Mass. Treas. Steve Grossman joined Jim and Margery for a second interview about his bid for governor.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Steve Grossman: 'We're Competing For Every Delegate We Can Get'

February 26, 2014

Jim Braude and Margery Eagan are midway through a second round of interviews with all the gubernatorial candidates on Boston Public Radio. Massachusetts Treasurer Steve Grossman joined Jim and Margery to talk about his plans to limit prison construction, the need to abandon mandatory minimums for drug violations, and how his campaign is holding up at this stage in the race.

Grossman is a former president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. He's also a former chair of the Democratic National Committee, as well as a former chair of the Massachusetts Democratic Party.

The following questions were edited for clarity, and Grossman's responses were edited where noted with the following: (...).

On a snowy night, Jim Braude said he spotted you going door-to-door on the streets of Cambridge. Were you doing some door-knocking?

There was an award committee that was having a little meet-and-greet with candidates, and so I was told that there was great homemade cake and all kinds of stuff. You know me, no matter where the sweets are I’m going to chase them. (…) The best kinds of conversations in a political campaign are not when you are giving a speech. It’s when you’re actually listening to other people and then responding. It was a great conversation. We talked about climate change, jobs, the economy, housing, homelessness, affordability. It was a great conversation.

So Jim was wrong?

I looked like I was going door-to-door.

You’re not polling well right now, but the conventional wisdom is that you’re winning over Democratic delegates for the state convention.

How do you win campaigns? You win campaigns by being organized. Ask Elizabeth Warren.

This is all about organizing. How do you win campaigns? You win campaigns by being organized. Ask [Sen.] Elizabeth Warren, bring her in here and say, “Elizabeth, what’s the most important thing that happened in your campaign?’

She’d say, The explosion of organizing and turnout in all the older industrial cities and the neighborhoods of Boston. She said, People came out of the woodworks to vote and support because they believed that the ideas that we were talking about mattered in their lives.

So are you winning in terms of delegate counts right now?

I think we’re doing well in the caucuses and the organizing, and that’s not surprising. I’ve spent my life organizing. (…) When I was chair of the Democratic National Committee when Bill Clinton was President, I never gave up my seat on the Ward 7 Newton Democratic City Committee. Because you’ve got to keep your ear to the ground, and when you put your ear to the ground you hear a lot of things. You hear jobs, homelessness, housing, transportation. You hear deep, deep-seated concern about the direction in which we’re going. And what are you, as governor, going to do about it? So, I think the organizing piece of this campaign is in full swing. We’re going to do well, I hope we continue to do well, because I believe that the best-organized candidate on the 9th of September will be the Democratic nominee on the next morning. I really believe that.

What do you do when you caucus?

They’re all different. For example, I went last Sunday to Ward 9 in Worcester, and 90 people showed up to elect 10 delegates. We brought people, another candidate brought people, there was a lot of conversation, you shake a lot of hands, you meet a lot of people, you have a lot of interesting conversations.

You learn and you listen – I’ve only learned when I’ve listened, not when I’m talking – and at the end of the day, we won all the delegates at that ward because we organized it more effectively, and that group of 10 delegates who will come to the convention in Worcester, are going to support me, and my hope is will do very well at the convention. (…)

Did you have food?

There was a little bit of food, but it’s mostly not about the food.

I just wondered if you had hors d’ouevres or pastries.

Yesterday I went to Taunton to a vocational technical school. The kids in the culinary arts program made me a homemade chocolate ice cream cake with Oreo cookie crust and chocolate ice cream in their new homemade ice cream maker. Now that, to me, is a good day. (…)

You’ve been criticizing Attorney General Martha Coakley for flip-flops on Three Strikes and mandatory minimum sentencing. That seemed a little out of character for you.

Campaigns are about ideas and about our values, and we all evolve. We all change positions from time to time. I’ve certainly changed positions on issues over a period of time, when I came to learn the position that I had taken was not the right position, and that I should adopt a new one.

