The Codcast

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Episode 40: Getting around in the age of Trump

Beth Osborne, a senior advisor for Washington-based Transportation for America, was in town recently to discuss transportation needs with state officials and policy advocates. Osborne, a former undersecretary in the Department of Transportation and a longtime congressional aide to several lawmakers, said Trump’s “skinny budget” isn’t going to give a lot of answers for transportation, at least in the immediate future.

Osborne joined Transit Matters board members Josh Fairchild and James Aloisi for this week’s edition of The Codcast, and they talked about the uncertainty of just what transportation means in the Trump administration. Trump promised during his campaign and in his February address to Congress that he plans to launch a $1 trillion infrastructure program, music to the ears of transportation officials and advocates. But Osborne cautioned not to start spending the money just yet.

Episode 39: A conversation with teeth in it

State Sen. Harriette Chandler of Worcester and state Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli of Lenox have introduced bills in the Legislature to create a new practitioner called “dental therapists,” a highly trained dental hygienist who can perform basic procedures such as fillings, simple extractions of non-impacted teeth, and x-ray readings.

Dr. Ray Martin, president of the dental society and a dentist with a private practice in Mansfield, joined The Codcast to talk about the measure along with One-time gubernatorial candidate Dr. Don Berwick, a pediatrician who was administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in the Obama administration.

Episode 38: Why is our infrastructure always crumbling?

Most transportation advocates focus on the need for more money, but Chuck Marohn comes from a different starting point, asking why the system needs more money in the first place. The one thing Republicans and Democrats in Washington seem to agree on is that the country should invest in its infrastructure. But Marohn asks why the nation’s infrastructure, and particularly its transportation infrastructure, has been allowed to deteriorate so badly?

Marohn, the founder and president of Minnesota-based Strong Towns, says that all too often infrastructure gets built with little or no thought as to how it will be maintained down the road.

Today’s Codcast was produced by TransitMatters, the transportation advocacy group, in conjunction with CommonWealth. Marohn was interviewed by Josh Fairchild and Jim Aloisi of TransitMatters.

Episode 37: Pacheco Law punch-out

In what may be a precursor to a soon-to-come Beacon Hill debate on the Pacheco Law, state Auditor Suzanne Bump squared off with Greg Sullivan, research director at the right-leaning Pioneer Institute, to discuss (sometimes heatedly) the pros and cons of the law that regulates privatization of state services.

Episode 36: Lessons from the teacher of the year

It was one thing when Sydney Chaffee was named Massachusetts Teacher of the Year. Now she’s been named one of four finalists for National Teacher of the Year, with announcement of the winner due in April.

The Codcast sat down with Chaffee and asked what she thinks makes for great teaching. The two top ingredients, she says, are a passion for what you’re teaching (she says she has that in abundance for the interdisciplinary study of history and English that is her focus) and building relationships with students to see them “as whole people,” gain their trust, and motivate them to take risks. I’m “really trying to fire them up,” she says.

Episode 35: What should Charlie do?

The press has been giving Gov. Charlie Baker a lot of advice on how he should deal with President Trump, so we thought we might as well get into the act.

This week’s Codcast features the CommonWealth staff kicking around what’s at stake for Baker as the nation’s preoccupation with Trump intensifies. Does Baker need to become more emotional and less of a technocrat? Can someone differ with Trump without going all-in with visceral statements of condemnation? And are Baker’s would-be Democratic rivals going to make him pay for failing to attend rallies and marches where Trump is pilloried.

Episode 34: Speaking up for the pay hike

Sen. William Brownsberger has been a supporter of the pay raises and one of the few willing to speak out in justifying the hikes. He joined us on The Codcast to offer his insight and defend why the time is never right but it is the right thing to do. Brownsberger said the quickness with which the bill made its way through the process was because “it’s not rocket science,” that what you see is what you get.

But he also said he understand the anger and frustration from voters over the issue and pointed out that while the entire measure is immune from repeal by initiative petition because of the inclusion of judges, it doesn’t prevent an effort from targeting lawmakers pay alone at the ballot box.

Episode 33: Tito Jackson makes his case

Tito Jackson is preparing to wage a campaign for mayor of Boston focused on the divide between the haves and have-nots, sounding an echo of many previous mayoral aspirants who pledged to make Boston a city that works for its most marginalized, struggling residents and not only for the well-heeled.

