Governor Deval L. Patrick
Opening Remarks at the National Black Journalists 39th Annual Convention and Career Fair
Hynes Convention Center, Boston
Thursday, July 31, 2014
Good morning, and thank you, Bob, for that generous introduction.
I want to acknowledge Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who is here this morning. I know he is almost as excited as I am to welcome you to the City and to the Commonwealth.
And I want to acknowledge Reince Priebus of the Republican National Committee. I credit his presence because, in a healthy democracy, no voter and no voice should be taken for granted.
As I welcome you, I want to tell you why I think you’re in the right place at the right time. And since you are journalists and therefore professionally skeptical of everything anybody says, maybe I should preface my comments with a little more personal context.
I am a liberal Democrat from a reliably “blue” state in which there are, in fact, more un-enrolled Independents than there are registered Democrats and registered Republicans combined.
I’m a black man elected governor twice in a state where African Americans account for only 8 percent of the population.
I’m a capitalist who believes we need to grow the economy not just to create wealth but also and mainly to create opportunity.
I have spent most of my professional life in the private sector, but I don’t hate government. And while I don’t believe government can solve every problem in everybody’s life, I know private markets can’t either.
In other words, like you and most people you and I know, I don’t fit neatly into any box. Basically, I believe most political labels and much political orthodoxy is stale, and I am suspicious of conventional wisdom. Indeed, of all such political rhetoric, none has failed us more than that which says that you grow a modern economy by cutting taxes, crushing unions, shrinking government and markets will do the rest.
That, in a nutshell, is the approach preached by Republicans and taken in Massachusetts under 16 years of Republican governors.
Starting in 2007, we took a different approach: investing time, money and ideas in education, innovation and infrastructure.
What has that produced?
When we entered office in 2007, Massachusetts was 47th in the Nation in job creation. Then, to make matters worse, along came a global economic collapse. Nearly 8 years later, not only have we regained all the jobs lost in the Great Recession (one of the first states in America to do so), but we have achieved the highest level of employment in nearly 25 years, our economy has grown twice as fast as the national growth rate, and we are first in the Nation in both economic competitiveness and entrepreneurial activity.
When we got here, the public schools were making progress after years of reform efforts, but achievement gaps persisted. Today, we are number one in the Nation in student achievement, at or near the top in the world in math and science, and number one for overall child well-being; we are closing achievement gaps; we have more charter schools and other innovative models than ever; our community colleges are a coordinated system for workforce development; and our universities are supported and well-funded again.
When we got here, health care reform was but words on paper. Today, nearly 99% of our residents are insured, health care costs for families, small businesses and local governments are down, and on a host of measures we are healthier.
When we got here, there was no energy policy and electricity rates were at an all-time high. Today, we are first in the Nation in energy efficiency. We have a booming, nationally recognized clean tech sector that is growing jobs at double-digit rates. We’ve grown wind and solar generation from 3 megawatts each to over 100 and over 500 megawatts respectively. Emissions are sharply reduced. And we’ve cleared the way for America’s first offshore wind farm.
When we got here our roads, rails and bridges were crumbling after 20 years of neglect. Today, we have more than doubled our investment in public infrastructure, broadband is now available statewide, our transportation bureaucracy is radically simplified, the number of structurally deficient bridges is down by 23%, and there are public parks or open spaces within a 10-minute walk of nearly 30 percent of our residents.
When we got here, there was a lot of talk about being “tough on crime,” but crime was up. Today, we’ve moved away from minimum mandatory sentencing in favor of evidence-based re-entry programs; we’ve reformed our criminal records systems by eliminating the permanent cloud on your work prospects of minor offenses; we’re treating drug addiction rather than warehousing addicts in prison; and violent crime is down.
For the last 8 years our budgets have been balanced, timely and fiscally responsible. We’ve made our pension system more fair and sustainable. Our rainy day fund is one of the strongest in the country. And we’ve achieved the highest bond rating in Commonwealth history.
