Still not getting it

(If ever a bureaucratic procedure needed some revisions it is the Massachusetts budgetary process. - promoted by Bob)

We BMGers are fans of the political reporting at the Phoenix, despite our occasional disagreements.  So I found these comments  over at David S. Bernstein’s “Talking Politics” blog to be, well, surprising and disappointing (emphasis mine). [UPDATE: Bernstein has clarified his remarks below -- see the comments.]

I’m not so sure that a guy [Governor Patrick] who recently announced, rather controversially, that he had to scale back his schedule should be embarking on an eight-city string of appearances, paid for by his campaign committee, for purposes extraneous to governing. From a purely public-perception standpoint, if Deval has a few hours to duck away from state business tomorrow, shouldn’t he be spending it with his ailing wife rather than at a rally in Worcester?

First off, can everyone please just cut it out with the amateur marriage counseling?  Bad enough that Katie Couric spent most of her 60 Minutes interview with John and Elizabeth Edwards accusing them of “putting your work first, and your family second.”  (Yes, she really said that, and more.)  Now we’ve got pundits advising the Patricks on how much time they ought to be spending together.  Hey, here’s an idea: let’s let Deval and Diane figure that one out.

Now, to Bernstein’s “purposes extraneous to governing” comment.  He is referring to a series of community meetings that the Governor announced over the weekend.  From the announcement:

Governor Patrick announced that he will be holding a series of eight community meetings in every corner of the Commonwealth to promote his plans. “By investing in our local communities, we can manage and solve many of the issues facing our citizens today,” said Patrick…. Any citizen of Massachusetts is invited to attend the meetings at any of the locations across the state. The Governor and Lieutenant Governor will discuss a broad range of issues, including property tax relief, job creation and education….

The tentative dates of the eight meetings are:

March 24th, Boston

March 27th, Worcester

April 2nd, Lowell

April 3rd, South Coast

April 9th, Berkshires

April 11th, Cape Cod

April 17th, Springfield

April 24th, Marlborough

According to Bernstein, these meetings are “extraneous to governing,” apparently because they don’t involve making nicey-nice with Theresatore DiMurray.

In response to which one can only ask whether Bernstein was out of state during the Governor’s race.  If there’s one thing Deval Patrick was pretty clear about from day one, it was that he wanted to govern in a new way — a way that emphasized direct interaction with the people who elected him, and that drew strength directly from them, rather than skulking around the corridors of the State House.  Governing from the grassroots, and all that.  We on the civic engagement working group took that charge seriously, and urged him to continue doing what he did during the campaign: going directly to the people and asking them for their help, their ideas, their support.  And I can’t overstate how strongly the people who attended our group’s public meetings felt about the need for the Governor to come directly to them, where they live, to engage with them.

So, to me, these public meetings are not only not “extraneous,” they are absolutely essential to governing.  If Governor Patrick didn’t do this kind of thing, he wouldn’t be delivering on the style of governance that he talked about during the campaign, and that won him the election.  Are they “political” events, paid for by his committee rather than the state?  Yes.  Doesn’t mean they’re not part of governance.  The two, as everyone knows, are intimately connected, and to pretend that governance can and should be conducted entirely within the confines of the State House is to fall, hook line and sinker, for the old, outmoded model that Deval Patrick ran against, and that frankly hasn’t worked all that well around here lately.

Interestingly, Jon Keller also has criticisms of the Governor’s new strategy — but from the exact opposite perspective.  Keller wants Patrick to go further.  He wants Patrick to name names on his website — to tell his supporters not only how they can contact their legislators, but exactly whose switchboard they ought to be lighting up.  Says Keller,

Several dozen phone calls to a specific legislator from his or her constituents saying what they want and explaining that they’ll be watching might make a difference. Anything less is a joke. No posting of the names of opponents? Gee, we thought the governor was serious about change.

On this round of the Keller-Bernstein smackdown, I’m with Keller.

