Jane Swift: No More Governor Mom

  • Share
  • Read Later
When the highest profile working mother in the country — Acting Governor Jane Swift of Massachusetts — flames out, how are low profile working mothers supposed to react? After I said that Swift's ineptitude transcended gender on CNN on Wednesday, I got 20 phone calls from annoyed viewers who hate it when women don't stick together. "Too bad," said one caller, "you don't have "working fathers to beat up on."

My apologies to all. I should have shown more empathy, although Swift makes it hard. It's true "working father" isn't in the general parlance. The notion rarely arises except when a man discovers a sudden desire to spend more time with his family which follows a sudden demand he give up his job.

Swift's being a working mother might not have been such an issue if she hadn't made it one. "I'm sure there isn't a working parent in America who hasn't faced it. . . when the demands of the two tasks that you take on both increase substantially, something has to give." But nothing had to give until the well-heeled Mitt Romney, fresh from successfully cleaning up the bribery-tainted Olympics, was about to come into the race and a poll showed him beating her by more than 60 points. That, more than being a parent, which she'd been all along, got her out of the race. Don't blame the kids.

As well known for being a mother (Governor Mom) as for being lieutenant governor and becoming acting governor when Gov. Paul Celluci left in April 2001, Swift entered the national consciousness when she commandeered a state helicopter Thanksgiving weekend in 1999 because, she later explained, her first child, Elizabeth, was sick. Racing home in the face of that is one of the few things Swift did in her short tenure I applaud. But being a worried parent doesn't exempt you from the law. If you don't own up to the personal use of a state plane and pay for it, you come across like Evita, as if motherhood entitles you to skirt the rules. This lapse might not have caused such a flap if it had not played into an image already gelling that Swift thought she deserved special treatment. She'd been defiant when accused of using State House employees to babysit, and didn't apologize until reprimanded by an ethics committee that investigated. She was forced to pay a fine of $1,250.

Still, should a $1200 chopper ride and a little babysitting cause more of a flap than the $15 billion cost overrun for the Big Dig which occurred under the watch of her two male predecessors? Welcome to the Big Time, where the personal failure usually gets bigger headlines than an ongoing public one, as former President Clinton could have told her. She made certain the personal would be the political by setting a world record for long commutes, choosing to live in Williamstown, Massachusetts, nearly three hours from the capitol. Perhaps Massachusetts should provide housing. Yes, Boston real estate is pricey. True, she and her husband aren't rich and wanted a leafy backyard for the family. But what sane mother would choose among admittedly difficult tradeoffs the one that puts you several hours away from you children every working day?

If parenting hurt her more than it would have a man, it also helped her more. When she got pregnant with twins (and without any particular official accomplishment), her popularity skyrocketed. But that proved temporary. It came out last summer she'd lied on her marriage license" to hide the fact that she's the fourth wife of her husband, Chuck Hunt. She got embroiled in a nasty fight with two Turnpike Authority board members she tried to fire for voting against a toll increase. She was tainted by a patronage scandal at her former employer, Massport and was put on the spot for lax oversight when two of the Sept. 11 terrorists sailed through Logan Airport security. And when the economy went south last year it took the state budget with it, leaving her with a huge shortfall.

Despite all this the Bush White House supported her candidacy to the end. If Swift could have stopped the hemorrhaging, she might have had a better chance in liberal Massachusetts than Romney, who lost once to Ted Kennedy for the Senate in 1994. Romney came out of that race exposed as a venture capitalist willing to sacrifice labor, having made his millions at the expense of Massachusetts workers. And being pro-life doesn't help him.

But he's been rehabilitated by the Olympics, the recipient, actually, of a $1 billion government bailout of his political fortunes. That's the amount the feds poured into the bribery-tainted Salt Lake games threatened by terrorist attacks. Romney also has $10 million of his own money to spend.

Still, it may take a French judge and a perfect triple axle for an anti-labor, pro-life Republican to attract the substantial number of Democrats and independent women he will need. Some Massachusetts Democrats fear that Romney's entry will give late entrant Robert Reich, the former Labor Secretary, an edge, since he's the only candidate with equal name recognition to Romney's. But the book Reich wrote after leaving the Clinton Cabinet was full of stories that turned out not to be true and made him out to be a hero at the expense of others. He got in trouble again recently when he said Clinton had offered him encouragement in his gubernatorial bid, when actually he'd done quite the opposite. Reich mumbled to a Mass pol that what he'd meant to say was Clinton hadn't "discouraged" him.

You'd barely know but there's another working mother in the race. State Treasurer Shannon O'Brien, a Democrat, takes being a high elected official and a mother of two children, one just a year old, as a fact of life, not an excuse. Women don't benefit from Governor Moms (or Dads) claiming exemptions from the rules for doing what most people do quietly, work and raise a family. No more Governor Moms. Governor will do.