Election 2008 : The Martha's Vineyard Times Editor's Election Recommendations
The following endorsements by the editor of The Martha's Vineyard Times reflect his judgment and his alone. DAC
Barack Obama for President
John McCain is admirable, Sarah Palin is likable and modestly accomplished, Joe Biden is appalling, and Barack Obama is a question and a promise. (Indeed, if the choice were Biden or Palin - and that is certainly the tipping point for some voters - we'd choose the latter.) But because the decision is not about the vice presidency, the best choice, the most hopeful choice, is Senator Obama.
Mr. McCain's remarkable story and his considerable record of bipartisanship and coalition building in the Senate ought to have been sufficient to defeat the ambitions of an unknown, untried, and unusual competitor. But, the 72-year-old senator's erratic, undisciplined, and confusing campaign, including his surprising and debatable choice of Governor Palin as his running mate, has substantially undermined the years of sound and dedicated leadership that helped him succeed in the Senate. His Senate career as a frequent counterpoint to defective Republican orthodoxy and his association with his badly damaged party, with which so many voters are tired and angry after eight years, did not prepare him well for a national campaign against a bright, cool, inspiring, young adversary. Senator McCain has often looked old and in the way of the change for which so many voters clamor.
For his part, Senator Obama has no significant record to pick over looking for clues. His political life in Illinois and briefly in Washington has been characterized by ambition, caution, and an instinct for self-preservation. His judgment, as measured by the little we know about his associations and activities, is not inspiring to voters who believe, as their mothers have certainly told them, that you may be known by the company you keep. But, no presidential aspirant can immerse himself in months of campaigning, from one coast to the other and everywhere in between, without revealing the stuff he's made of. Senator Obama's remarkable personal story, the careful management of his long presidential campaign, his obvious intelligence and essential goodness, and his ability to understand economic, diplomatic, and political puzzles and shape his expressed views of them in ways that acknowledge the embedded, underlying complexities - all on display over two years in front of voters across the nation - have built an understandable level of comfort and enthusiasm among Americans. It is a critical asset of the way we choose the American president that the aspirants must campaign across all 50 states and, if elected, serve us all. For each candidate, it is both a telling and a learning experience. When it's done we will know the winner, and he will know us.
It is certainly silly just now to call Senator Obama a transformational national political figure, whatever that means, or to promise oneself or others that he will do all he pledges. But, it is entirely reasonable to regard him, after these months of growing acquaintance, as the candidate in this contest who offers the greatest promise of sound, measured judgment, and the best possibility of maturing leadership.
Not John Kerry
By contrast, four years ago, Americans got a months long, intensive look at Senator John Kerry, during his primary and general election campaigns for the presidency. They found that Mr. Kerry's candidacy was mainly about Mr. Kerry, not the nation. The Massachusetts senator didn't wear well. And, he didn't do much for voters. Mr. Kerry, unlike his Democratic Party partner, Senator Edward Kennedy, hasn't done much for Massachusetts, which he ought to have done, but staggeringly, for 24 years, we've sent him to the Senate on our behalf. That needs to stop, and this would be a better year than many to make the change. Jeffrey Beatty of Harwich is modestly financed, little known, and a Republican. He faces long, no, nearly impossible odds. Still, John Kerry doesn't own that seat he holds, and he's done little to earn the right to keep it. Mr. Beattie is intelligent, tough, plainspoken, and a poor fit in the Republican mold, at least in its currently misshapen edition. He appears to believe that his job is to earn the confidence and trust of Massachusetts voters, by working hard to serve their interests, not his own. That's just what we want. So, if change is what is needed across the land, beginning here by replacing John Kerry with Jeffrey Beattie will be a good start.
Timothy Madden for State Representative
For the first time in decades Martha's Vineyard voters can choose one of their own to represent them in the Great and General Court. Unhappily, neither Vineyarder Daniel Larkosh, a deeply committed and earnest contender and the Democrat heavily supported by labor unions and even the witless governor, nor the young, impressive Independent, Jacob Ferreira, has any significant political or local public service experience to offer voters.
