On Beacon Hill: Jim McGovern, Bernie Sanders and bumper-sticker vandalism in 1972; and Worcester’s Keefe backs marijuana initiative

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From State House News Service

ON THE AGENDA

  • McGovern on McGovern … and still feeling the Bern
  • Charter school expansion foes decry suspensions, seek answers
  • Keefe among lawmakers to endorse legalizing marijuana
  • Former AGs back Healey “copycat” crackdown
  • State economy exceeds national growth

TOP OF THE HILL

Jim McGovern, Bernie Sanders and bumper-sticker vandalism in 1972

PHILADELPHIA — U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-2nd, understands the letdown Bernie Sanders supporters feel because he has had the same feeling since 1972.

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern

Office of Congressman Jim McGovern

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern

McGovern was in junior high school that year and shared a last name with the late former South Dakota Sen. George S. McGovern, a liberal who lost in the presidential election to President Richard Nixon, carrying only Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.

“George McGovern is the reason why I got involved in politics,” the Worcester Democrat told delegates from Washington and Massachusetts at a breakfast last Thursday during the Democratic National Convention.

George McGovern, circa 1972

Wikimedia Commons

George McGovern, circa 1972

He said he volunteered at the campaign’s Worcester headquarters, sweeping up and spreading the word about the candidate.

“I put bumper stickers on people’s cars. I even put bumper stickers on people’s cars who didn’t want bumper stickers,” McGovern said.

McGovern, who backed Hillary Clinton in the primary, said no presidential candidate has yet measured up to the South Dakotan for him.

“George McGovern to me was the gold standard. He continues to be the gold standard who I measure all other presidential candidates by. And quite frankly no one ever quite has lived up to him — my first political experience,” McGovern said. “And I suspect that a lot of my friends who worked for Bernie Sanders feel the same way about Bernie Sanders.”

The Vermont senator swept a new group of people into presidential politics, who “feel the Bern,” believing America offers up too much for powerful corporations and not enough for those struggling to get by.

One of the more liberal members of Congress, McGovern has similar politics.

On Thursday he said people should be “ashamed” that hunger still exists throughout a country that he said can afford to solve that problem, and encouraged those who supported the Democratic party’s new, more liberal platform to stay involved so that it might be reflected in statute.

Bernie Sanders knows how to hold a rally, but will his sincerity trump Hillary's lack thereof?

Wikimedia Commons / Gage Skidmore

Bernie Sanders’ loyal supporters don’t know when to quit. Jim McGovern understands.

“Here’s the deal. To ensure that this political platform means more than other political party platforms in the past, you need to make sure that all of us in Congress not only read the platform, but sign the platform,” McGovern said. “That means that when any of these issues come before Congress we’re going to vote for you.”

McGovern drew laughs from the audience with two stories about how he responded to people who mistakenly thought he was the son of his political idol, or that he was the 1972 nominee himself.

“A lot of you have come up to me and said, ‘I was a longtime supporter of your dad’s,’ ” McGovern told the crowd. He said, “People would seem a little bit puzzled when I would say, ‘Thank you. My dad owns a liquor store in Worcester, Massachusetts. Please keep on supporting him.’ ”

McGovern, who worked in Congress for the senator and said the South Dakotan helped him in his own campaign, said when he was campaigning in Fall River an older woman embraced him and said, “It was the proudest moment of my life when I voted for you against Richard Nixon.”

“I said, ‘Thank you very much. I hope you’ll vote for me again,’ ” McGovern said. “And I won Fall River with 70 percent of the vote so, I owe George McGovern a great deal.”

— Andy Metzger (SHNS)


VIDEO OF THE WEEK

Opponents of charter school expansion decry suspensions, call for transparency


SAY WHAT?

“I feel the disciplinary policies need to be reviewed at charter schools. There’s not very much oversight over what principals are able to do, and that’s no way for a 5-year-old student to start his career in education.”

Amanda Ceide, whose son Kiernan, then 5, was suspended from his charter school
six times in three months

Amanda Ceide’s son Kiernan, then 5, was suspended from his charter school six times in three months for what she described to reporters last week as “very minor incidences.”

Malikka Williams said her son Malik, also 5, was suspended 16 times over the course of a school year.

