I really enjoyed the discussion in yesterday’s Blue Mass Group post regarding the Wednesday WBUR debate among the three gubernatorial candidates. It was a great conversation about different ideas and strategies behind how a Governor can accomplish a progressive agenda in Massachusetts, including how to pass such an agenda through the Legislature.
Full disclosure, I am a strong supporter of Don Berwick for Governor. However, I believe that I can offer an unbiased opinion of the qualities that we need in our next Governor, and how bold change happens up on Beacon Hill. I have worked closely with fellow progressives in the House and Senate during Governor Patrick’s eight years as Governor, and seen what has worked, what hasn’t worked, and how I think the next Governor should lead to create bold change that makes a dramatic difference in people’s lives.
A few thoughts:
A bold, clear vision by a Governor can create systemic change.
In 2007-2008, I saw Governor Patrick push for bold legislation to embrace alternative energy and reduce Massachusetts’s carbon emissions, through the passage of the Global Warming Solutions Act and the Green Communities Act. Governor Patrick didn’t achieve this merely by the legislation he proposed. He inspired the public to get behind a core principle of his, generational responsibility, by connecting that principle to Massachusetts doing its part now to move away from fossil fuels. People across the state actually were excited about what was going on at the State House! Governor Patrick made strong alliances with environmental groups and activists across Massachusetts, such that the public understood the goals of the GWSA and GCA, and therefore continued to support the progressive ideas behind it to this day. Without that bold vision set out in 2007 by Governor Patrick, I don’t think Massachusetts would be where it is today.
Challenging the Legislature through the grassroots can work
In the 2007-2008 legislative session, Governor Patrick proposed legislation to close corporate tax loopholes that upset some members of the Legislature, most notably then-Speaker Sal DiMasi, and some of the corporate special interests that are so powerful on Beacon Hill (utilities, real estate interests, cable companies). Governor Patrick employed a strategy of barnstorming the state to put pressure on the Legislature to pass both bills, including rallies across the state and at the State House, allied with municipal officials and advocates in favor of revenue to fund key government programs. In a famous recounting after the bill had passed, Governor Patrick recalled that Speaker DiMasi chided Patrick never to employ such an “unorthodox” approach again (which, sadly, he never did again). But did it work? Yes, it did. The proposal raised approximately $285 million in FY09, helping plug the massive revenue loss that was soon to come with the 2009 global fiscal crisis. Did the effort by Governor Patrick upset legislators and corporate lobbyists? Absolutely, and that is sometimes what leaders must do, to change the status quo. Would the revenue package have passed if Governor Patrick had not gone to the grassroots for support? In my opinion, highly unlikely. Take note, this is the only revenue package passed under the Patrick administration that was progressive.
If the Governor does not lay out a bold vision and engage the grassroots, bold change will die on Beacon Hill
This is the sad part, to be honest quite heartbreaking. As the power structure inside the State House exists right now, corporate special interests have incredible sway on how a bill looks like when it comes out of conference committee for final passage. I experienced this directly on the gas leaks bill just recently, when the provisions I was able to add to the gas leaks bill on the Senate side were stripped out of the conference committee, a few days after a lobbyist for one of the state’s utilities said straight to my face, “We’ll see what happens in conference.”
Unless you have a governor willing to express a bold vision with progressive values behind it, that connect with the public, and establish a strong relationship with the grassroots, sharing strategy, the bold change that many of us are fighting for will not happen. Anyone looking to understand this strategy further, I encourage you to read Drew Weston’s “The Political Brain.”
I saw this directly in the effort behind the Act to Invest campaign, to raise over $2 billion in revenue by raising the income and capital gains taxes. Governor Patrick did not coordinate his efforts with the grassroots, and proposed a different, semi-progressive tax proposal that confused progressive legislators, advocates and the public as to what to get behind. While the Governor did some speaking on his proposal across the state, he did not develop close relationships with supportive legislators on his proposal, nor municipal officials, which helped lead the MMA to endorse the legislative leadership weakened revenue proposal ONE DAY after it was unveiled. And hence, that is the revenue package that the state ended up with.
