It shouldn’t have been a mission impossible: Ask the governor a question about higher education at a higher education event. What could go wrong?
We were among hundreds gathered at the UMass Club on Beacon Hill Monday night for a speech about the affordability of a University of Massachusetts degree, and all we wanted to do was ask the governor his thoughts on the subject.
Instead, what transpired was a game of cat-and-mouse, played out in the club’s 32nd-floor ballroom.
We lost; the governor won. If you call that winning.
Governors — and all politicians — are adept at dodging reporters. They arrive through back entrances, zoom away in idling SUVs, limit time for questions at press conferences.
But the governor was in rare form that night. Standing just inches from us, Charlie Baker didn’t even make eye contact. When we pressed his aides, they told us we could e-mail the office. “I know he’s right here, but we do have to get him out the door,” the press aide told us as we hovered at the governor’s elbows.
Here’s what happened:
Certainly the self-proclaimed policy wonk would jump at an opportunity to expound on education policy?
As soon as Meehan finished, we made a beeline to Baker, squeezing past other attendees to wait for our turn. With an idea of what might happen, we strategically positioned ourselves — one to his left, the other to his right — so that no matter which way he turned he would be greeted by a Globe reporter.
We had been warned Baker was on a tight schedule. There would probably not be time for questions. We promised to be quick.
But as we stood there, the governor hardly looked like he was in a hurry. In fact, he acted as if he could have stayed all night to work the room. He smiled, he glad-handed, he charmed. This is how you become the most popular governor in America.
Another aide asked if we wanted our picture taken with the gov.
“No,” Laura said. “I just want to ask him a question.”
“We’re like 10 minutes behind,” he said. “I got to get him out.”
“Thirty seconds?” Laura asked.
Baker continued his hand-shaking. No hello. No acknowledgment that we existed. It was as if he had been trained to avoid us.
To be fair, the governor answered questions earlier in the day from a scrum of reporters gathered at the State House.
He’s also really tall. At 6-foot-6, he played basketball at Harvard, and perhaps all he could see were the tops of our heads.
We stood there, recorder running. The press aide moved closer.
“Laura, if you have any questions you can send them over to our office,” she said.
E-mail questions to a press office at 6 p.m. when the governor himself was standing right there? That seemed inefficient. And silly. We know a brush-off when we see one.
How did this suddenly become so difficult? Nearly every family in America worries about how to pay for college. We wanted to hear from the governor.
“He’s right here. I just want to ask him . . . ” Laura said, talking as we tried to maneuver into his path.
We understand the governor doesn’t have to answer every question from the news media. Sometimes reporters get him when he’s out in public, other times they don’t.
As gubernatorial accessibility goes, Baker isn’t the worst. He’s certainly more accessible than was Mitt Romney, who at times kept the press at arm’s length, sometimes even using velvet ropes.
Eventually, it became clear that Baker wasn’t going to talk, and deadline beckoned.
Laura moved on to Secretary of Education James Peyser, who gave us all we wanted: a quote for the paper.
On Tuesday night, Baker spokeswoman Lizzy Guyton sent a statement telling us how the administration views the press.
“The Baker-Polito administration values the role of the media, the governor and lieutenant governor regularly speak to members of the media at public events, and the governor was more than happy to speak to the Boston Globe a couple hours before this event,” she wrote in an e-mail.
Hardly. But there’s always tomorrow.Laura Krantz can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz. Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @leung.