Romney’s Veto Could Hurt Him with Jewish Voters
By Ryan Grim
The Politico, January 31, 2007.
Mitt Romney has been aggressively courting the Jewish community as part of his run for the presidency.
The former Republican governor of Massachusetts returned last week from a five-day trip to Israel, accompanied by Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, and Mel Sembler, a member of its board of directors.
He’s attracted a small team of heavy hitters from the Jewish community. He named Sembler, a former ambassador, as his finance committee’s co-chairman. In October, he brought on Noam Neusner, formerly President Bush’s liaison to the Jewish community. And the Boston Phoenix reported that Sam Fox, nominated to be the U.S. ambassador to Belgium, gave $100,000 to Romney’s Iowa PAC in July.
Now that he’s in full presidential campaign mode, Romney may be wishing he hadn’t vetoed a budget provision in 2003 that would have reimbursed nursing homes in Massachusetts that provided kosher meals to Jewish residents on Medicaid. The measure promised to pay an extra $5 a day per kosher diner. The state legislature overrode Romney’s veto.
Nathan Diament, director of public policy for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, said that his organization was disappointed about the veto. “Access to kosher food is a critical aspect of Jewish observance,” he said. “From our perspective, it’s a religious liberty issue.”
Charles Glick was the government affairs specialist in 2003 for the Boston-area Jewish Community Relations Council, which backed the measure. He said Romney’s decision came as a shock.
“The Jewish community had what they thought was a good relationship with the governor,” he said. “We knew of his ambitions and his outreach to the community in terms of raising money. So it was a bit of a puzzle.”
Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom told The Politico that the governor vetoed the legislation to cut spending.
“The state was in a fiscal crisis, and it would have led to higher Medicaid reimbursement rates for nursing homes, which was unaffordable at the time,” he said. “Once we restored fiscal balance, we were in a position to add spending where appropriate.”
The provision is now law, and Fehrnstrom said the veto has not become an issue on the campaign trail.
Yet given the intensity of the battle for Jewish donors, it may become one. “Governor Romney has been pushing his strong and unadulterated belief in a very strong state of Israel,” said a national Jewish leader with close ties to the Republican Party. “Any sort of dents to his armor become problematic to him. There is hesitation in the community to begin with because of his Mormonism….These sorts of chinks in his armor will help his opponents.”
“It’s definitely going to hurt Romney in the Jewish community,” said Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council. “You’d think for someone who’s of a minority religion he’d be a little more sensitive to these concerns.”
Romney has defenders in the Jewish community. Brooks, the Republican Jewish Coalition leader, said the issue should have only a minimal impact. “In difficult financial times, there are difficult decisions the chief executives have to make. They can’t fund every project and every particular effort that comes before them,” he said. “I don’t think anybody’s going to view that as an attack or an offense to the Jewish community.”
Gary Erlbaum, a Pennsylvania businessman who raises money for both Democrats and Republicans, said the only impact of the veto would be in the Orthodox Jewish community.
“If this were going to affect anyone, it would be someone who’s morally Orthodox or cares about those who are. Don’t forget that’s a small minority of Jews in the United States,” he said.
Even in that community, Diament said, the veto issue wouldn’t decide the candidate’s fate. “We know that Governor Romney has appreciation for religious freedom generally,” he added, “and we look forward to continuing to talk to him and work with him.”
The veto was reported by The Jewish Advocate in December 2003, but got little coverage elsewhere. Recently, a liberal-leaning blog called the Blue Mass. Group picked up the story and had some fun at Romney’s expense, titling the post, “Romney: Let them eat pork!”