Dukakis, Learning From Last Time, Works Harder

Former Governor Emphasizes Organization Over Issues

Supporters of Michael S. Dukakis say they know why the then-governor was unseated by challenger Edward J. King four years ago. Far ahead in the polls before the September primary, "Dukakis supporters were so confident of victory in 1978, that they didn't feel the need to get involved. Many didn't even think it necessary to vote," one of the current campaign pamphlets asserts.

Now, with a huge lead in the polls over both King and Lt. Gov. Thomas P. O'Neill III, "we know better in 1982," the pamphlet concludes.

The Dukakis organization has indeed mobilized to prevent any complacency this time around. Though "the Duke" officially announced his candidacy in early January, his forces have been organizing for roughly a year. In December, two months before the ward caucuses, six months before the nominating convention, and 10 months before the actual Democratic primary, he secured the support of the state's two leading liberal organizations. Americans for Democratic Action and Citizens for Participation in Political Action. Last week, the former governor won roughly 60 percent of the delegates in the ward caucuses, virtually guaranteeing himself the nomination of the May 22 Springfield party convention. His staff insists that it continued to put in as many hours the week after the caucuses as it did the week before.

But hard work will not be sufficient for Dukakis to return to the governor's mansion. Some criticize Dukakis for avoiding issues in the campaign so far. If the race becomes more substantive in tone. King may begin to gain support, some observers contend. Garry Orren, professor of Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government says "people will be reminded of Dukakis' stands they don't agree with, why they voted against him in 1978." Noting that complacency may result in as much as a 7 percent fall in a candidate's tally at the polls, Orren concludes that the 10 percent difference between King and Dukakis in 1978 had more substantive roots than mere overconfidence.

But Dukakis insists that this time he is different, not only in his will to work, but also because of what he has learned in the past four years. After leaving the Statehouse in January 1979, Dukakis came to the K-School, where he helped build the state and local program. As director of Intergovernmental Studies and as Faculty Chairman of the Senior Executive Fellows of State and Local Governments, the ousted chief executive worked his way in as a regular faculty member, teaching classes, and developing case studies.


When first arriving at the K-School in the wake of defeat, "I promised myself that I would not think seriously about politics for my first two years there," Dukakis says. He insists that he did not make use of the many political experts and strategists who teach and visit the school, but nevertheless benefitted greatly from his tenure.

"Teaching is as much a learning process as a seeing process," Dukakis says, adding that the experience "gave me a chance to think about the issues and about public management. I was teaching experienced government managers."

Specifically, he has learned not to make brash pledges, a stance he can afford because of his current front runner position. In 1974, he campaigned on the guarantee of no future increases in taxes, a promise he was forced to break in order to deal with a mounting budget deficit. The result was the so-called "Dukakis surtax," a 7.5 percent surtax on state income taxes.

This year, Dukakis is careful in his criticism of King's financial plan, which would reduce taxes, and O'Neill's plan, which would increase them. Without control of the books, he says, he does not know whether the state faces a budget surplus or a budget deficit. He has proposed that localities receive two-fifths of all increases in state revenue, but has successfully avoided committing himself to a specific tax plan.

Although Dukakis says he believes King is "very vulnerable" on the issue of taxes, he says he would like to expand the primarily one-track current debate beyond the tax issue. "You can't debate taxes with out debating the services it pays for," he says, explaining why he has yet to agree to a formal public debate with King, who wants to limit the first round to taxes.

Dukakis staffers feel King is at least equally vulnerable especially on the issue of corruption. Dukakis strategists say they intend to contrast their candidate's image of impeccable honesty with what they call King's tainted reputation. The challenger makes no bones about raising the name of Barry Locke, a former high-level King adviser and director of the MBTA, who was convicted this month on bribery charges. Dukakis also points to the Ward Commission report, which unearthed significant corruption in state government, and which the King Administration has ignored in the year since it was released.

Dukakis apparently also thinks he can win on the issue of crime prevention, although he has opposed the death penalty and mandatory sentencing, while King has supported both measures. Dukakis says crime consistently decreased under his administration while it has increased during King's tenure.

Four years after an embarrassing surprise defeat. Dukakis says he will be victorious because he has a better organization, a better gubernatorial record, and a more responsible approach to the issues. While some may challenge the reasons he puts forth, few now doubt his formidable determination to expend enough energy to return to the Statehouse.