Deval Patrick win makes civil rights history

BOSTON — Newspapers headlines throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts unanimously proclaimed the Nov. 7 electoral victory of Deval Patrick as “historic.” And right they were. Patrick, a former assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Clinton administration, became only the second African American elected governor of a U.S. state.

The hopes that Patrick represents motivated an upsurge in voter participation. About 30 heavily African American Boston precincts ran out of ballots, worsening already long lines. According to MassVotes.org, the 11 communities in the city with the largest increase in voter turnout were neighborhoods with African American, Hispanic and Asian majorities.

Nevertheless, Patrick’s appeal was so broad that he would have won without minority voters. After the elections, Patrick said this dispelled the notion that Massachusetts is a racist state — a reputation stemming from anti-desegregation battles in Boston in the late 1960s and early ’70s.

With Patrick’s victory, Massachusetts also put an end to 16 years of Republican governorships.

Patrick defeated Republican Lt. Gov. Kerry Healy, independent Christy Mihos and Green-Rainbow candidate Grace Ross. All candidates participated in all the debates.

Patrick ran against the Republicans on a “take back our government” program calling for funding for cities and towns, affordable housing, ecologically sustainable jobs, affordable and accessible health care, and support for public schools and affordable university education.

Most commentators here are calling the election an overwhelming defeat for the Republican Party. The GOP fielded fewer candidates for statewide offices than the Green-Rainbow Party, and won none.

The results showed strong support for independent politics in races where there was no danger of a right-wing candidate winning. Where there were no Republican opponents, the Green-Rainbow candidate won 15 to 19 percent of the vote. The Working Families Party candidate for state auditor, longtime labor activist Rand Wilson, received 20 percent. This guarantees ballot status for both Green-Rainbow and Working Families parties.

The Patrick victory is widely seen here as not just a reaction against the state’s Mitt Romney-Kerry Healy administration, but also against Bush administration policies. This sentiment could be seen in the antiwar initiatives on the ballot in 139 cities and towns in the state, almost all of which won.

But two progressive initiatives, one giving home day care workers who accept state-subsidized clients the right to organize a union, and another permitting cross-endorsement of candidates, failed.

Patrick’s campaign galvanized grassroots Democrats to take part in the caucuses last January, many of them for the first time. This resulted in the convention giving Patrick its nomination, and he then went on to win the September primary with almost half the votes in a field of three candidates.

Patrick’s Nov. 7 victory was the result of a grassroots effort that began almost two years ago. At the time he was unknown to most voters despite his high-profile career in the Clinton administration, and as an attorney for the NAACP and corporate counsel for a number of giant corporations.

During the campaign Patrick moved away from some of his more centrist positions to the left.

He had been criticized by some progressive activists for being a lawyer for Coca-Cola, Ameriquest Mortgage Company and United Airlines. Although he had defended Coca-Cola in court, Patrick said during the campaign that he had an agreement from the company’s CEO to fund an independent investigation into the killing of union leaders and activists organizing Coca-Cola bottling workers in Colombia. Patrick said he quit Coca-Cola after the company reneged on conducting an investigation.

In response to criticism for serving on Ameriquest’s board of directors, Patrick said he had worked against predatory lending practices for 20 years and that he had been asked to serve on the board because the corporation was trying to turn itself around. Ameriquest paid $325 million to settle a class action suit early this year.

Gay activists attacked Patrick for serving on the United Airlines board when that corporation fought a San Francisco domestic partners benefits ordinance. Patrick said he convinced the airline to cover domestic partners, becoming the first airline to do so.

Douglas Wilder, elected governor of Virginia in 1990, was the nation’s first elected African American governor. In 1872, during Reconstruction, Louisiana Lt. Gov. P.B.S. Pinchback became the first African American governor of a U.S. state when Gov. Henry Clay Warmoth was impeached.

jacruz @ pww.org