And we are a more just Commonwealth, too. Today in Massachusetts you can marry whomever you love.
You’re in the right place at the right time because Massachusetts is back in the leadership business. We are not yet where we will be, but we are well ahead of where we were -- because we put an end to governing for the next election cycle or news cycle, and started governing instead for the next generation.
As I said, our strategy has been to invest in education, innovation, and infrastructure:
Education because with some 300 universities, research institutions and teaching hospitals within 90 minutes of downtown Boston, and the world economy in the midst of a knowledge explosion, education is our competitive edge.
Innovation because there are a handful of industries – like the life sciences and biotech, clean tech, the whole range of digital technologies, advanced manufacturing, and even financial services – that depend on the kind of concentration of brainpower we have.
And infrastructure, however unglamorous it may be, because it supports everything else. That means the roads, rails and bridges I mentioned already, but also public and affordable housing, lab space at our public colleges, broadband and even health care – all the things the public builds as a platform for private sector investment and personal ambition.
My point is not simply to brag about Massachusetts (though I am proud to do that) but rather, first, to show that a strategy of investing in education, innovation and infrastructure works, and, second, to challenge the popular rhetoric that says economic prosperity comes when governments tax as little as possible, spend as little as possible, and regulate as little as possible. The results are on our side.
So why isn’t every governor doing the same thing? Every governor I know hears the aspirations of the people they serve for better jobs, better schools, better infrastructure, a better future. They are the same elements of the American Dream that generations of strivers have hoped and reached for. But some of us are enthralled – and ultimately held back by -- by sound-bite governing.
“No new taxes!” is a great slogan – until it’s time to rebuild the roads and bridges, retrain the long-term unemployed, or otherwise engage the public on the price of civilization.
“Smaller government!” is a great slogan – until there’s a hurricane or a tornado or a terrorist attack and we need police, firefighters and EMTs on the streets, or until there aren’t enough social workers to look after properly the most vulnerable families.
“Cut regulations!” is an effective rallying cry – until unregulated pharmacies poison people, or narcotic painkillers start turning suburban teens into self-destructive addicts, or industry starts contaminating farmland.
You wonder what kind of Alice-In-Wonderland world we’re living in when governors in some states defend measures to limit access to the vote by claiming they are fixing a vote fraud problem that didn’t exist.
Governing is not easy work – not if you’re serious about achieving real and meaningful results. This job is a funny blend of substance and performance art. But your job might be even harder, especially if you are a political reporter. Because you have to report on the drama and the substance without confusing the two.
We need you to get that right. A functioning democracy needs a well-informed public, and that public needs to be versed in the substance of politics, not just entertained by the drama of it.
We need you to challenge the leaders who say they want to get results but then actively refuse to act: like the folks who say we need to rebuild our highway system then refuse to fund the Highway Trust Fund, or who say they want fiscal discipline then push the federal government into default, or the folks who say Americans should have the security of health insurance then vote to take it away.
We need you to challenge the racist bullies who claim you are the ones playing the race card when they are the ones dealing it.
We need you to ask why, in a country whose public is ready for pragmatic and compassionate solutions, some leaders offer immigrant hatred in the place of immigration reform.
We need you to challenge public officials to consider private sector solutions, to challenge private sector leaders to consider public solutions, and to challenge all of us to find solutions together. We need you to challenge any politician willing to hurt the country for political gain. Inaction has a price. And we need an informed public to exact that price at the polls.
The reason we are making things happen here in the Commonwealth, the reason we are confident in our future, is because we are shaping that future – by working together, government and the private sector, for-profits and non-profits, labor and management, organizations and individuals. We don’t always agree. We have still big issues to face down, big problems to solve, big dreams to fulfill. But we move forward, doing the hard, deliberate work of finding solutions because some of us know that outrage – though a staple of modern political reporting -- never once solved a problem.
I’m really glad you’re here. I hope you have a wonderful convention. Thank you.