By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON -- Last fall as Jeffrey McCormick began exploring a run for governor in Massachusetts, he was invited to dinner in Washington D.C. with Sen. Angus King, a former two-term independent governor of Maine, who had taken an interest in his campaign.
As King had done in Maine, McCormick was contemplating running as an independent in Massachusetts - a state where Democrats have traditionally held a firm grip on elective offices, but unenrolled voters make up the majority of the electorate.
"He had me out for a long dinner and said, 'Jeff, To be able to always make the best decision you can without regard to any special interest is absolutely the best way to govern and you will be shocked at the kind of support you will get from people who have been trying to do the right thing, but can't because they don't have that sort of air cover of the independent,'" recalled McCormick, a registered Republican until about a year ago..
McCormick, a founding partner of the Boston venture capital firm Saturn Partners, will formally launch his independent campaign for governor on Tuesday after spending the past several months soliciting advice and feedback from issue experts and political operatives about what it would take to mount a successful campaign.
"For 25 years I've built companies that solve problems in education, health care and energy, software and biotechnology. There are a lot of big problems that need solutions and applying that very specific skill set, which creates a lot of value and thousands of jobs, is imperative to the Commonwealth," McCormick told the News Service, sitting down for an interview at a downtown Boston coffee shop.
The race already includes independent Evan Falchuk, who is running under the banner of his own United Independent Party, and five Democrats and two Republicans. McCormick, who grew up in upstate New York and played lacrosse at Syracuse University, lives in the Back Bay with his wife Christine and their three children.
Spurring job growth will be his top priority as governor, McCormick said, alongside reducing energy and health care costs, improving education and streamlining state bureaucracy. He supports investing more in early childhood education, vocational high schools and public higher education.
"Job growth is going to come from small businesses. That's what I've done my entire career, literally three guys in a coffee shop with a software idea," McCormick said. Saturn Partners has helped grow successful companies like Boston Duck Tours, Twin Rivers Technologies, a biodiesel company in Quincy, and the e-mail marketing firm Constant Contact in Waltham.
As part of his "Jeff for Jobs" plan, McCormick said he would file legislation within his first 100 days proposing tax incentives to encourage hiring and job growth in cities with high unemployment.
If recent history is a predictor, McCormick could face significant hurdles to establish himself as a viable candidate come November while running outside the party structure. Recent examples of better known politicians running as independents have shown it can be difficult to gain traction.
But McCormick said he brings something to the campaign no other independent candidate for governor ever has without the weight of any of the political baggage that others have tried to shed or overcome.
"No one has really run from this place. Not in this Commonwealth," McCormick said. "How am I different from Christy Mihos or Tim Cahill? Seriously? I have a background of building companies, the very companies that provide that vast majority of job growth in our Commonwealth and I've done it in areas of grave concern like energy and education."
McCormick said that not only do a majority of voters identify as independent, but they are "tired of not just the gridlock between parties but also the unfortunate encumbrances of parties themselves." He said party candidates struggle to free themselves from the "political shackles" of complex party interests.
While Republican Charlie Baker and Democrats have begun amassing war chests for this year's race, McCormick has only raised $192,243 since he opened a campaign account in October, and that includes $150,000 of his own money. But even as Treasurer Steve Grossman became the first to cross the $1 million threshold in cash on hand, McCormick said he is prepared to erase that early advantage with a stroke of his pen. He said he will have no problem committing at least $1 million of his own resources to the campaign.
"This is not about some big new party, it's not about trying to revamp an entire landscape. It is about solving problems and getting things on track, on the right pathway," McCormick said.
Asked if he agreed with Gov. Deval Patrick's assessment in the State of the Commonwealth last week that "by any reasonable measure" Massachusetts is a more competitive for business than it was seven years ago, McCormick expressed concern about some reports that place the state at the bottom for costs of doing business.
"We're inching along, but I don't think we're anywhere near achieving our potential. And we have to remember we're competing in a global marketplace. If we were even number one in many areas in the United States but number 20 or 30 in the world, to me that's not a big win because of what I believe the potential of the Commonwealth is," he said.
McCormick has brought on Democratic consultant Dan Payne and Republican Todd Domke to advise his campaign, and described Frank Basler, a former operations director for Dunkin' Brands, as his "chief operating officer." He plans to hire a more traditional campaign manager in the near future.
Though he said he hasn't given much thought about naming a running mate, he brushed aside speculation that former GOP Treasurer Joe Malone, who left the Republican Party and has been a vocal supporter of McCormick's, might be added to the ticket. "No, absolutely not," he said.
McCormick described himself as someone who on social issues believes "people should be in charge of their lives." He supports gay marriage, and generally categorized himself as socially progressive and fiscally "prudent."
He said he voted for former Gov. Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election, but also voted for Gov. Patrick, although he declined to say whether he voted for Patrick both times.
Though he said he would never take tax increases off the table, he believes the state can afford to make investments in education and other areas by improving the efficiency of government and cutting health care costs. Approaching budgetary matters from the perspective of a businessman, he said political leaders should not view spending as simply slicing a finite pie, but as making investments that will yield returns both immediately and in the future.
On the minimum wage, McCormick said building a strong middle class and making sure working families can earn a sufficient living to have a "good quality of life" is important, but he said he felt House Speaker Robert DeLeo struck the right balance in a speech last week when the Democrat talked about the importance of reducing business costs for employers through unemployment insurance reform. McCormick endorsed that type of cost neutral effort that would put more wages in the pockets of workers without out impacting a business's ability to grow and hire.
McCormick said eventually he would like to reduce the state's 5.2 percent income tax to 5 percent, but "not out of the box." He said it would be important to first stabilize the business climate and establish momentum behind economic growth.
He also called casinos a Band-Aid that offer economic benefits for the communities that will ultimately host the resorts, but also an endeavor that carries risks associated with gambling addiction, crime and other societal impacts that must be accounted for.
Without taking a position on the proposed ballot question to repeal casinos, McCormick said voters deserve the opportunity to weigh in.