Friday, November 22, 2013

Remembering the Day President Kennedy Died

This column appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, November 22, 2013

GOUVEIA: The day that we lost 'our' president
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It was just another November afternoon in Miss Russell's second grade classroom at Norton's L.G. Nourse Elementary School. At a little bit after 1:30 p.m, our thoughts had already turned toward getting home in time to play before it got dark.
Then the crackle of the in-school intercom system broke into our quiet afternoon. We heard the familiar voice of the office secretary, Mrs. Tripp, float from the gray wall speaker and wondered who was getting called to Principal Holbert's office this time.


But Mrs. Tripp had a far more serious announcement, one that would change the world around us. We could hear the tremor in her voice as she relayed to us the unthinkable.
"May I have your attention please?" she began as always. "We ask you to please bow your heads on your desks for a moment of silence to pray for President Kennedy, who was shot in the head today in Dallas." There was a long pause, then she said "Thank you," and the speaker once again went silent.
I usually walked home, but that day I ran. I wanted to get to my television and catch up on the latest news. President Kennedy was the only president I had ever known, and was from our state. He was one of us. I remember thinking: "Why would someone shoot him?"
I got home and my younger brother came rushing to the door yelling, "The president is dead. Somebody killed the president!" I shook my head and told him no, he had only been shot. Mrs. Tripp had said nothing about him being dead.
Then I stepped into our television room and saw my mother crying. She looked up at me and nodded slowly, reaffirming my brother's news. "He's dead", she sobbed heavily. "President Kennedy is dead!"
Even though I was only 7, I was deeply affected. Like other Americans, I was glued to the television the next few days as the nation grieved and prepared for uncertainty. I watched with my parents when the alleged assassin, himself, was shot and killed on live television, right there on our Zenith console in stark black and white. I remember wondering just who was in charge of everything now.
I watched the funeral with my maternal grandparents, crying when little John-John Kennedy stepped up and saluted his daddy's coffin. It hit me then that although we had lost our president, he had lost his father.
Looking back a half-century later, it was a defining point in my young existence. It forever connected politics and life for me, and gave me a reason to understand my government and hope to make it better.
President Kennedy was a great leader in our eyes. Here was this man from a wealthy family, dedicating himself to helping poor people and fighting racism.
As kids in Norton, we had little exposure to the latter. Our town was whiter than snow. We didn't hate black kids - we just didn't know any. But they had to be good people because President Kennedy was trying to help them.
My Portuguese and very Catholic paternal grandmother had a huge picture of President Kennedy on the wall of her family room. This was during the days when we celebrated the strengths of our leaders, rather than desperately searching for their every flaw.
I now know President Kennedy was a man with many flaws. His personal life left a lot to be desired. He made many questionable choices.
But he still founded the Peace Corps. He still made a commitment to the space program that led to putting men on the moon. He still laid the groundwork for civil rights legislation that changed a nation.
He was still "our" President, and represented the youthful hopes and dreams of the 1960s.
His example taught a young boy growing up in Norton that you have to give back, and that government should always put people first. His famous words from his inauguration speech stayed with me:
"My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."
His death taught us all that time is something to be cherished, not wasted. And that there are few sadder words in the English language than "what might have been "
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Will North Attleboro Voters get to Decide?