In this week’s Codcast, Jackson rips Walsh for his focus on a financially reckless Olympic bid, the ill-fated IndyCar race, and for squandering nearly $3 million in an unsuccessful legal fight against the Wynn casino in Everett. All of that has happened, says Jackson, while the city’s schools have struggled to maintain programs for students and a yawning income and housing affordability gap threatens to displace long-time residents from their neighborhoods.

Episode 32: Talking among ourselves

At CommonWealth, we try to give you a little more in-depth coverage of the issues but don’t always have the time to apply what we know to an analysis of where we think things will go. So as an end-of-year Codcast, Bruce Mohl, Michael Jonas, and I try to offer a little insight into some areas we’ve written extensively about.

Episode 31: Retailing’s clicks vs. bricks

Sears and Macy’s, two iconic names in retailing, recently announced they plan to close hundreds of stores resulting in the loss of thousands of jobs around the country. Both have targeted for closure a handful of stores at struggling malls in Massachusetts.

David Harris, associate managing editor of the Boston Business Journal, and Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, joined us on The Codcast to talk about the impact of the changes and what they bode for the state’s economy moving forward.

Episode 30: Airbnb wants to be taxed. Really

It’s almost Alice through the Looking Glass. An emerging industry leader that legally operates tax-free is asking – no, imploring – lawmakers to slap a levy on its business. That’s exactly what Airbnb, the web-based app that pairs up travelers with people looking to cash in on a spare room or three in their private homes, is asking the Massachusetts Legislature to do.

Will Burns, the director of policy for Airbnb, says it’s a matter of fundamental fairness, but taking off his corporate hat, he admits the effort is to legitimize the technology as an accepted commercial entity.

Episode 29: The case for extending the GLX ‘path’

To make the Green Line extension into Somerville and Medford more affordable, state transportation officials pared back spending on the project by close to $1 billion. A lot of items ended up on the cutting room floor, but none of the cuts have stirred more opposition than the decision to eliminate a key section of a bike and pedestrian path that would run alongside the rails.

Episode 28: Not your fathers weed

Did you hear? Legal marijuana for adult recreational use is coming to Massachusetts. It may be soon, it may be later, but make no mistake, it’s on its way.

Scott Moskol, a partner at the venerable Boston law firm Burns & Levinson LLP, joined The Codcast to talk about the budding industry. Scott has been traveling around the country and become familiar with the laws of the 29 states that have legalized some form of medical marijuana and is boning up on the laws in the seven states that have legalized commercial pot.

Episode 27: Keolis was on the verge of walking away

A member of the MBTA’s oversight board said the transit agency’s commuter rail operator was on the verge of walking away from its $2.68 billion contract earlier this year when state officials agreed to pay the company at least $66 million extra over the course of the next six years.

Episode 26: The shock heard ’round the world

Steve Koczela of the MassINC Polling Group and Politico’s Lauren Dezenski join The Codcast to take stock of the jaw-dropping turn of events.

Episode 25: Charter School question at the wire

Lots of the focus is on Boston, home to about one-quarter of the state’s 40,000 charter school students and the place that is likely to see the most charter school growth should the ballot question pass. Two Boston city councilors joined The Codcast to share their opposing views on the question. Andrea Campbell, a district councilor representing Dorchester and Mattapan, supports Question 2. Ayanna Pressley, an at-large councilor who lives in Dorchester, opposes the measure.

Episode 24: 2 pollsters talk shop

Americans love polls. Except when they don’t say what they want them to say.

“I’m not sure the polls have changed,” says data expert John Johnson,CEO of Edgeworth Economics in Washington, DC. “The results have. The time you really should trust the polls is the closer you get to the election.”

Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group, says those self-selecting surveys are merely clickbait, for entertainment purposes only, and should not even be labeled polls. He says there often are no controls over who can respond or how many times they can answer the questions, unlike scientific surveys that have representative groups and random selection with a defined margin of error.

Episode 23: Smoke and mirrors

Both sides of the debate over the ballot question to legalize adult recreational use of marijuana are running television ads in the final weeks of the campaign and it’s safe to say neither will be awarded points for honesty.

