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Biweekly Column
Brookline TAB
Brookline, Massachusetts

Election Odds & Ends

Dennis Fox

October 24, 2002

Pundits and politicos will soon bemoan two Election Day events: the failure of most Massachusetts citizens to vote in two weeks, and the decision by some voters to choose third-party candidates. Don't feel guilty! Unlike many candidates, we don't have to remain robotic!

For those who are not too cynical, too disgusted, or too anarchistic to vote this time around, a few developments are worth noting. In the governor's race, citizen pressure has finally shamed the mainstream media into acknowledging candidates other than Mitt Romney and Shannon O'Brien. After two repetitive two-person debates, the other candidates on stage for round three managed to throw some ideas into the bipartisan bickering.

Not all ideas are good ones, of course, as Republicans and Democrats routinely demonstrate. Still, Independent Barbara Johnson was a hoot, offering comic relief as well as the hint that she actually knows what she's talking about even if she didn't have time to spell it all out.

Libertarian Carla Howell disappointed. She focused attention on her Small Government is Beautiful mantra and her referendum to abolish the state income tax, but essentially blew off the questions she was asked. Perhaps her campaign staff can explain why she ignored the Libertarian Party's strong support for individual rights, which she might easily have tied to her attack on government spending (for example, the state could cut costs by eliminating prison terms for victimless drug crimes.)

I wasn't surprised that the debate's quiet star was the Green Party's Jill Stein. Invited by a friend last spring to my first political house party, I met the candidate, signed a petition to help get her on the ballot, and even gave $5 toward her almost-successful battle for Clean Elections funding. I'm not a card-carrying Green, but it seems to me Stein has progressive ideals, good data, and the guts to say calmly and clearly what she thinks.

In response to Howell's anti-tax theme, Shannon O'Brien made an impassioned plea to help people with unmet needs. It was the Democrat's finest moment, but she soon resumed whining about Romney's sliminess. In contrast, Jill Stein stuck to it. She made it clear that the Democrats' failure to advance social justice even in good times -- since they overwhelmingly control the legislature -- makes them unlikely to foster an equitable society.

The main argument against Stein -- voting for her may help Romney beat O'Brien -- is the best argument for dismantling the two-party lock on power. No system making it reasonable to vote for timid mediocrity is worth keeping.

Of course, in most respects Massachusetts is really a one-party state. In the Senate race, Democrat incumbent John Kerry has no Republican opponent and faces only low-visibility Libertarian Michael Cloud. There's late news, though: a write-in campaign for Randall Forsberg, disarmament expert and founder of the Nuclear Freeze Movement. The campaign is spearheaded by Brookline PeaceWorks co-founder Amy Hendrickson and other anti-war activists appalled by would-be-president Kerry's vote to support war against Iraq.

On the referendum front, Howell's anti-tax effort wraps an appeal to selfishness in the language of fairness and small government, but even that's deceptive. Howell says ending the state income tax would bring every Massachusetts family $3000 a year. She forgets to add that's just an average. At the debate, Stein noted low-income residents would save $1200 a year, those at the top over $50,000. She suggested (but O'Brien didn't!) that we replace our tax scheme with something more progressive. Without that, Howell's referendum would make things worse.

The other two referendums are even more deceptive. Ron Unz's nationwide effort to end bilingual education by imposing English-only instruction raises legitimate educational issues, but uses inaccurate claims of California success to hide an anti-immigrant political agenda. Personally, I'd rather let Brookline teachers and parents decide how to teach Brookline kids.

Most deceptive is the Democratic-controlled legislature's attempt to con voters into rejecting the Clean Elections referendum they passed four years ago. There are valid arguments for and against Clean Elections, but the misleading ballot question designed by politicians who like running for office unopposed unfairly describes what's at stake. So it will likely pass, making it even harder for candidates like Jill Stein to play a role in elections to come.

Note: this version may differ from the published version.

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