Harold Hubschman has been stirring things up for two decades, leading the busiest signature-gathering operation in Massachusetts.
This Election Day, two questions on the ballot bear his fingerprints: Question 2 (new dental insurance rules) and Question 3 (new rules for alcohol sales).
But Hubschman already has his eyes on a different kind of ballot campaign, one in which the citizens come to him.
For his first project, he is focusing on the state’s 24-cents-per-gallon gas tax. That’s why he is highlighting the results of a recent poll, by Lou DiNatale of Princeton Research Associates, that shows 58 percent of Massachusetts voters believe the tax should be suspended given the current average price (nearly $4 a gallon for regular gas).
Hubschman calls this campaign Sign2SuspendTheGasTax.org. Should he get the signatures he needs and then voter approval in November 2024, his proposal would suspend the tax anytime the average gas price is $3 or more. He has started seeking signatures online, but anyone who participates will need to kick in $2.95 — primarily to cover printing, postage, and processing of the required physical signatures. He will be happy if he just breaks even. Typically, ballot campaigns pay him and his business partners for each signature they gather. For example, the Question 2 and 3 campaigns paid $4 a signature for the roughly 100,000 names to get through the first phase of ballot-question approval, and for roughly 25,000 in the second phase.
While most ballot campaigns will still need paid signature gatherers like his firm, Hubschman believes certain causes are so popular, they will prompt voters to chip in a few bucks. Like curbing high gas prices.
“It has to be something that people are passionate about,” the Brookline resident said. “You’re getting people to want to help you to achieve something they want to see happen.”
Hubschman, a former computer engineer, fell into this unusual business accidentally in the 1990s when a friend, Doug Barth, started complaining about the cost of tolls on the Mass. Pike. After collecting signatures in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to “free the Pike,” Hubschman discovered he enjoyed running signature campaigns. He launched SpoonWorks in 1999 to “stir things up;” he now operates it under the SignatureDrive.com name, with business partners Alex Arsenault and Jim Fleming. (They are not part of his gas-tax project) Together, they’ve run the vast majority of paid signature campaigns for Massachusetts ballot questions in the past 20 years.
The ballot question process, Hubschman said, shouldn’t only be available to those who can afford the hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire a signature gatherer like him.
“There are issues that are good issues that are never going to go anywhere because there’s no big entity that’s going to do it,” Hubschman said. “What I’m trying to do is figure out how to use social media to build a community of people who are interested in signing ballot initiatives, instead of only collecting signatures in front of storefronts with clipboards.”
Neal’s high hopes for East-West Rail
It’s no surprise that US Representative Richie Neal preached the gospel of the East-West Rail when he spoke to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce last week.
But here’s what is surprising: Neal’s vision of higher-speed, more frequent passenger rail service to Springfield and beyond drew the most applause of anything he said that morning at the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel. Neal pointed out that Massachusetts is receiving billions of dollars from the federal government for infrastructure. Thus, he said, the time is right for East-West Rail. He noted that Governor Charlie Baker is finally on board. So is his most likely successor, Attorney General Maura Healey.
“Governor Baker agrees with me [and] assures me by the end of his term, he’s going to sign the necessary documents,” Neal said. “Maura Healey assured me it’s a priority for her as well . . . We want ‘Worcester West’ for real.”
That drew some passionate applause from certain corners of the room, the strongest cheering of the morning.
“People from Springfield and Pittsfield just weighed in,” Neal added.
Shout out from the White House
It’s a rare day when a member of Congress speaks to the Boston chamber without chief executive Jim Rooney there to kick things off. That day arrived last week. While Neal talked up East-West Rail, Rooney was actually in Washington to join President Biden at the White House for an event focused on workforce development. Also on hand was Pam Eddinger, the president of Bunker Hill Community College, sitting in the front row, about 10 feet away from Biden.
Biden gave Bunker Hill some props, noting how his wife, Jill Biden, met with former Boston mayor (and Biden’s labor secretary) Marty Walsh in July at an Eversource substation in South Boston. That’s where a few Bunker Hill students were working in paid internships through what’s known as the Electric Power Utility Technology program.
Biden talked about the billions that the federal government is sending to the states for infrastructure, through the same pieces of legislation that Neal referenced in his speech earlier that day.
“I don’t know where it’s written we can’t be the manufacturing capital of the world again,” Biden said.
A Y’s best friend
Many people know Ned Morse as the former longtime president of the Massachusetts Senior Care Association, a trade group for nursing homes. But to the staff and volunteers at the West Suburban YMCA, Morse is the Y’s best friend.
Morse, who retired from Mass. Senior Care several years ago, went to Y camps as a kid long ago, and recently stepped down from his second term as chairman of the Y’s board, after helping to guide the Y through the COVID-19 pandemic and the purchase of a second facility, across Newton in the Wells Ave. industrial park. The West Suburban YMCA held its annual gala on Saturday in honor of Morse’s six decades of involvement, raising about $130,000; Aaron Goldman takes over as the new board chair.
Chief executive Jack Fucci said he’ll miss Morse’s mentorship and guidance.
“He understands what it’s like to be a kid at the Y, at camp, he understands what it feels like to be a member,” Fucci said. “Who knows what’s next for Ned Morse and the Y? It’s part of his DNA.”
Take the day, and vote
You can add Benchmark Strategies, an 11-person public affairs firm in Boston, to the small but growing list of companies that give their employees paid time off for Election Day.
Beth Monaghan, chief executive of PR firm Inkhouse, was one of the first, offering the day off in 2018; she reminded her team in a note on Monday that during “these chaotic times, voting is one of the few things we have control over.” Boston-based home furnishings seller Wayfair, is another example. Wayfair started giving full timers four hours off on Election Day in 2020; head of communications Jane Carpenter confirmed Wayfair continues to do so.
Now it’s Benchmark founder Patrick Bench’s turn. After Benchmark senior vice president Aaron Saunders decided to run for state rep as a Democrat, Bench wanted to pitch in by volunteering for his campaign on Election Day. (If Saunders, a Belchertown resident, wins, he will leave his job at Benchmark.)
“I’m driving out to Ludlow and Belchertown and holding signs for Aaron,” Bench said.
He figured, why not give everyone the day off to get more involved in local politics? He mentioned it to clients late last month. They were on board as well.
“The response has been incredibly positive,” Bench said. “This is not a heavy lift. We’ve got 365 days in a year. This is one day I said, ‘I want you to be out there in your communities.’ . . . As long as Benchmark is a company, we’ll be doing this on Election Day.”
Jon Chesto can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.