Thursday, July 30, 2009

Deval's town hall in Wareham

Managed to make it to the governor's "town hall" meeting in Wareham. The schedule is on his official site and of course the state police are in evidence, and his campaign committee is collecting contact information at the events. I'm not sure what the funding model is. Regardless, the governor is organizing several such events around the state to, in his words, "answer questions and welcome advice".

The event was moved inside to the Middle School auditorium from the location of Memorial Park due to possible rain -- the fact that the announced rain venue of Town Hall wasn't used may have depressed turnout to about 160 persons. To be clear, I think this is more reflective of the community -- a faithful supporter of Republican lightweight state representative Susan Williams-Gifford -- than anything else. There were a few people devoted to Deval there in 2006 delegate clothing, but the majority seemed to be interested citizens. It was a mix of political operatives, would-be political operatives, local officials, local nutjobs, and a good smattering of private but active citizens.

The governor showed up only about 10 minutes late, which is sparkling for such an event. People with clipboards urged attendees to sign in, and circulated during the event to take down contact information for any unresolved questions. After a short set of remarks, the governor invited questions, with staff numbering attendees and delivering microphones to the citizens.

I was glad to see that the dominant topic of the town hall was education. A school committee member, a teacher in another town, and a university professor all asked about these topics (I had the chance to speak with the governor in my capacity as a teacher and union member before the event). The governor heard a lot about the end-arounds for which charters are infamous, such as skimming off the best student to raise their scores and leaving district public schools with a greater proportion of students who require the most resources to educate.

While admitting the inequities in charter education, Deval repeatedly sought to move quickly off of the current charter model onto the idea of his proposed "Readiness Schools", a new and different kind of charter. He emphasized the fact that teachers could "take over" a school in this format as one of three ways to turn a public school into a "Readiness school", though any group of citizens can form a "Readiness school" to act out their issues with the local school as well.

My personal take (more on this later) would be that if the governor would be willing to mandate in law that (charter schools + readiness schools =< X) to ensure that we aren't exacerbating and enhancing the charter dodge, but are instead replacing it with an accountable and equitable model, I could be interested.

The governor also answered questions on stimulus funds and bottlenecks ranging from simple to complex, as well as addressing patronage, agriculture and water pollution industries, and funding for towns with a seasonally variable population, such as Wareham.

The governor is a clever, quick-witted, and charming man, and that was on full display during the town hall. The crowd liked him because frankly he's a likable guy. His charm survived even the press of the "fathers' rights" advocates vocalizing their issue. They did get two of 10 questions, which were repeats of questions they've asked elsewhere (one questioner drove down from Roxbury), a good show. However, this quickly moved into shouting imprecations and questions from the crowd, and spontaneously standing up and delivering speeches while the governor was trying to talk. My feeling is that I would likely agree with their beliefs, but their passion/stridency may well drown out the strengths of their argument. Deval dealt with them well -- I rather suspect he's had lots of practice -- but the points the advocates were making quickly were overwhelmed by the rudeness with which they made them.

Taxes, gambling, and health care were not raised as subjects of concern by citizens at the forum.

The governor has been approachable as long as I've known him, and he certainly works well in small crowds. I can't say that I agree with him as often as I wish I could, but he comes across very well in this format -- no wonder he's using it so much. I can see why somebody would come away more supportive of the governor after an evening such as this.

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