Bernstein also argues that the website launch and the community meetings represent a “kick” in the “crotch” to both Sal DiMasi and Frank Phillips, since they’re efforts to end-run both the lege and the MSM.  I’m not sure how Bernstein squares his theory that this is all “extraneous to governing” with his kick-in-the-crotch theory, but whatever.  In any event, if that’s true, I’d only point out that DiMasi and the MSM have delivered a few crotch-kicks themselves in recent weeks, and turnabout is fair play.

Finally, Bernstein delivers what I’d describe as a veiled threat (emphasis mine).

The Town Meetings and the web site — not to mention the sit-down chat Patrick had with select bloggers Saturday — are just more ways of going around the media who he won’t engage with. Again, Patrick can feel free to do it, but don’t think local journalists aren’t noticing.

Well, good grief, I hope they’re noticing!  It’s news, after all.  But it’s hard not to see a suggestion in Bernstein’s comment that unless Patrick plays by the MSM’s rules, they’re going to work as hard as they can to take him down.  At which point, one has to seriously question whether the MSM is doing the job it’s entrusted by the public to do.

As for Saturday’s blogger sit-down, I unfortunately wasn’t able to attend, so I can’t say much about it (for write-ups, see .08, Dick Howe, and others — sco’s got the links).  But it seems perfectly natural for a Governor — especially this Governor — to engage with the netroots that played a role in his victory.  And if the MSM is unhappy about losing the monopoly it has until recently held on large-scale dissemination of information, well, welcome to the 21st century. 

Governor Patrick ruffled a lot of feathers with his comments, sho
rtly after his election, at a meeting of MSM types at which he said that some reporters “never did get” what his campaign was about.  Commentaries like Bernstein’s today make me wonder whether Patrick’s comments weren’t pretty close to the mark.

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45 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Keller's right.

    Which legislators are for keeping the loopholes and which are against? Which legislators are for giving local government the chance to raise a 1% meals tax, and which are against?

    These are simple, direct, fair questions about how the public will be served.

    God forbid a public servant openly answer them!

  2. amateur marriage counseling

    Odious it is, but maybe ok in the long run that the Edwardses are getting armchair marriage counseling from the world.  Now maybe they will get a glimpse of how lovely it is for we LGBT people that the world thinks it should/can/must run our private lives.

  3. community meetings

    i don't see these meetings as a kick in anyone's crotch.  every legislator should be doing the same in their own districts (jay kaufman is a stellar example of this  if dimasi or others feel they are losing power because patrick is speaking directly to the base, it is because dimasi and or others have given up that power by ignoring the base.  maybe i'm in left (ha ha - funny!) field here, but this is how it looks to me down so deep in the grassroots, i touch the soil.

    as for the media, it might beinteresting to watch the town and regional newspaper coverage of these events.  seems to me like community meetings will be a gift to townonline type papers who, i'm told, frequently have little more than bake sales to report on.  the local editors should love the scope.

  4. Peeved MSM

    It is absolutely revolutionary that for $15 per month anyone can have potentially the same circulation as the Globe and the Phoenix combined. The implications of this revolution are stupendous.

  5. I said this at Bernstein's blog

    I'm actually very appreciative of David Bernstein's candor about how the press feels the Patrick administration is treating them and how that might effect their coverage.

    That said, David you're right on about these events being integral to governing and not extraneous.  If Patrick wants to get anything done, he needs to show the lege that he has the support of the people, particularly after his early bad press.

  6. And another thing about Keller

    While I agree that having the names of legislators who need to be lobbied for particular bills would be helpful, don't mistake that for what Keller wants.  He wants there to be big public fights so he can report on the carnage.  He gets a positively gleeful look in his eye anytime two politicians -- especially of the same party -- have a public disagreement.

  7. Not the $quot;what$quot; but the $quot;how$quot;

    As someone who supported Deval from the beginning, I think these town meetings are a great approach to governing but should never have been funded or sponsored by his campaign committee.  These meetings are being held in his capacity as a sitting governor, not as a candidate in 2010.

