Governor Deval Patrick made a trip to the Cape this week to kick off this year’s series of town hall-style public forums, wherein voters get an opportunity to hit the Gov up about whatever is on their minds.
For the most part, the thing was a Deval Patrick Lovefest, which was a profound disappointment. People had a golden opportunity to ask some hard questions and (maybe) get some straight answers, and boy, did they flush that down the toilet in short order. One audience member waited patiently to ask Governor Patrick what his dog’s name was and if he could give her a cookie. No jive.
Another simply wanted to tell Patrick, “Darling, you shine.”
People who asked real questions weren’t that much tougher of the governor. The hardest question, from a D-Y High School teacher, asked Patrick why there still hadn’t been any movement on Chapter 70 reform and said she was “disappointed” in him for not making things happen. Even then she was far from belligerent; she spoke more like she was telling an old friend she was disappointed that he blew off her birthday party to stay home and watch football with his buddies.
No one hit Patrick with any probing questions about his various proposed tax increases for the FY10 state budget. No one asked about his increasingly strained relationship with Senate President Therese Murray. No one asked about his low poll numbers and how they could bode ill for his re-election bid. Hell, no one even went for a cheap shot about his continued use of the infamous Cadillac. If there was a single Republican in that entire crowd, he or she didn’t announce it.
Note I said “if,” and that’s because I doubt there were any hard Patrick critics in the group. Generally when there’s any kind of poltical rally ’round these parts, it’s only the loyalists who show up. I saw the same thing at the “Hardship Listening Tour” State Reps Jeff Perry and Sue Gifford hosted in Sandwich; there was a lot of Republican rah-rah talk and denouncement of the Democratic majority (locally and nationally) but nothing critical of the GOP, which is ripe for constructive criticism these days.
Far be it from me to say anyone should be barred from addressing the governor, but these things could sure use some guidelines to make the most of the time, for everyone’s sake…it’s not every day Joe Average gets to bend the ear of our highest elected official in person, and it seems a criminal waste to squander that time with feel-good accolades and insipid questions about Zoe the golden lab.
Or the wind farm, for that matter. Good lord, will I ever attend a forum with the governor in which the same faces don’t ask the same questions over and over? Even Patrick remembered Glenn Wattley of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound asking the same question he asked at last year’s forum about the cost of wind farm-generated power to consumers. That’s a sign you need to keep it to yourself this time around and let someone else speak.
So what about your incisive question? you might well ask. What were you going to ask the governor?
I had planned to ask about his and the Legislature’s disingenuous presentations of their respective tax increases. They say things like, “A 19 cents-per-gallon tax increase will equal per fill-up what you spend on coffee in a week,” and “This income sales tax increase means you pay an extra penny and a half on every dollar you spend.” Has there been any thought of the cumulative impact of all these increases? I’d have asked. I’d have requested the governor provide a solid estimate on how much extra per year the average person would be paying out if any given package of increases were to receive approval. It’s all well and good to present this data in a compartmentalized fashion that diminishes the apparent financial impact without ever technically lying about the true cost, but screw that noise — I want honest figures that paint an accurate picture of how much more of my paycheck the state plans to rook me out of in order to pay for its own incompetence and inefficiency.
Anyway, that’s what I would have asked, and not during the forum proper. See, as a member of the media, I get to participate in these things called “press availabilities,” in which reporter-types like myself get a few minutes of private time with the governor to ask our questions. That’s where I would have pounced, baby.
Except 45 minutes after the forum formally ended, Patrick was STILL talking with people, and since I was already suffering from mild hypothermia — it was bloody cold out! — I decided I didn’t want to turn into a Mikesicle and went to my car to thaw out.
So, my message for anyone out there planning to hit a future forum: give other people a turn, huh? Can the kiss-up platitudes and innane questions that no one really cares about. Keep them to yourself. Every minute you eat up is one minute someone else can’t use to ask what might actually be an important question.