In farewell interview, Gov. Deval Patrick covers energy, gambling and more

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After Gov. Deval Patrick leaves the Statehouse on Jan. 8, he plans to remain a highly visible presence in the Berkshires as a private citizen.

"Why on Earth would I leave? It's God's country!" Patrick told the Eagle during a farewell conference call this week. He and his family are celebrating the Christmas holiday season at their Richmond homestead, where the governor has spent much of his down time during the past eight years.

"We hope to have a long and happy life in Richmond," he added, "and one day, I'm not sure when, to make that our primary home."

He is exploring a "loose affiliation" with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's new Innovation Institute, "but that would not be a toe in academic waters. I'm looking forward to being back in the business world. I'm not sure what shape or form that will take, but I'm going to work hard on that after the long, warm-weather nap Diane (his wife) and I are going for."

Questioned about some of the issues that have held center stage during his final year in office, the governor acknowledged that he was "skeptical" about Kinder Morgan's initial Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. proposal "because they were not using existing rights-of-way." The energy giant's recently revised plan to follow utility corridors through Hancock, Lanesborough, Cheshire, Dalton, Windsor, Hinsdale and Peru "makes more practical sense for a whole host of reasons."

Acknowledging that federal regulators hold the cards on the outcome of the pipeline proposal, Patrick emphasized that "one of the best things that has come from the Kinder Morgan proposal was the amount of grassroots organizing it spawned. All up and down the route, folks were organizing to express themselves and I have admonished them to stay organized."

The governor asserted that it was important for the public to keep its views flowing into the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission "because frequently, those are left to the experts and the industry and frankly, that doesn't make it as good a process as it ought to be."

He agreed that skeptics who ask whether the region needs more natural gas are posing "a fair question." But, he added, "our reliance on gas and the shortness of our supply explains why there have been such sharp increases" in electric bills this year, based on "the whopping winter we had last year and the extraordinary demand."

An updated forecast of the state's power-supply demands "will go beyond what we have always been doing to sustain further growth," Patrick said as he advocated a close examination of "what we need to do to drive electricity rates down."

He touted the state's progress in moving toward alternative energy sources — from 6 megawatts of renewable generation in 2007 to 800 MW currently, Patrick said.

"We have one of the fast-growing clean-tech sectors in the country right now, with 47 percent growth over the past five years," he pointed out.

Patrick again expressed regret that state lawmakers failed to approve a "really important" renewable energy bill championed by state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield. "It would have enabled us to bring more renewable hydro down from Canada," he said, describing the outcome as "too bad" because passage of the legislation "would have signaled a downward impact on rates." But he predicted the Legislature will revisit the proposal in 2015.

"In the long run, I do see a carbon-free future for the commonwealth," Patrick stated. "We're taking big steps there."

On the impact of declining student enrollment in the Berkshires, he extolled "our marvelous Richmond Consolidated School, a terrific school in a community whose school-age population is declining. That begs the question, not limited to the Berkshires, of how we think about regionalizing more traditional municipal or local services, not just schools, but veterans and public health services."

As an example, Patrick cited the number of 911 call centers in the state — 240, compared to four in all of California.

He called for studies on how to combine more services "while protecting the unique local, town-centric character of the commonwealth."

Asked about FBI and state gambling commission investigations into potential or actual corruption in the gambling industry as two licensed projects take shape in Everett, outside Boston, and in Springfield, Patrick pushed back against the notion that the state has rolled out a red carpet for casino developers.

"That trivializes what happened," he said. "We've had a limited expansion of gaming, three destination resorts," with one still to be licensed in southeastern Massachusetts. "There's a right way and a wrong way to do it" and he described the gambling law approved on Beacon Hill as "the right way."

Patrick insisted that "I have tried my very best not to second guess the individual applications publicly, to keep my thoughts to myself and I'm going to continue to do that because the Massachusetts Gaming Commission is supposed to act independently, and they have."

He also asserted that "there isn't an industry that I know of in the commonwealth that doesn't have market challenges, internal challenges, that doesn't have hair on it in one way or another that needs to be appropriately overseen and in some cases regulated. I think that will happen in the case of the gaming industry as well."

As for any New Year's resolutions he might have, Patrick noted that annual commitments to lose weight have not worked. "I'm just going to try to continue to be the best husband, father and citizen I can be," he said.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.

In His Own Words ...

During a recent farewell interview with The Eagle, Gov. Deval Patrick weighed in on a number of issues:

On the reported mismatch between available jobs in the Berkshires and the skill levels of applicants: "That is a Commonwealth-wide phenomenon, we have about 140,000 people looking for work and 120,000 vacancies, and much of that is about the skills gap. We've asked the community colleges to respond to that need by matching actual people to actual skills, because so many of those jobs are middle-skill jobs that require more than a high school diploma but less than a college diploma. If community colleges connect with local employers and do things short of a full-fledged, two-year associate degree, even a certificate or a course that prepares someone for a specific job that would be waiting for the student at the end of the course would be a big step forward. BCC and other community colleges have begun to step into that void."

On how his perspective about living in the Berkshires has changed while serving as governor: "It's made me more sensitive to some of the public investments that can unlock the extraordinary talent and creativity and make that good for people who are in the Berkshires right now and young families that might move here. I happen to think the train to New York is huge, really important, not that New York City is the be-all and end-all. I just think modern transportation infrastructure and the access it enables is a contributor to economic and social growth. The same is true of broadband, it's really critical, not a luxury anymore. It's about how you connect to commerce and education all around the region and the world."

On groups encouraging Sen. Elizabeth Warren to run for president: "I think her future is going to be whatever she wants it to be, she's a really special person and a great friend. She's been a terrific ally politically and in the Senate, and frankly, giving her a chance to get her feet under herself in the Senate is what she wants and probably is best. We need her voice because of the way the public discourse no longer focuses on the needs of working people, on poverty, on mobility it's the nub of the income-inequality issue. For me, it's not that we have rich and poor, it's so hard to move from being poor to being not poor today. If we abandon our focus on that, something that's really central to what it means to be American is up for grabs. And Elizabeth Warren understands that. We need that voice calling us back to those values and I applaud her and thank her for that."


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