Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Deval Patrick Reaches Out

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was invited to interview Democratic gubernatorial candidate Deval Patrick one-on-one for a few minutes this afternoon. A representative from Patrick's campaign contacted me about two weeks ago and explained that he had "really taken an interest in the blog community" and asked if I would be interested in talking to him for a few minutes. He also contacted at least one other blog; Bob Neer over there at Blue Mass Group has already posted his thoughts about their call [UPDATE]: as has one of his co-bloggers, Charley.

I've seen enough of Patrick to know that he often talks about "vision," so the first thing I wanted to hear was his vision for Massachusetts. Since the best way to learn about candidates is to listen to them, I'd like to present as much direct quotations as I can. Here is his response:

I want an ambitious agenda for state government because I want Massachusetts to be the best there is. I want it to be the best place to live, I want it to be the best place to work. I want it to be the best place to go to school. I want it to be the best place where, God forbid, you should get sick, or more importantly be healthy. I want to be innovative around all of those issues that affect the way people live their lives and enable them to live their lives as fully as possible. So I want us to take some calculated risks -- I want us to take some chances. And I want to do that by linking arms as a statewide citizenship and saying, in fact, we are all in this together.
Now, there may be some people who are skeptical of any Massachusetts politician who promises an ambitious agenda; after all, burying the Central Artery was, if nothing else, an ambitious project. Still, if the alternative is a disinterested governor who measures leadership in terms of the number of Powerpoint presentations he's told his advisors to put out, I'll take ambition. It's one thing, though, to talk about what you want the state to be and another to talk about how you're going to get there, so I mentioned to him that one of the criticisms of him that I've seen online (and occasionally made myself) was that it was difficult to find out where Patrick actually stands on a particular issue. He said that he didn't think such a characterization was fair, but that he understood it.
We are spending the summer developing a more substantive set of policy positions which we will put up on the web and start to roll out after Labor Day. I don't see them coming from any other candidate, for that matter, this far from the election.
More From the Phone Call Inside...
On Health Care:
I think probably health care for all is the most ambitious of the proposals, and the one that I have been spending the most time digesting. Universal health care, I think, has got to be the endgame. Access is one of the issues; there are also issues around cost control and around quality. And in various ways, each of the proposals addresses at least two of those issues. Quality, none of them seem to [address], but we're going to be looking at that as well.
On Education:
I think we have to get back in the game in public higher education, which means more spending. But we want to be more specific than that: we want to talk about rebuilding public university campuses, talk about how it is we get some resources into the research facilities of public universities. I have a couple of ideas developing on primary and secondary education, things like better access to early childhood education and all-day kindergarten, smaller class size, and a longer school day, with after-school enrichment programs are all things we're working on.
On the housing crisis, Patrick pointed out that it is more pronounced in the 128 area than it is in other parts of the state. He mentioned two ways to deal with that: smoothing out our permitting process -- so that it would be easier to do higher-density development, both in Boston and the suburbs -- and improving our public transportation system.
[F]or example, if we had a speed train to Fall River, New Bedford, and you could get out of the Boston area in 45 minutes at the end of the workday, you'd be in a completely different housing market. 45 minutes is a reasonable length of time for people to commute in this area. But we can't do that right now, and if you tried to drive to Fall River or New Bedford, particularly at rush hour, you'd be on the road at least twice that long. The same is true about getting up to Lynn and other parts of the North Shore.
I also asked Patrick what he would say to someone who is skeptical of electing any Democrat as governor, given that the Conventional Wisdom here is that we elect Republican governors as a check on the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature.

In response, he mentioned that this was less of a problem now than under previous leadership. He did not name names, but we all know who he's talking about. He disagreed with the notion of electing a Democrat just for the sake of electing a Democrat. "If all you want is a Democrat who is going to continue the same policies that we have currently, I'm not your candidate." While he did not emphasize his independence as much as Tom Reilly did in a May Interview, he made sure to mention that he has no intention of being a rubber stamp for the legislature, and he has told the leadership as much, though he is certainly willing to work with them on important issues.

Regarding the use of the Internet, Patrick told me that "the most important way to use the Internet is to try to get information to people -- to let them know policy and political direction we're heading in and let them influence those policies."

He also mentioned that the campaign blog was planned to be launched by Labor Day. Patrick seemed to get that the purpose of these blogs was to let people feel they have a stake in a candidacy and that for such things to be useful, communication needed to be two-way. He noted also that he had been criticized in some circles for asking voters' opinions on issues (as if a politician could have too much input from the public) and told me that he wanted "to accord the voters of MA the respect of asking people for their insight, and their common sense."

I think it's this last point that really draws people to Patrick's candidacy in a way that other politicians can't, or won't. While other candidates may try to pick out the center and hope that's where the votes are, Patrick is actually asking people what's important to them, and taking what he hears into account. Even the very fact that he contacted a number of Massachusetts blogs to talk about issues shows that he's interested in hearing from a variety of people.