Michigan, Utah, California, Massachusetts, New Hampshire: wherever his home is, many of Mitt Romney's image problems touch down in Massachusetts. To be fair, Massachusetts is a state in which the Republican presidential contender has spent a lot of time, including the time when he served as governor here.
Speaking of which, one of Romney's chronic problems is that, having instituted a form of universal health insurance here because he wanted to "help people," he's now confronted daily with the political imperative to disown that insurance program. That has him constantly a little off balance, or afraid of losing his balance, like a man with a banana peel stuck to the bottom of one shoe.
Lately, however, two other problems that got their start here in the Bay State—one definitely a problem, the other a may-or-may-not-be problem that still needs proof—have reared their heads for Romney.
The first, as detailed in reporting by the Daily Telegraph and other sources, concerns his relationship to Bain Capital during the time he was governor, and the relationship of Bain Capital, and Romney himself, to Imagitas, a company headed by Tobin Ryan, the brother of conservative congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, now Romney's choice for vice president.
Before Romney became governor of Massachusetts in 2002, Imagitas had gotten a $5 million infusion of capital from Bain, and a contract to do vehicle registration mailings for the state, a project Tobin Ryan oversaw. Digression: in the course of doing that work, Imitigas was sued by drivers who claimed their privacy was invaded when Imigitas ads appeared in their license renewal notices, violating, they said, the responsibility of the state Division of Motor Vehicles to keep driver information private; after a court fight that lasted for years, the drivers lost.
In 2005, Imigitas was sold to Pitney Bowes for $230 million, tripling the value of Bain's original stake in the company, according to a former Imagitas executive. It's not absolutely clear that Romney profited from that sale, but since he still had a financial interest in the division of Bain that had owned Imagitas, it seems unlikely that the lucrative sale didn't put money in his pocket.
The problem: that's illegal. As a state employee, Romney was prohibited from having a financial interest in a company doing business with the state. It's not easy to imagine Romney, with that Brutus-is-an-honorable-man face, behind bars. But if you or I had done such a thing, it might have gotten us two and a half years in the slammer.
What this comes down to is transparency, a transparency Romney has not been willing to show in regard to his financial records. That failure to be forthcoming is giving rise to more and more questions, including, now, a question about whether his tax return for 2010 would show that he didn't live in Massachusetts and hence was guilty of voter fraud when he registered here and voted for now-U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, a Wall Street-supported Republican. That would be extremely ironic given the Republicans' use of voter fraud, mostly mythical, as a pretense for restricting voter registration all over the country.
What the man who thinks of getting a new house rather like a lot of us think of getting a new set of tires has said is that he and his wife were living in the basement of their son Tagg's house in Belmont at the time. But not everyone finds that credible.
There are gaps in the evidence for both these alleged strikes against Romney, particularly the second. But the issue behind them is a failure on his part to understand why the public is entitled to know about things he prefers to treat as personal and private.
Voters deserve to know how Romney participates in the economy he claims to be able to salvage, and how much understanding of what to them are life-and-death issues he can be expected to show. Questions about those things are not attacks, and they are best answered sooner rather than later.