But when I saw the Attorney General on issue after issue that has to do with criminal justice (…) continually change her positions in the debates we’ve had – and campaigns are about comparisons between candidates, after all the voters are going to have to make a comparison, and a choice – so I simply pointed out that when the Attorney General makes so many changes in her position on so many issues that are fundamental to what she does as Attorney General, I begin to think that’s probably a political decision on her part, and not a matter of principle. And I think it’s important to point that out to people.

What about in-state tuition for kids of illegal immigrants? You appeared to suggest you didn’t support it, and now you do. Isn’t that a flip-flop?

Let me clarify. In 2006, I was proud to stand next to former Rep. Marie St. Fleur and support in-state tuitions for children of undocumented immigrants. That’s a position that I’ve held consistently since then. In 2010, when I was running against Karyn Polito [for Treasurer], she attacked me repeatedly for this position, and I simply said, Look, you’re wrong Karen. We’re not using taxpayer money for this. These several hundred kids (…) are not using taxpayer money, they’re actually paying tuition, it’s actually bringing revenue into the state. (…)

Will your campaign help Juliette Kayyem get to the threshold to get on the ballot – so you can “split” the women vote between her and Coakley?

We are competing for every delegate we can get, and this is a competitive business, politics.

No. We haven’t even talked about that. We’re competing for every delegate we can get, and this is a competitive business, politics. Juliette’s doing the same. I think Juliette’s doing fine, she’s a distinguished candidate, done a lot of good things in her life and makes a compelling case for herself. I’ve enjoyed getting to know her on the campaign trail.

This is really our competing for every delegate, because every one of those delegates is a grassroots activist who can help us organize in her or his respective community, to help us win a primary in September, and go on to defeat Charlie Baker in November. That’s what my goal is.

You’ve been a pretty vocal supporter of casinos. Aren’t you worried about cutting into the Mass. State Lottery, which you run?

The lottery is the most successful lottery in the United States, and the profits from the lottery go back to cities and towns in the form of unrestricted local aid – firefighters, police officers, senior centers, all the things that make up quality life. So, naturally we’re dedicated to making sure we maximize profits at the lottery.

The best analysis of what would happen to the lottery has been done by the Mass. Taxpayers Foundation, by Mike Whitmer. And he says, [in spite] of any losses the lottery might suffer, we will still bring an additional roughly $300 million into the state. That would fully fund, for example, universal pre-k education for every three- and four-year-old in Massachusetts if we chose to use the money for that purpose.

So, I do favor expansion of casino gambling in Massachusetts, because it will create 15,000 jobs, and $300 million of revenue. That’s at a moment by the way where we’re sitting here talking and 250,000 people are out of work. So if we can put 15,000 of those men and women to work, give them good jobs with benefits – health benefits and pension benefits – that’s a good thing.

If a ballot question gets on the ballot, I would vote against repeal because [the original casino law] was passed by the legislature, signed by the Governor. Any city and town that says I don’t want a casino is not going to get a casino or slot parlor. That’s the way the law works. So I think the law’s working pretty well. Revere may or may not decide. If they decide they want a casino then they’ll compete with Everett, and the Gaming Commissioner will make that decision. (…)

What about just trying one casino to see how it works? This is Charlie Baker’s idea.

That may be as good an idea as any. (…) It’s in the law that we can have up to three. But the gaming commission could easily say, You know, it’ll saturate the market, so we are not going to vote for three casinos, we’re only going to vote for two.

There’s also the possibility that one of the Indian tribes would be able to get their own opportunity for a casino. But that would require changes in Washington. The law is fluid depending on what happens to the Indian tribes, but it is up to the gaming commission, and they are not required to vote for three. They’re only required to vote for up to three, and that’s their call, not mine.

Massachusetts spends more money per capita on lottery than any other state, and it has a disproportionate impact on working-class communities. Do worry about the casino impact?

I do worry about the impact, and how it can harm people, particularly those who have a propensity to gambling addiction. And we do have gambling addiction – it’s an illness, and it’s something we have to deal with. We work with the compulsive gambling folks all the time to try to mitigate that.

But what I’ve also said is, I would not accept or support the expansion of online lottery gambling – which is something the federal government allows – unless we deal with this issue of compulsive gambling. We don’t need to go further in that direction.

