Mr. Patrick Urges Voters to Shape Political Dialogue

By MAX HART

Deval L. Patrick can understand the disillusionment.

The man who would be governor of Massachusetts understands the growing skepticism about politics and politicians throughout the state and the country. He understands the anger people feel when confronted with inefficiencies in government and the apathy of those who should be accountable - things that he says are corroding the fabric of communities everywhere. He understands the anxiety about holding onto jobs, paying for a child's education or obtaining sufficient health care.

Most of all, though, he understands the frustration that has overcome the voting public, leading to their tuning out of a critical dialogue on the direction of this state and country.

He understands these views, he just does not subscribe to them.

"That's the vision of government that was on display in the Gulf Coast after Katrina, and a lot of us looked at those images and we were ashamed of what we saw and we were right to be ashamed," Mr. Patrick said during a visit to the Vineyard this weekend. "But all those folks who were abandoned on the rooftops after Katrina were abandoned before that storm, and frankly all of us who care about their experience and what it says about the wholeness of our community today - I believe we have been waiting for the Democratic party to make up its mind about what it is we stand for.

"So I say let's stand for something this time, and not that old background noise about government trying to solve every problem in everybody's life - nobody buys that or ever has, as far as I'm concerned," he continued. "But the simple and I think decent premise that government has a role to play in helping us help ourselves, so that when people say government is bad, I want us to start saying ‘wait a minute, government is us - it's you and me,' and so we ought to insist every time that it be smart and effective and efficient and pragmatic and compassionate, because that is the best of who we are and the best of what we have."

Reuniting communities around the state and bringing a new voice to the Democratic party constitute a heavy workload for just about any politician seeking office, let alone one who is a relative newcomer to the political arena. But those are just a few of the goals set out by Mr. Patrick as he vies for the Democratic nomination for governor of Massachusetts.

Mr. Patrick visited the Island this weekend for a community forum, followed by a fundraiser at the Vineyard home of prominent Harvard Law School professor Henry Louis (Skip) Gates Jr.

On Saturday, an affable, relaxed and charismatic Mr. Patrick spoke to a large crowd that filled the Performing Arts Center at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School. Employing a town meeting format, Mr. Patrick's talk focused on issues facing the commonwealth, touching on everything from the Big Dig to Cape Wind to having Beacon Hill serve the entire state - not, as he says, just Beacon Hill. He then answered more than a dozen questions from the audience.

"Politics. What a total turnoff it is for a lot of good people, I know that," he said. "Maybe some of you, maybe some of your friends and your neighbors, when they think of politics they think of two heads on TV or two voices on the radio screaming at each other from the polar extremes of any idea, and gotcha games, and all the tactics of winning an election as if principle and vision is for the naive and unsophisticated. And this causes a lot of good people to check out and to give up.

"I used to turn to my wife after a disappointing election outcome and I'd say who votes for these people? How did we get this?" he continued to laughter. "But I don't do that anymore, and I haven't for some while, because I think we get the leadership we deserve."

In particular, Mr. Patrick was critical of governor Mitt Romney, describing him as a recreational governor.

"He is more interested in having the job than doing the job, and the job needs to be done," Mr. Patrick said.

Mr. Patrick, who recently turned 50, discussed his lower-class upbringing on Chicago's South Side, his rise through Milton Academy on a scholarship and his graduation from Harvard University and Harvard Law School. He also talked about his professional career, first serving as assistant attorney general for civil rights under President Bill Clinton and later as legal counsel and corporate executive for Coca-Cola, Texaco and Ameriquest. His affiliation with each company has drawn attacks from political rivals and critics who say he compromised his ethics by working for the companies, which have been under attack for, among other things, their treatment of minorities.

But Mr. Patrick's supporters are quick to defend their candidate as a straight-talking, honest and refreshing blast of integrity, something disgruntled voters are searching for: a non-politician politician. That grass-roots appeal, Mr. Patrick credits, comes from a career balanced between the public and private sectors.

"I have had leadership experience at the highest level of government - in the Clinton administration - but also in business and not for profits in community work, and I understand the language and the decision making in each of those sectors and nobody else in the race - Democrat, Republican or Independent - has that range of leadership experience," he said in a brief conversation with the Gazette after his talk.

"But I also fundamentally believe it is important to reengage citizens in their political and civic lives. That is why we run a grass-roots campaign. I don't think it's enough to go to people in the last few weeks of the campaign with 30-second ads."

Mr. Patrick was also quick to admit something very un-politician-like - that he does not have all the answers. Among the areas he says he is still learning about are fisheries policy and local agriculture, and he was frank about his need and desire to learn more.

"I'm just beginning to spend time with commercial fishermen in particular to learn about some of their issues in terms of management, so I've got some more homework to do in that area," he said when asked what he would do to help the state's struggling fishing industry.

On the controversial proposal by Cape Wind Associates to build 130 large wind turbines in Nantucket Sound, Mr. Patrick defended his support for the project, saying the state should not discourage innovative ideas for renewable energy.

"You've got a private developer who took the initiative that is not at all unlike what we reward in all kinds of aspects of American life," Mr. Patrick said. "I think it is right that he is paying and will pay a licence fee and that Massachusetts will get a portion of that, and I think it is right that there has been the level of regulatory scrutiny that the project has gotten. I think the point about the importance of having a regulatory framework for projects like this is very well taken - I get that. I think in point of fact we have built that regulatory framework in the course of review of this project," he said, continuing:

"But as I have said, I don't want to be in a position of faulting initiative. You rarely meet someone who says they aren't in favor of alternative or renewable energy, and while I don't think any project is perfect, this one is pretty good - on balance."

Still, he knows this issue in particular is a hot-button one with voters on the Cape and Islands, and said he hoped his position would lead to constructive conversations about the project - an open line of communication which he said is a defining characteristic of his campaign.

"We started about a year and a half ago, with smaller groups then, warm receptions and deeply skeptical people, deeply skeptical people who said you know, nice guy with interesting ideas but he can't win," he said. "But we went to work at the grass roots level and all over the commonwealth, and here I am.

"But I don't see it as much as my campaign but rather our cause," he continued. "If what I have talked about is the kind of community that you are interested in rebuilding across the commonwealth, and the kind of government you want to reflect your best values, that is the kind of government I am ready to lead."