Monday, October 24, 2016

Thank You To Our Election Workers

GOUVEIA: Thank you, poll workers and election officials

Talk of 'rigged elections' demeans work done by public servants
Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size
Posted: Sunday, October 23, 2016 9:52 pm | Updated: 10:58 pm, Sun Oct 23, 2016.

This is a particularly good moment to stop and issue our heartfelt and sincere thanks to a group of hardworking people we depend on year after year to maintain the integrity of our most basic right as Americans.
Thank you, poll workers and election officials across this area, state and country. Thank you for all you have done in the past, and for the outstanding job we know you will do on Nov. 8 when more than 100 million Americans will cast their ballots for president and a myriad of other important offices.

These are the people who make voting easy for us, or at least as easy as possible. They do the work both behind the scenes and out in public. They help keep the voting lists accurate, the ballots private and the process fair and impartial.
Some are paid workers, and many are volunteers. They perform a thankless job where they generally get noticed only when something goes wrong. They are often blamed and seldom praised. But without them, our electoral process would grind to a halt.
Start with our city and town clerks and election commissioners both locally and nationally. These are elected or appointed officials who have to organize and coordinate this most sacred of American rituals. They oversee a process that at its core is quite simple, yet is governed by complicated and complex rules made all the more difficult by political candidates and staffers who know how to stretch and bend those same rules.
They get you registered to vote. They send you reminders. They update the list and eliminate fraud. It is largely through their work that voter fraud is nearly nonexistent. They maintain records, run the ballot machines and oversee the process that selects the most powerful person in the world. And they generally don't get paid a lot of money to do it.
Then there are the workers at the polls. The people who sit at the tables and direct you to the proper location. They check you in, make sure you get the right ballot and make sure that expression of your civic will is properly handled, counted and stored.
They tally the results while observers watch them with suspicious and prying eyes. They do so while setting aside their own opinions, prejudices and desires. With objectivity and a passion for democracy, they sit through the days when thousands stream past them - as well as the days when only a handful turn out to elect local officials.
They eat cold pizza during breaks from either monotony or frenetic activity. They patiently explain for the umpteenth time how your name got removed from the voter list because you didn't respond to the census. They stay under control when you yell at them because you have to get in yet another line. They answer the same questions over and over again and still manage to be civil.
They fill out the forms and paperwork to certify the actions you endorse with your votes. They are your friends, your neighbors, your relatives and people you may have noticed in the grocery store or at the gas station.
They are Republicans, Democrats, independents and members of lesser-known parties. But they put all that aside when they offer their services so you can choose your leaders.
When candidates talk about "rigged elections" and "rampant voter fraud," it demeans and insults the work done by these public servants. It destroys the faith Americans have in elections, which is made possible because these ordinary yet special folks have invested their time in making it all work
Freedom isn't free, and voting isn't cheap. It costs a lot of money to hold elections, and many lives have been given in the name of allowing us to vote. That's why it is so important that all of us, candidates and voters alike, continue to accept the will of the American people when it is expressed through free and fair elections.
The peaceful and orderly transfer of power is a staple of American democracy. It is made possible by the dedicated people who allow us to vote.
When the integrity of elections is impugned, so is their integrity. That's unfair.
On November 8, thank your poll workers.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Political Mistakes Happen Locally Too

GOUVEIA: Politics gets nasty here, too

Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size
Posted: Thursday, October 20, 2016 10:12 pm | Updated: 10:59 pm, Thu Oct 20, 2016.

Political mistakes have been quite common this election season, particularly on the national scene. But recent political miscues at the local level deserve special mention.
Let’s start with state representative challenger Michael Toole and his ill-advised decision to decline an invitation to attend a candidate forum in his own hometown of Norton simply because it is sponsored by the Tri-Town Chamber of Commerce.