It appears that a similar result will happen with the effort to raise the minimum wage. While I’m extremely proud that Massachusetts will likely have the highest minimum wage of $11/hour by 2017, we could have done much better. The Raise Up Mass coalition did an amazing job of organizing across the state, but Governor Patrick did not help lead the effort. Imagine a couple of images like this: Governor Patrick (and legislators, I cast blame on myself too) going to restaurants across the state, talking to waiters and waitresses who earn only $2.63 an hour in tipped wage, perhaps working at that restaurant for a couple of hours to highlight the moral cause of ensuring that every hardworking person deserves to earn a living wage; Governor Patrick sitting down with a family where the parents work at Wal-Mart or McDonald’s, highlighting that their employer pays them so little that they rely upon food stamps and MassHealth to have basic security for their kids every month. Such images, and stories could have generated the moral outrage from the public to push the Legislature to a final minimum wage bill that more closely reflected the referendum.
Instead, the battle over the minimum wage, despite the pressure applied by the Raise Up Mass coalition to gather signatures to bring the minimum wage to the ballot, was negotiated behind closed doors on Beacon Hill. And we have a result that while positive for the state’s hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers, is not as bold as many of us hoped.
My point? A Governor can make a difference on these issues, but if the default is behind closed doors negotiations, without the populist and moral weight of the public behind it, without a Governor using the bully pulpit to hold elected officials accountable, corporate special interests always win. We can do better than that.
I still have that idealistic sense that government works the way it should: int he best interest of the common good, according to our shared principles and values enshrined in our Constitution/s, and in direct dialogue, via elected representatives, of the will of the people.
I’ve come to learn that it probably CAN still work closer to that way, but it’s more than a little jacked up right now. It feels intuitively correct to me that a progressive Governor must use the bully pulpit, make choices to his Legislative counterparts clear, rally the grassroots, talk to PEOPLEs not just powerbrokers.
I’m so happy to learn that it’s not just naivete and idealism. We CAN do this. We need to do this. And you’ve made a great case as to why Don Berwick is the candidate to lead us there together!
Trickle up says
The corollary is to ask the candidates, what is your theory of power? How does change happen?
Is it bottom to top, as Senator Eldridge suggests? Okay, that one is rhetorical. But how does each candidate see their role in achieving their respective agendas? And do they have the skills and temperament to fulfill that role?
First, thank you for sharing your experience, Senator! It’s both depressing and paradoxically heartening, because I know that at least out here in the Connecticut valley there are many, many people who’re eager for something more by way of connection with state government, and who will respond to an invitation to serious engagement with big issues. Politics-as-usual is remote and inaccessible, but a genuine conversation that puts the components of policy into a context so that everyone can see how proposals are intended to work together, and where we hope and intend they’ll bring us, is something that there’s a broad-based hunger for.
I’d love to see it actually happen over the coming few years, and it means a great deal to hear from the inside that it’s not just a pretty but hopeless daydream.
And with floor leaders like him, Sonia Chang Diaz, Pat Jehlen, Dan Wolf, and Ken Donnelly in the Senate-we can see these kinda of changes happen sooner rather than later. They will also be unafraid to go to the grassroots to rally public pressure against these entrenched special interests. The public interest can beat back the special interests because while they have money-we are ultimately the voters. Engaging voters between campaigns is the key to winning the next four year-not just political victories in Election day but policy victories for years to come.
I agree with nearly everything Jamie has written here. I will take exception with one thing, however.
My own disclosure: as many BMGers know, I have long been a huge fan and supporter of Deval Patrick. For the most part, I think his political instincts have proven to be correct, but I do agree with Jamie that more grassroots involvement would have been helpful.
In talking about the Act to Invest campaign, Jamie says
but this process is a 2-way street. The grassroots evdidently did not engage the Governor, either. And I suppose that I should take part of the blame here, too, though I am certainly not the only one who could have had his ear during that time. In fact, for example, one of his former aides had a prominent role in the Act to Invest campaign.
