Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Meet Deval Patrick

Name: Deval Patrick

Position: Governor of Massachusetts

Party: Democrat

Age: 56

Career arc:

a. Majored in English and American literature at Harvard (1978).

b. Worked for the U.N. in Africa (1979)

c. Harvard Law School (1982)

d. Law clerk to a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit (1983)

e. Joined NAACP Legal Defense Fund (1983)

f. Joined law firm (1986).

g. Served as Assistant AG for the Civil Rights Division in Bill Clinton's administration (1994).

h. Joined another law firm (1997).

i. He served on numerous boards over the next ten years (United Airlines, Coca Cola, Ford Foundation, ACC Capital Holdings, Reebok).

j. Ran for governor of Massachusetts; won (2006).

k. Won reelection (2010).


On the inspiring scale, his hits about 9 of 10.

Patrick was born on Chicago's South Side and raised in poverty by his mom after his dad abandoned them to move to New York City and play jazz.

His elementary school was so close to a notorious housing project that students had to slide passes under the door to get into school every day. Again, this is elementary school! (Favorite anecdote: He won an award for a "Father of the year" essay by writing, "Why my Grandmother should be Father of the Year").

Patrick's fortunes turned around when, during middle school, a non-profit organization gave him a scholarship to attend Milton Academy -- a boarding, prep school in Massachusetts with a sterling reputation (T.S. Eliot, RFK, and JFK were notable alumni).

He thrived at Milton.

As Deval settled into his new academic life his natural ability once again began to emerge. He recited Kipling's poem "If" during an assembly, giving a performance so stirring that it moved his Latin teacher, Francis Millet, ("a very dry and formal sort of person with this incredible heart and soul," Patrick later recalled in the Boston Globe) to tears. "That's the kind of thing that makes a kid like me--or a kid from Nepal--believe that things are going to work out."

After rocking it out there, he jumped to Harvard, where he picked up a degree in English and American Literature and graduated, cum laude.

Harvard Law was next, where he scored his J.D and followed it up with a stint as a law clerk to a judge on an appeals court.

He then picked up a gig at a law firm, served as an assistant AG in Bill Clinton's administration, joined another law firm, served on boards, and ran for governor of Massachusetts in 2006.

The Democratic primary was a three-way race, and Patrick's opponent, Thomas Reilly, started out with a solid lead. Then another Democrat, Chris Gabrieli, jumped into the race and started splitting Reilly's vote.

Patrick picked up some steam, turned the race into a virtual tie, and then gained strong momentum, heading into the close and won by 17%.

He then faced Republican lieutenant governor, Kerry Healey, in the general election, and the outcome was never seriously in doubt. Patrick led in 27 straight polls, stretching from summer to the general election, and in 25 of those, he was up by double-digits.

It was a contentious election, but according to polls, it was never really a contest.


He started terribly.

Headlines arose about the drapery in the governor's mansion (Btw, 99% of stories about draperies and politicians are bad. If you're a politician, just go to Wal-Mart and buy a curtain with ducks on it or something) and there were some professional excesses like upgrading his state car from a Crown Victoria to a Cadillac! If that weren't so awful, it'd be awesome, right?

Then there were more substantial charges about his ties to troubled financial institutions and real estate.

When you add all that to a sinking economy, it's not surprising that his popularity tanked. Still, this is Massachusetts and he managed a narrow reelection.

How bad had things gotten for him?

In January 2010, PPP put his approval rating at 22%. In a blue state!

Yet from there, he could only go up, and go up he did. In PPP's most recent poll (October 2012), he scored a 48%/38% approval rating.

That's an improvement, sure, but it's still pretty subpar for a Democratic governor in a state where Democrats hold a 3:1 registration advantage over Republicans. And in another measure of how "meh" his constituents are, a poll actually found Scott Brown defeating Patrick in a potential special election to fill John Kerry's seat. Obviously, Patrick won't be running for the seat, but it's still a good gauge of how his constituents feel about him.

