Patrick Speech: the To-Do’s not the How-to’s

The largest personage in the House chamber for Governor Deval Patrick’s state-of-the-state address wasn’t there at all. It was, of course, Scott Brown. The address, the Governor’s first chance to turn around an outraged electorate and rally his partisans in his reelection bid, was an opportunity to tout his accomplishments – and they are many – and list the challenges that must still be addressed – and they are daunting.

His finely crafted and, for the most part, well-delivered speech reflected an awareness of what’s bothering people and what propelled Scott Brown’s upset victory in the race for U.S. Senate.

He acknowledged people’s anger but urged that they ”channel it in a positive direction.” He made clear he feels their pain and sense of powerlessness and tried to link policy accomplishments and challenges to real people’s real lives. He spoke repeatedly about “making it personal.” He is an empathetic person and perhaps persuaded some people on this score.

Taking another page from Scott Brown, Patrick positioned himself as an agent of change, both in his 2006 campaign running against the status quo and even today. “Change is never easy, and it’s rarely quick,” he said. Since the time of Republican Governor Frank Sargent, officials in the corner office have tried to be anti-establishment, but, if you want the legislature to work with you on your agenda, you can only beat up on them so much.

With the help of the legislature, the Governor has accomplished a great deal: reforms in ethics, pensions, transportation, education, automobile insurance, health law implementation, investments in clean energy and biotech, and, my own personal favorite, partial introduction of civilian flaggers at work sites. And, at the same time, they had to close a $9 billion budget gap. These initiatives are not flawless but are areas that for years had cried out for reform, with nothing happening.

Now the Governor pledges to fully fund education, put people back to work, lower health insurance costs, reform sentencing and modernize CORI laws, streamline government and bring property taxes down. Good luck to him and the Red Sox! If he has a plan to achieve that, he didn’t let on in his address.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker’s immediate spin was to say that Patrick had claimed “Massachusetts is just fine, and we’re making progress.” Baker, too, promises to cut spending, streamline government and break up the culture on Beacon Hill. But, as BlueMassGroup points out, he will be tagged as the “ultimate establishment candidate,” with the baggage that entails.

Massachusetts still faces a $3 billion deficit. We all want to know where it’s going to come from. Human services have already taken a huge hit. Neither Baker (a former Human Services Secretary) nor Patrick uttered the words “human services.”

At the end of the Governor’s address, he spent a long time applauding a Brockton High School volunteer program and praising its spirit of community. Is he looking for volunteerism to cover even deeper cuts in compassionate government services? Scary to think so. Scary times we live in.

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