Abraham Lincoln once said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Well, in November of 2002 the people of Massachusetts gave a businessman named Mitt Romney political power. And, of course, Mr. Romney is now seeking even greater political power, truly awesome power, power that provides, as Abraham Lincoln found out, an awesome test of a man’s (or possibly someday a woman’s) character. (Indeed, by many accounts Mr. Romney began his quest for the presidency about halfway through his term as governor of Massachusetts, or 8 years ago.)
With regard to Mr. Romney's current political quest, I would like to make all of my fellow Americans aware of something that he did during the waning days of his one term as governor of my home state of Massachusetts (which was his one and only stint in public office) that, in contrast to the campaign imagery and rhetoric and bluster and spin, reveals in very stark terms the man’s true character—who he really is, what he really believes, who and what he really stands for, and how he actually governed. Unfortunately, it is an act that received scant notice when it occurred, and what notice it did receive did not even come close to conveying its true import. But it is, nevertheless, an act that every American, and especially every American who intends to vote in the upcoming election and who is striving to cast as informed a vote as possible, needs to know about. (If I may use an analogy to scientific endeavor: many times it is the discovery of the little things, the coming across of the smallest or most obscure behavior or phenomena, that give the greatest insight into what is really going on. Although politics may have little to do with true science, in spite of the widespread use of the term "political science," I believe that my analogy here is appropriate.)
By way of introduction, I have lived in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for most of my life, and all of my adult life (I am now in my late 50s), and I have, over the years, tried to follow the goings-on here in state politics (at least follow them as closely as a member of the general public is able to, which is not always an easy task). And I, like I am sure many, have followed with some interest the attempts by the press and the punditry to divine how Mitt Romney might govern the nation were he to be elected President of the United States.
I have followed with some interest what has been reported and spun about how Mr. Romney made his fortune in the business world, and what that might mean for how he might govern the nation. And I will concede that that is certainly a fair topic for investigation and analysis and debate, especially given that Mr. Romney himself has made his business acumen and “success” the centerpiece of his campaign. That said, I can offer no special insight into that aspect of Mr. Romney’s background.
I have followed with much greater interest what has been reported and spun about Mr. Romney’s term as governor of what we who live here often refer to as “the Commonwealth” and what his behavior in office might mean for how he might go about governing the nation. Of course, much has been reported and spun about the signature piece of legislation enacted during Mr. Romney’s tenure as governor, “An Act Providing Access to Affordable, Quality, Accountable Health Care”—aka “Romneycare”—which Governor Romney signed into law in 2006, calling it at that time a “model for the nation,” and the fact that “Romneycare” served as the model for the federal “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”—aka “Obamacare”—which President Obama signed into law in 2010. I did follow in the press the legislative process that led to the enactment of “Romneycare,” and I do know that Governor Romney was given a great deal of evidently-deserved credit for working closely with the overwhelmingly Democratic Massachusetts Legislature to craft “Romneycare,” which has so far been of great benefit to the well-being of the people of Massachusetts. And I also know that Mr. Romney has promised that, if elected President, he will work to repeal “Obamacare.” But I can offer no special insight into Governor Romney’s behavior during the process that led to the enactment of “Romneycare” or how that behavior might give anyone any insight into how a President Romney might actually go about governing the nation.
I have, however, followed with the greatest interest reports in the press and assertions by the punditry that attempt to divine and to relate how Governor Romney went about governing the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in general, including how he related to and worked with the Legislature (including legislators of his own party) and other constituencies, and how that might provide some insight into who he really is and what he really stands for and how he might go about governing the nation. And it is with respect to that issue and those questions and concerns that I would like to report on something that Mitt Romney did as governor of Massachusetts, during the waning days of his term in office, that every American needs to know.
Among the powers granted to governors and the President is the power to veto legislation. During his first attempt to gain the presidency, Mitt Romney ran a national television ad in which he boasted, "I know how to veto. I like vetoes. I've vetoed hundreds of spending appropriations as governor." Soon after the ad began running, the New Hampshire newspaper the Concord Monitor published an article titled, “Romney’s vetoes seldom stood: Legislature pushed bills through anyway.” The article described the ad as being “meant to bolster the impression of Romney as a scrupulous steward of public dollars.” But the reality was, the paper pointed out, “in his last year as Massachusetts governor, Romney vetoed nearly 250 items in the state budget. All of those vetoes were overturned by the legislature, effectively removing Romney from the final stage of the state's budget process.” The Monitor reported that “[n]early all of Romney's vetoes - of bills that dealt with access to birth control, increased funding for state zoos, and the creation of a Massachusetts Asian-American commission, among other issues - were reversed by the legislature, sometimes by unanimous votes.” The article quotes a former chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party, who the paper described as “a frequent critic of Romney,” as follows: "He likes vetoes, but most of his were inconsequential. They were like writing in the sand: The waves came in and wiped them out.” According to the Monitor, “By the end of his term, Romney's efforts to use his veto stamp to cut spending were rendered useless.”