To Vineyarders, the state legislature is pesky, tricky, and mostly incomprehensible. It is often an obstacle to Island ambitions and frequently the author of impositions that tax our patience and resources and give nothing in return. The seat that they, along with Timothy Madden, a Nantucketer, seek is the one long held by Eric Turkington, who is relinquishing it in favor of a sinecure as register of probate in Barnstable. Mr. Turkington has been a reliable friend of the Vineyard. More important he has been Mr. Madden's boss and guide, while the latter served as Mr. Turkington's legislative liaison from Nantucket, the counterpart to Vineyarder Russell Smith, now the interim county manager for Dukes County. Mr. Madden did more than keep Mr. Turkington aware of what Nantucketers were thinking and wanting. He has operated as Mr. Turkington's agent on Beacon Hill, keeping track of legislation that might be expected to have either a beneficial or regrettable impact on the distant island. He has been a Nantucket selectman, and he has served his island town in other public capacities for many years. Of course, it is disheartening to learn that Mr. Madden has added to his otherwise blemish-free record the endorsement of the Massachusetts Teachers Association and that he plans to declare himself a Democrat if elected. Standing on his own considerable accomplishments and shunning such high priced attachments would have been reassuring. But, nevertheless, here is a moment for voters to put aside historic inter-islands hostilities and choose experience on Beacon Hill and the working relationships forged there over years to elect Mr. Madden.
Lenny Jason of Chilmark, Dan Flynn and Thomas J. Hallahan of Oak Bluffs, Write-in Candidates, for Dukes County Commissioner
Although there are three incumbents on the ballot and three seats to fill, we can recommend only Lenny Jason of Chilmark. Mr. Jason, a long-serving commissioner, is a staunch advocate of county government, a position with which we have had little sympathy, but in his work over the years he has demonstrated a clear-headed determination that county government should work closely with the voters and leaders of the six towns, that it should take its inspiration from the towns, that it should do only what it can successfully and economically accomplish on behalf of the towns. Mr. Jason deserves reelection.
In addition, we recommend newcomer Thomas J. Hallahan of 20 Grovedale Road and Dan Flynn, a former Dukes County commissioner, of Bridle Path Road, both of Oak Bluffs, write-in candidates with a record of public service and a determined commitment to improve county government and make it accountable and responsive to the towns.
Christina Brown for Martha's Vineyard Commission
Of the nine candidates whose names appear on the ballot, along with one write-in candidate, for elected seats on the Martha's Vineyard Commission, we can only recommend one, Christina Brown of Edgartown, a candidate for reelection. Ms. Brown's steady, studied, restrained use of the commission's overbroad authority ought to serve as a model for her colleagues, but alas, we're not so fortunate. We've argued repeatedly that in its undisciplined extension of its authority over geography and development projects that are not truly regional in their anticipated effects and therefore should not fall under its jurisdiction, the commission does Islanders and Island towns a grave disservice. Ms. Brown conducts herself with a keen eye to the impacts of Martha's Vineyard Commission choices and decisions. She is judicious, economical, thoughtful about the town she represents, and she never blathers, which is, by itself, grounds to return her to her long held seat.
Question One - Yes
Question One asks voters to first reduce, then eliminate the state income tax in two whacks over the next two years. This is exactly the right idea, and it's especially the right idea at the right time for Vineyarders, whose income taxes paid to the Commonwealth are annually whisked away to other parts of the state and other state programs and projects whose benefits to Vineyarders are negligible. Excluding aid to education, which is very little and diminishing, less than $3 million is annually returned to Vineyard communities from the millions in income taxes paid by Vineyard taxpayers. Island towns pay their bills largely from property tax revenues, much of that paid by summer property owners. That substantial advantage will not change with the elimination of the income tax. Vineyard taxpayers, many of them retirees on fixed incomes subject to the state's tax on unearned income, want to do their share, of course, but they should see no reason to sit still for an annual fleecing. The globe, the nation, and the state are in a terrible financial fix now, one serious enough to have caught even the attention of Gov. Deval Patrick. So, there is no better time to move to keep Massachusetts' taxpayers' income in the taxpayers' family treasuries, not the state's. Of course, if history is any guide, the legislature will not heed this binding referendum any more than it did the earlier order by voters to lower the state income tax rate to five percent. Nevertheless, we recommend a yes vote on Question One.