I was astonished to find, late in the process, that the Governor was not aware of the campaign, and by the time I explained it to him, his budget proposal had already been formulated. He did then try to bring his grassroots supporters into the process to advocate for his plan, but, as Jamie pointed out here, the lack of coordination
This was unfortunate, but I don’t think the Governor is entirely to blame here.
Jamie says as much in a different context, when he talks about the minimum wage discussion:
Yes, that would have been powerful. I think the point here is that we, the grassroots, have to stay engaged, too.
Live and learn, I hope, and when Don Berwick becomes Governor we will have an opportunity to demonstrate that!
To the extent that you have described a rather mushy hybrid between direct democracy and representative democracy you’ve posited a strange world. One consequence of this world is a situation in which we (the people) get to pat ourselves upon the back when things go according to our wishes and in which, conversely, we get to blame Deval Patrick when things don’t go our way. That is exactly situation you’ve described. That’s how people can go around and say “We elected Elizabeth Warren” while simultaneously saying “Martha Coakley lost the election.” Thats the danger of a hybrid: purposes cross and alignments don’t always end up aligned in the manner you’d expect.
As a purist, I say (and have said) that if we have a representative democracy we should make use of it. And, that means giving credit to the representatives when they get it right and condemnation when they don’t, all of which achieves it’s finest expression at the ballot box. And, only at the ballot box. I’m a purist not for the sake up purity but for the sake of consistency and some measure of ability to apportion responsibility and acclaim. It might be harder to do, but it’s easier to keep track off…
Now, I have nothing whatsoever against a direct democracy and, should you like to change the representative democracy into a direct democracy, well, you have my support. I do oppose a hybrid that fecklessly combines the worst of the two systems and does away with what it good (because they are at odds indeed cannot exist side by side) about the two systems.
Trickle up says
In every (imperfect) democracy I know of, there is a polity that is both sponsored by and separate from the people and civil society.
These last two entities act on the first in various ways. If they failed to do so, democracy would fail.
In the US of A many of these “ways” are protected by the constitution. The regulation of these “ways” is a significant question, see Citizen’s United.
Some of those ways might be “mushy,” I guess, but that’s an aesthetic judgment that says more about the judge than the activities in question, whatever they are.
It is naive, not purist, to pose that representative democracy means no engagement with our representatives in the myriad matters on which our freedoms and very lives depend. In case petr hasn’t noticed, corporate special interests are engaged in lobbying the people’s representatives strongly, consistently, and behind closed doors, as Sen. Eldridge illustrates. Many more examples are being waged right now–for homeowner and small business access to solar energy, for juvenile offenders not to have life sentences, to choose renewable energy over a gas pipeline, for a minimum wage tied to inflation, etc. For citizens not to engage is irresponsible–not using the rights and powers our democracy was designed to enable and protect. Ceding our adult political responsibility to corporate interests–which uses EVERYONE & EVERYTHING for profit, destroying in the process. Preservation of our Commonwealth and the well-being of our communities demands that we not abandon our representatives to this endless hammering, but instead act as intelligent, involved analysts and caretakers to guarantee that “government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth”. Thanks, Father Abraham–still pointedly relevant!
… which loophole would be excised if, as I’ve illustrated, we hew to a clean an truly representative democracy. The hybrid i’ve described allows corporate lobbying. I detest it as much as I detest backseat driving by the electorate.
Indeed, the whole justification for lobbying of any kind rests upon this very vague, and unexamined, description of citizen as backseat driver…
I’m not suggesting we give up the democracy, as you seem to think. On the contrary, I’m seeking to strengthen it. I’m saying that the freedom of speech includes, sometimes, the responsibility to STFU when and where necessary.
I further refute both you and the Hon Sen Eldridge who, clearly, try to portray this methodology as the best and the only way. It is not.
I’m quite honestly at a loss on how to react to this vision, so I’ll just say I couldn’t disagree more if I had an electronic disagreeing machine. Thank you though for laying it out there.
