I started by asking why Deval was bothering to reach out so directly to folks like us. He responded that he is consciously running "a different kind of campaign." He said that he has seen many good people give up on politics because all they see is the screaming heads at the two extremes, and they’re just tired of it. He wants to invite people back into their government. And here is a quote I really like: he wants to give people a stake not only in their own dreams, but also in the dreams of their neighbors. That is reminiscent to me of Amitai Etzioni‘s communitarian ideas which I have always found appealing in many ways, though I don’t know whether Deval has been influenced by that particular school of thought (I wasn’t clever enough to draw the connection while we were on the phone).
All of which is to say that Deval is running not only a money-raising insider-endorsement-garnering operation which, as he recognizes, is a necessity these days, but also a true grassroots operation that he expects to be capable of reaching voters in every precinct in the state, and through which he hopes to re-engage those voters who have given up on politics. And he knows that the internet is a powerful tool to reach not only activists, but also citizens who get their news and information from someone other than Peter Jennings or (worse) Brit Hume. So reaching out to the blog crowd fits comfortably within that overall strategy. Relatedly, he said that he expects to have a campaign blog and perhaps other internet resources up and running on his website by the fall.
Later in the conversation I asked about Massachusetts voters’ apparent penchant for divided government. Deval responded that people may like divided government but they don’t like stalemate (I didn’t press him on whether you can really have "stalemate" when the legislature has veto-proof majorities in both houses). He said that we have had basically no motion on a lot of key issues on which the Commonwealth’s future depends – a backsliding economy; declining population; a huge venture capital industry that doesn’t invest here; and a public education system that on the elementary and secondary levels has improved but is not consistently excellent, and on the higher education level ranks near the bottom nationally. He said that we can stay the course and stick with what we’ve been doing with either a Republican or a Democratic Governor, but if that’s what you want, he’s not your guy. I asked whose guy he is. He said he plans to run as a Democrat but govern as a statesman, seeking out the best people and ideas regardless of party, and he plans to advance an ambitious agenda to make Massachusetts the best place to live, work, and go to school. If that’s what you want, he said, then he’s your guy.
We also talked about some "issues." Here they are:
Jobs and Housing. Bob asked about Deval’s accomplishments in increasing minority homeownership while in the Clinton Justice Department, and whether they might translate into strategies for Massachusetts. Deval thought that they would. He spoke of the importance of access to capital, which was a major focus of his work at DoJ – in particular, getting lenders to focus on risk rather than using inaccurate proxies for risk that ended up shutting out entire neighborhoods and making it unreasonably difficult for, say, single parents to get favorable loans. He emphasized that access to capital is also essential for small and medium businesses, which create the vast majority of jobs. He mentioned an innovative federal program called the Small Business Investment Companies (SBIC) Program which he would like to replicate on the state level – essentially, SBIC partners with private venture capital firms and uses federal low-interest loans and loan guarantees to increase the amount of venture capital available to entrepreneurs. It strikes me as an excellent example of how government can do something really useful – create jobs – not by increasing the size of the public sector, but by helping the private sector work better. It’s the kind of thing a creative public servant would try to bring to this state.
Health Care. Charley, our resident health care wonk, asked about his favorite subject, namely, the relative virtues of individual mandates, state-sponsored reinsurance, stripped-down low-cost health insurance packages, and the expansion of MassHealth. Deval ran screaming from the room. No, just kidding, that was actually me. (Kidding again – I stayed.) I suspect that Charley will have more detail on this (of course I don’t know for sure, since I haven’t read his post), but the short version is that Deval sees the current health care crisis as an opportunity to address a problem that has been kicking around for a long time. And he sees three essential aspects, each of which must be addressed by any solution that has any chance of actually working: (1) access, with universal care being the endgame, though he would accept incremental steps in the right direction; (2) cost control, since our current >15% annual increases cannot be sustained indefinitely; and (3) quality, since people are tired of paying for more but getting less. He sees things he likes in all the proposals currently floating around (for example, he said that state reinsurance is an intriguing cost-cutting idea that has been around for a long time), and he promised that there’s much more to come on this as he hammers out policy positions over the summer. He also made an interesting point about the whole health care debate, which is that some terms get used very differently by different people, which leads to confusion and misunderstanding. He noted in particular that the term "single payer" to some means that the government pays for everything (like the UK or Canada), but to others it means a single clearinghouse to which all providers would submit their bills, thereby (hopefully) dramatically cutting down on their administrative expenses.
Of course, health care solutions are all expensive, so Charley asked about taxes. And Deval said, as he has said consistently, that he thinks taxes must be kept on the table as an option, though hopefully as a last resort. He said – and I thought this really made sense – that part of what he needs to do as a candidate is figure out whether people really think that this issue is as important as they seem to. If they do, then they will be willing to talk seriously about what it will take to craft a solution, and that conversation just has to include additional revenues.
Big Dig. Charley asked about improving oversight of public construction projects. This time Deval really did almost leave the room (he cracked a joke about having just run out of time). He said that government owes the citizens a duty to ensure that tax dollars are spent effectively and responsibly, and that the fact that the Big Dig is only now being investigated is a serious problem. He said that a more active and engaged government, and (in his only real dig at Tom Reilly) a more active and engaged Attorney General, would have acted much sooner. He noted that when he was at Coca-Cola he oversaw a lawsuit against Bechtel for cost overruns on a project in Ireland; that Coke had never before challenged their contractors in this way; and that ultimately Coke recovered. He said he was willing to make enemies in this regard.
To sum up: He’s got the goods. Back in April, right after Deval announced that he was running, I went to hear him speak to the Lexington Democratic Town Committee, and I had this to say:
He is not bombastic or preachy, but he speaks with eloquence and with a sort of understated yet deeply-felt passion that is nice to hear. He’s also genuinely funny.
I’ll stick with that today. Deval has a vision of his campaign and a message that I think will resonate with a lot of Massachusetts voters – not just the "progressives" or the "liberals" or the "activists," but everyone who wants not to hate politics and politicians. He’s also plenty charismatic, and plenty smart. Can he raise the money he needs to get that message out there? Can he overcome Tom Reily’s substantial fundraising advantage? Will the voters of Massachusetts respond to a "different kind of campaign"? Stay tuned.