Time to Start Teaching Civics in Business School

In recent years, it has become fashionable for venture capitalists, big shot attorneys and corporate executives to run for public office after having conquered the business world. Consider it a midlife crisis of sorts. For most people, buying a Corvette or going to an Eagles reunion concert and maybe even smoking a joint or two will suffice. But what if you’re worth a cool half billion? Then it’s off to Washington or the nearest available Governors office. So here’s a helpful hint to would-be candidates for public office emerging from world of stocks and bonds, leather couches and initialized cufflinks: before asking us to vote for you, try actually voting yourself.

Take Boston Celtics co-owner and former venture capitalist Steve Pagliuca, current candidate for the United States Senate in the race to replace Senator Edward Kennedy. Actually, take him to the polls please, because he doesn’t seem to be able to get there on his own. Not exactly a profile in courage, Pagliuca, who is worth an estimated $400 million, recently discovered a deep and long standing commitment to public service at age 54. Among other attributes, his website touts his “civic leadership.” Apparently that does not include leading by example, because The Boston Globe reports that Pagliuca’s dedication to civic engagement has been a tad shaky at times.

During a five-year period at the end of the 1990s, he voted only once and, since 1995, has not cast a ballot in any of four presidential primaries or a combined nine local elections in Weston, where he resides, or in Newton, his home until 2000,” the Globe reports.

Somehow, ammassing a fortune large enough to own most of a major sports franchise is an acheivable feat, but getting to the polls between 7AM and 8PM seems to be too mighty a challenge for this dedicated public servant.

Out in California, another civic hero named Meg Whitman, former CEO of Ebay and candidate for Governor has also demonstrated a rather spotty interest in voting. I have to give Whitman credit for one thing: she has an incredible commitment to consistency. The Associated Press reports that Whitman, 52, failed to vote in every single election for 28 consecutive years. It gets worse. Somehow Whitman was unable to muster up the energy to even register to vote until she was 46.

Whitman says she was focused on her career, “Raising a family…and we moved many, many times.” (For the record, in 10 years of eligible voting, I have at virtually every moment held at least one full time job, and for 4 of those years was a full time student at the same time. I have also moved 13 times. In that time period, I have cast a ballot 15 times, and door to door the entire process has never taken more than 25 minutes.)

Former T-Mobile executive Joe Mallahan has a track record as a successful businessman, but if you live in Seattle, he’s asking you do something he has rarely done himself: vote for Mayor. Mallahan is seeking the top municipal job in the city, but The Seattle Times reports that he has skipped more than half of the elections since 2001, including two mayoral primaries.

Ronald Reagan once said that some people run for office to do something, and some people run to be something. Pagliuca, Whitman, Mallahan et al could hardly make it clearer which category they fall into. If you really care about making a difference in peoples lives, start by blocking out half an hour or so in your day once or twice a year to actually show up and vote. Because when you’re completely full of shit about your commitment to public service, people can usually tell. After all, there’s a reason the Presidency came down to Barack Obama and John McCain, not John Edwards and Mitt Romney.

Amateur Hour in the Corner Office

Those of you not fortunate enough to live in the great Commonwealth of Massachusetts may have heard about our new Governor, Deval Patrick. Only the second African American Governor in American history, Patrick, a first time candidate for any office, won both the primary and the general election in a knockout. Hailed by his legions of die hard supporters as an agent of change and a true liberal, the expectations for Patrick were sky high after 12 years of failed Republican Governors. But after gliding through a virtually flawless two year campaign, Patrick has been nothing short of a disaster during his first two months in office.

Staking out a clear position in favor of gay marriage, and refusing to make a pledge against tax hikes, he quickly won over the liberal base of the Massachusetts Democratic Party. Patrick is as eloquent a speaker as you’ll find, and he criss-crossed the Commonwealth sweeping people off their feet. Without ever being too specific about what his plans were, what won people over was his intention to put an end, as he often said on the stump, to “Politics as usual.”

“I don’t have any use for politics as usual,” Patrick said at the state convention in June of last year. “I’m here to put an end to politics as usual.”

Running against Attorney General Tom Reilly, who was never a true Beacon Hill insider, but nevertheless an old White Irish guy, Patrick represented something new. His supporters counted on him to be the renegade outsider who would put an end to the patronage and special interests that have dominated Massachusetts politics for so long. He pledged to fill his cabinet with fresh faces, and flush out the backroom cigar smoking insiders who know their way around the State House better than their own living room. In his first two months in office he has done just that, and it shows.

