Monday, January 11, 2010

Martha My God!

You would think that a nice Irish Catholic girl like Martha Coakley, a woman who's a loyal Democrat, a lifelong resident of Massachusetts (Massachusettian? It doesn't come up correct on my spellchecker), and an accomplished state attorney general, would be a lead-pipe cinch for wining next week's special election to fill the seat of the late Senator Ted Kennedy for the next three years. You'd think the Republican opponent, a tea-party conservative candidate named Scott Brown, wouldn't stand a chance.
You'd be wrong.
Coakley, who led Brown in Massachusetts polls only recently, is now in a dead heat with Brown in one poll and in serious danger of losing. Seeking a chance to gain the most prestigious Democratic seat in the United States Senate, Republicans have been dumping negative ads against Coakley the way Bostonians dumped tea in the harbor on a cold December night in 1773. Brown has been emphasizing the need to rein in government, campaigning on lower taxes and in opposition to the health care plan before Congress today. This contrasts sharply with Coakley's support for targeted tax cuts for the middle class, as well as her support for an individual mandate and a public option to lower health insurance costs. So what's going wrong for Martha Coakley?
Maybe it's that she's a flawed candidate. As Massachusetts Attorney General, she has refused to investigating Boston mayor Tom Menino for allegedly destroying public e-mail records in violation of the law. When state district attorneys made allegedly inaccurate and misleading charges about a marijuana policy initiative up for a referendum in an effort to defeat the law, such as suggesting anyone could carry pot any time (it passed), Coakley replied that "nothing in the proposed law explicitly forbids public use of the drug." In fact, the law still levies a $100 fine and confiscation for adults and mandatory community service for minors, suggesting Coakley, who as the state Attorney General should know what she's talking about, didn't read the bill.
Even Coakley's actions as a district attorney have been under attack A Somerville, Massachusetts police officer was charged with sexually abusing a 23-month-old girl in 2005. Coakley, serving on the grand jury in the case, decided not to indict him and allowed him to be released without bail. (Coakley's successor in that office charged him and got a conviction; the policeman is now serving two life sentences. Coakley defended her actions in the sexual abuse, insisting her decision was based on all the evidence available to her. How did the evidence that allowed the conviction to go forward, though, suddenly show up after she left that DA office?
Coakley's candidacy smacks of complacency among Massachusetts Democrats. After all, the state's entire congressional delegation is Democratic, and the Bay State hasn't sent a Republican to the Senate since re-electing Edward Brooke in 1972. But Massachusetts voters will elect a Republican for pragmatic reasons; as recently as 2002, they elected a Mormon businessman as governor because a skilled capitalist with moral rectitude who also rescued the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics was seen as the right man for the job. (Mitt Romney's election was the fourth straight Republican victory in a Massachusetts gubernatorial contest.) Even Massachusetts's reputation as a liberal state is inflated. The Boston busing controversy of 1974 had a lot of racial overtones, many white Boston residents angered by the plan to integrate their kids with black children in black schools that were seen as inferior. Scott Brown's success so far suggested that the people of Massachusetts are no more enamored with President Obama's agenda that residents of other states. It's typical of Democrats to take something for granted and put up anyone for office thinking nomination is tantamount to election.
So what does this have to do with everyone outside Massachusetts? Everything. The health care bill, flawed as it is, is the best chance for reform we're likely to get for another fifteen years. Brown opposes it. If he wins the special Senate election next week, he will be the forty-first Republican vote in the Senate needed to block the bill from proceeding. That is, if Coakley loses, health care reform loses.
The silver lining is that Coakley is a ahead of Brown by fifteen points in a Boston Globe poll, and she has a chance to turn things in her favor in a debate with Brown tonight. But even if she wins next Tuesday, I hope this serves as a lesson to Democrats in states where the party is dominant that a Democratic nominee only has to stay alive until Election Day to win.

No comments: