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Election Forum: Responses

They’re calling it the nastiest governor's race in memory. But what's really at stake on Nov.7? Ideas and CommonWealth magazine invited five prominent observers to offer their perspectives. This is the second round of the debate.

Susan Hockfield: Every election is about politics, and in a two-party system that means partisan politics. Most of the other contributors to this forum have focused on the electoral debate. My own opinion is that moving Massachusetts and New England forward will require us to focus, starting Nov. 8, on what pulls us together rather than what divides us. Fortunately, I do see some signs of common purpose in these otherwise divergent points of view.

Most important, all of us want to strengthen the regional economy, and we recognize that government policies can play a pivotal leadership role in doing just that. We want to make Massachusetts a state where young people can get a good education, find a job with good career prospects, buy a starter house, and perhaps go on to found a company. And we want these things to be possible for a community that is already diverse and is becoming more so.

Figuring out how we are going to accomplish these goals is where the differences start to get bigger. But there are two big steps we can take that will let us move forward.

The first of these is to recognize that party platforms are not the only place to set economic policy. Supplementing the give and take of politics and business, our state is blessed with unsurpassed policy resources, including many of the nation’s leading thinkers on regional growth, on the changing political economy of our service and industrial sectors, and on our innovation system. We have a lot to learn from the creative mix these forces can create.

We then need to apply that knowledge through some genuine, productive dialogue. I am hoping that the climate will be more conducive to this after the first Tuesday in November. Because on Nov. 16, MIT, in collaboration with the Council on Competitiveness and the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, will host a Regional Innovation Summit, bringing together leaders in business, government, education, and labor for an intensive discussion to help develop a strategic roadmap for innovation-led economic growth. Obviously, no single meeting can accomplish this, but we hope to jumpstart an important and necessarily ongoing process.

One final point: In reading the comments of my fellow panelists, I was struck by the importance we all attach to history—not just our recent political history but the longer history of a colony and a state that has played a pivotal role throughout American history, as a catalyst for change and innovation. When the tumult and the shouting are over, we should all be focused on carrying that history forward.

Susan Hockfield is president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Peter J. Gomes: I remain convinced that the person with the best ideas, who is capable of inspiring all of us to action, is the one we need in the governor’s office, and that the Republicans, alas, seem to be out of ideas and tired of their isolation on Beacon Hill. While we had a chance with Bill Weld, since then we have drifted, with disastrous consequences for the infrastructure of our cities and towns; in the name of low taxes we have starved both the cities and towns and the Commonwealth. We must be prepared to sacrifice a little for the common good, and I fail to see any vision for that in the continuance of Republican rule in the governor’s office. Idiocy, we are told, is to do the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result; now is the time to take a risk for the Commonwealth and, if the risk is a mistake, to correct it in four years. Sixteen years of the same gubernatorial act is enough; this is the time for change, and I look forward to it.

Peter J. Gomes is Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard and the Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church.

Paul Cellucci: Maybe Governor Dukakis has forgotten that in 1991, when Bill Weld and I took office, our state was known as "Taxachusetts." Republican Governors have made sure that we are no longer known by that name. The billions of dollars of tax cuts by Republican administrations have helped our families and made the Massachusetts economy competitive. With one party rule, there will be a great danger that "Taxachusetts" will come back to haunt us. With Governor Kerry Healey, it will not.

Paul Cellucci is former governor and US ambassador to Canada, is special counsel at the law firm of McCarter & English, LLP.

Edward L. Glaeser: Governor Cellucci thinks that it would be better if Massachusetts had more political competition and I agree. I don't think that Republicans are somehow innately better at running the Commonwealth, but like most economists, I think competition is better than monopoly. Even if your dream is fifty years of Democratic rule, you can still think those Democratic years will be better if the Republicans make the Democrats fight for the voters' hearts and minds.

My belief in the value of competition does not lead me to think that there should be some sort of affirmative action for candidates just because they are not Democrats. Voters should support the candidate that they think will be the best governor. Instead, believing in political competition leads me to hope that over the next four years, the Republican Party will reinvent itself so that it can appeal to more voters.

As Reverend Gomes reminds us, the Party of Lincoln once had a strong hold on this state. The glorious monument to Robert Gould Shaw outside the state house reminds us of the men of Massachusetts who gave their lives for the Republican battle to end slavery and preserve the union. We voted for Eisenhower in the 1950s and Reagan in the 1980s, and yet, today, the Republican Party has failed to make its case.

What might a renewed Republicanism look like? First, the party needs to define a core value that is credibly associated with the GOP and that could appeal to voters. Perhaps, the GOP might try rediscovering Lincoln's commitment to freedom. There are times when freedom isn't the right answer, but at least it's an attractive core for a political movement.

Second, the party needs to dedicate itself to competence. No Republican candidate can win without convincing voters that she or he will do a better job of running the state. To do this, the party must invest in supporting excellence in every dimension of state government.

Good economic development policies are aimed at attracting outsiders, not restricting housing or opposing immigration. Lowering taxes can be sensible, but only when spending is lowered as well. Good policing means working with communities, not just stern sentences. Good transportation policy needs not only good infrastructure, but also congestion charges and higher gas taxes. Good education policy means more resources and fighting to put competition, innovation and accountability into the system.

The Democrats today have just as much claim to represent freedom and competence as their Republican opponents. But if the GOP is going to return to Massachusetts, it needs to try something new, and it could do worse than embracing liberty and working hard to become the party of governmental excellence.

Edward L. Glaeser is Glimp Professor of Economics and Director of the Rappaport Institute at Harvard.

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