STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, FEB. 19, 2014…. Independent gubernatorial candidate Jeffrey McCormick, the wealthy investor hoping to outlast the two eventual major party nominees in this year’s race for governor, talked up his business background and private-sector approach to problem-solving on Wednesday in a wide-ranging public discussion at Suffolk University.
McCormick, a founding partner in the Boston venture capital firm Saturn Partners, said if voters know one thing about him it should be that he has a record of creating small business jobs in a competitive market. Saturn has helped build companies like Boston Duck Tours, Twin Rivers Technologies, a biodiesel company in Quincy, and the e-mail marketing firm Constant Contact in Waltham.
“I fundamentally believe the role of government is to create opportunity for everyone it can,” McCormick said, calling a strong middle class the “structural element that makes everything else work.”
McCormick is one of three independents along with Evan Falchuk and Scott Lively running for governor in a race that includes five Democrats and two Republicans. On Wednesday, McCormick took part in a roundtable discussion hosted by the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service featuring all the candidates for governor.
The Back Bay resident said he was unfazed by a Boston Globe story that raised question about his decision to claim a condo in Portsmouth, N.H as a principal residence when applying for a mortgage in 1999. McCormick called it a “nothing story,” and said he has always maintained a primary residence and paid taxes in Massachusetts.
“It’s a principal residence. So, I bought a place. I didn’t own a place somewhere else. The banks sent over the forms and I signed it just on a mortgage. It was a teeny mortgage. I was a Massachusetts resident. I filed in Massachusetts which everyone knows,” McCormick said, calling the condo “just a place so we could get away to on weekends.”
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McCormack said his bank filled out the forms and he signed them, adding. “It was done exactly the way it was supposed to.”
“I think someone was looking for something they didn’t find and said, ‘Eh, let’s just write something about it,’” he said. “I kind of laughed about it to be honest. I mean, this is as squeaky clean as it gets.”
As the discussion shifted from topic to topic, McCormick said he would vote to repeal the state’s casino law, but would not try as governor to overturn the will of the voters, and opposes mandatory minimum sentencing for non-violent drug offenders and annually indexing the minimum wage to inflation. He said the state should periodically review the minimum wage.
He also said he supports the use of more natural gas as an energy source for now to replace “the nastier stuff” until cleaner alternative technology catches up, but believes the state will be hard pressed to meet its carbon emission reduction goals by 2020 under the Global Warming Solutions Act.
“Some of the targets that were set out will be very hard to meet. I think what government is going to have to do is move the goal posts unless you want to start closing down businesses, which would be disastrous,” McCormick said.
Faced with the daunting challenge of running from outside the powerful party structures than can provide candidates with campaign infrastructure and easily accessible fundraising networks, McCormick said running as an independent will give him the freedom to make decisions without being beholden to any special interests.
He said the “vast majority” of support picked up so far has come from “hardcore Democrats and Republicans,” and projected that in November he would likely steal more raw votes away from the Democratic nominee but an equal percentage from the smaller Republican Party base in Massachusetts.
But running independently is not without its challenges. On Jan. 28, a week before formally kicking off his campaign, McCormick sent an email to supporters setting a fundraising goal of $50,000 by Feb. 4 to “send a very strong message” to the field. However, between Jan. 16 and Feb. 15 McCormick reported just under $8,950 in contributions to go along with the $175,000 of his own money that he poured into his campaign.
Asked to name public officials he respects, McCormick called it “very, very impressive” what independent billionaire Michael Bloomberg was able to accomplish as mayor of New York City for three terms, and said he admires U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine’s achievements as a former governor of Virginia, who led his state to number one rankings for education and business at the same time.
On taxes, McCormick said he would like to eventually roll the income tax back to 5 percent from its perch at 6.25 percent, but said that should not happen until every dollar of waste and inefficiency is wrung out of government and necessary investment made in priorities like education and clean energy.
“Over time, as you find savings, and make the investments that have long-term benefits then you try to pull taxes down,” he said.
McCormick said his hunch is that waste and inefficiency as a percentage of the state’s $36 billion budget would top out in the “high single digits,” and would require a top-to-bottom review by outside auditors to identify areas where money is being wasted or technology could be used to make government more efficient.
Veering back to his business background, McCormick said he would bring a “relentless culture of accountability” to Beacon Hill and an understanding of how to maximize resources.
“Taking risk and also thinking longer term are definitely not the strong suits of people in government because government doesn’t have the competition that the private sector does,” McCormick said.
McCormick said health care costs are inhibiting the growth of many small businesses in Massachusetts, and while providers and insurers are making progress to curb increases in spending he said it isn’t happening fast enough.
“Not everyone is thinking long enough term and we need very active relationships with our primary care providers,” McCormick said.
He also said he believes in investing in both early and higher education as a mechanism for breaking the cycle of poverty and training students for the jobs of the new economy. In addition to those more traditional vehicles, McCormick said the state should put more focus on community colleges and vocational high schools and encouraging students to enter fields where they can be reasonably guaranteed jobs when they graduate.
Though he said there are great examples of charter schools, McCormick said the charter model won’t work in all communities where charters can siphon resources away from traditional public schools. He called for a balance, and said he favored giving more local control to schools over hiring and firing decisions.
In addition to his business background, McCormick chose to highlight what he described as his humble upbringing in upstate New York that allows him to relate to all residents despite his financial successes. After graduating from Syracuse University on a lacrosse scholarship, he said he moved to Massachusetts 25 years ago with $800 in his pocket and slept on a friend’s couch working a minimum wage job until he could afford an apartment.
McCormick said he is running for governor because he believes his skill set is a good match for the office and believes he can have a greater impact on people’s lives than if he were to continue in venture capital.
And as for his chances of success running as an independent, McCormick quoted the late Nelson Mandela.
“It is impossible until it is done,” he said. “Think about it.”
Copyright 2014 State House News Service