and revealing conversation. When she said a final good bye from a far, I threw her a pretend hug. She turned around and came back to give me one for real. Such is the touch of Her Majesty.

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