Well, you should start by reading everything I wrote and not just cherry picking the most objectionable words and, then, somehow treating that as the entirety of what I wrote.
I recognize that it is radically different ‘vision’ than what you are used to. To be perfectly honest… and I’m aware that you very well may take this as further affront… what you are used to is too much of politics as investment in emotion and drama without, sadly, investment in actual affect: as I hinted at earlier in this conversation, too many people want to protect their ability to claim credit for alignment and apportion blame for misalignment, all at the expense of getting things done. The sound, and the fury, it indeeds signify nothing. Too many people, it seems to me, thinks that the ballot box signifies nothing and, instead, turn the volume up at other times in compensation.
What does that mean? It means that if you want to have a voice and an affect you should first cast your vote with care. Then, if you are still dissatisfied, run for office yourself. I’d vote for you. But if you are going to insist that you can vote one way and act another, and claiming, as Sen Eldrige does, that such is the only way a governor can affect change, you will, in the end, wind up reaping what you sow… that is to say, nothing substantial.
that we should vote people in and then step back and let them do the job. And that the corporate representatives will do the same thing. And that we can just vote them out if we don’t like the results. And that this system will yield better results than engaging with officials between elections.
I don’t see any of those statements as being realistic in the least. There’s a mountain of research about the power of incumbency and the difficulty of just “voting them out” in a first-past-the-post, two-party system where you usually have a choice of two candidates, one of whom may have disappointed you on some issues but is infinitely preferable on other issues.
I certainly don’t see why we should engage in the experiment just to spare you the truly awful situation of activists taking credit when they win and blaming politicians when they don’t.
What you have described is not what I wish or hope or feel would be either equitable and above board or even effective. It is merely what we have. I think we should prosecute corporations who try to influence duly elected representatives. I think that the representatives never actually get a chance to represent and, therefore, never get much chance to get much done. This is because one activist or another is always shouting at them to do something differently or to stop doing something else.
It is, in fact, possible to spend so much time listening the will of the people, that the ability to do the will of the people is stymied.
“engaging with the officials” is a fairly anodyne statement that doesn’t reflect the surety and the causality posited by Sen Eldridge when he made the claim that such “engagement” was the only way for the governor to affect change. I, not surprisingly, not only see this as wrong, but thoroughly illegitimate.
Voting for a representative is to invest that person with powers on your behalf. Trying, thereafter, to influence their use of that power, and indeed claiming that such influence is the only way to affect change is, in fact, a nullification of your vote. You ARE voting one way and acting another… in fact you are acting as though your vote was superfluous. So the situation that Sen Eldridge depicts, in which the Governor can only affect real change by running around the state and letting him-/her- self be influenced by activists is seen as good, whereas the other situation, where the Governor stays at the capital and does work is seen as deleterious. This is backwards.
So maybe if citizens didn’t see their votes as superfluous they’d invest more in it and the power of incumbency in our system would be lesser…
Your theory seems to be State-House-as-cloister. I don’t see that theory working. At what point in the process are officials planning to seek re-election to find out what their constituents think of their work?
I also don’t see Sen. Eldridge saying a governor shouldn’t sit at the State House and do work. I read the post to be saying that a Governor hoping to get progressive bills through the legislature won’t be able to do it without progressive activists exerting pressure on the legislature to pass those bills.
No, it’s not. Stop by the Gardner Auditorium for a hearing some day. You’ll see dozens of witnesses from all sorts of groups, there at the invitation of the legislators, pleading their case. Many of them will meet with individual legislators on other days. We have a State House swarming with representatives of industry groups. Increasingly we have people on the other side of the issues making their voices heard as well.
This sort of pluralism may generate a cacophony that’s hard for legislators to wade through, but it’s not going away and I don’t think it should. I’m all for campaign finance reforms to eliminate (or at least reduce) the undue influence of money in politics. But prosecuting corporate, or other, representatives who simply speak to elected officials is not going to happen. We still have a First Amendment.
