Monday, May 15, 2006

MDF '06 Convention Report

On Saturday, I ventured out into the flood and attended Mass. Democratic Future's annual conference at Harvard's Kennedy School. I went to this same event last year and was looking forward to this one. Turnout this year seemed to be a little lighter than last year, and there were no breakout sessions as there were a year ago, but the event was fun and informative.

Due to the weather, things got off to a little bit of a late start. Rep. Alice Wolf (D-Cambridge) gave a few welcoming remarks and encouraged all the young Democrats in attendance to themselves run for office. She also talked about the importance of retaking the corner office. Rep. Wolf was followed by a 'Running Young and almost Winning' panel that featured three Young Dems who recently ran for office and came up short.

Boston City Councilor Sam Yoon spoke next, and he also spoke to the importance of having a Democratic Governor. He gave the example of Gov. Dukakis, who announced his plan to create the Shattuck homeless shelter in a speech without first talking to anyone in his staff about it. Four days later, the shelter was up and running. Yoon described this as the Governor's ability to "speak progressive policies into existence." He also talked about his experience running for the City Council, and in particular being the first Asian-American to do so.

Next, was the 'Running Young and Winning' panel which featured Rep. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton), Rep. Mark Falzone (D-Saugus) and Somerville Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz. Gewirtz talked in particular about her previous experiences with MDF and with founding the Progressive Democrats of Somerville. She noted that she wanted the Democrats to have better party discipline, and that it was our responsibility to let people know what the difference is between us and Republicans. Rep. Eldridge noted that youth was almost entirely an advantage in his case because people appreciate an enthusiastic new face. That said, the panel noted that sometimes they had to fight the perception that because they were young they didn't know enough about issues. To that end, Eldridge advised that young people looking to run in the future should get involved now with an issue they care about, and prove they are reliable by helping pass an override or get a candidate elected. Falzone and Eldridge also both noted how important it was to earn the trust of the voters by letting them get to know you. This allowed them to be successful even though they are more progressive than their districts. There were some in the audience who tried to steer the conversation toward national politics, but the panelists encouraged everyone to get involved locally where one person can make the biggest difference.

Congressman Michael Capuano was next up. He noted that it is the voters who decide what the Democratic party stands for, and they do it every time they elect Democrats to office. He did not have much use for the party platform, instead saying that what voters actually vote for is more important than a document no one reads. He told the audience that for the Democrats to retake the house, it will be for two reasons. First, the Republicans keep screwing up, which improves the Democrats' chances. Second, the Democrats will win the same way they used to -- on the streets "with bloody knuckles." When asked by an audience member what we could expect if the Democrats took back Congress, he said that the entire agenda would change. Of course, since President Bush would still be in office, he acknowledged that whatever Democrats came up with was unlikely to become law. He did say that he was anxious to ask questions and with subpoena power, they'd finally be able to do their required oversight of the administration.

Gubernatorial candidate Chris Gabrieli spoke next, having the misfortune to be the last speaker before lunch. He first asked if there were any delegates in the audience and his eyes got wide when he saw how many of us raised our hands. He told the audience that Independent voters are the key to winning back the corner office, and the reason they don't vote for Democrats is not that they necessarily disagree with us, but that they doubt our ability to deliver. He proclaimed himself the candidate with ideas that can actually be achieved. He also talked about simple ways to boost the local economy, particularly mandating that public pension funds weight their investments toward Massachusetts-based investments. That's an easy way to put money back into the state with no cost to the taxpayer. He also mentioned his billion dollar stem-cell research proposal, noting that Massachusetts needs to compete with places like California, New Jersey and Connecticut. He also talked about extending the school day, and changing the definition of what school is. As far as taxes go, he said we needed to get to 5.0%, but even Gov. Romney doesn't think we can get there today. Gabrieli wants to first 'grow the pie' before lowering the rate.

The final panel featured Angus McQuilkin of Planned Parenthood, Matthew McTighe of MassEquality and Noah Berger from the Mass. Budget and Policy center. They spent most of their time talking about their issues, but with a particular focus on messaging. Berger spoke first about the need to talk about what services our taxes buy and gave some statistics showing that the Commonwealth has put its Taxachusetts past behind it. He also made a good point that our economy depends on an educated work force, but we're making deep cuts to public education. McQuilken gave us some not-quite-released poll numbers showing how people both locally and nationally react to different messages regarding choice. Particularly, he talked about the importance of 'Abortion Grays' -- people who support some restrictions on abortion, but do not favor banning it outright -- who make up most of the population. McTighe noted that the upcoming battle to preserve marriage equality would be different than what we've experienced previously because opponents can no longer use 'the sky is falling' language anymore. Gay Marriage is here already, and the sky never fell.

Others appearing at the event were Lieutenant Governor candidates Sam Kelley and Deb Goldberg, and Belmont Selectman Will Brownsberger, who is running for State Representative. In addition, representatives from Kids for Democracy and Mass. Victory 06 gave their presentations. I did not notice any other bloggers there, though I did find this report from the meeting which focuses mostly on the MassEquality presentation.