It’s an open secret that Massachusetts’ governor, Mitt Romney, is interested in the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. On paper, he’s got a great resume’. He was a highly successful businessman, he pretty much single-handedly saved the 2002 Winter Olympics, and he was handily elected governor in Massachusetts, the bluest of blue states. He’s also the son of former Senator and presidential candidate George Romney, so he has some family name recognition.
On the downside, Romney has the Massachusetts baggage (including the overstuffed and alchol-reeking suitcase marked “Ted Kennedy,” the John Kerry-on bag with the “Viet Nam” and “Christmas in Cambodia” stickers, and the nerdy -looking backpack bearing the faded name tag of Mike Dukakis, another former Massachusetts governor who sought the Oval Office), as well as the prejudice some of the Left try to fan against a Mormon. (The Boston Globe has highlighted this on several occasions, trying to drive a wedge between Romney and the Christian Right.)
I happen to like Romney. He strikes me as a decent, honorable guy, and one with a proven track record. I don’t agree with some of his politics, and he’s shifted positions a few times to better fit in with the constituency to which he is appealing, but lord knows we’ve seen far worse. Hell, we’ve nominated far worse. (See the Kerry-on bag above.) And on occasion, we’ve elected far worse.
With the utter incompetency and fatal ineptitude and corruption of Boston’s Big Dig project finally claiming a life last week, Romney finally had had enough. He’d been trying since Day One of his term as governor to wrest control of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, but had been stymied by the Legislature (currently 85% Democratic in the Senate, 86.25% Democratic in the House) at every turn. Whenever it looked like he might finally exert some influence, they’d change the laws governing the Board. When he wanted to replace members with those he trusted, they’d extend the outgoing members’ terms of office. When he did get one of his on on board, they expanded the board to include their own office-holders. And so on. And so on.
Then, last week, everything changed when a 3-ton slab of concrete suspended over the roadway came loose and fell on a car, crushing a Boston woman to death. At that point, suddenly the Legislature found that the bone it had fought so hard to keep was actually a live hand grenade, and someone had just pulled a pin.
That’s when Romney stepped in. He returned from his vacation home here in New Hampshire (our status as having the first presidential primary is purely coincidental, you understand) and announced that he wanted full control over the Big Dig. He filed legislation that placed full inspection authority on the tunnels in his hands, stripping the Turnpike Authority of all power in that area. Less than 24 hours later, he had the bill back on his desk, passed by both Houses in record time. The instant he signed it, it became effective, and he now owned the whole Big Dig project — 20 years and almost 15 billion dollars of corruption, incompetence, and bungling — lock, stock, and barrel.
This is one of the rarest of moments, when both principle and political opportunity are converging for Mitt Romney. If he can somehow pull off the kind of miracle he did with the Olympics and salvage something out of this gaping hole in the ground, then he will have one hell of a credential to present to voters in 2008. And more importantly, he just might economically save the city of Boston — and, by extension, the state of Massachusetts.
Make no mistake — the tunnel system is absolutely essential to the city of Boston. With the closing of the tunnel where Milena Del Valle died, access to and from Logan Airport is severely restricted. As those travellers seek alternate routes, they are clogging up more and more of Boston’s roads, choking off other sections of Boston. The economic impact is already being felt, and shows no signs of getting better. Boston (as well as Massachusetts) are already losing population, and this could be the final straw for a lot of people already fed up with the exorbitant taxes, the overregulation, the flagrant corruption, and (always a factor) New England winters.
Romney scored huge with a sound bite the day after the collapse, when he said that “people should not have to drive through the Turnpike tunnels with their fingers crossed.” He’s elaborated on that, saying that the tunnels willnot re-open until he can drive through them without his fingers crossed.
Romney might have taken on an impossible task. For a Mormon who eschews gambling, he’s placed all his chips on this single roll of the dice — and those dice are loaded.
Win or lose, he has my respect for trying.