    David suggests the following:

    If there's one thing Deval Patrick was pretty clear about from day one, it was that he wanted to govern in a new way -- a way that emphasized direct interaction with the people who elected him, and that drew strength directly from them, rather than skulking around the corridors of the State House.

    It's great to think this is all a "new way" of governing, but Mike Dukakis never had any problem getting out of the State House and interacting with people all over the state.  Never in a million years would he have used campaign funds for that purpose.

    • can you back that up?

      you say the community meetings are being funded and sponsored by his campaign committee.  really?  i'm not so sure, but if you can show me the evidence, i'm happy to see it. 

      • I have no idea...

        I'm just responding to what David said in his original post.

      • Yes, I confirmed it.

        The meetings are funded by the DP committee, not the state.  That way, they can talk about whatever they want at the meetings -- both policy and politics.  At a state-funded meeting, you'd always have to worry about whether you're saying something too "political."

        • Theresatore DiMurray

          I like.  But hard to say.

          What about Tal DiMurray? 

        • I think that's a red herring

          By what logic does a sitting governor need to use campaign funds to advance his official legislative agenda and urge common citizens to carry that message to the Legislature?  That's his job as governor.  That's why we elected him.  Making these campaign events sends exactly the wrong message.

          • I don't agree, and I doubt the ethics commission does.

            If the event is state-funded, the minute he starts urging people to lobby legislators, questions will be raised, ethics inquiries will be made, blah blah blah.  It's a big mess.  Why bother?  Why not just do it this way and avoid all the hassles, as well as saving the taxpayers a few bucks?  Because, really, why should anyone attending the event care who's paying for it?  If you support what the Gov is trying to do, help him advance it, and don't worry about who's footing the bill for the event or the website. 

            I honestly don't understand what all the fuss is over this issue.  Isn't saving the taxpayers $ a good thing?  And anyway, to which budget account do you propose he bill events like these?

            • Davis is so very right

              Both the point that what needs to get done (lobbying and whatnot) canNOT happen under Deval's pervue as governor. Also, like he says, he's NOT tapping tax money to do it, so why are we bitching? Both perfect points, and everyone can please just get over this now right?

              • We're not $quot;bitching.$quot; And we'll $quot;get over$quot; it after we've debated it.

                (But thank you for elevating the level of discourse.)

                What we're wondering is whether the site and the meetings should be funded with taxpayer dollars. Why? Well, as I see it, that would erect a wall between the policymaking and the campaigning functions. Yes, yes, campaigning is part of governing and all that, but there is that "Contribute" button on the website, which for me makes campaigning a little too much a part of governing. And I for one think that the important policy discussions set to take place at should be completely separate from the campaign finance side of things.

                • One more thing...

                  We should want to see taxpayer dollars paying for (sans the campaign functions) and the town meetings. If these things are part of governing, as a number of people have pointed out, then they are perfectly legitimate uses of taxpayer dollars. As I've mentioned in a number of other posts, leveling with people about the costs of government is one of the most important things a real civic engagement agenda might accomplish.

            • Let's agree to disagree

              This is a slippery slope. I'm disappointed that our governor is going down this path and so few BMGers seem to be bothered by it.

            • SPEAKING OF WHICH....

              ...has ANYBODY on Team Deval run this whole dog-and-pony show by the Ethics Commission?

              I would like to think yes, but I wonder.

              It is common to speak about issues at campaign events (Hey, let's CUT that tax rate...).  What is LESS common is for a Mass. official to hold quasi-campaign events in LIEU of regular government interaction on issues (who IS running External Affairs these days?).  Again - he risks the appearance that an issue sent to will get speedier/deeper consideration than an issue sent to Rm. 360, State House.  Do not read into this - I am not saying this is so - I said he risks the appearance; which is what the Ethics Commission is all about!

              Sometimes, I wonder if Deval realizes that Mass. isn't governed by the Hatch Act code of conduct, but has a different one.

              • who you calling dogs?

                the citizens that turn up to engage their executive in matters of governance?  nice.

