Michael Cowett’s Kickoff Speech

What follows is the text of my remarks as prepared for my kickoff event earlier this week. Video is hopefully soon to follow!

Good evening, and thank you all so much for being here tonight. I am particularly indebted to Senator Fattman for that wonderful introduction. It’s tough to follow someone so eloquent. I’m proud to consider him a friend and a mentor, and to have him on hand here tonight as I make my formal announcement that I am seeking to be the next state representative from the 12th Plymouth District.

I’m touched to see many members of my family and several old friends, and some newer acquaintances as well, so I’ll begin with a bit of personal background. I live on Summer Street here in Kingston with my lovely wife, Sarah, who teaches Latin at Pembroke High School. Sarah and I are both 24, and we’ve now been married for about seven months, but we’ve been together for nearly nine years, and I cannot imagine having found a better or more supportive partner, particularly considering that politics is not nearly so much a passion of hers as it is of mine. I love you, sweetie.

Politically speaking, my first act as a newly-registered Massachusetts Republican was to cast an absentee ballot for a little-known state legislator making a valiant bid for the US Senate but trailing by about thirty points in the polls. You may remember that, thanks in part to the hard work of many here tonight, that state legislator became United States Senator Scott Brown. As it happens, he’s currently about 20 miles north doing an event for Pat O’Connor, who’ll make a fantastic successor to Mayor Hedlund in Duxbury and the rest of the Plymouth and Norfolk District. Since that time, now just over six years ago, I’ve had many opportunities to work as a volunteer and as a full-time staffer on behalf of conservative causes and candidates all across the Commonwealth, most recently for Rep. Diehl in his bid for the State Senate last fall.

Oh, and if you’re curious: yes, I typically keep my hair pretty short, but not quite this short. Earlier today, I joined about seven hundred of my co-workers at Granite Telecom in Quincy, as well as Governor Baker, in the Saving by Shaving event that Granite sponsors every year. For each of us who agreed to shave our heads, Granite and its CEO donate $5,000 to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute to support the fight against pancreatic cancer, a cause I know is very dear to the hearts of several people in this room, as well as some others unable to join us. And as a result of today’s event alone, we raised over $4 million to fight a disease that is among the deadliest of cancers and also more prevalent than many realize.

I’m happy to see we’ve drawn people with a range of political viewpoints here tonight, and I’m particularly pleased to see many of my Republican friends who’ve occasionally been at odds about the direction of our party here in Massachusetts. Four weeks ago, a pretty bruising series of contests for the state committee came to a close on primary night, and in one week another contentious fight will be decided for the privilege of serving as our party’s national committeewoman. It’s only natural that conflicts between friends and allies can be among the bitterest we experience.

Without doubt, there are serious policy-based, strategic, and tactical matters about which many of us disagree passionately and honorably. But particularly in our era of Instant Outrage about the smallest things, we have to remember how important debate and compromise are within our democratic system, and I’m so glad that we are able to come together here tonight even while we respectfully differ on other topics. And I commit tonight that my campaign will have roles for all who sincerely wish to assist us in the pursuit of better communities and a better Commonwealth, because that’s simply the right way to proceed – indeed, it’s the only way for us to achieve success on Election Day.

Now, I’ve decided to enter this race because of my desire to play a leadership role in pursuit of that goal of better communities and a better Commonwealth.

I think many people are frustrated by our political leaders because they sense that they have few if any principles beyond their own advancement, and so before I get into policy specifics, I want to talk about the principles that guide my political views and will guide my actions as an elected official. I begin from the conviction that decisions are best made closest to those they will affect, and while the governments in Washington and Boston do have important roles to play, those roles have grown far beyond the scope that those who established them intended, and that our boards of selectmen and our school committees and our other municipal leaders are far better equipped to craft solutions designed to meet the diverse needs of the communities they serve. Regardless of the craftsmen, there may not be easy solutions to the problems that we face. But I believe that policy-makers should strive to keep their solutions as simple as possible because the Byzantine complexity of so many of our laws engenders resentment and confusion among everyday citizens who cannot comprehend them, and serves only to further entrench a small and well-connected few.

Furthermore, I think we must make more of an effort to learn from others’ experiences: to look at existing approaches, evaluate their merits and their shortcomings, and apply as much as we can. And perhaps most important of all, I believe that context and incentives matter, that it can sometimes mean as much to know where we’re coming from as where we plan to go, that because so much important information about society remains beyond the grasp of any one person or even a group, even the noblest of intentions behind a new policy or program can yield unforeseen and perverse results. With these core principles in mind, I want next to discuss three of the most important matters I see facing our region and our state.