You know, that non-profit group comprised of local businesses, with the stated mission “to bring business people together to improve the economic well-being of their organizations and thereby improve the quality of life in our communities?” Right-leaning, no doubt, but hardly a bunch of radicals.
Toole is a Democrat and his Republican opponent, Rep. Jay Barrows of Mansfield, is a leader in the organization. Toole said he is willing to discuss issues in a fair and unbiased format, but feels Barrows has a conflict of interest because he is a member of the chamber’s board of directors.
Just a couple weeks ago, Barrows traveled to Norton for a debate against his Norton Democratic opponent. The moderator for that event (it was me) is a well-known Democrat from — you guessed it — Norton. But, the Republican from Mansfield still came and did the debate.
Yet, Toole believes speaking before local business people and answering their questions in a non-debate setting would somehow put him in an unfair situation? That clearly indicates he believes the chamber leadership and members to be incapable of running an unbiased event.
To be a legislator, you have to demonstrate the ability to work and function in all environments. Toole’s only stated reason for declining the invitation was that he doesn’t have faith in the sponsoring organization and its ability to be objective. That’s insulting and wrong.
As this heads to press, Rep. Betty Poirier, R-North Attleboro, has declined to debate her opponent on North TV because she just can’t find the time. However, she can find time to do an interview alone on the same cable operation. That is pathetic and a sad commentary on the veteran representative.
Same goes for Sen. Richard Ross, R-Wrentham, who also can’t be bothered debating his opponent. Shame on them both.
Elsewhere, North Attleboro’s RTM continued to demonstrate a complete disregard for the will of the voters. This week they passed on the opportunity to once and for all eliminate preliminary local elections in town, something voters have clearly indicated they would favor.
Despite having more than 20,000 registered voters, no preliminary election in North Attleboro history has ever attracted more than 1,800 citizens. Most have featured considerably fewer. The cost of running these unnecessary elections is about $12,000 each.
All these do is reduce the number of candidates running for office and discourage participation. Apparently, North voters can’t be trusted to choose properly from three candidates running for one seat. The current rules require a preliminary just to cut the field to two.
But RTM members simply refuse to recognize the obvious. Having such elections helps those currently in power, so once again the ruling body has solidified its grasp on the system and prevented any type of progressive change.
Part of the excuse given for defeating the elimination was that even the sponsor admitted the wording of the proposal might not meet state standards. The town’s attorney noted he had not had the chance to refine the language since it was a citizen’s petition and not sponsored by a town body.
Really? It has been known for some time this was coming. Could the motion itself not have been presented to the town’s attorney in time to be properly vetted, thus saving everyone valuable time?
Once again, officials in North Attleboro disregard both common sense and the expressed opinion of the electorate. Maybe this will resurface and eventually be passed. Or maybe they can put a non-binding referendum question on the ballot and see what voters really want, and then totally ignore it. That’s worked well in the past.
Maybe the nasty, bitter, seemingly endless presidential campaign has me politically exhausted these days. But I hate seeing this arrogance seep into the local political level.
Debate your opponents. Speak to all legitimate groups. Listen to your constituents. Doing otherwise makes you look foolish.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Saying Goodbye to Haley - But I don't Like Dogs

Posted: Sunday, October 16, 2016 9:50 pm | Updated: 9:52 pm, Sun Oct 16, 2016.
I’m not a dog person. I really don’t like them much at all. Just not my thing.
Which doesn’t explain why I’m sitting here crying over one of the damn things.
My son’s dog Haley died this week. I thought I would be sad for my boy, his wife and my three grandsons who absolutely adored the 12-year old golden retriever. And I am. But it runs much deeper than that.
Turns out I really loved that dog. I’m going to miss her a lot.
I’ve always laughed and scoffed at people who refer to pets as their children and used to cringe when both my boys would tell their dogs to “go see Grandpa.” I would think to myself, “I am not that animal’s grandparent.”
But I was. And I feel the loss terribly.
Haley was a rescue dog my son Aaron and daughter-in-law MJ found in a shelter nearly a decade ago. They had her before my oldest grandson (did I mention his name is William?) was born. She was a fairly large dog, with long hair and boundless energy. When I first met her, I thought she was out of control.
She jumped on me like I was the only human being she had ever encountered. She licked me at every opportunity as though I were a giant lollipop. I made the mistake of reaching out and petting her, just trying to be nice. She sat beside me for the next hour and pushed my hand with her nose every time I stopped.
I’d like to say it was love at first sight — but it really wasn’t. It had been decades since I’d been around a dog for any length of time. My sons always held that against me and complained that I had reneged on a promise to let them have one. And they were right; I had been the obstacle they couldn’t overcome.
Then I found myself “dog-sitting” on occasion. I would plop myself on the couch and Haley would stand there and stare at me. Eventually I would turn and say “Ok, come on.” She would then scamper up beside me and put her head in my lap, and I would smile and scratch behind her ears until my hand got too tired.
We became friends. Then she became family.
Haley and I had secrets. She was only supposed to be fed twice a day when we had her. I might have exceeded that slightly. I cannot confirm or deny that she loved ham and baloney. There may or may not have been hotdogs and burgers cooked specially for her. And I have heard rumors she was particularly adept at catching French fries tossed into the air.
She also became the first dog ever to sleep in my bedroom. Haley did not like to be left alone and attempts to have her sleep by herself in other rooms were spectacularly unsuccessful.
I finally gave up the night I laid out a comfortable bed for her in the spare room, and she wound up butting her head against my bedroom door until we let her in. She then curled up at the foot of our bed and snored all night long. She never spent the night alone in another room at our house again.
I told myself I liked Haley because she was so good with my grandsons. I rationalized that because Aaron and MJ loved her so much, she must be a good dog. Because it is well established that I don’t like dogs.
But I loved Haley.
If you pushed me further, you’d discover I also love my son Nate’s dog — after all, his name is Bruschi. But geography allowed me to spend more time with Haley, and whether I wanted to admit it or not, we had a very real relationship.
When I watched my son tearfully dig a grave for her in our yard, I was overcome with emotion. But I was surprised to discover it was not primarily out of sympathy for Aaron, MJ and their boys. It was for Haley.
She now rests in a corner of our yard. But you won’t find me standing tearfully over her grave.
No sir. I don’t like dogs
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and doggie grandparent. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Debates Good For Process At All Levels