A political scientist at Tufts University in Massachusetts told the Monitor that “Romney's veto record reflects his strained relationship with lawmakers. That tension grew worse over the course of Romney's administration, as it became apparent that he was looking beyond his time as governor.” The Tufts political scientist told the Monitor that “[b]y the middle of Romney's term, ‘it was clear he was running for president, and he wanted to use the legislature as a whipping boy and use his vetoes as advertisements for a national audience.’ ”
According to the Monitor article, “Romney vetoed plenty of legislation outside of the budget, and nearly all of those vetoes were also overturned.” The article reported that, for example, in 2006 Romney had vetoed a bill that raised the Massachusetts minimum wage from $6.75 to $8 over two years and that the veto was swiftly and unanimously overridden by both the House and Senate. In fact, before issuing his veto Romney had tried to get the Legislature to limit the increase to $7. He wrote to the Legislature telling them that the bill’s increases were “abrupt and disproportionate” and that “[s]uch increases would threaten to eliminate jobs in Massachusetts, especially at the entry level.” But in the end Romney could not convince even a single legislator from his own party to support his position. Such was the rapport that Governor Romney had built up with the Massachusetts Legislature.
The Monitor reported that “[i]n 2005, Romney vetoed a bill expanding stem cell research,” which was, according to the Monitor, “a sharp change from his earlier support for the health improvements offered by such research.” The Legislature overrode that veto. “That same year,” according to the Monitor, “Romney vetoed a bill making the morning-after pill available over the counter; he said the pill ‘can destroy human life.’ ” The Legislature overrode that veto, too, by “wide margins” in both chambers of the Legislature. According to the Monitor, “As with his stem cell veto, Romney's move drew criticism that he had changed his position for political purposes, especially since he had supported greater access to emergency contraception three years earlier.”
The Tufts political scientist explained to the Monitor that “those vetoes show that Romney was using his veto stamp to boost his conservative credentials rather than shape policy.” The political scientist told the Monitor,
He saw that he wasn't going to get anything out of the legislature, and rather than coming to compromise with a group that was hostile to him, it became easier for him to veto things. That way, even if the veto was overturned, he could still wash his hands of the thing.
The article mentions Romney’s vetoes of legislation relating to "more mundane matters, including bills to set up a licensing board for massage therapists, to establish a Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund, . . . to create a state Asian-American commission . . . [and] a bill allowing the town of Westborough to grant a liquor license to a food market.” All of those vetoes were overridden.
According to the Monitor,
Romney never had a smooth relationship with the Massachusetts legislature. He campaigned for the governor's office promising to "clean up the mess" in the State House and often criticized the bureaucracy on Beacon Hill. But as Romney's dealings with lawmakers grew frostier, the veto pen quickly became his primary tool.
A Massachusetts Democratic state representative told the Monitory that "the frequency with which Romney's vetoes were rejected showed"
his inability to communicate with members of the legislature from either party. In the first year, he was willing to talk to us a bit. And the legislature wanted to show deference to the newly elected governor. . . . But it became clear after a few months that he was willing to sacrifice the interests of Massachusetts residents to serve his ego to run for president.
The Boston Globe published an article in June of 2007 titled “Ambitious goals; shifting stances.” In it the Globe stated, “Early in Romney's term, [state Senate Minority Leader Richard] Tisei and other Republicans generally stood by their governor. But later, they began to desert him with regularity, as Romney's vetoes seemed aimed in part at impressing Republicans outside the state.”
So here we are on the cusp of the 2012 presidential election, and this time Mitt Romney has secured the Republican nomination. And the press is, yet again, attempting to explain to the public how Mitt Romney actually governed in Massachusetts, how he dealt with the Massachusetts Legislature, including how he wielded his veto pen.
In June of this year National Public Radio did a piece on Governor Romney’s relationship with the Massachusetts Legislature, the Massachusetts health care law—which NPR called Romney’s “signature accomplishment” as governor—and Romney’s use of his veto power. According to the NPR piece:
[A]part from health care, Romney defined success not with big-picture legislative accomplishments but with confrontation. In a 2008 campaign ad, Romney actually bragged about taking on his Legislature: "I like vetoes; I vetoed hundreds of spending appropriations as governor," he said.
Romney issued some 800 vetoes, and the Legislature overrode nearly all of them, sometimes unanimously.
