and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
September #3

Remembering Gov. King:
State could use someone like him today
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Wednesday, September 20, 2006

I'm sure I'm not alone in my regret. Most of you have probably done what I did: Intended to reach out to someone, put it off, and then learned that he or she had died.

So we send a sympathy card to the family, maybe go to the funeral, say I'm sorry to the grave.

It's too late to tell him now, but maybe it will make me feel better: I love you, Governor King, and I'm sorry I didn't send the note I'd planned to write you when you were at the Lahey Clinic being treated for a head injury. Well, I'm going to assume you are in heaven now, with all the other people to whom I regret having not said good-bye. I hope you get this newspaper there.

Edward J. King: Governor of the Commonwealth, 1978-1982.

How timely, as we enter another Massachusetts governor's campaign, to recall the man who defined "good governor." Formal obituaries will tell of his formal achievements; I'll tell you about the governor I knew.

There were two Ed Kings running in 1978 - Edward J. and Edward F. The latter was the founder of Citizens for Limited Taxation, for which I was then the office secretary, and was running in the primary against a liberal Republican, Frank Hatch of Beverly. When our Ed lost the primary, almost everyone I knew, including Gordon Nelson, the chairman of the Republican Party, quietly switched their allegiance to the Democratic Ed King, who had just done us all a favor by defeating the incumbent governor, Mike Dukakis.

We were just starting to work on Proposition 2 that year, heading for the 1980 ballot, and King was running on a platform calling for property tax relief. One of his first acts as governor was a 4-percent local spending cap, which worked quite well the first year. Then the Legislature allowed an override by town meetings, and property taxes went up 12 percent (to make up for the lost year), and Prop 2 passed in a landslide, with King among those voting in favor.

By then I was executive director of CLT and had a basic disagreement with the new governor: We wanted more local aid for the cities and towns, and he didn't want to cut the state budget to let local governments continue with their accustomed high spending. A meeting was set up in his office and I made my best arguments, that, yes, the cities and towns had to cut, but there was plenty of waste in the state budget too, where human services spending was the third highest in the nation and top-heavy with administration.

Shortly thereafter the Legislature cut the state budget to give almost $300 million in aid to cities and towns and I attended the governor's news conference, where he said he would veto this provision! I was tipped back in my chair at the moment and, startled by his pronouncement, fell backwards into the laps of reporters who were sitting behind me.

I quickly recovered. "He didn't mean it," I confidently told them. I can't recall whether he changed his mind or the Legislature overrode, but the local aid went forward in any case.

It was all uphill from there, as over the years we met to talk tax and budget issues. He reminded me of my dad, a similarly big man who told the truth as a matter of course, and who enjoyed every little aspect of life. The day after he was, incredibly, attacked by his enemies for posing as a clown for a group of children, I took him a handful of Sweet Sloops, the candy treat made by Harbor Sweets in Salem. (This was before lobbyists weren't allowed to offer gifts.)

He took a tiny bite of the tiny, butter-crunch sailboat, savored it, then offered it to me to taste!

After that, whenever we met, I'd bring him a few Sweet Sloops. Years later, after he'd left office, we honored him at a dinner and gave him a whole box of the unique North Shore candy. From his delighted expression you'd have thought we'd presented him with a chest of gold.

I worked enthusiastically for King's re-election in 1982, even going door to door with King flyers in Marblehead. Dukakis was looking to make a comeback and King's loss in the Democratic primary that year came as a shock; I learned that I cannot predict what voters will do when choosing among candidates, because that choice made no sense at all.

I feel more in touch on issues, since voters and I usually agree on ballot questions, but you won't hear me making any predictions about this November's election. But I'd urge voters to remember Ed King - honest, genuine, and a friend of the taxpayers - and get as close to that as you can.

Eventually he became a Republican, and I ran into him at New England Cable News during the 1990 election. King, a social, as well as a fiscal, conservative, wasn't too enthusiastic about Bill Weld; I reassured him the best I could, and I think they ended up getting along quite well.

Good-bye Governor King; I wish the likes of you had been running this week to give Democratic voters a chance to finally get it right again.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News, Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, (Lawrence) Eagle-Tribune, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence Journal and other newspapers.