“Having your child being suspended from school at 5 years old 16 times takes you to a place of you asking yourself constantly, what did you do wrong? What did you eat? What else can you do?” Williams said. “And I’ve always been an active parent.”

Describing their families’ experiences with multiple suspensions, the two mothers joined other members of the Save Our Public Schools coalition — a group opposing a November ballot question that would allow more charter schools in Massachusetts — to announce a push for more information on charter school student discipline.

The effort — which charter expansion supporters blasted as a “politically motivated” distraction from “real issues” — includes a hotline that parents and students can call to report their experiences with charter school suspensions.

Expansion opponents claim charter schools siphon resources from traditional district schools. Proponents of charter expansion, including Great Schools Massachusetts, the coalition supporting the ballot question, say they offer academic opportunities to students who would otherwise lack access to them.

“In communities with the most demand and the highest number of charters, charter schools actually have far lower attrition rates — meaning, more students are staying in school and succeeding,” Great Schools Massachusetts spokeswoman Eileen O’Connor said in a statement.

“But politically motivated opponents are trying to distract from the real issues and preserve their union jobs and the status quo. Parents who are desperate to get their kids into a charter school should call the hotline and tell SOPS to stop their shameless campaign of half truths and falsehoods.”

Ceide and Williams joined six other parents and educators in sending a letter to state officials asking the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to provide detailed data on charter school suspensions.

“I feel that the disciplinary policies need to be reviewed at charter schools,” Ceide said. “There’s not very much oversight over what principals are able to do in charter schools, and that’s no way for a 5-year-old student to start his career in education.”

The letter to Education Secretary Jim Peyser and Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester requests the most recent three years of data on how many children are suspended multiple times at each charter school. The group asks for a breakdown of how many students at each level of suspension stay in the charter for the full school year, return to their local district, or drop out of school.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education publishes on its website a student discipline report for all public schools, including charters, listing the percentage of students suspended in- and out-of-school, with those numbers broken down by gender, race, and other traits including disabilities and status as English language learner or economically disadvantaged. It also posts a breakdown of the number of school days students miss because of disciplinary actions.

“The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education continues to collect and review discipline data for all of the Commonwealth’s public schools and is encouraged that the implementation of new student discipline regulations that discourage reliance on long-term suspensions has resulted in a decline of over 10,000 suspensions statewide,” Chester said in a statement.

Peyser said the state will “continue to collect and carefully review discipline data” and that attrition rates at public charter schools across Massachusetts are “nearly equal to the statewide average for all public schools.”

The letter requesting more data said voters would need to know how students and families are affected by charter suspension rates before they are asked to decide whether to increase the number of charter schools allowed in the state.

Question 2 on the Nov. 8 ballot will ask Massachusetts voters whether to allow state education officials to approve up to 12 new charter schools or enrollment expansions per year.

— Katie Lannan (SHNS)


IN THE NEWS

Keefe among 10 lawmakers to back legal marijuana ballot bid

The campaign to legalize adult marijuana use in Massachusetts announced endorsements last week from 10 state lawmakers, including Worcester Rep. Mary S. Keefe, who said a ballot question’s passage in the fall would generate new tax revenues and end marijuana prohibition laws that they called a failure.

“It’s time we got this over with. The prohibition approach to the control of marijuana use just has not worked,” Sen. William N. Brownsberger, D-Belmont, co-chair of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, said in a statement released by the Yes on 4 campaign.

The campaign also announced endorsements from Sens. Patricia D. Jehlen, D-Somerville and James B. Eldridge, D-Acton; and Reps. David M. Rogers and Marjorie C. Decker, D-Cambridge, Tom Sannicandro, D-Ashland, Michael J. Moran, D-Brighton, Jay D. Livingstone, D-Boston, and  Brian R. Mannal, D-Barnstable.

Sannicandro said the question’s passage would “help reduce mass incarceration while undermining the underground economy.” Decker said residents of low-income and minority communities have been disproportionately affected by enforcement of prohibition laws.

The campaign opposing the ballot question last week cited a Boston Globe poll of 901 registered voters that found 51 percent planned to vote against the ballot measure, while 41 percent supported it and 9 percent were undecided. A Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll conducted in May showed 46 percent of likely voters opposing the question, with 43 percent supporting it, and 11 percent undecided.

