Friday, August 7, 2009
When Deval Comes To Town
I was just stepping out the door Thursday, to look for something to take pictures of before the sun set, when Kelly mentioned that Governor Deval Patrick was having a town-hall style meeting in Chicopee. Outside, behind the library. In half an hour...
...Photo subject attained.
I zipped over to the library and arrived with a couple of minutes to spare. There was a reasonably good crowd already assembled, with more coming in by the minute...
...and the major local news people positioning themselves for optimal coverage.
Here and there in the crowd were people who came prepared to put there opinions across; indicating that this visit might not be a cake walk for Patrick...
Surprisingly, there was a minimal wait, and the soon the governor came through the library doors and into the round.
Chicopee mayor Mike Bissonnette gave an intro speech lauding the governor's frequent appearances here in the western side of the state, and handed off the mike to Patrick.
Patrick made some opening statements laced with a little levity, to set the meeting off on an amiable footing, then got right down to business and began taking questions.
Until now, I'd never seen or heard the governor speak live. But I have to say, I was impressed with his character and personable-ness.
The man is a charmer, obviously knows his business, and proved himself to be ready to take on the folks that had taken their time to show up here, surround him, and pummel him with questions.
He treated each person with his full respect and attention, whether or not he had the answers they wanted to hear.
I'm not a reporter, so I mindlessly showed up without any of the proper reporting tools (eh, pencil and paper...) necessary to relate an accurate account of what was said and by whom. For that info, you'll have to dig around at other sources. So, the following is mostly a visual account with whatever generalities I managed to retain in my weary late afternoon brain, and just a sampling of the many people who stood up to question the chief administrator of Massachusetts. (If I misstate anything, please feel free to correct me in the comments section below the post and I will fix...)
Several of the first round of questions were predictably concerning budget cuts to public school funding, and teachers' insurance, unions and the like.
Other questions, like this emotional one from a Ludlow resident, were about funding new programs to help victims. I was busy messing around with the camera and unfortunately missed the specifics of her particular program, but it must have been a good one, judging from the positive reaction of the crowd.
This man, an Iranian immigrant who gave a fiery and complicated account of how much he had lost in his personal life trying to -in his words- help save American lives, questioned why funding was cut to free legal services that could have helped him out. Deval did his best to mollify the man. But when he asked Patrick for his personal sign-off on some court paperwork, the governor respectfully recused himself and said he would have some people contact and help direct him through proper channels...
This older gentleman had some forthright questions about what the kids are (or are not) learning about abstinence in schools, and his his views on abortion...
At one point he must have made security inch just a step closer, when he proclaimed that if he killed the governor, he'd be considered a murderer, but if he performed an abortion he would not...
The governor agreed to disagree on the abortion issue, and stated that he personally believes teaching abstinence simply doesn't work, to a round of applause from the audience.
Others had questions about funding that would affect their specific businesses, like these two masseuses from Easthampton.
This gentle-speaking man had questions about the slow progress or outright vanishing of several shared parenting initiatives that have attempted to been put through state congress, and inequities of the court systems' decisions regarding parents and their children.
As far as the stalled initiatives, Deval stated plainly that he did not have an answer.
But he did iterate that while the laws are written with the children's interests first, he followed that in practice most of the custody cases are indeed awarded to the mother. But, Patrick noted a study that said in the majority of cases where custody is contested, the father wins. The man strongly doubted that study.
This man from Northampton came fully prepared to do battle, and had Patrick on the ropes several times concerning the clear cutting of Massachusetts forests. The man stated that the massive cutting that is going on right now, coupled with the proposed biomass plants coming on line, will create incredible devastation to our forest land.
Deval countered that there was a moratorium on forest cutting until things with the biomass plans are resolved. But the man rebutted that a loophole in the moratorium allows preexisting cutting contracts to continue which, according to him, is 90% of the planned cutting anyway, so there really is no moratorium in effect.
He was prepared, clear-speaking and determined; and left an impression on the crowd. And I suspect, on Patrick.
There was a UMass student concerned about funding for student grants and loans that would have helped her immensely.
And finally, the question and answer session wrapped up with a lady who gave an impassioned plea to fully legalize medical marijuana, in order to ween people in serious pain off of more addictive medications. The session had gone even longer than the hour and a half the governor promised, and night was falling quick.
He made a few final statements, and a seemingly satisfied crowd dispersed.
I have to give Patrick kudos for coming here to listen and speak to the citizens of Western Mass. Whether or not the visit will (or can) have any effect at all on the mechanizations of a bureaucracy flirting in the red and whether or not his policies land in your favor, Patrick did present himself as compassionate, insightful, and knowledgeable; and I rode away with a reassured understanding of the man in the governor's chair...