GOUVEIA: We love our debates

Local matchups serve an especially important purpose for the voters
Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size
Posted: Friday, October 7, 2016 12:15 am
America loves a good debate. But not everyone agrees on what constitutes one.
Debate as a verb must be separated and understood differently from debate as a noun. Our entire political system (or at least, what our entire political system is supposed to be) is based upon the age-old concept of debate, the verb.
We don’t like to be told what to do. We much prefer hearing the options, appraising the motives and sincerity of those proposing them, and ultimately making decisions based upon their advice.
But as much as we love to engage in debate, we enjoy watching our candidates in them even more. Other than a Super Bowl, few events capture the excitement and attention of a high-stakes debate between highly visible and well-known participants.
Believe me, it wasn’t the charisma and charm of either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump that drew more than 80 million viewers for their first fight — er, I mean debate. Rather, it was the desire of voters to see them together in a setting where each had to do more than push their positions and criticize their opponent. They had to respond to the moment under pressure, and prove they could handle not only the spotlight, but the heat it can generate.
Do debates truly influence undecided voters? Assuming those second cousins of unicorns still exist these days? You get different takes on that, depending on who you ask, but I’d like to think they do. And debates can also either solidify or weaken the depth of devotion that supporters have for their candidates.
Personally, I love formal debates. Done correctly, they show us candidates at their best and worst all at the same time. They can provide a glimpse into not only the individual, but the values and abilities that person will bring to the office or the cause they seek.
Like many, I have watched a lot of debates over the years. On the local level, I have been involved in them as a candidate. On multiple occasions, I have also served as a debate organizer, panelist and moderator. That includes debates featuring candidates for city and townwide office, state representative, state senate and various ballot questions and issues.
I thoroughly enjoy local debates because they are generally more than entertainment. When the cameras are broadcasting on your local cable access network, rather than across the world, the audience is much more defined — and the candidates know this. The local audience holds them to a higher standard than the national one.
In a debate for state representative or town office, the answers really do matter at least as much as how you answer them. Style points are still important, but you can’t get by on sound bites and good lines. Why, you ask?
Because the issues discussed are more straightforward than the national issues. The viewers have a better understanding of them and won’t settle for broad answers to narrowly formed questions. A candidate who can’t be specific in a local debate usually ends up being a candidate who can’t get elected.
Of course, there are exceptions. Nearly every town has their local elected official who could get elected merely by listing their name on the ballot. And the re-election rate in our Massachusetts Legislature is astoundingly high, showing us all the power of incumbency.
Over the next few weeks I will have had the honor of moderating two debates between candidates for state representative. Rep. Jay Barrows of Mansfield and his opponent Michael Toole of Norton faced off Thursday night (after this was submitted, in case anything unusual happened), and Rep. Steven Howitt of Seekonk will square off with challenger Paul Jacques of Rehoboth Oct. 19.
The moderator is tasked with asking the questions that people want answered, and in a way that is trying to get a direct answer. You have to do that in an unbiased, objective manner. And usually, if supporters of each side at the end feel you favored the other candidate — you succeeded.
So as much as you might love or hate the Hillary/Trump drama, try and watch some of your local forums. You just might discover what real debating is all about.
Or you might fall asleep. Either way, it’s a good thing.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.