State Senator Daniel Wolf deserves a chance to run for governor. The Cape Cod legislator would bring a fascinating background to the race: In 1989, he founded Cape Air, an airline that he built into a force in regional aviation.
That background, though, now threatens to ground his gubernatorial campaign before it even takes off. The State Ethics Commission, in an unduly harsh ruling, declared that Wolf would have to divest his remaining 23 percent ownership share in Cape Air if he wants to run for governor. Not only that, but unless he unloads his stake, he must resign from the Senate, where he has represented most of the Cape and Islands since 2011.
The decision stems from state ethics rules, which are designed to prevent individuals with conflicts of interest from serving in elected office. The goals of the law are sensible: An executive at a construction company that relies on state contracts, for instance, clearly shouldn’t hold an elected office that could influence the terms of those contracts. But Cape Air flies passengers; it doesn’t bid for state contracts. Instead, the ethics commission disqualified Wolf because the airline uses Massport-owned Logan Airport. The airline pays to land planes and use terminal gates, which the commission ruled constituted a contract with the state.
That’s an overly broad interpretation that fails to account for the clear, common-sense differences between something like a construction contract and a gate rental at Logan. For one thing, the prices charged to airlines are not set by individual contracts. According to Massport spokesman Matt Brelis, all airlines at each terminal are charged the same rates. Moreover, Logan does not turn any airlines away; the airport is required by federal law to allow federally certified airlines to fly there.
Wolf’s business paid what any reasonable observer would call a fee, not a contract. While Wolf did participate in an effort to lobby against an increase in fees during peak hours, that proposal would have hit all airlines, not just Cape Air.
The State Ethics Commission made an unduly harsh ruling.
That is not to say that Wolf’s role at the airline isn’t fair game for scrutiny. Wolf seems intent on using his entrepreneurial experience as a major selling point in the campaign, but some voters could conclude the ties are too close. Would he be able to devote himself full-time to the governorship? What would happen if a clear-cut conflict of interest arose? Wolf should answer those questions — and then fully informed voters should get to decide for themselves whether they want to accept those risks.