Typifying the political upheaval caused by a socioeconomic uprising in Massachusetts, Edward J. King kept a photograph of Gerald R. Ford behind his campaign headquarter desk even after his unexpected nomination as Democratic candidate for governor in the Sept. 19 primary.
One Democratic leader trying to reconcile liberals behind King nearly fainted when he saw the picture and urged that it be taken down. Stubbornly self-assured, King rejected the advice. Not until Chip Carter, the president's son, visited the headquarters and noted the absence of his father's picture did Jimmy Carter replace Jerry Ford on the wall.
While switching photographs, King has changed neither his rhetoric nor his ideology. "I'm free enterprise," King, who was a favorite of the business community while running the Massachusetts Port Authority, told a recent fundraiser in suburban Weston. "I really am - free enterprise and let the people alone." When a Republican lawyer noted that he sounded mighty like a Republican, the Democratic candidate just beamed. Indeed, he had considered running as a Republican or Independent before taking the Democratic route.
More is involved than the exotic prospect of a highly conservative governor in the only state George McGovern carried for president. A new Boston Tea Party was launched when ex-pro football lineman King, seeking his first public office, defeated Gov. Michael Dukakis for the Democratic nomination. "This was a repudiation of two decades of suburdan liberalism," one liberal Democratic leader told us. "We had piled program after program for the benefit of constituency groups with no thought of the taxpayers."
The public rose against the state's traditionally high tax burdens to support these programs. King's stands for capital punishment and against abortion were not nearly so important as his promise for a "Massachusetts version" of California's Proposition 13 to reduce property taxes - a fact fully acknowledged by Dukakis.
When King visited businessman George Pine's home in Milford for a fundraiser recently, the assembled middle-class Democrats talked only of tax reduction. "Frankly, I don't like King's position on abortion," one real-estate agent told us. "But Dukakis left me when he broke his word not to raise taxes. People have had it up to here with taxes."
State and local officials consider King's tax-cut program a delusion. With some justification, they feel he cannot cut enough waste from welfare and will not antagonize organized labor by squeezing the state's bloated civil service. How, then, can he finance his tax reduction?
Knowingly or not, King's answer is current Republican doctrine: An improved business climate will generate more revenus, which in turn will make possible income-tax cuts as well as reduced property levies. Although King told us he had never heard of either the Kemp-Roth bill or the Laffer curve, he has adopted their principles.
His Republican opponent, state House Minority Leader Francis hatch, stands in sharp contrast to King on stressing environmental concerns over economic growth, on nuclear power and other issues. "You can't run this state with a bulldozer," Hatch declares. As unware of the Laffer curve (more revenue for lower tax rates) as King, he opposes cutting income or sales taxes while advocating property-tax reduction. Hatch comes over as neutral in the midst of tax revolt.
King's headquarters in Boston's financial district lacks the blacks, youths and women (in other than secretarial posts) common to Democratic campaigns. Brawny Ed King, a Boston College football star, would be the state's first Irish Catholic governor elected since 1950. The sense that the guard is about to change is palpable.
Many liberal Democrats bolting to Hatch cite King's preference for superhighways and jet airports over mass transit. Yet, there was considerable public distaste when Dukakis as governor took the rapid transit to work and resisted superhighways. "The people here," one prominent Democrat told us, "don't mind the governor in a big black limousine if their taxes are kept under control."
Defection goes both ways, with members of the tiny state Republican party's right wing deserting Hatch, a slim, 6-foot-4 millionaire patrician who rowed on the Harvard crew. One well-known Republican who has endorsed Hatch confided: "A lot of us are thrilled by the kind of government Massachusetters will get from King."
King's inner circle is deeply concerned over Boston newspaper exposes of his alleged maladministration at the Port Authority. Nor is King a giant in debate. When by chance the two candidates collided at long distance over a radio talk show recently, Hatch cut the stumbling King to shreds over tax reduction. Hatch eagerly awaits two televised debates next month.
But King's lead is massive. If it is not closed, Boston's new Tea Party will mean a radically different kind of Democrat in charge here. That poses potentially serious consequences for President Carter in 1980, even though his picture belatedly has replaced his Republican predecessor's in Ed King's office.