Governor Deval Patrick said today he has propelled his legislative agenda at times by bringing “a little South Side to the table,” and his fellow Chicagoan President Obama should do the same with Congress — including keeping members in session over Christmas if they haven’t finished fiscal cliff negotiations.
The Democrat said such a display of strength is needed to set Obama’s political opponents in their place.
“Frankly, if there’s a list that they don’t finish - the work they need to do around a compromise around deficit reduction — he ought to haul them in there over Christmas and make them sit their behinds in the seats until they finish,” Patrick told Boston business leaders during a civic forum organized by the Solomon McCown communications firm.
“I’m not sure that’s where the president will be,” the governor added. “But there’s going to have to be one or another unpleasant confrontation before some of the folks in the Congress who have not gotten the message get the message, that they have to deal with this president, because he is president; not because they like him, not because they favor every one of his policy choices, but because he has the job, and he was hired for the job by the American people – and that’s all the justification he needs.”
He said not resolving the issue could cost the state $250 million to $350 million in federal revenue, adding to expected budget cuts.
“We’re going to have to, very likely, make some budget adjustments mid-year anyhow, because revenues have slowed as the national economy has slowed,” the governor said.
More long-term, he later added, “I think we’re going to see what the appetite is” for some sort of tax increase to not only serve transportation needs, but other government demands.
“I’ve been saying all along we have to learn to have an adult conversation about the cost of civilization,” he said.
Patrick conceded getting off “to a bumpy start” during his own first term, following a period where he was criticized not only for a dearth of public appearances and glad-handing, but also for spending thousands on an office redecoration and replacing his official Ford with a Cadillac.
He has previously complained of being subjected to “hazing” by legislative leaders after taking office in 2007, and today he said there is a “particularly tight, inward-looking” nature to the Massachusetts political establishment.
But he said he learned by engaging the public more vigorously, and by presenting broad legislative outlines to House and Senate leaders and then letting them work with him on filling in the details.
“The Legislature doesn’t give me everything I ask for the first time I ask, but more often than not, they give me the tools I ask for, and it’s made a world of difference,” he said.
Nonetheless, Patrick said there are times when “you bring a little South Side to the table,” referring to the rough-and-tumble Chicago neighborhood where he grew up before coming to Massachusetts as a teen on a scholarship to Milton Academy.
The president moved to the city to work as a community organizer after graduating from Harvard Law School.
At one point in the 70-minute forum, tears welled up in Patrick’s eyes as he was asked to describe his reaction to a blog posting in Esquire magazine by Boston-based reporter Charles P. Pierce.
The post, published at 3 a.m. after Obama won reelection, described how the president’s election victories had also been silent racial ones for a country that once embraced slavery.
“It’s hard to engage on race in America,” said Patrick, who, like Obama, is the first black person to hold his political office. “It’s all around us, but we haven’t figured out as a nation yet how to acknowledge both the extraordinary progress we have made ... and how much remains to be done.”
The governor also provided the backstory about how his speech to the Democratic National Convention came to include the admonition that party members had to “grow a backbone and stand up for what we believe.”
The line roused the audience and became widely quoted in ensuing news accounts.
Patrick said organizers of the September convention in Charlotte, N.C., wanted him to say “stiffen our spine” rather than “grow a backbone,” thus avoiding any suggestion that party lacked a spine.
The governor disagreed, but he told the organizers to insert their change into the text that would scroll across his TelePrompTer, “knowing full well I wasn’t going to do that.”
When it came time to speak, Patrick did just that, ignoring his script and saying what he wanted.Glen Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.