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July 12, 2005

Does Patrick do details?

It's been mentioned that Deval Patrick, while charismatic and inspiring, has been a bit lax in communicating the specifics of exactly what he would do as Governor -- particularly on his website. This is to be expected: it's early in the campaign, and the more specific one's ideas, the more they will be scrutinized and attacked. So it's important to know that someone is actually comfortable with -- and is capable of making decisions based on -- the details. In our conference call today with Deval Patrick, David, Bob and I all tried to get the candidate to talk about his experience and goals with some specificity.

David began by asking: Why talk to blogs? Like a good writer, Patrick moved from general to specific: He spoke of running "a different kind of campaign", one that appeals to people's optimism and sense of shared destiny, instead of relying on money and endorsements. People who are turned off by the screaming-heads style of modern politics communicate through alternative means: That means us, and you. He proudly rattled off facts and figures of the campaign: they're aiming for 1500 volunteers, 257 precinct captains, 100,000 doors knocked this summer.

Bob asked about Patrick's qualifications for office and relevant experience. He referred to an article in TeenInk (which is the third link that shows up when one googles "Deval Patrick"), in which Patrick lists increasing African-American home ownership as his proudest accomplishment in Clinton's Department of Justice. Patrick spoke about the empirical results of lending policies and their effects on banks and communities, especially advocating for increased access to capital for struggling communities.  That kind of detail-based empiricism is an indication of membership in the Reality-Based Community.

I asked about health care. (I have to say that as a non-expert, writing about health care policy is itself like a drug: Mind-addling, yet strangely addictive...) I asked him where he came down amid the three major proposals (Mitt's "Insure Yourself or Else"; Trav's "State reinsurance+Cheapo Plans"; vs. the ACT! Coalition's "Access and Affordability", or HA3, as I call it). For me his response was hopeful but still not definitive. He outlined the three principles which are a part of his stump speech: 1. Universal coverage is the goal, 2. Cost control, and 3. Quality. While praising HA3 as the most ambitious of the proposals, he said "there are many ways to skin a cat" (just ask Bill Frist!). He is especially interested in the idea of the state re-insuring the most expensive cases, thereby taking that load off of insurers. He mentioned that none of the current plans deal much with the issue of quality.

I then asked: What happens if nothing gets done in the next twelve months on this issue? Will there be a 1994-style retrenchment on the issue? He indicated that he would not shrink from dealing with the issue, even in that context: "You can't just take your marbles and go home." He also indicated that tax increases would have to be on the table, perhaps as a last resort.

He gave every indication that he's willing to expend political capital to expand and improve health care. Strangely, he may have the greatest impact as a candidate rather than as governor: By taking a stand relatively early in the game (e.g. in the fall), he may influence the debate to some degree between now and July, which is the governor's and ACT!'s drop-dead date for legislative action. The Patrick campaign is talking about this summer as its time to "study issues", so we may hear more specifics on exactly what they support in the fall.

David asked about his viability as a candidate, and the apparent preference of Massachusetts voters for divided government. Patrick responded: "People don’t like stalemate." He described the economy as "backsliding", especially outside of 128. Criticizing Romney's economic development vision, he said, "If you're looking for the same old thing, I’m not your guy." To which David asked: "Whose guy are you?" The answer: "I’m going to run hard as a Democrat but govern as statesman."

I asked Patrick about stricter oversight for major construction projects: He claimed to be willing to make enemies over the issue: "All you have to do is declare your candidacy to make enemies."

Patrick has already been compared to Barack Obama (which I think is a too-glib reference to race), but his speaking style, his optimism, his emerging command of the nuts-and-bolts of policy, and his nice-guy charisma actually remind me of Bill Clinton. I remember watching Clinton on C-SPAN talking to a teacher's association: He was able to move from the wonkiest audience-specific policy talk to the most simplistic -- and rousing -- exhortations ("Will you help us build that bridge to the 21st century?"). Patrick's got the political-romantic thing in abundance -- and he certainly seems capable of grasping all manner of policy particulars.  I'm optimistic that we'll see the ambitious rhetoric fleshed out a bit in coming months.

Posted by Charley on the MTA at 10:52 PM in Massachusetts | Permalink

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