But let’s remember: a significant part of the revenue that we would bring back to Massachusetts – this $300 million we’re talking about – is money that Massachusetts people are already spending at Foxwoods, and at Mohegan Sun, and at Twin Rivers in Rhode Island, and at other places. This is to some extent repatriating money that people already decide of their own free will to spend in casinos in different parts of New England. Let’s bring the money back here, let’s invest it in things that matter in people’s lives, let’s implement the law as the law was contemplated. (…)

If you were governor would you ask DCF chief Olga Roche to resign?

On the DCF crisis – and I would call it a crisis – here’s my view: the Governor has to establish fundamental principles that you’re going to operate by. My principles are three: safety of every child; accountability from top to bottom, from the commissioner to the social worker who was hired last week; and then reform.

So, there’s an outside agency coming in here, they’re analyzing this, and they’re going to come with some recommendations that are going to be, hopefully, worked into the reform agenda.

Had I been governor, I would have accepted the resignation [of Olga Roche].

Last week it was reported that Olga Roche had offered to resign. Had I been governor, I would have accepted her resignation. And then what I probably would have done, I probably would have picked up the phone and called Chief Justice Margaret Marshall. I would’ve said, I’d like you to come here and work directly with me, I want you to oversee a reform agenda at DCF. You’re a person who has great wisdom and judgment, you’re respected by every person in this state for the leadership role you played at the SJC when you were the chief justice.

I would bring [Marshall] in, have her report directly to me, oversee a reform agenda top-to-bottom, using the recommendations of the Child Welfare League that’s doing this, so we had a person of unquestioned judgment. Unfortunately, the people of Massachusetts have lost confidence in DCF, that’s why it’s a crisis.

Have you talked to Roche?

No, because I’m not the governor, it would be overstepping my bounds [as Treasurer]. But you asked me what I’d do as governor. Running for governor is about telling the people of Massachusetts, what kind of governor would you be. How decisive would you be? How deeply engaged would you be in managing through a crisis and helping to solve problems?

I’ve tried to be in the solutions business all my life. That’s what I’ve done in business, politics, philanthropy and now as state treasurer. That’s why I’m running for governor – to be in the solutions business, and to be strong, decisive and engaged every day in solving the problems that we face as a society, to make Massachusetts a better place for our citizens.

Charlie Baker said we should get a waiver for Massachusetts from ObamaCare. Would you do it, too?

Twenty-twenty hindsight is great, and Charlie’s been watching the game films on the Monday after the game.

Charlie’s been advocating for this for a long, long time.

I’ve also been advocating for a waiver from the feds on healthcare -- different waiver though. For me, the waiver was, we had some very specific pilot programs that were going to reduce the cost of health insurance for small businesses by 10 to 15 percent.

Those were denied by the President.

Those were denied. I will continue to fight for that because that’s just common sense. I’ve been a small business owner all my life. I talk to small business owners, and they talk about the cost of health care as being one of the reasons why they’re not hiring more people, and why they’re not confident about the future.

Look, we’ve got a serious problem in the state in terms of the way we procure technology. It’s not just the Connector that isn’t working. We’ve had other problems – in unemployment insurance, for example. We’ve had other issues. We’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars. We’ll spend billions on technology over the next few years.

We’ve got to get the procurement of technology right, because technology drives our society, and if we’re not doing a good job in terms of how we oversee the way we procure technology that can serve the people of the state, that’s a serious problem. (…)

Medical marijuana rollout has been fraught – political connections, misrepresentations. We’ve had DCF issues, Connector issues. How much of this do you lay at the feet of Gov. Patrick?

Look, we have some problems and we’ve got to fix those problems, and I think it’s the job of a governor to work with his team to fix them. He brought Sarah Iselin in from Blue Cross [Blue Shield] to oversee the Connector and to get that on track. (…) I’d prefer to take a look at the Governor’s full seven-and-a-half or almost eight years, and say, What did this governor do that put the people of Massachusetts in better shape when he leaves office, than when he arrived?

