GOVERNOR’S INAUGURAL ADDRESS SOBERING, IF STIRRING

Governor Deval Patrick is nothing if not a good speaker, and his inaugural address today was no exception. It was sobering, as appropriate to the times, yet inspiring, as appropriate to the occasion. He touched on, but didn’t wallow in the accomplishments of the last four years but moved quickly to the challenges that lie immediately ahead. Underlying all aspects of his agenda is his sense of an intergenerational compact, what our generation gained from our forebears and what we must leave to our children and grandchildren.

His priorities are on jobs (he plans to be an ambassador to market Massachusetts), education (“Being first in the nation is a good start. Being first in the world is where we’re headed”), health costs (“We can’t stop till health care is as affordable as it is accessible”) and youth violence (“The cycle of violence in any community is a threat to all communities.”)

Fresh off a solid if unexpected campaign win, the Governor must now face the reality of making more than $1.5 billion in cuts in the state budget. It won’t be pretty. In a series of meetings with leading media, he made it clear that almost no program will be spared. He promises to “take some bolder steps” in enabling municipalities to deal with burgeoning employee health care costs. He also hopes to wring more out of the bloated public pension system. He spoke making the tax code simpler and fairer.

In the very near future, Patrick will be evaluating reports on the parole board and probation system and, as he told WBUR, for example, moving to create a modern system.  Both the Parole Board’s implementation of the rules and the logic of the rules themselves are being reviewed. His measured approach makes sense, and his commitment to reform is clear.

On all these issues, the Governor said, “I will stand up to anybody if that’s what it takes to bear our generational responsibility.” Let’s hope he does.

Let’s also hope that the passion and commitment he gave voice to today endures through the four years of his term, that he is freed by not running for re-election or for U.S. Senate or for President, to act in the most principled way, irrespective of what constituency he might offend.

He was somewhat clumsy in some media interviews in which he indicated that not only would he be travelling more during this term to market the Commonwealth, but also to support President Obama’s reelection campaign and to promote his book, an autobiography, for which he received a hefty advance. This became a troubling headline and prompted columns such as that of Brian McGrory, who wrote, “This is degenerating into something far less than we hoped, this reelection, a slippage not born of the inexperience that Patrick had four years ago, but of a seeming arrogance that is profoundly misplaced.”

Brian is astute, but let’s hope he is wrong about the Governor. He’s right, however, that, with all the problems the state is facing, this isn’t the time to be announcing multi-purpose travel plans. Patrick has an opportunity to build on the good will he engendered during the campaign, expand on the reforms passed last term to make them even more substantive, and continue to improve the working relationship between the state and the business community to expand jobs.

It’s been a while since we heard a politician talk about the importance of the intergenerational compact. The Governor is right that we must pay our debt to the future by building a better Commonwealth today. He’s also right that “the time for talk is over; the time for action has arrived.” Good luck to us all.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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