“These polls show that as more people learn about Question 4 – a proposal written by and for the commercial marijuana industry – the more concerns they have,” Safe and Healthy Massachusetts Campaign Manager Nick Bayer said in a statement. “Question 4 would usher in the dangerous marijuana edibles industry, allow people to grow pot in their homes and apartments even over objections by neighbors, and undermine our work combatting the addiction crisis.”

Yes on 4 spokesman Jim Borghesani said the campaign anticipates more lawmakers will endorse the question.

— Michael P. Norton (SHNS)


Former Mass. AGs say Maura Healey is right on ‘copycat’ gun enforcement

The immediate five past attorneys general rallied to the defense of Attorney General Maura Healey and her efforts to crack down on the sale of “copycat” assault weapons last week, calling her actions “constitutional, lawful and consistent with the duties and responsibilities of her office.”

Maura Healey, surrounded by supporters at an announcement last year, is now surrounded by controversy after her "copycat gun" initiative came to light last week.

State House News Service / file

Maura Healey, surrounded by supporters at an announcement last year, is now surrounded by controversy after her “copycat gun” initiative came to light.

“She is not exceeding her authority – she is exercising it. And she has our thanks,” they said in a statement.

The former top prosecutors, including Martha Coakley, Tom Reilly, Scott Harshbarger, Jim Shannon and Francis Bellotti, were responding to gun owners and activists and some lawmakers, both Democrat and Republican, who have accused Healey of overreaching.

House Public Safety co-chair Rep. Harold P. Naughton, D-Clinton, wrote to Healey on Monday telling her that the enforcement order she issued last week amounted to “misuse and overstepping of authority,” and argued the Legislature was the best place to revisit gun laws if there was a loophole that needed closing.

“In the 18 years since the passage of the Massachusetts ban, gun manufacturers have sold tens of thousands of ‘copycat’ assault weapons nearly indistinguishable from the originals. Meanwhile, military-style assault rifles have become the weapon of choice in mass shootings from Newtown and San Bernardino to Aurora and Dallas,” the attorneys general said in a statement. “Although Massachusetts is fortunate to have some of the strongest gun laws in the country, and lawmakers deeply committed to their improvement, the scale of this crisis demands bold action by law enforcement to keep our residents safe.”

The lawyers said it was the duty of the attorney general to set legal policy for the state and enforce state laws “to ensure public safety and wellbeing.”

“In carrying out that significant responsibility, we each were called upon to exercise our judgment and respond with the tools at our disposal to address the challenges of our time,” they said.

— Matt Murphy (SHNS)


State economy outpaces nation’s GDP growth for Q2

Gross domestic product in Massachusetts grew at a 3 percent annual rate in the second quarter, compared to a 1.2 percent growth rate for the national economy.

The U.S. Department of Commerce released the national GDP estimate last Friday and the state growth rate stemmed from the MassBenchmarks Current Economic Index, a journal about the state economy published by the UMass Donahue Institute with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

The organization’s leading index predicts the state economy will expand at a 2.9 percent rate in the third quarter and a 2.2 percent rate in the fourth quarter. Employment and earnings “grew strongly” in Massachusetts during the second quarter, with wage and salary income, as estimated from state withholding tax revenue, expanding at a 9.5 percent annual rate in the second quarter after growing 6.1 percent in the first quarter, according to MassBenchmarks.

Payroll employment in Massachusetts expanded at a 3 percent annual rate in the second quarter, compared to a 1.3 percent annual growth rate for U.S. jobs in the second quarter, down from 1.9 percent in the first quarter.

The Massachusetts jobless rate in June, 4.2 percent, was lower than the pre-recession low of 4.6 percent in 2007 and “the lowest level observed in nearly 15 years,” according to MassBenchmarks. Consumer and business spending on items subject to the state sales tax grew at a 0.8 percent rate in the second quarter, after declining 6.1 percent in the first quarter.

MassBenchmarks senior contributing editor Alan Clayton-Matthews said there had been a “marked reduction” in automobile purchases in the second quarter, noting non-automobile spending increased by 2.2 percent for the quarter.

— Michael P. Norton

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