Monday, March 26, 2007

Notes From the Blogger Q&A With Governor Patrick

After Saturday's town meeting in Boston, I was part of a group of bloggers who were invited to chat with Governor Deval Patrick about his website relaunch and other issues that our readers might be interested in. Prompted by Dan Kennedy's post to his blog, I asked the Governor why he put his civic engagement portal on instead of Mass.Gov. He explained that his site was intended to be a place to build communities online, whereas was mainly an information based, non-interactive site -- and one that needed a fair amount of work to be made more effective as it is. He did not think it was appropriate for people to engage in political organization on the public servers, something which might cause ethics problems. The purpose of his site is not just to contact the governor, which could be done at the state's website, but is to move and influence government, and that means lobbying state reps, writing letters to the editor, and connecting with other people. These are political activities and it seemed that he felt uncomfortable with putting them on the state-owned servers. Later in the session, he mentioned that he did not want his site to be a partisan endeavor, and the he expected that people who disagreed with him would use this tool as a way to organize for issues that he did not support. He was fine with that, and accepted it as a risk.

I did get a chance to look at the website finally, and I am mostly pleased. There's a lot that I want to do with it that I can't do, but I chalk that up to wanting it to be a version of his campaign's Community Tool, which I credit with winning him the election. The "coalitions" that you can create seem to have been an afterthought, but that's where I'd like to see more work done. I'd like to be able to create a Watertown Progressive Coalition, for example, and invite everyone I know to participate and use the system to facilitate organization around ad hoc issues. That is, I'm less interested in promoting issues -- something the site seems to focus on -- and more interested in getting people to find each other.

Anyway, the rest of the Q&A session was very interesting, and you can read other people's thoughts from it at Dick Howe's blog, Marry in Massachusetts, Talking Stoneham, Ryan's Take, Know Thy Neighbor, and Below Boston (who also took video of the event that I hope they will post). The most interesting part of it for me, aside from my question of course, was when Governor Patrick described his conversations with telecom industry representatives who were opposed to his plan to allow cities and towns to charge telecommunications companies property taxes on utility poles and wires -- taxes that the electric company has to pay, but phone companies are exempt from. They noted that having to pay these taxes might inhibit their plans to bring broadband to Western Massachusetts. When the Governor asked them for more details about their broadband expansion so that he could potentially work that into his legislation they admitted that they actually didn't have a plan and were only talking about a theoretical expansion.

As an aside, I'm kind of surprised that the Globe put an article on Patrick's late father on the front page, while the fact that he basically threw down a gauntlet toward the legislature was relegated to the metro section. Patrick finally realized that he would only be able to accomplish his goals if he kept his grassroots effort intact. Maybe it's just my wishful thinking, but it seemed to me to be a transformational event. The Governor seems to me to have finally realized that winning an election doesn't mean you get the power to enact your agenda -- no matter what some out-of-state political scientist says.