My view is that there are limits to the power of the vote. Citizens vote for the candidates who appear most likely to further the political goals they support. But they’re choosing from limited options. The vote doesn’t mean they believe the candidate, if only left alone in peace, will do everything the way they’d like.
If the candidate, once elected, doesn’t vote for a policy I want, it doesn’t mean insufficient attention was paid to my electoral choice. There are many issues. A candidate may be great on some and not as great on others. In some cases, to really get the policies I want, I’ll have to roll up my sleeves and engage those officials. If I vote for X Senator as a proxy for Y policy, and X Senator is leaning against a vote for Y policy, pressuring that Senator to change her mind is not negating my vote, it’s converting the vote into what I really wanted all along: a means to Y policy. It’s when I vote for someone and don’t get the results I want that I feel like my vote is superfluous. That shouldn’t get lost in too rigid a dichotomy between “representative democracy” and “direct democracy.”
Try to imagine my surprise… =-)
I wouldn’t have put it that way, but that is one of the possible conclusions, yes. If we did have a sort of ‘priest-king’ under election, would you then be as cavalier with your vote? If you were not as cavalier with your vote, and everyone else likewise, would incumbency (which is just shorthand for a lazy electorate) be as much a problem? Probably not.
But I’m not advocating for the ‘cloister’. I’m advocating for citizens to responsibly interact with their government. That means accepting representation as representation, not as joystick everybody wrestles with trying to direct the pac-man… Mind, I’m not saying this is the bestest system of all and forevah. I’m just saying that’s what we got. The system was built for and at a time when travelling from Boston to New York was a journey of several days…. and the ability to meet-n-greet was limited (and proscribed by conventions of class structure…) So maybe it’s time to end that and move on to the next thing. I dunno.
I do know that the sorta passive hybridization we’ve fallen into is not working. I know that corporations are corrupting the process and they are allowed to corrupt the process because of an equivalence with people and, therefore, an equivalence with the entitlement people feel. I think that some of the thing people have defended here (yourself included) are not defensible except as pleas to some sense of empowerment and entitlement. and, perhaps paradoxically, for any of us to let go of the sense of entitlement would, in fact, empower all of us even more.
It absolutely is negating your vote and is also feeding your sense of entitlement to get what you want. The word “converting” implies going from worthless to worth and implies that the process, because it doesn’t give you what you want, can be subverted. I don’t agree. And I would gladly give up the chance to so much as speak to a representative between elections if it means corporations are punished when they try to do so also..
What I want is a clear, fair and transparent process. I believe this is at odds, in this instance, with what you want, that is to say specific outcomes. I believe that under the circumstances of clear, fair and transparent the outcomes, even ones with which I disagree, will have my support because that’s the democracy. But what you want is both a specific outcome and the legitimacy to subvert the process when you don’t get it.
And it shouldn’t be, either. To be wildly idealistic for a moment, I’d argue that while of course you’re right that our votes are important and should be treated as such, and of course it matters that we elect representatives who are charged with a duty of using their own judgement, the public still should be involved in direct efforts to communicate with and influence their representatives.
This isn’t ancient Athens. Nor is the Great and General Court so wealthy a body that it has a standing professional staff able to keep House and Senate members fully educated and informed as to all the matters and all the potential legislation that may come before them. Collectively, the public knows far more than our government can know. If the legislature can’t tap that knowledge it has no choice but to make uninformed decisions, and then those decisions will be no better than the random chance of getting all the important elements in a complex situation right will allow them to be.
Mind you, I also disagree with your basic premise. Representatives are supposed to exercise their independent judgement, yes — that’s part of what we theoretically elect them for — but that doesn’t mean they’re supposed to be beyond the reach of influence from their constituents. The power to vote an officeholder out is a genuine power precisely because that possibility gives the public a check on what that officeholder might do. And it’s a check that goes away if the officeholder isn’t supposed to be informed of what her constituency would like to see her do in order to earn re-election.
