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Gabrieli presents plans instead of promises

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

What is an amazing sight to see while reporting on political races? When you see a candidate turn doubters into true believers.

I've seen that twice so far this election cycle. Earlier in the year it happened when Deval Patrick galvanized about 500 people attending the Pioneer Valley Project's candidate's event something that Kerry Healey and Thomas Reilly didn't even bother to send a representative to.

And now last week I witnessed Christopher Gabrieli do the same kind of political magic at his "town meeting" at the John Boyle O'Reilly Club in Springfield on Aug. 16.

Think about it: when was the last time you were excited about a political candidate? When were you actually hopeful a particular person could be the one who could make a positive difference?

I think over 100 people squeezed into the Boyle had that experience last week.

Gabrieli isn't slick. He has a slightly rumpled, almost nerdy look to him. Hey, I can relate!

He isn't a political pin-up boy like the Mittster who is all about the right haircut and suit.

He's got something that Mitt never has had: ideas and a track record.

Gabrieli is not only someone who wants to solve problems. He has worked to solve problems.

He took non-scripted questions from the audience the other night and most people were not fawning supporters. They asked hard questions and received thoughtful non-sound bite answers.

On the subject of reforming auto insurance, Gabrieli said the issue is complicated and voters shouldn't lose sight of the fact that under the current system there have been two consecutive years of reductions in premiums.

What he would propose is changing the current rules to allow for more competition and more companies to offer coverage, but not an open market place. He said that in some states, premiums have risen instead of lowered with open competition.

I'm not sure if that's what people wanted to hear, but he answered the question without pandering to the crowd.

He told his audience that he's for casino gambling but with regulation and local approval. For instance, casinos shouldn't be allowed to have ATMs on the gambling floor, he said.

Casinos, though, are not his economic development magic wands. Gabrieli said that a long-term plan for the state includes investing and encouraging knowledge based industries such as software, alternative energy and biotech. As part of his plan, he wants to build UMass into a national research leader.

He described how he would work to lengthen the school day in order to keep latchkey kids from getting into trouble and how he would advocate for "early college" high school where students could be earning college as well as high school credits at the same time.

When asked about public safety issues, he wants to put more police on the street a somewhat common response. Then he added that he wants to see all prisoners who represent the greaest risk of being repeat offenders get supervision when they complete their sentences. He said that too many felons would rather stay in jail than take parole because parole means supervision.

And he thinks more school time would mean less jail time for many youth.

There was much more from Gabrieli. He said he would visit each part of the state twice each year and bring his cabinet with him. The last governor who showed that much commitment was Michael Dukakis. He wants to make savings for college tax deductible. He wants to change property taxes so seniors can afford to live in their own homes longer.

So far, what I've witnessed in covering Gabrieli and Patrick hasseemed to be the candidates willing to engage voters in a dialogue and speak about the issues they bring up.

This isn't the time for standard stump speeches, which I'm afraid is what I've heard from Thomas Reilly. (Now I've irritated a whole bunch of mayors and other elected officials.)

Nor is it time for a campaign that is managed by television commercials rather than actually meeting voters Kerry Healey's current tactic.

I think this contest might actually be about the candidate with the best ideas. Wouldn't that be refreshing?

This column represents the opinions of its author and no one else.

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