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, November 11, 2013

by Bill Gouveia

At some point, you run out of excuses. Your feet get flat from being dragged so much. Your fingernails are worn to nubs from your desperate attempts to hang on as you are being dragged forward. Eventually, you have to let go and allow yourself to be pulled into the present and - perhaps - stage your biggest battle right there.
Welcome to local government - North Attleboro style.
Last week it was reported work is still being done on the special act charter which would allow voters the option of changing to a mayoral/town council form of government. The proposal - which has been around in the same general format for close to a decade - has yet to make it before the voters for any binding action. But now town officials say it is getting closer to the point where citizens can actually make the choice denied them for almost a generation.
"I know we have a lot more work to do, but we're getting there. It's a lot cleaner and a lot neater than what we had before," Selectman Michael Thompson reported recently. Officials have been working with a representative from a state agency to "clean up" the document, which many thought was never all that "messy." However, the board has given no estimate of just when the proposal that has been discussed since before some of them were elected might get to actually be decided.
Of course, the question of change has many hurdles to pass even if it manages to escape the bowels of North's town hall. Chief among them is it needs to be passed along to voters by one of the very institutions it seeks to replace - The Representative Town Meeting, or RTM.
North's RTM has steadfastly and consistently refused to consider or defeated attempts to reform itself over the years.
It is a bulky body with few members who have actually gained their seats through contested elections. It has in the past voted against even reducing its own size, despite often having vacancies it cannot fill.
So if and when the charter proposal is forwarded by selectmen, it will have to be sent on to the voters by the RTM. That does not mean they have to approve it or recommend it, but rather just allow it to be placed before the same voters who elected them. If history is any indication, the likelihood of that happening is not very high.
And that really is the crux of this matter. While the decision of whether or not to change North's form of government is certainly important and requires careful attention to detail, the truth is this is much more about whether or not the will of the voters and citizens actually matters.
Oddly enough, this is about deciding what form of democracy actually makes the decision of whether or not to alter this particular form of democracy. Do the people themselves get to cast their ballots on how they are ultimately represented at the local level? Or do the institutions which are the objects of their undeniable desire for change maintain the ultimate veto power?
In no other area community does the difference between the government itself and the community members at large seem wider than in North Attleboro. As in many local towns, voter turnout has been a problem. But here it may be largely because the voting populous is tired of being asked for their opinion, and then having it ignored.
Several times North voters have expressed their desire for governmental change via non-binding referendum questions at the polls, only to have their votes explained away by those with personal political power bases in need of protecting. The voters and citizens who live in the present seem to be constantly in conflict with those who cling to the North Attleboro they remember and want to preserve.
There is no right or wrong when it comes to determining if North's government should change. That is up to the good people who live there to decide.
But those same folks deserve the chance to make the actual binding decision. The time for stalling and delaying is over. Let North Attleboro vote on its future, and let their decision truly mean something.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Foxboro Politiics Now Officially in the Gutter

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Thursday, November 7, 2013

By Bill Gouveia

            If you want to successfully locate a business with a liquor license in any particular community, there are good guidelines to follow.

            You should have a proven track record of operating similar establishments.  You should appeal not to just to drinkers, but offer something for others as well.  You should be able to prove you will contribute to the community both economically and socially in a positive manner. 

You should be located in an area where increased traffic and shoppers is considered a good thing.  You should be backed by respected taxpayers, have the approval of the Chief of Police, a positive review from the town’s legal representatives, and near-unanimous support from those who turn out at a public hearing.  If you do all that, you will normally be successful.

Unless, of course, you are applying to the Foxboro Board of Selectmen and are in any way connected with the Kraft Organization.  In that case you might as well save yourself the time it takes to present a clear and compelling argument for your position, because none of it will matter.  The overwhelming odds are you will be turned down regardless of the facts.

That is exactly what happened to those proposing to locate a bowling alley and nightclub/bar in Patriot Place surrounding Gillette Stadium.  They have to be wondering why the majority of local selectmen seem so prejudiced against the town’s largest taxpayer and all those associated with them.

They did everything the right way, even down to applying for a transfer of an existing license at Patriot Place rather than requesting a new one.  They enlisted the advice of the local police chief, going so far as to pay his expenses to travel to a similar establishment out of state to get a feel for the operation.  In conjunction with the Kraft Organization, they agreed to pay for increased police presence and provide a physical facility for a command office.

The police chief said he saw no major problems with the license.  The lawyers the selectmen hired specifically for liquor issues saw no obstacles that could not be overcome.  The establishment would have been located in an area specifically designed for commercial use and with a track record of handling high volume traffic.  And the comments from local residents and taxpayers at the public hearing were unanimously positive and in favor.