John Carroll, a Boston University professor of communications and former journalist and commentator, and Dave Wedge, a former political reporter and currently a vice president at the political consulting firm Northwind Strategies, bring their expertise to help us break down what’s real and what’s just smoke and mirrors in these ads and the marketing campaigns for both sides.

Episode 22: Does DCR need fiscal control board?

What should be done? The Codcast talks with Whitney Hatch, chairman of the DCR Stewardship Council, and Stephen Pritchard, who spent four years in the administration of former governor Mitt Romney, including six months as DCR commissioner and a little over a year as secretary of energy and environmental affairs.

Episode 21: The charter funding debate

The impact of charter schools on district school budgets has become a central point of contention in the debate over Question 2, the November ballot question that would allow an expansion in the number of charter schools in Massachusetts.

Stephanie Hirsch, a municipal and state finance consultant, and Sam Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, dig into those issues in this week’s Codcast. Hirsch has developed a web tool to examine the impact of charter growth on district budgets with her husband, Joe Calzaretta, a mathematician and software engineer. They describe it here.

Episode 20: Grading the Legislature

The Environmental League of Massachusetts put out its latest legislative scorecard this week, and the rankings provided a number of interesting insights about Beacon Hill.

Episode 19: State economy hot, but not tax revenues

The Massachusetts economy is humming along. The unemployment rate fell to 3.9 percent in August, its lowest level since 2001. But state tax revenues are not keeping pace. They fell so far behind the level that had been forecasted that the Baker administration is now trying to clean up a $575 million budget shortfall from the previous fiscal year.

What’s going on? We explore that issue with Eileen McAnneny, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, and Alan Clayton-Matthews, an associate professor at Northeastern University. Both of them conduct state revenue forecasts and work with state officials to develop a consensus forecast.

Episode 18: The Globe v. Joyce

CommonWealth’s Jack Sullivan and Bruce Mohl discuss the Boston Globe’s extensive coverage of Sen. Brian Joyce, and particularly the story last month suggesting the Milton lawmaker expanded his house without the necessary permits and was shortchanging the town on property taxes. Is this a media war between the Globe and CommonWealth, as media critic Dan Kennedy has suggested, or is this about something else?

Episode 17: Eldridge stirs things up

State Sen. Jamie Eldridge has managed to liven up a quiet August on Beacon Hill.

The Acton Democrat shared some thoughts on Democratic Party politics with an email to fellow Bernie Sanders supporters that made its way into the hands of the Globe’s Jim O’Sullivan. That led to a front-page story in the Globe headlined, “Democrat tries to nudge state party left; Senator wants some lawmakers voted out.”

Eldridge says in this week’s Codcast that the email was in response to the frustration many progressive activists felt with the national party as well as with “the Democratic party and Democratic legislators in Massachusetts.” He says his main message to them was, don’t break off and join a third party but redouble their efforts to push a progressive agenda joining their local town or city Democratic committee or consider actually running for elected office. There are “plenty of conservative Democrats who have been elected, unchallenged, for years if not decades, including at the local and legislative level,” he wrote.

Episode 16: Healey declares success on gun ban

It’s been more than a month since Attorney General Maura Healey announced her crackdown on sales of assault weapons she said are in violation of the 1998 state law barring such rifles, and the only thing that’s slowed down are sales.

Because of what some say was confusion over when her enhanced action took effect, Healey said no one who bought one of the guns would be held responsible but she refused to exempt dealers, threatening them with sanctions for violating her order. After declining to reveal her decision one way or the other for weeks, Healey, in a conversation on The Codcast, said she’s decided to move on and not bring action against any dealers – for that day.

Episode 15: Baker’s curious VMT decision

Gov. Charlie Baker’s decision last week to veto a legislative provision directing the state to seek federal funds for an all-volunteer study of vehicle-miles-traveled, or VMT, turned some heads. The tax-averse governor said the proposal, which would test out the imposition of a fee on drivers for the miles they drive on state roads, raised all sorts of fairness questions. But two VMT supporters said such questions are exactly what the study was meant to answer.

The Codcast this week talks to Michael Widmer, the former head of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, and James Aloisi, the former secretary of transportation. They believe the state needs to transition away from the gasoline tax to a VMT fee and explain why they think the governor was wrong to veto the study.

Episode 14: Open Court?