                • From

                  Webster's New Millenium dictionary of English:

                  dog and pony show

                  -noun Informal. An elaborate sales, advertising, or publicity presentation or campaign.

                  [Origin: 1965-70]

                  Realy, Laurel, I am not implying canine heritage to anyone merely by using a recognized firgure of speech!

              • A puzzling notion, PP ...

                EthComm doesn't have any jurisdiction over what DP does with his campaign account, does it? 

                Plus, he's certainly not doing this "in lieu" of regular gov't interaction.  His public liaison office is a far bigger operation than has been the case at least for the past 16 years, and Ron Bell, who is running it, is hot stuff.

                As for your "appearance" issue, what you've posited strikes me as well outside the scope of c. 268B.

              • Well, someone oughta know ...

                "quasi-campaign events in LIEU of regular government interaction on issue"

                Isn't that what we had from 2004-2006?

            • I'm a little fuzzy on this

              But wouldn't it be illegal to do something like his new website or the B. Latin event with state money? All I know is I visited Senator Kennedy's office last summer with a few netroots folks and the aide technically wasn't even allowed to say "go visit"

              • is a political website

                It's not that the "aide technically wasn't even allowed to say 'go visit'" He or she - a government employee - is specifically proscribed from doing so while on the job. I work as a policy aide for an elected official, and if I get a call or an office visit that begins to carry the faintest whiff of politics, I say sorry, can't talk about this, have a nice day.

                So the question is not whether or not could be a government-funded operation. It certainly could not. (Nor could the Boston Latin event, since at some point during it, presumably, there was an exhortation to visit the site, with its "Contribute" button.) The question is whether the policy content of could be - indeed, might better be - government-funded. If it were just an announcement board for the governor's office - well, already has that. But because it solicits public comment, it's problematic, since while you have a constitutional right to disagree with me, you do not have the right to use my tax money to do so.

                I think for these reasons what I would have preferred was a campaign-funded website devoted exclusively to participatory policymaking, with a completely separate site created for campaigning.

  8. damn straight on your main point, David

    You're absolutely right on this ludicrous marriage counseling stuff. Let the Patricks be the Patricks.

    I do disagree on the Keller thing. Why? Simply because Deval has chosen not to do it. Furthermore, it won't stop supporters from naming names. In fact, you can do that on this very website =) I'm sure we can figure out who's who. Then, if we feel so strongly about it, we can make it an issue ourselves on Patrick's website. Small d democracy, after all...

  9. aren't town meetings normal?

    1. Michigan Governor Granholm just did 5 town hall meetings.  Her focused on the budget -- $3 billion deficit next year, $800 mm deficit this year.  She wants to raise taxes. 

    NJ Gov Corzine did one in NJ.  He wants to show that he knows every budget detail. 

    It seems to me like a Governor doing town meetings is S.O.P.  The variation that it's "paid for by political committee" seems like small potatoes issue. 

    2. So where Jon Keller sees DP as too soft with his State House strategy, David Bernstein sees a "crotch kick"? 

    I'd have to lean towards Keller on this one. 

    This is what a political crotch-kick looks like. 

    On a scale of 1-10, I'd bet Sal's animus towards DP's town meetings is a 2. 

    3. However, Bernstein's frustration is evidently much higher.  This suprised me.  Why so flustered?  At face value, I just don't see how the DP website we've seen thus far is likely to "bypass" MSM. 

    Maybe there is press stuff going on that we don't know about yet?  Maybe the press handlers are denying routine information requests?  Something else?  If so, I'd love for DB to explain it.  (Hi DB!)

  10. Deval's Answer to High Negatives

    "Hey Kids, Let's Put on a Show, or eight"

    eb3-fka-ernie-boch-iii   @   Tue 4 Dec 7:00 PM
  11. Clarifying and extending my remarks

    Just so you can disagree with what I intended to say this morning....