So naturally, it was defeated by a 3-2 vote of the board with the general reason of “public good and public safety” used to justify the action.  The three selectmen voting against it – Lorraine Brue, Virginia Coppola and John Gray – each also cited certain other factors.

Selectman Gray said he had visited the club’s website and spoke to someone at the company’s Fairview, Texas facility.  He cited a video on the website as a concern, despite assurances from the owners they were not going to serve the same kind of “large drinks” in Foxboro.  Apparently he felt this was a more reliable source of information than listening to the police chief’s first-hand report following an actual visit.

Selectman Brue was worried about the number of people the business might draw to Patriot Place, and that police staffing levels might be spread too thin.  She said it would amount to “bringing on another Toby Keith’s”, although the capacity of the bowling alley venues would have been about half that of the popular country bar.

No doubt the many tax-paying businesses located in Patriot Place were pleased to hear one of their selectmen dedicating herself to limiting the number of people who might travel to their location.  In many other communities, local officials try and help businesses located in commercial areas rather than hurt them.  The situation in Foxboro appears somewhat unique.

No one is questioning the right of selectmen to make the decision they did – just their wisdom in doing so.  Given what Trader Joe’s had to go through to eventually get a license, this appears to simply be part of the selectmen’s ongoing feud with their largest source of revenue – the Kraft Organization.

And the businesses located in Patriot Place, along with the taxpayers of Foxboro, appear to be little more than collateral damage in this silly and ongoing war.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Is the World a Crazier Place Today?

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, November 4, 2013.
By Bill Gouveia


            Those of us of a certain age are constantly reminded by seemingly daily events that this is a much different world today than when we grew up.  And although fully aware how old that makes us sound, and that nearly every generation before us has said pretty much the same thing, we nonetheless remain convinced it is true.

            Probably because it is.

            Twice in the past few weeks my hometown of Norton has had to send schools into “lockdown” because of an unauthorized person trying to gain access to the building.  While no children were ever truly in danger and both instances turned out to be relatively harmless, it was enough to bring the frightening reality of school security and our safety in general to the forefront once again.

            You certainly can’t blame officials in any school district for being cautious these days.  In an age when people have flown airliners into office buildings, hidden bombs in their shoes, and carried semi-automatic weapons into public buildings for random shootings – you have no choice but to always err on the side of safety.

            But the other side of you sometimes wistfully wonders why we can’t strike a balance even now between safety and logic.  No one wants to gamble with the lives of our children, grandchildren, teachers or workers – but at the same time it seems schools just shouldn’t have to be places with locked doors and in some cases, armed guards.

            Is the world a crazier place today than it was 50 years ago?  Or is it just that with technology today we hear about far more of the craziness than we did when television was in its infancy and the internet was still just a dream?  I don’t know the answer, but tend to think the world is indeed more dangerous simply because we keep improving our ability to harm ourselves and each other.

            When I went to the store to buy some cold medication the other day, I had to show my driver’s license in order to purchase the over-the-counter pills.  Why?  Because, as the clerk so simply related, “Kids have been buying it and getting high with it.”  I sadly chuckled to myself as I realized it was more difficult for me to buy this harmless cold remedy than it would be a bottle of Jack Daniels.

            But with access to information comes added power and responsibility.  Our cars go faster, our guns shoot more bullets, and our ability to travel more easily exposes us to more diseases.  Our risk factor rises faster than our ability to do more, do it better, and improve our lives and the lives of those around us.

            But it confuses me when I realize one of the women who tried to use the bathroom in a Norton school was arrested for trespassing, while the off-duty state trooper who accidentally shot a Norton woman behind her own home at dusk while hunting was never charged with anything.  While they are clearly two entirely different scenarios, it does make you stop and think.

            In so many ways, we are a safer society than the one that spawned those of my generation.  We drive with our seatbelts tightly fastened.  We ride bikes wearing helmets formerly reserved for astronauts.  Our children are in protective car seats, seemingly until age 18.  Our coffee is served beneath signs warning it is hot, and not to spill it on ourselves.

