By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON — Reflecting on his administration’s economic and criminal justice initiatives over the past eight years, Gov. Deval Patrick cast his gaze Tuesday toward his remaining weeks in office when he said there would be a substantial auction for offshore wind power developers.
Speaking in a one-on-one discussion with public relations executive Helene Solomon, Patrick said that in December the federal government would auction off a large tract south of Martha’s Vineyard that he said had the potential to power 60 percent of the state’s households.
In June, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Acting Director Walter Cruickshank and Patrick announced that more than 742,000 acres offshore Massachusetts would be available for commercial wind energy leasing.
According to the federal government, the proposed area is “the largest in federal waters and will nearly double the federal offshore acreage available for commercial-scale wind energy projects.”
In written testimony, state Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Maeve Vallely Bartlett has recommended that the federal board reduce its minimum bid of $2 per acre for each lease area to $1 “because of the relatively large size of these lease areas” and the depth – 50 feet – of the waters in many areas, which she said could cause development to lag behind areas with shallower waters. Bartlett also recommended reducing rent and operating fees to increase the likelihood of development.
“The scale of development will help mitigate the impact of climate change, improve the air our citizens breathe, and create thousands of jobs not just in the Commonwealth, but all along the East Coast,” Bartlett wrote in an Aug. 18 letter to Cruikshank.
Patrick has long supported the Cape Wind energy project planned for the waters of Nantucket Sound. While still in the works, that project has still not taken off and continues to face opposition.
During a discussion that jumped from topic to topic, Patrick also described a quandary he faced in 2009 when the economy was tanking, bottoming out state revenues and the Legislature opted against his gas tax proposal, favoring a 25 percent increase in the sales tax.
“Everybody on my team said you’ve got to veto the sales tax increase if you want to get re-elected,” said Patrick, who signed the tax legislation and won re-election.
Solomon, who spoke to Patrick for about an hour, told the News Service she has been friends with Patrick for 25 years, since he was at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Patrick told Solomon he has been struck by the intense intimacy he encounters with people around the state, saying unlike the “swells” gathered in the Boston Harbor Hotel Tuesday morning, meeting the governor is a big deal for them.
“It’s still a big deal,” Solomon assured him.
“I was fishing for that,” Patrick said to laughter.
Patrick recalled a sweltering day in August 2010 when he signed a law removing many criminal records from consideration in the employment process. At the bill-signing event, someone handed him a phone and the man on the other end said, “The bill you just signed is going to make a difference in my life.”
Four weeks ago, Patrick said, he was picking up an early lunch in Springfield when the executive chef at the restaurant gave him a “double-take” and then told the governor he was the man on the other end of the phone that day four years ago, saying, “I was sitting in jail when I took that call . . . I got out of jail. I got this job on account of CORI reform,” the shorthand for the records reform law Patrick signed.
Patrick, who battled lawmakers and a vocal contingent of the public over a law that now allows for three casinos and a slots parlor, said he “never would have thought that gaming would be something that I would spend much time on” or such a source of “agita.”
Looking forward to his potential earnings in the private sector and considering his legacy, Patrick said he would prefer to be recognized for implementing the groundbreaking 2006 health reform law.
“My predecessor signed the health care bill. It went into effect the day we took office. We’re at 98 percent covered today. It’s added 1 percent to state spending. We’re healthier on a whole host of levels,” Patrick said. “I want it to be called PatrickCare and not RomneyCare.”
Charlie Baker, a Republican who lost to Patrick in 2010, won the governorship on Nov. 4. Patrick said he would leave a letter for his successor and declined to share an outline of what the letter would say.
During his talk, Patrick returned to some recurrent gripes with the media and politics.
The governor said some of the people he meets repeat things they heard “on hate radio,” and he said the news media “doesn’t always discern” between “substance” and “performance art.” Asked about the influx of money from a variety of sources in politics, Patrick gave a succinct critique of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that has allowed for the new spending, saying, “I just think that Citizens United is dumb.”
Patrick, the state’s first black governor and a former civil rights chief in Janet Reno’s Justice Department, was reluctant to offer his opinion on the events of Ferguson, Missouri, where a grand jury is reportedly close to issuing a decision on whether to charge Darren Wilson, a white police officer, in the shooting death of Michael Brown, a young black man.
“I think people expect prominent black people to be experts on race. I’m not. I can tell you some of the things that I feel, but they’re personal,” said Patrick. He said, “It’s always blown my mind that I could be scary to anybody, but change my costume, change my setting, I’m scary to people, people I don’t know.”
Patrick said being governor has been “the thrill of a lifetime and a high honor,” saying he would “miss the agenda setting” and would not be satisfied serving in the Legislature or Congress. After discussing the public reaction to his offer of Bay State military installations to house children who were in federal custody for crossing the border unaccompanied, Patrick opined on what he says is room for moral leadership.
“We have learned to shout anger and to whisper justice,” Patrick said. He said, “People are hungry for moral leadership. I’m not talking about moralistic: ‘I’m right and everybody else is wrong.’ I think there is still a basic sense among regular old people of right and wrong that is more important than right and left.”
After the talk, reminded of his discussion of the Springfield chef, Patrick talked about the others he hoped he would meet after his governorship.
“I’m beginning to meet some of the students I met when I campaigned the first time, who are further along in their education, and that’s enchanting, and I’d like to meet some of those students later in life, find out what they’ve done with the opportunities they’ve had,” Patrick told the News Service. “I meet people and I would like to continue to meet people who work in the energy efficiency area . . . And of course people I meet whose lives have been changed on account of access to health care.”
Michael Norton contributed reporting.