Question Two - Reducing Penalties for Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana
We recommend a no vote on Question Two, thus leaving state criminal penalties in place for the possession of marijuana. There is no good reason to signal acceptance of the use of this drug or to relinquish the sanctions against drug use. Supporters of Question Two argue that rather than criminal penalties, users in possession of small amounts of the drug might be made subject to a new system of civil penalties, enforced by issuing citations or other public service regimens. They do not propose such a system for review by voters before consideration of this referendum question. In addition, were this referendum to receive voter support, the records of such non-criminal penalties as the question's supporters imagine would not be included in the state's criminal information system. Consequently, that history would not be available to educational institutions, the military, professional associations, or employers for their use in accrediting or hiring applicants. Plus, the supporters' argument presumes a mechanism to enforce this new regimen of penalties, which may require the creation of a department, distinct from the criminal courts, to administer. Such an undertaking would certainly be expensive to create and fund. No on two.
Question Three - Outlawing Dog Racing
Question Three would prohibit dog racing in Massachusetts, when any form of betting on the speed or ability of the dogs occurs. Racing now takes place only at Wonderland in Revere and Raynham/Taunton. Although the State Racing Commission regulates the racing industry, and industry representatives reject arguments that the dogs are mistreated, arguments that this is an industry and an entertainment no longer consistent with the modern principles of humane treatment of animals in our care are persuasive. This 70-year-old industry employs about 1,000 and contributes meaningful revenue to the state treasury, but the two-year unwinding proposed in the ballot initiative is a reasonable and measured way to retire it. We urge a yes vote on Question Three.
Question Four - Keep the Dukes County Charter, or Keep the Charter, but Change the Way County Commissioners Are Elected
A yes vote on Question Four will retain the current county manager form of government for Dukes County, but change the way the Dukes County commissioners are elected. Now, the seven commissioners serve staggered (non-concurrent) four-year terms. A yes vote will change the method of election so that all seven commissioners will serve concurrent terms and must be elected, or re-elected, every two years. The Dukes County Charter Study Commission, after studying the county for 18 months, concluded that the current system of county government, namely the county manager form, should be retained, but that, in the interests of accountability and to encourage Islanders to offer themselves for election, two-year terms, served concurrently, would improve the way the county government functions. We disagree. This change, apparently limited and improving in its effects, is in fact substantially damaging, in that, if voters approve it, it is possible that an entirely fresh lineup of seven commissioners may be placed in office every two years. We have doubts about the good sense of continuing county government at all, but we're confident that replacing all seven commissioners, or even several of them, every two years presents chaotic possibilities that would frustrate rather than enhance the relationship between the county and the towns. For county government to function well, or at least to function better than it has, its programs and initiatives require at the very least that there be some continuity within the county leadership. In addition, most thoughtful candidates would expect to need more than two years to have an influence on the direction the county takes and, we think, be discouraged to find they must serve with one eye on the need to be re-elected two years after they begin their tenure. Vote no on Question Four and retain county government, as it exists today, including the election of seven commissioners for staggered four-year terms.
Question Five on Tisbury's Ballot Only: A Proposition 2.5 Exemption to Fund Architectural and Engineering Services for Its Plan to Build a New Emergency Services Building
After lengthy review and broad consultation with voters and town agencies, Tisbury officials have brought a preliminary proposal for a new Emergency Services Facility to town voters. Voters, at town meeting this fall, have approved the rough outline of the plan. Now, the rough plan must be carefully drawn, in detail and with an eye to its costs. This Proposition 2.5 override question asks voters to fund that work. The town proposes to bond for architectural and engineering services, including design, planning project management, oversight, and construction administration. When this work is done, voters will be asked once again to approve the project and its funding. We recommend a yes vote on Question Five. (Question Five only appears on the ballot in Tisbury.)
Question Five on the Ballots of Each Town but Tisbury, where it is Question Six - Declaring Health Care to be a Right
This is a non-binding, and largely meaningless, question, designed to press the state into even more strenuous efforts to expand access to health care. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness may be inalienable rights, but health care is not, no more than the Social Security system or a functioning EPA is a right. Instead, it is first a responsibility of individuals and families and second a public responsibility, to the extent that the public wishes it to be. And, at bottom, it is a political problem that needs a cost-conscious effort by government and the private economy to solve. Massachusetts voters in particular are fortunate to have in place a state program designed to extend health care insurance access to all state residents. The success of that effort is not yet assured, but it is promising, though expensive, and thoughtful reviews of its progress and adjustments will lead to improvement or even wholesale changes. Efforts such as this, plus similar experiments undertaken in other states, may point the way to an improved mechanism, which with federal support may eventually assure health care access for nearly all Americans. No on Question Four.