In fact, it seems that, at a minimum, a presidential candidate needs to be pretty popular at home, and Patrick's numbers are underwhelming (I've dinged Nikki Haley for the same thing in South Carolina).

Having said that, Patrick isn't without some accomplishments, and interestingly enough, I'm going to start with praise from the...... Cato Institute. Yes, Cato as in Conservative!

Last year, the group gave him a strong "B" for his management of the state. If that doesn't sound great, consider this: only four governors scored A's.

In fact, the institute deemed Patrick's management stronger than that of Republican governors Susana Martinez ("C"), Nathan Deal ("C"),  Rick Perry ("C"), Bob McDonnell ("C"), Jan Brewer ("C").

So why did Cato confer this blessing on this particularly liberal governor? It mainly comes down to Patrick's cut in the top corporate income tax rate, which was phased in from 8.75% in 2010 to 8% in 2012.

Also bullish for Patrick? His record on spending between 2010 and 2012 was better than average, and --- here's the biggie -- he signed pension reform that "raised retirement ages, ended some pension abuses, and cut costs for taxpayers."

Now -- why am I using a conservative scorecard in an evaluation of Patrick, who's running in the Democratic primary and not the Republican primary?

Because Democrats might think twice about picking a Massachusetts governor, considering how vulnerable they are to "tax-and-spend" charges. So it might take a few moderate things to sell Patrick to the rest of the country, and he can boast about the Cato report.

Having said that, progressives can find plenty to like in Patrick's proposals going forward.

The Daily Kos' Laura Clawson was particularly pleased this month when Patrick proposed a more progressive tax system that would reduce the state's sales tax, while raising income taxes.

Deval Patrick has not always been a particularly progressive governor. But if this is how he wants to make his mark—bringing in more revenue to invest in things important to all residents of the state, and doing so by having wealthier people pay more—that's fantastic.

The proposed income tax hike would be the highest in over 20 years (last guy to propose one this big? Mike Dukakis), and the revenue would go toward education and transportation.

As for the health of the state? Well, let's start with healthcare, where the percentage of uninsured residents is remarkably low, thanks to RomneyCare and Patrick's implementation of it.

Unemployment has fallen from a peak of 8.7% in 2010 to 6.7% now, but if that sounds strong, it's actually nothing impressive. In fact, from 1993-2008, the state's unemployment rate was lower. Obviously, macro-economic environments change, but that's a 15 year run of lower unemployment. And the state dropped from 5th in the country in 2010 to 28th last year for ease of doing business.

Having said that, in 2011, S&P upgraded the state's credit rating to the state's highest level in history, while Fitch assigned it a strong AA+, as well.

One thing before I finish:

Patrick is known for giving a passionate speech at the 2012 DNC convention that compared Mitt Romney's record as governor of MA unfavorably to his own.

The National Review has a nice take-down of that speech, and The Washington Post's fact-checking Wonk Blog eviscerated parts of the speech which was peppered with some gob-smacking inaccuracies.

The moral of the fact checking? Romney wasn't as bad a governor as Patrick claimed, and Deval isn't exactly the wonder-working, makeover artist he claimed to be.

Now, moving onto 2016, here's one reason why his name pops up a lot.

He's very close to Obama, and has even been mentioned as a possible AG in Obama's second term.

Glen Johnson reports that three nights after the president's reelection, the Patricks, the Obamas, and "a dozen others" got to together to celebrate, and David Axelrod has long taken a shine to Patrick.

“He’s a great writer and speaker and knows how to get his points across in ways that are simple, clear and moving,” Axelrod said in an interview. He said Patrick is also served by a “sense of rootedness, of strong principles, of clear motivation.”

“He is a person who knows how to be firm and tough without being nasty and divisive,” Axelrod added. “And that’s — in a very rancorous political environment — that’s an appealing quality.”

"Great writer and speaker", "clear and moving" -- who've we heard that about before?