First and foremost, I believe Massachusetts is being held back by twin problems of governance and of self-governance. Governor Baker boasts an approval rating north of 70%, but he is hindered in his ability to lead by a legislature in which nearly 80% of the House and 85% of the Senate come from the opposition party, more than enough to override any veto the governor may issue, and far more than enough to ensure that legislative leadership will be dominated by those well to the Left of most of us here on the South Shore. Even those in the other party who frequently profess to being conservative or to having an independent streak when at home in their districts, seldom seem to act upon those qualities when it’s time to cast a vote in Boston.

But in our political system, the legislative branch is rightly first among equals. And so the first step in addressing our problem of governance is to elect more reform-minded lawmakers who will support common-sense reforms to how the legislature does business. These reforms would make it easier for good legislators to do their jobs, such as requiring adequate time to read legislation and propose amendments to it before votes are cast. They’d also make it harder for corrupt politicians—the sort who shake down businesses for free dry-cleaning, or abuse the public trust for personal gain—by requiring that ethics committees be composed equally of members from both parties, so that misdeeds can less easily be swept under the rug for partisan reasons.

You might wonder whether a better group of legislators on Beacon Hill would really make significant changes to public policy, and while I think that that is a necessary step, it is far from a sufficient one, because of the problems we face in terms of self-governance. Far too much of state government is set up to be unaccountable to anyone—to our legislators, to our statewide officials, and certainly to we, the people. And while those who created this order understandably sought to produce greater professionalism, they were blinded by a fatal conceit: they failed to perceive that bureaucracies would develop their own interests, and that most often, this interest would lead to the preservation of the status quo, regardless of result. Now, particularly with regard to the MBTA, Governor Baker has done laudable work to shift accountability to himself through people he has selected for their merit and can remove if they don’t prove up to the job. But although it is a large and very visible one, the MBTA is but one piece of state government, and it will be among my top priorities to find more ways in which this pattern can be repeated.

But even though there are significant structural obstacles to reform, there are pressing substantive challenges that must be addressed, among which the greatest is economic. Although as a state we may be in better shape than some of our neighbors, in terms of creating a climate of job growth and economic opportunity, according to most measures we are in the middle of the pack nationwide, and we can and must do better. Particularly here on the South Shore, we are also burdened by the fact that for far too long, our state’s economic policies have been crafted as though there were little of note outside Route 128. Broadly speaking, we need to ensure that state government does a better job of limiting the tax burden on individuals, families, and small businesses. We also need to reign in current spending and unsustainable future promises, particularly given that we rank as one of the most heavily indebted states in America on a per capita basis. And it’s further critical that we stop pretending that bureaucrats in Boston are capable of picking economic winners and losers, and instead focus on fostering a better economic climate throughout the Commonwealth. But it’s not enough to talk about the supply of jobs; we also need to be more creative finding ways to keep people in the labor force rather than pushing them out of it with misguided programs that create powerful incentives not to work.

Lastly, many aspects of our education system just aren’t adding up. Despite ranking near the top of the country, we’re in the midst of changing our standards for the worse to align with the misguided experiment known as Common Core; if anything, we should be raising our standards, and we should restore recently abandoned requirements that students learn our nation’s history. Instead of viewing the use of classroom technology as an end in itself, we should recognize that it is instead one means to the end of better learning, and that its use cannot be allowed to come at the expense of providing adequately for basic needs. We seem, in short, to have forgotten that the goal of public education should be, well, the education of productive citizens prepared to live and work in a free society, rather than as the subjects of a distant bureaucracy.

Achieving these goals and winning this race is going to depend on making personal contact with as many voters as possible and convincing them to fill in the oval next to my name on September 8th and then on November 8th. Please, please, please let us know what you can do over these next seven months: knock on doors, make phone calls, contact friends on social media, host a gathering, march in parades; if none of that sounds appealing, we always accept more money, but *whatever* you can do individually will contribute to victory come Election Day. Thank you all again for your time and your generosity this evening. May G-d bless you, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the United States of America.

About Michael Cowett

Michael Cowett is a GOP candidate for state representative in Massachusetts' 12th Plymouth District (Kingston, Halifax, Plympton; Plymouth pcts. 1, 11, 13; Duxbury pct. 1; Middleborough pct. 1).