Saturday, May 14, 2005

2005 Massachusetts Democratic Convention Report

We got to the convention early this morning for an AFL-CIO sponsored breakfast with Senator Kennedy. The breakfast itself was your standard muffins, danishes and bagels (by the way, why is it you can't get a decent bagel anywhere in the greater Boston area? -- but that's a discussion for another time). A number of candidates spoke before Kennedy got there -- Deb Goldberg and Andrea Silbert for Lieutenant Governor, Tom Reilly, Martha Coakley, as well as Congressmen Meehan, Markey and McGovern. Congressman McGovern was actually there to introduce (and stump for) Deval Patrick. I knew that he had officially endorsed Patrick, but I hadn't expected the Congressman to actually come out and stump for him at the convention.

On the convention floor, we met up with some other folks we knew from the Watertown Democratic Town Committee and settled in for a long morning of speeches.

Senator Kennedy gave the keynote speech and he was very good. It shows that he's giving these sorts of speeches for roughly half a century. He was introduced as the greatest Senator in the history of the Senate and judging from the response to him, no one at the convention disagreed. The line that stuck with me was when he said "The last thing America needs is two Republican Parties. One is already too many." To tell you the truth, though, I don't remember much of what he said. You are going to want to check NECN, though for footage of him dancing.

Phil Johnston then took the podium and announced that the three candidates for governor in 2006 would now address the delegates and tell us why they were running.

Bill Galvin spoke first. I really liked what Galvin had to say; he talked about "greedy CEOs" who were putting their own wallets ahead of the welfare of workers and how Massachusetts is being crushed by job losses and lack of affordable housing. These are all important things to talk about, but to be honest no one was listening. The problem that Galvin had was that since he hasn't officially announced yet (whatever that means), he had virtually no volunteers on the convention floor and very few people holding signs for him outside even. As such, very few people paid attention to his speech and even fewer clapped at his applause lines.

Of the three candidates who spoke in front of the group (for "five minutes" each), Deval Patrick was the one who got by far the biggest reaction from the crowd. He really brought the house down and the standing ovation he got at the end of his speech was made up of more than just his volunteers -- not so with the other candidates. Neither Reilly nor Galvin can compete with him when it comes to oratory -- he is on a completely different level. Neither my wife nor the other delegates sitting in our area had heard him before and all were extremely impressed; one even said that "he's our Obama". After his showing today, I would be extremely surprised if he couldn't get the 15% of the delegates he needs at next year's nominating convention to get on the ballot.

Tom Reilly focused his speech mostly on a call to bring independent voters back into the Democratic fold. It was a good speech and an important part of an electoral strategy. I thought, however, that he was better in the morning session when he focused riling up the audience with a strong criticism of Governor Romney. Appealing to independent voters is an important thing to do, but it's not a message. It's much more important for Reilly to say how he's going to appeal to these voters rather than saying that we should or he will. The message is simple -- jobs, pensions, health care. Those are things we can all agree on. But Reilly didn't emphasize them; he put the tactics ahead of the message which is fine for a speech in front of Democratic activists, but it seems to me that independent voters are going to be more interested in what Reilly stands for rather than how he's going to talk to them.

Much More Inside...
That all said, it's clear to me that any of these three candidates would be better than Mitt Romney. I would happily tick the box for any of them next November, though I do have different concerns about each of their abilities to win. Howard Dean, who spoke next, made roughly the same point in the early part of his speech. He cautioned the crowd to stick to issues in the primary and avoid personalities. He reminded us that our ultimate goal is to defeat Mitt Romney, not each other, and warned us about having a scorched earth primary that would end up weakening whoever won. Dean mostly talked about the things he's been talking about since he became interested in becoming the DNC chair: we need to run a fifty-state campaign and we need to start now. Dean was also at the union breakfast in the morning and it struck me how much of a rock star he is to so many Democrats. He got the biggest reception of anyone other than Ted Kennedy -- which is a pretty big feat for someone in Massachusetts.

By the way, Governor Dean was introduced by Congressman Ed Markey. To answer a question posed by Chris at Left Center Left last July, that's just how he is. I've heard him speak in front of large groups a couple of times now, and he speaks in those short! shouted! phrases! every! time!

Former governor Mike Dukakis also took the podium. He was dead on when he said that what the Massachusetts Democrats really needed to do was to make sure that we had precinct captains in every precinct in the state. He said when Democrats stopped organizing and talking to each other locally is when they stopped winning the governorship.

Contrary to what anyone might tell you, there was no controversy regarding the equal marriage rights plank, and in fact all the focus on it in the media over the past week or so has been completely overblown. There was no one taking signatures to remove it from the platform -- and there were people taking signatures for just about everything -- nor were there any protests that I noticed. The platform was voted on as a whole, so it would be irresponsible to say that anyone who voted no on it was doing so because of the marriage plank (as the AP did) and not because the foreign policy plank was removed or because it was unclear at the time whether there were any amendments that were going to be presented.

The convention ended rather chaotically with the adoption of the changes to the Mass Dems Charter. There were a number of changes to it, and some people objected to some of them -- particularly one that struck language saying that the role of the DSC is subject to the actions at a state convention. Unfortunately, according to the rules we could either vote on the changes as a whole, or vote on them one at a time giving a minimum of ten minutes of debate to each, which would have taken another two hours. It was pretty clear that no one wanted to have to stay that long, so the sizable contingent of people who had problems with the changes had no choice but to try to vote the all changes down. Ultimately they were unsuccessful.

Other notes:

  • Volunteers were lining the road to the Tsongas Arena before the convention started. It looked like the biggest group was for Deval Patrick, with all of them wearing highlighter green T-shirts. Reilly also had a large number of supporters, as did Martha Coakley. There were only a handful of people holding Bill Galvin signs.
  • Congressman Marty Meehan had a good line during his speech (paraphrased), "I don't know what's worse, Dick Cheney and Tom DeLay catering to their special interest pals or people like Mitt Romney who look up to them as role models."
  • After the gubernatorial candidates spoke, there was a swarm of cameras around Deval Patrick. If his goal today was to generate buzz, he almost certainly did so
  • We left the arena briefly to get lunch and outside where a bunch of LaRouchies singing in what sounded like Latin and holding up a banner that I couldn't quite read. Neither of us really had any idea what to make of that.
  • I tracked down and had nice conversations with Noho Missives and Charley from Blue Mass Group. Both of them seemed like stand-up guys and I'm hopeful that we can do some blog collaboration in the future.