Gov. Deval Patrick attempted to rally his Democratic troops—while acknowledging the power of independent voters and the “declining value of [political] party”—at a private house party last week hosted by the local liberal group Jamaica Plain Progressives.
Patrick spoke candidly with more than 40 supporters who appeared shellshocked by last month’s victory of Republican Scott Brown in the state’s US Senate race.
“A question, first of all. How many of you are a little nervous since last week?” asked Patrick in his opening remarks, referring to Brown’s surprise win, and watching many hands go up. “Good,” Patrick said, urging the audience to get motivated.
“I respect what Scott Brown did. And in some respects, he did what we did in 2006,” Patrick said, referring to his election as governor, a victory that was also considered improbable, but now is often cited as a model for the election of Patrick’s old Chicago friend, Barack Obama, to the presidency. Brown’s election was an “important reminder…that grassroots [politicking] works,” Patrick said.
Patrick, who is facing a potential strong Republican challenger of his own this fall, Charlie Baker, gave what sounded like an early version of a campaign speech. Patrick spoke pointedly about being governor of the state, not of the Democrats, and sounded some centrist themes.
“Increasingly, I am persuaded by the declining value of [political] party,” Patrick said. Instead, he said, government is now about issues and “helping people help themselves.”
But Patrick also wants to energize his base, as his appearance at the house party made clear. Jamaica Plain Progressives is a well-connected group that went public last year with influential candidate forums for the mayoral and Boston City Council campaigns.
“There is no progressive group like this in any other neighborhood or any other town,” Patrick told the Gazette about Jamaica Plain Progressives at the house party’s end. “There’s a lot of power in this room.”
Most of Patrick’s comments were aimed at political strategy. “It’s another blood fight. You know that,” he told one supporter as he entered the house’s living room.
That included quelling some potential political infighting. When a public school teacher in attendance took him to task for his new state pension reform proposal, Patrick noted that the bill would have no effect on employees like her.
“The first one to believe negative stuff about us is us,” Patrick said, adding that some fellow Democrats have been among the biggest foes of his “reform agenda.”
“Remember when everyone flipped out when I tried to appoint Marian Walsh?” Patrick asked, citing the situation as another misunderstanding of his intents. Patrick drew fire across the political spectrum last year for appointing Walsh, a state senator, to a post at the Massachusetts Health and Educational Facilities Authority. At the time, Patrick said the appointment was important to help boost state-backed community redevelopment. Critics noted that it was a high-paying post that had gone unfilled for 12 years, suggesting it was unnecessary.
Party host Steve Backman asked Patrick about the problem of the perception of Patrick’s administration versus reality, and some audience members mentioned Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh’s recent piece on that topic.
Patrick answered with a long media critique, particularly of Lehigh. He requested that one line of his response be off the record—his only off-the-record request of the night—and became agitated when the Gazette, which had been invited to the party, did not immediately agree. (The Gazette eventually consented due to the private nature of the party.) After giving his detailed answer, Patrick turned to this reporter and said, “Maybe that’s the problem. I don’t do soundbites well.”
Patrick described the media as pitted against him and often misrepresenting him. At the same time, Patrick acknowledged that he overlooks some of his own successes, saying there are “things I kick myself for forgetting since I won.”
One big mistake, he said, would be letting his highly praised grassroots organizing network dwindle—to “build this incredible family and let it go fallow.” He acknowledged there is a “lot of re-knitting together to do.”
Patrick cited several of his administration’s accomplishments. The first he cited was closing a $9 billion budget gap—one-third of the budget—while delivering budgets balanced and on time. But, he added, he doesn’t forget that “those are not just numbers and line items. It’s people.”
“We are first in the nation in student achievement,” Patrick said, while acknowledging a “persistent achievement gap” among specific groups of students.
He also noted the state’s top health insurance coverage rate and his policies promoting the development of alternative energy industries.
But to win a second term and continue those policies, Patrick said, “We have got to have consistently better politics.” That means not only “more clever” campaigns, but also “the engagement of people who do not feel connected to the government.”
Patrick said that every governor hears directly from lobbyists all the time. “And meanwhile, everybody else is waiting for the government to listen to them and help them help themselves.”
“Don’t get me wrong. I’m proud to be a Democrat,” Patrick said of his obvious interest in the independent voters who swept Brown into office. But, he explained, Brown’s victory “reflected back some of the hunger we have to say, ‘We don’t have to agree on everything to do anything.’”
“He was an empty vessel and into he [sic] was poured—” Patrick began to say of Brown before stopping himself. “I don’t mean that to be disrespectful,” he said, then continued to explain that the little-known Brown earned the chance to be an “empty vessel” for voters’ frustrations with government inaction.
One audience member said she has worked on the advocacy campaign for reforming the reporting of criminal records to potential employers—one of Patrick’s top issues. That effort, which is pitched as helping convicts get regular jobs and stay out of more criminal activity, has moved farther in the legislature now than ever before, Patrick noted. But the advocate worried that the criminal record reporting reform could become a “trap” issue used against Patrick in this fall’s campaign.
“Here’s what I think. We should run based on what we believe,” Patrick said. “We shouldn’t be saying one thing in JP and another thing in Wellesley…I think people respect conviction.”
“There [are] some things worth losing over,” Patrick added. “Unless you are willing to take it to the wall on something you believe, nothing will move.”
JP was one of Patrick’s early bases of support in his first campaign. Backman promised that it will be again, saying that “Jamaica Plain is returning to its roots as a core of grassroots, progressive politics.”
JP Progressives indicated their open support of Patrick’s campaign. JP Progressives co-chair Melissa Threadgill told the Gazette that the group hopes to have Patrick back in JP this year for a public forum. The group also plans a series of public forums on public issues, including education reform, housing and youth violence, she said. For more information, see the group’s web site at www.jpprogressives.com.