    I wasn't presuming to give marital advice to the Patricks; I was suggesting a potential public-perception issue of embarking on this eight-city tour so soon after saying he was cutting back his appearances. Likewise my reference, in the same bullet-point item, to the events as "extraneous to governing." I was probably unclear in the original post that I was envisioning how people in the state might view this whole endeavor.

    My comment about Patrick circumventing the media was not intended as any sort of threat, or even necessarily as a criticism, but rather as an observation. (An observation about the local media, not speaking on its behalf.) Going around the media to pitch directly to the people is fine -- some might say preferable. Regardless, it is my observation that shutting out the press has predictable consequences. Not that Joe Daily Reporter will want to tear Patrick down, but that if Joe Daily Reporter sees that he isn't getting material from Patrick, he'll go get material from somewhere else. And stories coming from elsewhere might not have Patrick's best interest at heart.

    I thought that there was a classic example of this a while back, when Phillips wrote a Feb. 11 article, "Patrick's low profile raises concern." To me, it read like, "Hey Deval, you're forgetting to feed the press." And guess what? The helicopter story broke on the 13th, the Cadillac story on the 16th; the First Lady's aide story on the 17th; the drapes story on the 21st.

    • Thanks, David.

      The clarifications are appreciated.  I hope that "people in the state" won't view the meetings as "extraneous," but rather as integral -- as I said in my post, and as we saw over and over again during the transition.  But that, of course, remains to be seen.

      (An observation about the local media, not speaking on its behalf.)

      OK, fair enough!

    • David,

      Why not criticize Phillips for that instead of making all these "observations" about Deval Patrick? Giving time to bloggers - his constituents - is a good thing, not a bad thing.

    • Wha..?

      "Hey Deval, you're forgetting to feed the press."

      Feed the freakin' press?  You've got to be kidding.  Do you people really need to have this stuff spoon fed to you? 

      Here's an idea.  How about actually attending events that you're reporting on. 

      Here's another idea.  Don't be so overly sensitive about protecting your access to the Governor.  You're wrong about the Governor "circumventing" the media.  The Governor just has a larger definition of what "media" is. 

      The irony in all of this is that 2 years or so ago, Deval Patrick couldn't get any so-called MSM coverage. If you wanted to read about him, and his candidacy, you had to read the blogs.  Now you MSM folks act like you own him.  Well.  You don't. 

      See ya in the press room. :-)  

      • To be fair ...

        The place we first found out about Deval Patrick in any detail was no place but the Boston Phoenix.

        So, as Mass. Liberal points out, let's be careful about lumping the Phoenix in with the "MSM".

        • Fair point

          but it's also fair to say that bloggers are now occupying the rank that the Phoenix used to hold in terms of alternative media.  The food chain just keeps getting bigger and some of it's occupants just move up. 

          You cited Mass. Liberal in defense of the Phoenix.  I'll cite Mass Marrier in defense of bloggers.

          Decades after its gritty, counterculture founding, the Phoenix straddles the MSM/alternative classifications. Its writers shouldn't be kicking down the guys who are looking up from where it started.

          Mass Marrier is exactly right. 

    • Perhaps when making $quot;observations$quot;

      You might want to be more specific on the first try. You're the one trained to be a journalist. Listing how specifically, you meant this instead of that, after the fact, seems a little unprofessional. Kinda ironic, since most professionals look down on bloggers all the time (or see them as a threat to quality news coverage).

      And actually, I do see the press as pretty eager to tear him down. I've said it before, but I am seeing the local press having the same issue as the national one: it's easier to find a storyline with punch, then find all the things that fit into it and make a big deal of them, and ignore the inconveniently contradictory bits (like the fact that the furniture was falling apart, or that other governors have spent as much on drapes) because a) that takes work, and b) that takes away from the grabby headline that the paper thinks it needs to sell papers. (How's that working out for the Globe and most other papers these days?)

      Overarchingly, the storyline on Deval was "a falling angel." Again, as I said on my blog, a very compelling storyline, it's been around since the dawn of time (literally). Doesn't mean it's fair, useful for democracy, or even true.

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