.. that, yes, it does exactly mean either/or. One, or the other. And I’m not advocating one over the other. I’m willing to do either on or the other. I’m unwilling to standby while we descend into a mushy and formless hybrid where emotional resonance and dramatic impact counts more than actual work. I’m specifically and clearly stating that it is, precisely, either/or: there is no middle ground on this one.
I think that is exactly what representation means and the fact that you are unwilling to trust them with this power (implicit in your statement) underlines my point. I think that if this were not so, Lincoln would have followed Pierce and Buchanan as non-entities and and Churchill would done things no different than Neville Chamberlain. Don’t get me wrong, this is not always a good thing: Bush went into Iraq with the conceit that he (and Cheney) had more foresight and wherewithal than all others. But I’m not advocating for something that is always good or always guaranteed to produce good outcomes. I’m advocating for what is and for what we have.
Even though I’m a newcomer to the site and the debate, I suspect that we’ve now talked enough to be able to say that we’re going to disagree about means forever, while remaining allies when it comes to a great many ends. I know of very few human activities where either/or makes practical sense, while in this as in many things you evidently are much happier with clean models that have bright-line edges.
I’d leave it there, since outside of the intellectual pleasure of abstract debate I’m not sure either of us will get any more out of the conversation, but I don’t feel I can leave your hypothetical about Lincoln undisputed. It seems more than a little counterfactual to say that Lincoln wouldn’t have acted as he did if he his constituents had had the opportunity to try to influence him: as a matter of historical fact, they quite clearly did. The opportunity to inform and influence doesn’t mean that an official won’t or shouldn’t bring his own judgement to bear on what he’s being told. As Lincoln did, and as he was elected to do. It’s a messy system, but human beings and their affairs are messy overall; if there’s any cure for that, I’d only love to know what it might be.
… there is at least a palliative….
If you’re thinking that I’m advocating for a pure solution as opposed to a messy solution let me disabuse you now: I think representative democracy is a messy system; I think that direct democracy is an equally messy system.
However, I’m quite sure that a hybrid of the two is completely unworkable. That is why I say it is either/or. The act of representation is incompatible with the kind of direct citizen involvement you advocate. You really cannot have both… you cannot sanction a representative and, thereafter, second guess him/her. If you do so, you haven’t really sanctioned him/her have you? And if the representative can never be sure if his/her efforts are sanctioned, but instead must criss-cross the territory constantly seeking approval and consent he or she becomes little more than puppet and stops thinking for him-/her- self. Sound familiar? These are the dynamics of the hybrid for which you advocate.
The title of my post isn’t meant to suggest that it is the piece I’m responding to. It does however serve as a shorthand to refer to your ideas more generally on this topic. Rest assured, I read all your words, several times.
Glad I could clarify the misunderstanding.
Trickle up says
MAX WEBER: Do you believe that I think this swinish condition which we have at present is democracy?
GENERAL LUDENDORFF: If you talk that way, maybe we can reach an agreement…. what do you mean by democracy?
WEBER: In a democracy the people choose a leader in whom they trust. Then the chosen leader says, “Now shut up and obey me.” People and party are then no longer free to interfere in his business.
LUDENDORFF: I could like such democracy!
WEBER: Later the people can sit in judgment. If the leader has made mistakes – to the gallows with him!
Thanks for posting here, Senator Eldridge.
My only issue with your vision is that it requires constant vigilance. Judy Meredith has observed that progressive politics is a lifetime sentence without possibility of parole, and I agree. But we have 40 full-time Senators, nearly all Democrats, and 160 full-time reps, nearly all Democrats.
Shouldn’t we, under the theory of the Democratic Party, have had continual progressive change since we obtained these majorities? (As long as I can remember.)
How do we SUSTAIN the change we activists worked for by voting you and your colleagues in? Since most of you campaigned as liberal Dems, why isn’t progressive change already arriving without us taking to the streets and running to our phones on every issue?
collecting a couple hundred thousand signatures just to have the rug pulled out from under us at the 11th hour by a bad conference committee deal.