After a weeklong series of inaugural balls and galas celebrating himself at a cost of more than one million dollars, Patrick was mostly silent during his first month. Aides said he was quietly working on where to make cuts in the state budget to help offset the tremendous deficit. While cuts were made in some areas, others saw a rather healthy increase in spending.

For example, there was a hefty increase in the area of office drapes. Patrick spent $12,000 dollars on fancy new drapes, and another $15,000 on new couches and other furniture for the Governor’s office, courtesy of the taxpayers. Another area that saw an increase was “Governor’s official state car,” which has traditionally been a reliable but modest Ford or Chrysler. For Patrick, it’s a fully loaded Cadillac Coupe Deville, for a mere $46,000. It’s truly amazing that someone whose entire campaign was based on symbolism and rhetoric would fail to see the problem with a multi-millionaire Governor spending $83,000 in taxpayer money on new furniture and a suped-up Cadillac. It was only after the Boston Globe reported on this for four days straight that Patrick partially reimbursed the state for his new office furnishings and fancy wheels.

Mistake number two came the same week, when it was revealed that the administration had made up a new position in state government titled “Chief of Staff to First Lady.” Since Patrick’s wife has no official state duties whatsoever, she does not actually have a staff, but she did have a Chief of Staff. Amy Gorin, a campaign contributor from Wellesley, the fourth wealthiest town in Massachusetts, was briefly in charge of Diane Patrick’s “Scheduling” for a mere 72,000 taxpayer dollars per year. The really pathetic thing about this is that Ms. Patrick does not need someone to handle her calls and schedule her appointments, since she already has a secretary. The reason I know that is because her secretary’s phone number is listed right here on Ms. Patrick’s bio on the website of Ropes and Gray, the major Boston law firm where Ms. Patrick is a partner. After the Boston Globe reported on this, Gorin resigned and her position was eliminated.

But public relations mistakes are merely signs of a rookie who does not understand the nature of his office. The real reason that I spent a year and a half warning everyone I spoke to not to vote for Deval Patrick was because of where his heart really lies: it’s not with the grassroots activists he energized, or the working class he claims to represent, it’s with the big businesses whose corporate boards he served on that helped get his campaign off the ground. Most disturbing to me was his service on the board of directors for Ameriquest, the predatory lending firm run by Roland Arnall, the single biggest contributor to President George W. Bush in 2004. (Click here for some further reading on the moral giants at Ameriquest.) Patrick made over $1.5 million for his service on the board, money made mostly off the backs of poor minorities, and money that he used to kick-start his campaign.

During the campaign, Patrick used poetic slogans and inspirational speeches filled with glittering generalities, masterfully selling to the public the utterly fantastic notion that his deepest sympathies lay anywhere other than with corporate America. After the décor and Cadillac fiasco, and the assistant for his wife, Patrick showed his true colors with mistake number three.

In mid-February, Patrick placed a phone call to former Clinton economic chief Robert Rubin on behalf of his former employers, Ameriquest. Rubin is now a top executive at Citigroup, a major financial services company. Patrick called to urge Rubin to lend economic support to Ameriquest, which was badly in need of financial help. Apparently aware that a Governor is not supposed to be trying to influence private business transactions, Patrick claimed he was not calling as Governor. “I made this call solely as a former board member,” Patrick said. Sorry big fella’, but you’re the Governor whether you’re swearing in a Judge, kicking your feet up in the corner office, or taking your kids to Chucky Cheese on a Saturday. When you call Robert Rubin, he’s not thinking of you as a private citizen who once worked for Ameriquest, he’s thinking of you as the Governor of Massachusetts.

Perhaps this series of pathetic moves can be explained by looking at who the Governor has surrounded himself with in key positions. Think the era of patronage jobs is over in Massachusetts? Puh-leeze!!!!!! Consider Patrick’s appointment for Deputy Chief of Staff. After a nationwide search and a review of thousands of resumes, Patrick settled on 25 year old Brendan Ryan. (Ever seen The West Wing? It’s Josh Lyman’s job for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.) For further reference, Patrick’s predecessor Mitt Romney’s Deputy Chief of Staff was Renee Fry, whose previous occupation was the Director of the Department of Business and Technology, and prior to that she was the Undersecretary of Economic Development. For all of Romney’s faults (and there are plenty) his administration hit the ground running. Brendan’s previous occupation: driver for Deval Patrick during the Deval Patrick for Governor Campaign. (Yes…driver. As in, he drove the car and parked it at the event and then drove it to the next event.) He’s 25, and the number three man in the Governor’s office, at the mere cost of 95,000 taxpayer dollars per year. If that doesn’t say “Politics as usual,” I don’t know what does.