SINCE HE WON election on November 5, Mitt Romney has made some pleasantly surprising moves. The biggest of these was his appointment last week of Conservation Law Foundation president Douglas Foy to the newly created position of chief of Commonwealth development. If nothing else, this can only mean that Romney takes seriously the problems of suburban sprawl. And last week, it was announced that he had appointed Dan Grabauskas, who lost his campaign to be state treasurer (a bid endorsed by the Phoenix) to Democrat Tim Cahill, to be secretary of transportation. Grabauskas is the no-nonsense manager who actually turned the Registry of Motor Vehicles into an efficient agency. Maybe he can do the same for the MBTA.
Other surprises from Romney have been the efficient way he’s gone about appointing a transition team, meeting with legislative leaders to discuss the budget deficit, and taking an all-around proactive approach to the job. Of course, these latter moves wouldn’t be surprising if it weren’t for the fact that our last two governors — Paul Cellucci and Jane Swift — were so delinquent about basic management. When someone comes along and simply does the job, we’re impressed.
Aside from these moves, however, Romney has sent strong signals that he’s just another business-as-usual Republican politician. Consider the following:
• Just days after defeating Shannon O’Brien, Romney made a sanctimonious pledge not to make patronage appointments. " I look for people who get jobs based on what they know, not who they know, " he said. Romney went so far as to say that " political connections " will be held against an applicant for a job in his administration: " That will have to be something that’s overcome, that will not be an advantage, that will be a disadvantage. "
So what are we to make of Friday’s news that Beth Lindstrom has been named the head of the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation? Lindstrom previously worked in state government for former state treasurer Joe Malone as his lottery director. During Malone’s (and Lindstrom’s) tenure, Treasury employees stole around $10 million from the state. The theft wasn’t uncovered until O’Brien took office as state treasurer. She implemented an audit of the office and instituted quality controls in every facet of the Treasury.
Lindstrom isn’t the only Romney appointee who formerly worked for Malone. Romney’s communications director, Eric Fehrnstrom, used to be Malone’s deputy treasurer. And Romney’s chief of staff, Beth Myers, held the same position with Malone. We’re not saying that Lindstrom, Fehrnstrom, and Myers were aware of the embezzling and did nothing. But let’s face it, the biggest theft of state property in the history of the Commonwealth took place under their noses. Should they really be rewarded with plum positions in Romney’s administration?
To date, only one of Romney’s major appointments — that would be Foy — has no prior ties, or " political connections " to borrow Romney’s phrase, to previous Republican administrations. (All that said, one other of Romney’s appointments deserves comment. Former Suffolk County district attorney Ralph Martin has been named head of the Judicial Nominating Committee, ostensibly to usher in an era of meritocratic judicial appointments. Of course, in this position, Martin will hold the same post that his disgraced — and possibly soon to be disbarred — long-time buddy Gary Crossen once held under former governor William Weld. In this close-knit world of political appointments, one has to wonder: if Crossen actually escapes the disbarment bullet, will he lobby Romney to nominate him for a judgeship?)
• During the campaign, Romney said — rather irresponsibly, in our opinion — that the budget deficit could be met by managing government more efficiently and consolidating agencies with overlapping missions. Not only that, but he pledged to do it without raising taxes or cutting services. As he made these pledges, Romney engaged in a bit of gamesmanship obscure to all but those who actually pay attention to state government for a living: he kept saying that the looming budget deficit amounted to $1 billion. Of course, everyone else, including O’Brien, was saying the budget deficit would likely be closer to $2 billion. Now that Romney’s won the election, what do you know? His transition team says it looks like the deficit will be $2 billion, after all. Gee, wonder what’s changed between then and now?
Romney’s pledge not to cut services has somehow morphed — post–Election Day, of course — into a pledge not to cut " core essential services. " Fehrnstrom was the first to start throwing the new phrase around, and it’s stuck with the daily press, who’ve dutifully reported it as if it’s what Romney’s been saying all along. The governor-elect has yet to let us know what he considers nonessential. And even though he has stated publicly that he regards education and public safety as core services, he’s not taking action to back that up. The Romney camp has already warned of cuts in local aid that may rise to 20 percent. Is Romney unaware that local aid from the state pays for municipal schools and fire and police departments? Twenty-percent cuts to local aid will — not may, but will — result in layoffs of teachers, firefighters, and police officers. In other words, core services will be cut if local aid is cut.
Romney budget chief Eric Kriss (formerly of the Weld administration) actually told a meeting of business leaders shortly after the election that the coming budget deficit would be " the most difficult year in state fiscal history since the 1930s. " Really? The rate of unemployment during the Depression was 25 percent — one in four people looking for jobs were unable to find them. The rate of unemployment in Massachusetts today is around five percent. If things are that bad, how come Romney stubbornly refuses to consider new taxes as a temporary way out of the mess? Don’t get us wrong: we’re not advocating higher taxes. But the majority of those of us with jobs could afford to pay a little more if it means keeping our police stations, fire houses, and schools fully staffed. Never mind providing health care for the poorest and weakest among us.
• There were two fairly devastating moments during the gubernatorial debates. One was when Romney savaged O’Brien for " lobbying " for a pay raise for government officials, including herself. He made much of the $45,000 pay raise O’Brien received during her tenure. Yet earlier this month, now-governor-elect Romney whined to a group of newspaper publishers that top jobs in the administration pay only $105,000 to $118,000. " There are a number of people who just can’t take that kind of cut in pay, even given their desire to be a public servant, " Romney said, as if it the government pay scale was news to him.
During the last debate, O’Brien attacked Romney for his plan to save the state $1.7 billion by getting increased federal reimbursements for Medicaid. In a moment that made O’Brien look like a liar, Romney said he had never made such a claim. He went on to say that everyone knew that increased federal reimbursements for Medicaid were a lost cause. O’Brien looked like an idiot. Of course, Romney was simply lying. Lying face to face to O’Brien. And lying on camera to the Commonwealth’s people.
Romney’s campaign had long touted the state’s ability to save millions through increased federal reimbursement of Medicaid. And it’s one of the things he’s now claiming the state can do to save money. But he no longer claims the state can save $1.7 billion; he now says it could simply save millions through increased reimbursements.
It’s amazing that Romney hasn’t served a day in office, and yet he comes to the job with so much contempt for the public. But this shouldn’t necessarily be a surprise. Romney comes to the public sector — a noble place to build a career despite what Romney would have had you believe during the campaign — from the corporate world. In other words, the world that’s given us Enron, ImClone, Tyco, Adelphia.
The contrast between word and deed from campaign to election victory is startling, though it shouldn’t be. We predicted as much in our endorsement of O’Brien.
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