The Massachusetts Trial Court this week issued its new rules and regulations regarding public access to court records and it’s fair to say officials erred on the side of less rather than more.

Esme Caramello, faculty director of Harvard Legal Aid Bureau and a tenants’ rights advocate, and Todd Wallack of the Boston Globe, a member of the vaunted Spotlight team who has been at the forefront of reporters’ attempts to bring more transparency to public records, joined us to talk about the new rules.

Episode 13: Rosenberg laments broken system

When you cut through the Beacon Hill weeds, Senate President Stan Rosenberg’s message is clear: The system for reviewing and considering legislation is badly broken, and he’s not happy about it.

Episode 12: Baker and the T

Baker this week waded into the weeds at the MBTA and tried to adjust public expectations, warning that the turnaround at the T would take years to accomplish. Eileen McAnneny, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation and co-chair of the FixOurT Coalition, and Rafael Mares, vice president at the Conservation Law Foundation, came on the Codcast to discuss Baker’s remarks and the long-term prognosis for the state’s struggling transit authority.

Episode 11: US Attorney Carmen Ortiz

CommonWealth interviewed Ortiz on June 28 for a story that appears today in the just-released Summer print issue of the magazine. The story, entitled “Leaks, leaks, and more leaks,” raises questions about who is watching the watchdogs. A unit inside the Department of Justice investigates prosecutorial misconduct, including the leaking of grand jury and other confidential information related to federal investigations. But judging from the limited information available about past investigations, that unit appears to be little more than a toothless tiger.

 Episode 10: Crunch time for ride-hailing bills

Sen. Eric Lesser of Longmeadow, one of the members on the panel that wrote the Senate’s final version, and Christopher English, policy analyst and project manager for the city of Boston who was appointed by Mayor Marty Walsh to chair the Taxi Advisory Commission overseeing changes in regulations, joined The Codcast to discuss the shifting landscape in the ride-for-hire industry.

 Episode 9: Walsh’s Woes

CommonWealth’s Michael Jonas talks with Gin Dumcius of MassLive.com and Kyle Clauss of Boston magazine about the string of problems in the administration of Mayor Marty Walsh, capped most recently by the indictment this week of a second City Hall official on federal corruption charges.

Episode 8: The Libertarian team of Johnson and Weld

Steve Koczela of the MassINC Polling Group offers a pollster’s perspective on the Libertarian candidates and Michael Jonas and Bruce Mohl of CommonWealth magazine dissected their CNN performance.

Episode 7: The everyday terrorism of urban gun violence

Just over a week ago, 17-year-old Raekwon Brown was fatally gunned down just steps from Jeremiah Burke High School in Dorchester, where he was a student. Three others, including a 67-year-old woman, were wounded. The shooting, which took place in broad daylight after a fire alarm emptied students onto the street near the school, was a reminder of the daily toll of urban gun violence — and of the terrorism-like quality it often has, as a calm and seemingly ordinary moment suddenly turns to a mini-war zone.

Episode 6: Weld flashes the old charm

William Weld made libertarianism sound like a political middle ground between Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton during an interview Tuesday night with CommonWealth magazine.

Episode 5: The politics of energy, Cape Wind

The Senate’s point person on energy, Sen. Ben Downing and the developer behind Cape Wind, Jim Gordon share their concerns about the House energy bill, which calls for the state’s utilities to solicit large amounts of offshore wind power and hydroelectricity from Canada, possibly in tandem with onshore wind or other forms of clean energy.

Episode 4: Stirring the pot over the marijuana initiative

Will Luzier, leading the campaign for legal marijuana, and Corey Welford, of the anti-referendum group, make their cases.


Codcast Episode 3: The Bernie vs. Hillary throw down edition

State Sen. Dan Wolf, a Sanders delegate to the DNC, and former secretary of public safety Andrea Cabral, a Clinton delegate, have at it.


Codcast Episode 2: What makes a world class city?

Is hosting big events like the IndyCar race or Olympics the mark of a world-class city, or more of a distraction from the things that give Boston a global edge and should have the city puffing out its civic chest? That’s the topic for today’s installment of The Codcast.


Codcast Episode 1: All-night service on the T

The inaugural episode of our podcast, named The Codcast after the sacred cod hanging in the chamber of the House of Representatives, tackles a proposal by three advocates for all-night service on the MBTA.