This is a Governor who took this state, and four of the worst years since ’75, oversaw a budget with optimism; was able to invest a billion dollars in life sciences to create the best life sciences industry in the world, right here in Massachusetts; [who led] a process by which clean tech and green tech became an industry that now employs 80,000 people at 5,000 companies. Our whole climate change approach and our reduction of greenhouse gas emissions under this Governor has been exemplary – we’re the best state in the country in terms of that issue.

I think this Governor has done some extraordinary things that have put us on a pathway for growth and economic development for years to come. Are there problems? Absolutely. Do those problems need to be fixed? No doubt. Would I be a different governor with a different style? We’re all different. I’m a small business owner who was engaged every step of the way in my business in terms of fixing problems and solving the needs of customers, so we’re different people. But let’s not let the Governor’s seven-plus years of achievement go unnoticed, because I watched them, and I worked with him.

[We have the] highest bond rating in the state’s history – I worked directly with him and his team. I saw how he operated to put this state on a strong financial footing, and that is saving the state hundreds of millions of dollars which we can reinvest in other things. (…) He’s a partner of mine, I respect what he does, but these problems need to be fixed, no doubt.

Is Martha Coakley a partner of yours, and do you respect what she’s done as Attorney General?

Yeah, I think Martha Coakley has been a fine Attorney General. I think she’s accomplished some noteworthy things. I’m running against her because I think, frankly, the leadership I’ve demonstrated in my life (…) [has] qualified me to be the kind of governor the people of the state will hopefully want. That’s what elections are all about.

Should we raise the minimum wage? Would it be good for business?

I think it’s good for business.

What about the jobs loss that the Congressional Budget Office predicts?

I see that, but I also see 900,000 people getting out of poverty, and (…) I’m in favor of the $11 [minimum wage]. And by the way – if a bill came to my desk and it increased the minimum wage to $11, but it also cut unemployment benefits for the workers of the state simultaneously, I would veto that bill. That’s wrong. I’m proud of the unemployment benefits we have in this state.

Reform is okay, but don’t cut unemployment benefits. We have 30 weeks of benefits, I’m proud of that. Maybe the highest in the country but it’s the right thing to do. Feds cut the unemployment for people – long-term benefits – but we still have 30 weeks here in Massachusetts. (…)

We’ll soon see legal proceedings for patronage hires in the Probation Department. Steve Grossman, have you sponsored people at the Probation Department?

No, I have not.

Gee, you’re one of the only ones that hasn’t. Were you asked?

No. I don’t think I’ve ever met [former Probation Department head John] O’Brien. Except for his picture in the Herald every day, I wouldn’t probably I’d know him if I bumped into him in the street.

So you don’t need an immunity deal, then? (laughs)

No, I hope I don’t need an immunity deal.

Just a quick comment: I think when the people of Massachusetts see people getting positions of responsibility because of who they know, rather than, Did they deserve it or did they merit the job, it saps people’s confidence in government. When we have so little trust in government, and the way government leaders on balance operate or handle themselves, that eats away at our ability to get things done.

So Attorney General Coakley should not have recommended anybody for jobs?

I don’t think anybody should have done it, frankly. That’s just a blanket statement. I think it shouldn’t have been done, and the way these phone calls and letters were made – My next-door neighbor just graduated from college, and she needs a job, can you help me? – that kind of stuff, most citizens say, I can’t do that, I’m not in that kind of position. The favored few seem to get privilege and positions. That’s wrong, and I think people don’t like it, and that should end.

We ended it at Treasury when I became Treasurer, we changed our policies entirely. It was the right thing to do. As governor, I would maintain a position whereby we did it based on merit. Hire the best people.

When I got sworn in on January 19, 2011, I said two things: First, I’m going to hire the best people for every job (…), and number two, I want at Treasury hiring to reflect the diversity of the society in which we live. And I’m proud that 35 percent of the people at Treasury and at the lottery in the last three-plus years are people from diverse communities. That’s what it means to reflect diversity and be inclusive. Leave no one out, leave no one behind.

>> Hear the entire interview with Mass. Treas. Steve Grossman.

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