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COLUMN

Why Jane Swift Should Resign

Michael J. Ring

Last August, when Massachusetts Port Authority chief Peter Blute was caught spending public funds on his now-infamous “booze cruise,” Lieutenant Governor Jane Swift rushed to the cameras to announce Blute’s (forced) resignation. “Both the governor and I take very seriously the public trust placed in us and we will not tolerate any breaking of that trust by anyone associated with our administration,” she said, and further declared, “utilizing state resources for personal use is not acceptable.”

But when Jane Swift wants to spend taxpayer money on her personal use, and use her underlings to run her errands and babysit her daughter, that is her prerogative as the lieutenant governor.

And her response to those who dare question her judgment or lack thereof? “It’s not always easy and convenient for me to just pop in and out of errands like it is for everyone else.”

Excuse us, Your Majesty.

Last week, Jane Swift got caught with her head too far in the public trough. It was learned she used her staff to run errands and even asked them to babysit. She asked staffers to take vacation days in order to help her move. And she used a State Police helicopter to fly home to Western Massachusetts for Thanksgiving, rather than crawl with her constituents along the Massachusetts Turnpike on one of the busiest travel days of the year.

Swift claims the staffers volunteered as movers and babysitters, and therefore that there was nothing wrong with the practice. Of course, Swift conveniently forgets that when a boss asks an employee to perform a task, that task cannot be viewed as “voluntary” at all. Staffers eager for a raise or promotion will obviously feel obligated to do whatever the boss demands no matter how tedious or ludicrous the task. Asking state workers to waste their time to do her personal bidding is an ethical lapse on the part of Swift.

Yes, these are minor transgressions. These sins are not perjury or obstruction of justice. An apology, and a check reimbursing the state for the use of the helicopter and lost staff hours, would normally suffice.

But these aren’t normal circumstances, for these are not the standards to which Jane Swift has chosen to hold the rest of the administration. Instead she has led the drumbeat to sack state officials doing even a hint of something wrong or unethical.

On a trade mission to Mexico, Massport board member James Carangelo was caught making sexist jokes -- an action that was in poor taste but certainly not illegal. Swift made sure he was not reappointed to the Massport board.

When Blute was caught in the booze cruise scandal, Swift wasted no time in announcing Blute’s departure. Although Blute was remorseful and repentant and fully admitted his actions were unethical, and quickly paid back the state the $800 of Massport funds used to charter the cruise, the lieutenant governor still decided Peter Blute had to go.

Now Swift has misused public funds of her own (the wasted staffer time and cost of using the helicopter is probably much higher than $800) and she is unrepentant and unwilling to repay the state for the services she used, but has decided she should stay.

Swift has tried to float two excuses to justify her behavior -- the demands of the position of lieutenant governor and the difficulties of the working mother. Neither excuse justifies her actions.

Anyone who knows anything about Massachusetts state government knows the excuse that Swift’s job is demanding is laughable. Remember, she says she can’t pop in and out of errands like the rest of the world. But the lieutenant governor has exactly one constitutional duty -- presiding over meetings of the Governor’s Council, an obscure executive body. Otherwise all her job constitutionally entails is waiting for Governor Paul Cellucci to accept a Cabinet post in the George W. Bush administration.

As for the second excuse, Jane Swift is hardly the typical working mother. Swift makes $75,000 a year as lieutenant governor, and a hefty raise is expected to be passed this year. Further, she has a stay-at-home husband who is able to watch their daughter most of the time. Most of Swift’s constituents don’t make $75,000, and yet two-working-parent households in much tighter time and money binds than Swift manage to find child care arrangements.

And finally, remember that Swift has chosen to give these excuses -- and argue that she’s much more important and her job so much tougher than everyone else -- rather than apologize.

Jane Swift’s ethical lapses don’t rank with those of Nixon and Clinton. She won’t be the last politician caught with her hand in the cookie jar. But as Swift was the one who set such high ethical standards so as to cause the removal of two state officials for equal or lesser violations, she deserves to pay the same price for her transgressions. Consistency with her own standards demands nothing less. Jane Swift has lost credibility as a leader, and she should resign as lieutenant governor of Massachusetts.