Thursday, January 24, 2008

Deval's Second Chance

Those of us still looking for a path out of the Massachusetts political and economic swamp should take heart from Gov. Deval Patrick's state-of-the-commonwealth address tonight. He appears to have regrouped and to be ready to live up to his biggest campaign promise — that he'd get the necessary cooperation for big changes as he did in his business career.

Many of us who met and spoke with him during his campaign and early weeks saw that. He is charming to the point of charismatic. He has a long history of that other kind of persuasion that can work.

I confess that a good part of me likes the President Lyndon Johnson persona instead. In the U.S. Senate, then as VP and prez, he was a fearsome and sometimes brutal politician. From the 1964 Civil Rights Act to dozens of other major laws and hundreds of minor ones, Johnson used everything from jokes over drinks to threats to get his way, for the benefit of the nation.

Patrick, on the other hand, has a long record of the soft touch in convincing people to do the right thing. It's slower, less sure and takes more work. Yet, those who arrive at the right choice without coercion are happier about it and tend to be repeat cooperators. To top it all, Patrick is perfectly content to let others take credit for the results.

His address will soon be available as a podcast and file on his section of the commonwealth website. MSM and blogs alike will have lots of analysis tomorrow and beyond.

Meanwhile, I'd note:
  • There's not a single threat to the sometimes recalcitrant legislature in the whole eight pages. Long term legislators have been party with previous administrations in deferring the necessary until we got into the muck we are now.
  • He praises actions already taken as he can. For example, "Last year, this Legislature created a commission to recommend a practical strategy to end homelessness. The Commission has delivered, and my budget funds their recommendations in full. Join us and let’s set ourselves on a course to end homelessness in Massachusetts once and for all. " That's praise with a cooperative call to finish the job.
  • He epitomizes the baby-boomer attitude of fixing problems no matter who caused them. He said, "We must do our part as elected officials by managing government responsibly. That includes being willing to curb spending in other areas. Last year I cut some $500 million from state spending, and held spending increases to the lowest level in three years. This year my budget offers another $475 million in cuts. And later this year, through a concept we call MassTrans, I will ask for your support in streamlining our transportation bureaucracy, which will yield further significant savings. "
To that last point, he revisited it several times. The call is steadyI know that the willingness to serve and to sacrifice is out there...Everyone must do his or her part -- because everyone has a stake.

Some messages in the address are obvious. He says these are the issues, these are their solutions, and I am providing the funding mechanisms. Some are more subtle. We face huge problems, but we need to take responsibility to fix them. We must sacrifice as needed to do so. We have to do what's necessary for long-term success.

That last set is very, very different from what the past several governors and sets of lawmakers have done. Of course, that's how we ended up in this mess and were so unable to combat issues of the economy as well as infrastructure.

Patrick has simply, and oh so sweetly, upped the ante. Obstructionist legislative leaders have sat on these problems for a year, but he hasn't left them much cover.

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1 comment:

John Hosty-Grinnell said...

I couldn't agree more with what is said here. We are indeed on the threshhold of exciting times. Great article!