I am a lifelong centrist Democrat, who served in Bill Clinton’s administration as Assistant Secretary of Defense, a 44-year resident of Belmont, and I am supporting Jim Gammill – the independent – for state representative. Here are the issues that led me to that decision:
A voice for Belmont. As my colleagues at the Kennedy School’s Taubman Center for State and Local Government have helped me understand, Belmont is a unique but vulnerable community. It ranks in the top 20 in almost every important measure of the quality of civic life. Its schools are excellent, its streets are safe and its core services (apart from roads) are excellent. But it also has a per capita income far below the communities to which it is compared (Wellesley, Weston), no commercial base, and a diversity of languages and cultures. It is small, so it only has one representative in the House. Since 1993, that seat has been held by Belmont residents – first Anne Paulsen and then Will Brownsberger – who fully understood the needs of the town. So my question was: do I want a representative who has lived here for 26 years, raised a family here and whose daughter teaches in the Belmont public schools, or a North Cambridge resident who first walked Belmont’s streets six months ago?
Competence helps; super-competence helps more. There is general consensus that the most difficult issues facing the Commonwealth over the next several years will be financial. And all of the candidates have some exposure to economics and finance. But in terms of training and demonstrated ability to analyze and solve these problems there is daylight between Jim and the other candidates. Jim received a PhD in finance from MIT when the MIT Economics Department was the finest in the world. He taught finance at Harvard Business School, and then had a successful real world career in finance and software. He has had successful operating experience in public sector, non-profit, and for profit organizations.
Independent on hard issues. One of the dilemmas that every elected official will have to face over the next several years is the position of the public sector unions. Labor has been an important and valued part of the Democratic coalition since the New Deal. But every serious policy analyst who has looked at this issue has agreed that some rebalancing is required. Taxpayers cannot sustain the current combination of benefits, pay, and tenure. Thus one of the high points of the Obama administration’s domestic policy has been his courageous willingness confront the teachers unions in addressing the problems of public education; the Obama Administration’s “Race to the Top” grant program requires that teacher performance be evaluated and rewarded. That needs to happen in Massachusetts as well. So my questions was: do I want a representative, Jim Gammill, who has declared that everything must be on the table, or a representative, Dave Rogers, who was endorsed early and strongly by the Boston Teachers Union, and has stated, “The STAND petition [a citizen’s initiative to require performance based teacher evaluation] that would have been on the ballot this fall was well-intentioned, but misguided ...”?
A protest against partisanship. Belmont has an opportunity to send a genuinely strong representative to the State House and protest an increasingly dysfunctional party system. There is no reason to let Lexington and Concord be the only Massachusetts towns that “fire a shot heard round the world.”