"The whole thing doesn't smell right." It “smells wrong and ... is wrong."
So says US Senator Scott Brown. The odor currently offending his nostrils emanates from the daughter of Elizabeth Warren, who chairs the board of an organization that is largely responsible for the actions that resulted in the welfare-recipient voter-registration story I posted about yesterday morning.
The Senator's olifactory reference struck me, because it was also used during an episode that was on my mind as I puzzled yesterday over Brown's direct criticism of the DTA's attempt to help register poor people to vote.
That prior incident was when the doomed Charlie Baker gubernatorial campaign lashed out at Deval Patrick for a decision to adopt Common Core standards. As I wrote at the time, Baker stepped all over the policy dispute by accusing Patrick of adopting the policy as a quid pro quo deal with the teachers' union, MTA, for its endorsement -- an utterly ludicrous notion. When I asked the campaign whether they had anything at all to support the claim, and their call for an Attorney General investigation, I was told that "It doesn't pass the smell test.... We want to make sure there wasn't anything fishy going on."
That incident really should have made it onto my long list of ways that Baker reinforced his image as a "FOX Republican" rather than a "third-way Republican," helping lose him the election. These are the types of things that Brown is often -- but not always -- smart enough to avoid.
Not this time. This, in some ways, is much worse than the Baker MTA thing. At least in that case A) there were some serious, bipartisan public figures who agreed with his underlying objection to Common Core; B) there was some reason to think that attacking the MTA might be popular among some swing voters; and C) the accusation, if true, would be serious.
Let's compare with Scotto's charge. On the first of those three points, good luck finding serious public figures who have a problem with the DTA spending a couple hundred grand to send voter registration forms to poor people, to make up for failing to provide them in accordance with the law.
On the second point, let's survey who Brown is attacking here, and bear in mind that the key swing voters in this state are suburban unenrolled (ie, politically independent) women. He's attacking the candidate's daughter -- that doesn't figure to play well. He's attacking do-goody non-profit organizations; I'm sorry to break it to some Scotto supporters, but the term "ACORN" doesn't frighten unenrolled women. He's attacking Deval Patrick and Bill Galvin, who are pretty much the most-favored pols in the state these days. He's attacking the Department of Transitional Assistance; I don't know, maybe that plays a little.
And, of course, he's attacking welfare recipients. That's great (politically) if you're attacking them for spending your hard-earned tax dollars on booze and pornography. But for wanting to vote?
So, I'm having trouble seeing how this attack makes Scotto look good, rather than making him look like a mean-spirited, partisan Republican.
But what really gets me is my third point above about Baker and the MTA: that the accusation of Patrick trading policy for endorsement was potentially serious if true.
Here's the thing: It doesn't matter whether the groups who sued the state were doing it to get Warren elected.
The accusation matters to the groups, because they need to defend their non-partisan claim to non-profit status. But their motives make no difference at all to anybody else. Lawsuits of this type are often brought, or backed, by people and groups with political motives. So what?
The lawsuit could have been brought by the DSCC, or the Warren campaign's top fundraiser, or the Committee To Steal The Election For Warren By Getting Poor People Registered To Vote. Warren herself could have been the chief witness. It doesn't matter.
What matters is whether the state was, in fact, failing to comply with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, and whether this remedy is a reasonable one under the letter and spirit of that law.
Brown has not made a single claim, as far as I can tell, against the merits of the claim of non-compliance. And his stated objection to the remedy is simply that "it's outrageous to use taxpayer dollars to register
welfare recipients as part of a special effort to boost one political
party over another."
Well, by his definition I suppose any remedy would be outrageous. Indeed, the NRVA itself must be an outrage to Senator Brown.
And in fact, that has to be what Brown is arguing. And you can be sure he's going to be asked that at some point, now that he's made this a big issue. And he's going to have to say oh of course I favor the NRVA and the goal of registering everyone.
And the follow up will be: "So you approve of the government spending resources to register welfare recipients, except when it would hurt your re-election?"
As someone might put it, that might not smell very good.