            Yet we still fight efforts to make it tougher to own guns that shoot an incredible number of bullets in mere seconds.  We make possessing small amounts of marijuana a crime, but you can buy a six-pack of beer on nearly every street corner.  We fight rising crime rates by reducing spending on public safety and utilizing fewer police officers.

            The only thing that shutdown a school when I was a Norton student was snow.  But things are different now.  Maybe that is the price we pay for our “advanced” world.  Or maybe we’ve just given up on using common sense as a real solution to our problems.

            Those charged with guaranteeing our safety these days have a tough job.  But they’ll be relieved to know I don’t drink coffee.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, November 1, 2013

We Hate Incumbents - Except Our Own

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on November 1, 2013
By Bill Gouveia


            Opinion polls across the country clearly show voters are not happy with incumbent members of Congress.  They would like to see them voted out of office.


            Well, not so fast.  They don’t like incumbents other than those who represent them personally.  Those particular congressmen they want to keep in office.  It is primarily other people’s incumbents they have a real problem with in Washington.


            That’s not to say no veteran lawmakers are in serious trouble with their local constituency.  There are certainly many battleground elections that will come up in 2014, especially in the primaries where both conservatives and liberals will try to outflank each other to either the extreme right or left.  It is much easier to upset a sitting member of Congress in the primary than in the general election because there are simply less voters.


            But if incumbents are so disliked and so heavily blamed for the many problems facing this nation today, why are they not replaced more often?  Why do voters send the same officials back to Washington year after year?


            Well, there are many reasons.  Chief among them may be the old adage about “the devil you know” being safer than the one you don’t. 


Predictability is a trait not discussed much by those who analyze elections, but it weighs mightily in the minds of campaign experts when they try to influence them.  If you always know where an official stands on most issues, you don’t have to put a lot of effort into swaying them to your side.  But true mavericks – otherwise known as those who actually vote their consciences rather than their party – require more attention and work to earn their support.


            It is also true that incumbents have a built-in advantage with the local political establishment.  Governors, mayors, city councilors, and selectmen all count on their local congressperson to keep federal funds flowing and help them solve their problems.  They invest in relationships with the congressional staff as well as the elected official.  They are loathe to give that up and start all over, afraid they might lose whatever “edge” they had.  They also have the advantage of their particular political party.


            Additionally, Congressmen and Congresswomen love to come home to the district and blame everything on everyone else in Washington.  You know, those “other people” who make the job of our poor, beleaguered elected heroes so difficult.  We are constantly reminded how lucky we all are to have the independent, strong-minded local person to fight our battles for us in that crazy capital city.


            Some say it is amazing that in this internet age, with all the sources of informational available to people, that incumbents can continue to defend their often indefensible records.  But that itself highlights a common misperception quite prevalent today.


            Just because the public has a vastly increased number of “informational opportunities” does not mean they are taking advantage of them.  The fact there are more places to go for information (both good and bad) does not mean the public is therefore more informed on the issues of the day.


            You can lead a voter to the issues, but you can’t make them vote.  People love to complain about the lack of general progress in Washington and in their own states, but that does not mean they are looking to truly understand how to improve their political lot in life.


            In other words – just because you give the average voter more access to information does not mean they will use it for purposes other than bolstering their already-formed political positions.  Information is indeed power, but power is exercised for purposes both good and bad regularly. 


            Contrary to what some people may believe, it is still generally a good thing to be an incumbent.  Fundraising is easier, and using the perks of office is always a good way to increase your re-election chances.


            The vast majority of those in Congress are incumbents.  Those newcomers who get elected in 2014 will be incumbents by 2016.  And unfortunately, Congress changes those who enter it much more than those who enter it change Congress.


            All politics are local, as former Speaker Tip O’Neill so eloquently said.  And everybody hates incumbents – except those who benefit by their incumbency.


Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.