As far as social issues go, Patrick is against the death penalty, as are potential 2016 rivals, Martin O'Malley and Andrew Cuomo. He's also strongly pro-choice, opposes school vouchers, supports stronger gun control    (for that, the NRA gave him an "F" in 2010), and since at least 2006, has called for a "pathway to citizenship" for illegal immigrants.


Yup, and of it, David Axelrod writes, "There is no more inspiring story -- or more compelling storyteller -- in American politics today than Deval Patrick."

And as politics demands these days, it's not enough to simply have one book. You need a memoir; then you need the policy book.

And, indeed, Patrick followed up the memoir with an ebook last May that looks frothy and very "next-step"-ish.

SPOUSE: Diane Patrick

Next First Lady?
She grew up in Brooklyn, where her grandfather co-authored the nation's first law prohibiting discrimination in public housing (Jay-Z did not do this, in case you were wondering, and in case you ever hear him saying differently, he's just wrong).

After high school, she picked up a degree in education, spent five years teaching elementary school, went to law school, met Deval, married, moved to New York, then moved to Massachusetts where she eventually became Harvard's Director/Associate Vice President for Human Resources.

Since then, she's become a partner at a law firm, served on numerous boards, and has embraced various causes.

Their "awwwww" story?

I'm not too sure if many life partnerships begin this way, but she met her future husband at a Halloween party in Los Angeles.

According to Politics Daily, she was "nearing the end of her troubled first marriage.... and she has credited Deval with giving her the courage to get out of the bad marriage".

Why the troubled first marriage? Domestic abuse and fear of violence.

The Patricks have since pumped out two kids (both daughters) -- one of whom came out as a lesbian in 2008.


Probably not.

Massachusetts has proven a great breeding ground for presidential nominees who tank in general elections.

Even worse? Patrick is a Democrat from Massachusetts and is, thus, vulnerable to a slew of negative stereotypes about "tax-a-chusetts" and tax-and-spend liberalism.

In terms of broadening general election appeal, nominating a Democrat from Massachusetts is about as bad as it'd be for the GOP to nominate someone from Alabama.

Both states are loaded with political stereotypes that don't do either party any good for a general election.

In short, I don't think Patrick has a great shot at winning a general election, I think most Democrats know that, and I think Democrats will play according to that knowledge in the primary and opt for a more viable candidate.

Having said that, there are two, possible paths to the nomination for Patrick.

The first is that the Left could overreach after eight years of success and ignore the political danger of choosing a liberal from Massachusetts. Under an "overreach" scenario, Patrick is a compelling package, demographically and ideologically.

He could also position himself as Barack Obama's heir, though it would be difficult to do that if either Hillary or Joe Biden runs. But if they don't, Patrick is close to Obama-land, he's African-American with an inspiring story, and he's a fresh face. If the GOP goes for a younger figure, Dems might want to counter with their own.

But both of those paths are unlikely, and if folks are expecting to see another Barack Obama in Deval Patrick, they'll be sorely disappointed.

First, Patrick doesn't carry nearly the gravitas that Obama does. He's shorter (in fact, the famously short Jon Stewart made an allusion to it when Patrick visited the set -- see video below), and he's got a somewhat nasally voice that sounds weak and pitchy.

In fact, compare Patrick's speech at the 2012 DNC convention with Obama's famous address at the 2004 convention. They're not even in the same room (literally and metaphorically).

Here's Obama's 2004 DNC speech.

And here's Patrick's 2012 DNC speech.

Much like Rick Santorum, Patrick comes across as an activist; not a president. That's terribly important.

A tall candidate with great stage presence > than a smart candidate with a great record and very little gravitas. That sucks for America. But that's just the way it is.

Oh, and one more thing. He won't be getting Mike Tyson's vote. Patrick represented  Desiree Washington in her suit against him. So there's that.

(As promised, Here's Patrick on The Daily Show, promoting his first book).