Nearly one year after his joint effort with Gov. Gary Johnson to offer an alternative and experienced ticket for president and vice president, Gov. Bill Weld is beginning to establish a more active political voice.
Weld, for example, recently joined the Honorary Board of the Our America Initiative, the nonprofit advocacy organization led by Johnson, the governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003. Weld has also begun putting forth his views as a featured writer for The Jack News.
His first column last week was on the need for congressional term limits. Referring to the looming debt ceiling debacle facing Congress next month, Weld said, “Those are time crunches of their own making and dysfunction, and in the private sector, would be job-ending irresponsibility.”
Congress’ abysmal performance this year is all the more reason why “now is a good time to talk about term limits.”
A fiscal hawk unmatched by few
Weld, elected governor of Massachusetts in 1990 with 51 percent of the vote, increased that total to more than 71 percent four years later.
He bested his number, he says, by serving all the people – not just the voters from his then-political party, the Republicans.
Working with multiple parties was and is a necessity in Massachusetts.
Indeed, despite the state legislature being controlled by a Democratic majority, Weld managed to cut taxes 21 times and did not permit any tax increases. He did this by identifying areas of government inefficiency and spending that was not serving the public interest.
For example, Weld championed programs that helped welfare recipients get jobs to reduce their long-term reliance on government assistance, and in turn create a more productive society.
In 1992, he was rated the most fiscally conservative governor in the United States by the Wall Street Journal. At the same time, the state’s unemployment rate plummeted from the highest among the 11 most industrialized states to the lowest by the end of his first term.
Speaking out against extreme partisanship
Weld has also begin to publicly address the lessons of multi-partisanship that he first deployed in Massachusetts in the 1990s.
He spoke at a recent panel that he moderated at the National Conference of State Legislatures’ annual Legislative Summit in Boston. Before an audience of hundreds of legislators, Weld said face-to-face interactions among lawmakers were vital.
“It’s a lot harder to take a cheap shot at someone in the press if you know you’re going to be sitting across the table from them sometime in the next seven days,” Weld said, referring to weekly meetings he held at the Charles Hotel in Harvard Square with the state House speaker.
Those meetings have continued in Massachusetts, passed down from one administration to the next.
Current Gov. Charlie Baker, who served under Weld as undersecretary of health and human services and secretary of administration and finance, said that he learned similar advice from his former boss.
“Governor Weld used to say all the time, you never know where the next coalition you’re going to work with is coming from,” Baker said at the NCSL event. “This is supposed to be a distributed decision making process, it’s supposed to be messy and complicated. I believe in that and think in the long run you get a better product the more voices you include.”
Finding a home outside the GOP
Weld continues to be widely regarded as an absolute fiscal hawk. But he has always coupled his free market advocacy with strong personal beliefs in favor of public integrity and social tolerance.
An early proponent of civil rights for gays and lesbians, for example, Weld appointed the judge who wrote the opinion establishing marriage equality as a matter of constitutional right. He was also an outspoken defender of a woman’s right to choose.
No less significant, in Weld’s view, is the perspective he has brought from his earlier career as a federal prosecutor. He was the United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts from 1981 to 1986, where he focused on high-profile public corruption cases, and was head of the Justice Department Criminal Division from 1986 to 1988. He won convictions in 110 of the 111 cases that he brought.
In a time of cultural atavism and tribal partisanship, Weld refuses to toe that line.
“I suggest to you that increasing the size of America’s economic pie – which can be achieved only if everybody has a seat at the table – is the most important challenge facing our country today,” Weld says.