With respect to Governor Romney’s relationship with the Legislature, a Democratic state representative told NPR, “The Republican reps would grumble that he didn't even know their names.” The NPR piece continues,
George Peterson was one of those Republicans; he does not take issue with his colleague's characterization of Romney: "It took him a little bit to get used to dealing with elected officials, let's put it that way," he says.
"The first year was, I'd say, a struggle," Peterson says. "He was used to being a top executive, 'and this is where we're going, and this is how we're going to do it.' And this animal [the state Legislature] doesn't work that way. Not at all. Especially when it's overwhelmingly ruled by one party."
And just this month, with just a little more than a month to go to election day, the New York Times published an article titled, “Romney Claims of Bipartisanship as Governor Face Challenge.” The article explains that Governor Romney “sparred with a hostile legislature and suffered a humiliating setback in the midterm elections. As four years drew to a close, his legacy was blotted by anemic job growth, sagging political popularity and — except for a landmark health care overhaul bill — a record of accomplishment that disappointed many.” The article also reports that Romney “vetoed scores of legislative initiatives and excised budget line items a remarkable 844 times, according to the nonpartisan research group Factcheck.org. Lawmakers reciprocated by quickly overriding the vast bulk of them.” According to the Times,
Mr. Romney proved to have a taste for vetoes, killing legislative initiatives in his first two years at more than twice the rate of his more popular Republican predecessor, William F. Weld, The Boston Globe reported in 2004.
Some seemed almost designed to rankle legislators: one rejected an increase in disability payments to a police officer who had slipped on an ice patch. Others reflect his ramrod-straight views on ethics and government waste — knocking down a special pension deal for a state legislator; rejecting a subsidy to Medicaid payments so nursing homes could provide kosher meals to Jewish residents.
“He seemed to take great delight in vetoing bills,” recalled his director of legislative affairs, John O’Keefe. "Some of the bills we would chuckle when we wrote the veto message."
The notion that, other than with respect to “Romneycare,” Mitt Romney was in any way bipartisan when he was governor of Massachusetts is ridiculous.
But there was one veto that Governor Romney made on September 7, 2006, that was not overridden, and that is the Romney veto that every American needs to know about about. The veto message for that September 2006 veto is located here and the bill that Governor Romney vetoed is located here. Now, I don’t know if Governor Romney and his director of legislative affairs had a good “chuckle” when they wrote the veto message for that veto, but I do know, and have documented, that the repercussions from that veto are still reverberating throughout the Massachusetts economy and that it has had devastating consequences for workers in Massachusetts. Indeed, the issue that the bill that Governor Romney vetoed was focused on is a serious problem that has infected for some time now not only Massachusetts but the entire nation. See, e.g., this video and this website and this website; or just do a search on "wage theft".
Unfortunately, while Governor Romney’s veto message is only one page and the bill that he vetoed is only a few pages long, the story behind the bill and the veto cannot be properly told in just a few pages (and certainly not in a sound bite or a tweet). I originally set out to tell the story via a series of blog posts. In May and June of this year, I made a number of posts here and here. But I quickly found that approach to be severely wanting, which is why I decided to write this web book in order to properly tell the story in detail. It has been suggested to me that the book is too long and there is too much detail, but I hope that there are enough people throughout the country who will take the time to read and analyze it, and who will then pass the word along, because it is way too important a story to be ignored. And although it is a story that is about much more than the machinations of any particular politician, it is a story that tells everything anyone would ever really need to know about Mitt Romney’s character and his fitness for public office. (I must also note that the web book is still a work-in-progress, with the story of what happened in the wake of Romney’s veto after he left office, which in many ways is even more horrifying than the veto itself, still to be added. In fact, for reasons that I also intend to chronicle, and that I will be happy to explain if asked, I actually did not set out to research and document the story behind the bill and the veto because Mitt Romney chose to run for President and happened to become the Republican nominee, or because any other politician decided to run for any other office.)
Now, I understand that people choose who to cast their ballots for based on a wide range of factors, including many deep-seated beliefs and convictions; and I would be the last one to tell anyone how to vote. But anyone—no matter their age, or the color of their skin, or their gender, or their sexual orientation, or their religious or moral beliefs, or their political leanings—who works for wages—whether in a union or a nonunion job—to make their living and (if they have one) to support their family, or who relies upon someone who works for wages to support them, or who, regardless of how they make their living, really believes in democracy and the rule of law, would be out of their mind to vote for Mitt Romney for any public office, never mind President of the United States, if they know the story behind the veto he made on September 7, 2006.
So, I, again, respectfully, but emphatically, urge my fellow Americans to learn the story behind Mitt Romney's veto on September 7, 2006, one of his final official acts as governor of Massachusetts, and hopefully one of the final official acts he will ever have made in public office. The future of our nation may depend upon it. I hope the readers of this blog and those who take the time to read my web book will pass the word along.