Don’t buy the progressive rant against Rodrigues

Boring middle is better than the other-worldly outlook of the left

WHILE CAFE MOCHACCINOS, action films, and short-term friends should be exciting, governance should not. Governance should be steady, dependable, and mundane, because we live, after all, on earth and are subject to earthly constraints. Sen. Michael Rodrigues of Westport, representing residents of the South Coast in the First Bristol and Plymouth Senate District, consistently supports steady, dependable governance by respecting economic forces and constitutional limits. His leadership protects his constituents in a world that is not steady and dependable. I believe that Rodrigues, now appointed to the Senate Ways and Means Committee, will protect the interests of people across the Commonwealth.

The idealistic progressives cited by Jonathan Cohn, in his recent criticism of Rodrigues, don’t care about earthly constraints: they navigate by distant constellations. In that, they are no different than idealists on the right. Progressives demand a minimum wage that will make our under-educated young people outside metropolitan Boston unemployable.  While a politically imposed but uneconomic minimum wage may be tolerated by the booming economy of Boston, such laws make young people unemployable in the blighted economy of the South Coast.

Idealistic progressives keep our labor force under-educated by blindly supporting a sclerotic teachers’ union that resists reforms in our failing urban schools. Cohn criticizes the expansion of charter schools as “unaccountable” while his union allies sponsor legislation to stop the Department of Secondary and Elementary Education from holding district schools accountable. The union would stop the naming and shaming of under-performing schools and stop the evaluation of teachers based on their measureable impact on student learning; instead, the union would have local unions and parents evaluate themselves.

Idealistic progressives would ignore the US Constitution and usurp federal prerogatives on immigration by restricting cooperation between local and federal law enforcement.  Contempt for the constitutional balance of powers can hurt all of us, whether we vote on the left or the right: local politicians encouraged to flout one federal law will flout others as well. If progressives want to change federal policies, they should run for Congress and not for the General Court.

Cohn says that “some politicians try to disingenuously set immigrants and workers … against each other….” He should know, because that’s precisely what progressives do with their identity politics. Contrary to progressive ideals, all of us suffer from the concentration of economic and educational opportunity, whether we live in blighted Fall River or congested Boston. All of us suffer when business investment abandons our peripheral cities and moves either to Boston or to states where young people graduate with more marketable skills.  Our relevant identities in the res publica are economic and geographic more than they are racial and ethnic.

Cohn accuses Rodrigues of not supporting our most cherished institution, public education.  State-chartered schools are public schools. They offend progressives because they are controlled by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and not controlled by local school districts, which are controlled by local teachers’ unions. Yet our most cherished institution did not begin as a perk for well-entrenched stakeholders: it began as an unfunded mandate imposed on towns by the General Court to support our republic and our economy, “forasmuch as the good education of children is of singular behoof and benefit to any Common-wealth.”  When local school districts consistently fail to educate the children in their districts, it is appropriate for the Legislature to mandate new ways to educate the next generation of citizens and workers.

With disingenuous hyperbole, Cohn accuses the senator of voting to “send high school seniors to adult prisons, where they face higher risks of sexual assault.” But read the small print of this progressive claim: Rodrigues voted to continue to treat 18 year-old defendants as adults. While a reasonable person might argue reasonably about this policy, there is no need for unreasonable hyperbole – 18-year-olds are considered adults in most countries around the world and in every US state except Mississippi, and changing legal status can have far-reaching legal and social implications. But the long-term implications — the collateral damage — of well-intended policies are not something that idealists worry about.

Speaking of hyperbole, what Cohn and other progressives call “the biggest surveillance power grab Massachusetts has seen in decades” was an attempt by steady, pragmatic senators to adapt a 1968 wiretap law to modern, organized criminal threats. Mafiosi — the erstwhile targets of the wiretap law of 1968 — are organizing bingo in nursing homes these days. Their successors in organized crime — drug cartels, international and home-grown terrorists, human traffickers — pose new threats. For one thing, they don’t use landline telephones or telegraph lines anymore. Can you blame them? Have you tried to find a pay phone lately?

Our South Coast senator supported amendments to the criminal justice reform bill that would have included electronic communications as legitimate targets of court-supervised surveillance. While a different senator, equally steady and dependable, might reasonably have voted against Rodrigues’s position, Cohn’s hyperbole is unjustified.

Do I accuse idealistic progressives of callous disregard for unemployment, failing public education, or terrorism? My goodness, no. The one endearing quality of progressives is their kindness. They will fund prison programs for young convicts after they have legislated away the restraint of accountability for young people tempted by crime. They will wring their hands — sincerely — when organized malefactors use modern means of communication to plot crimes with impunity. They will issue generous welfare checks to our young people after neglecting public education and forbidding small businesses to hire them at an economic wage.

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We on the South Coast, on the other hand, are a surly lot, ungrateful for substandard education, systemic unemployment, and uncontrolled crime, no matter how well-intended our benefactors. We’d rather see our grandchildren living productive, self-reliant lives in safe communities, as we saw our grandparents live. We have a long tradition of self-reliance and of appreciation for steady and dependable governance. In that, we on the South Coast are no different than most other people in this Commonwealth.

Buy an exciting Mochaccino tonight and sit down to an exciting action film, but beware of exciting political idealists. Ask your state legislator to support Sen. Michael Rodrigues, newly appointed head of the Ways and Means Committee. Do your bit to defend the boring middle.

Lloyd Mendes is the Somerset commissioner to the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District and deputy chair of Somerset’s Economic Development Committee.