The big story concerning Gov. Mitt Romney's State of the State address last week seemed to be the collegiality he displayed with members of the Legislature — as if his usual demeanor had been one of snarling hostility.
Some expressed surprise that he shook hands with Democrats as he entered the House chamber — as if during his last appearances there he'd rushed past them with arms extended, running back-style, to keep them away from the ball.
The fact is, Mitt Romney is always nice. He always smiles, at friend and foe alike.
You never see that little curl of the lip that you'd get from Bill Weld if you interrupted him — the one that hinted if this were 500 years earlier and we were a few thousand miles to the east, you'd be on your way to the Tower of London. No flashing dark eyes of the type with which Paul Cellucci expresses his displeasure.
Romney as Prince of the Realm or Prince of Darkness? No. Prince Charming? Yes.
The truth is, I suspect, you can't offend him because he doesn't care. He exists on his own plane and the Legislature's approval or disapproval doesn't live there. He has a job to do and he'll do what he must to compliment legislative leaders whose cooperation is necessary, right after he spends a year running candidates against them.
Not only is it cool; it's the way it's supposed to be in a two-party system. Too bad some members of the other party don't know this.
When the camera panned the audience, you could see some legislators who weren't applauding or smiling, who sat there in surly, scowling silence even during the parts that didn't express a policy with which they might have been expected to disagree. Guess they decided they'd show him — the upstart, the opposition party politician who dared to suggest that they weren't entitled to unopposed re-election, and who actually campaigned to replace them with legislators from his own party more attuned to his own preferred policies.
Despite this, Gov. Romney began his address with praise for the legislative cooperation he'd received in dealing with "a daunting financial mountain ... reform ... (and) fiscal responsibility." But then he had the gall, the effrontery even, to bring up that pesky income tax rollback.
"It's good", he said, "for working families ... for small business ... And, it's our job to listen to the people."
Republican legislators applauded. Many of the Democrats seemed confused:
That's our job? To listen to the people?
If the people wanted to be listened to, they'd have voted for candidates who would listen, wouldn't they?
If they wanted the income tax rollback they voted for in 2002, they'd have voted for it again by choosing the candidates who promised to keep on rolling back to the promised 5 percent rate.
Doesn't the governor get it? His reform strategy was rejected.
Romney seemed to answer that question when he brought up once again the merger of the Highway Department and the Turnpike Authority .
"You know I don't give up easy," he said. This time, he threw in a proposal for toll relief.
Unfortunately, Massachusetts voters missed their chance for toll relief on the ballot several years ago, so this probably isn't going to happen. Legislators only listen to the people when the people say what legislators want them to say.
The most important proposals in the State of the State speech addressed education.
To its credit, the Legislature has also taken on the teachers unions by refusing to outlaw charter schools and
MCAS. Romney wants to go further by lifting the charter school cap and setting aside union pay scales to pay math and science teachers more. He even proposed that science proficiency be made a graduation requirement along with math and English.
Oddly, Salem school Superintendent Herbert Levine, besides criticizing charter schools as usual, was also quoted as insisting that MCAS requires more money from the state — as if this were a new program instead of just a way to determine if the old ones are working. If additional funding is needed for "remedial programs," doesn't that just mean that a school system isn't getting it right the first time and needs remedial oversight?
Competition from alternate public schools, accountability from teachers: Are these ideas outrageous, or what? According to The Salem News, Kathleen Kelly of the Massachusetts Federation of Teachers panned the entire proposal.
Romney must think that, because the United States is losing its competitive edge in math and science, he has to upset the unions some more, pointing out that 93 percent of our nation's middle school science teachers didn't major or minor in science. Romney actually wants to remove incompetent teachers from our schools, though all those English majors and poor teachers need jobs too!
Once again, not giving up easily, he submitted a proposal for mandatory parental preparation in failing school districts.
I'm not sure about this one: Since student attendance is mandatory and necessary, what leverage does anyone have to mandate parental involvement?
Parental disinterest is a root cause of learning problems, and one that won't be easily addressed. Legislators, however, should join the governor in doing what they can for the children, regardless of teachers union disinterest in real education reform.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem
News and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence
Journal and other newspapers.