But it could just be the Governor himself. He was so welcoming, easy-going and engaging that I couldn't help but remember the distance and desperation I'd felt, standing in front of the Statehouse at the end of the summer of '07, along with a collection of kids, spouses and Middleboro residents, holding signs, deflecting the flying monkeys, talking to the press, posing for pictures, and trying, more than anything, to get the Governor's attention.
Even just an article in a newspaper, or a quote that didn't land at the bottom of the page.
We protested and blogged, made videos and gathered signatures, made calls and organized forums all over the region, wrote editorials and sent him our personal letters. But the Governor, apparently, had remained unmoved, and shortly afterward filed a bill to build three casinos in Massachusetts.
So I don't know how, over two years later, we finally got this meeting with the Governor, but suspect it had to do with a lot of things that occurred in those last two years, which, in the past few months have started to come together, including:
- The research of MIT professor Natasha Schull and that of others which lead to a re-thinking of the issue as one of 'predatory gambling'
- The mega implosion of the Governor's casino plan '08
- The economy soured in a way that gave serious reflection to what we considered 'disposable income' - hitting the casino industry especially hard
- The predatory lending and casino capitalism crisis which lead to comparisons to predatory gambling
- Casinos became hard pressed to get credit for expansion
- The going price for slot licenses took a gigantic nose dive
- SCOTUS went to Carceiri effectively ending the Wampoang casino scenario
- The Massachusetts Democratic party adopted a resolution to oppose slots
- Citizens banging away on forums and list-servs raised awareness of the issue
- RI's Twin River, financially struggling 'gambling states' and gambling arms races around the country illustrated the fractured fairy tale that is state-sponsored gambling
- USS-Mass.org was formed with visible new leadership, energy and messaging
- Casino enthusiast and goto guru Clyde Barrows was revealed as a paid industry operative
- Senatorial candidate and CityYear co-founder Alan Khazei had the guts to speak out publicly against the issue, further raising awareness among the general public
There are, no doubt, even more factors which made our meeting with the Governor a reality. Mostly, I give credit to USS-Mass President Kathleen Norbut for working that special magic she has with getting people to notice and pay attention. Earlier this fall, our group met with the Attorney General's office, Secretary of Health and Human Services JudyAnn Bigby and Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Greg Bialecki.
But yesterday was something special and it didn't just have to do with finally speaking with the Governor of Massachusetts. It was truly an honor to be among that group of citizens, with so many areas of expertise, so much passion, and representing so many perspectives, and finally bestowed with an opportunity to tell our side of the story to our State's chief executive.
Of all the people in that room, I had been there the longest, have attended everything from national conferences to Statehouse hearings to regional taskforce meetings to local forums to private discussions, and can say honestly that this was the best presentation, albeit the Readers Digest version, of the evidence and reasoning behind the opposition to expanded gambling in Massachusetts - as well as predatory gambling nationwide - that I'd ever heard. But more than anything, it was just such a relief to be able to do it.
In May of 2007 I'd never even been to a selectman's meeting before - sitting on a hard wooden folding chair, in another town, not knowing a soul, being told by "experts" that my world was about to change and that I had no power to say anything about it. That meeting turned out to be the spark, which started a fire, that on December 7th 2009 had managed to blaze all the way to the Governors office, where, under a crystal chandelier, in a posh conference room at the Statehouse, and among friends, I finally had a say.
After introductions, a few of us spoke to certain aspects of our cause, but it was the Governor himself who lead the discussion with his own thoughtful questions for us, and it was fascinating - and really pretty eye opening.
Honestly? I don't think the Governor actually knows all that much about the issue. Which is kind of scary. But at least he seems open to learning more, now. To that end, my colleague Bob Massie brought along Prof. Kindts massive three volume UNITED STATES INTERNATIONAL GAMBLING REPORT SERIES to show the Govenor - who seemed astonished there was so much written on the subject. Holding up the thinnest volume, still an epic, he remarked, "this is the executive summary?" and laughed.
Bob also suggested that the Governor might want to hear from the Middleboro contingent, which consisted of Jessie Powell and myself, about what went down back in the 'good old days' before we'd become a Statewide movement.
I should probably mention that Jessie and I were completely unprepared for this. As for me, I was taking notes and juggling all sorts of facts, observations and personal insights in my head to share with the Governor should I get a chance to speak, and suddenly, I found myself leafing back to Chapter 1.
"It was kind of weird, wasn't it?" He said, before either of us had uttered a single word.
Yup, that's right, folks. The Governor asked if the going's on in Middleboro weren't a tad 'weird'.
(He's so going to love my book.)
Because as we know, dear readers, weird is only the tip of the iceberg.
It was weird, wrapped in bizarre, inside a freakshow.
Unexpectedly offered the opportunity we've been waiting years for, Jessie and I took the next few minutes describing for the governor the Middleboro Casino Massacre, complete with mental 8 by 10 glossy color photos with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one. The Governor and his staff, in my opinion, seemed especially attentive to this information.
Sadly, we didn't have enough time to get into the really good stuff.
But the Governor was still thankful. He said that, at his level, the information he gets is somewhat 'abstract', though let's face it, he had the 'weird' part right.
By the way, it seemed news to the Governor that there was another article on the ballot at the Town Meeting from Hell.
(Great job, Boston Globe. Bravo, Brockton Enterprise.)
Well, I hope Jessie and I were able to clear things up for him at least a little.
At the end of the meeting, which went especially long, the Governor expressed that he'd been particularly interested in learning what Jessie and I from the Middleboro region, and Steve and Kathleen, from the Palmer region, had to say about the fight at the local level. And I don't think he was saying that to be nice. And no one was more surprised than me.
So, friends, this is what I want you to do. I want you to strike while the iron is hot. Write to the Governor, and share your story from the casino chronicles.
Massachusetts State House
Office of the Governor
Office of the Lt. Governor
Boston, MA 02133
Make a copy and cc: it to his aide on casino stuff Stan McGee (same address)
C'mon guys. This is your chance! Don't let it pass you by! Right the wrongs! There are over 2 years worth of documented weirdness on this blog if you need to refresh your memory. I'm writing, too, just to thank the governor for his time and interest and to fill in the gaps of what I'd shared with him earlier.
My feeling about yesterday, after all my time in the slot trenches, is that we had a good meeting with Deval Patrick - a very good meeting - but that politics has a special weirdness all it's own.
The whole thing could have been the "Big Schmooze". I wouldn't put it past the Governor, his staff, or anyone else to have scheduled this meeting, made us think we'd been productive, well treated, and effective - only to come out later and say that he'd had a very good meeting with the slot opposition, had thoughtfully considered what we had to say, and decided that casinos were a good bet anyway. In fact, I learned that move from him.
But my fingers are crossed. My heart and mind are open and I keep hoping for reasons to hope. And as always, I continue to believe that sanity will, in the end, take the day.
As the meeting finally came to a close, Kathleen invited Deval to "our party," our Case for the Commonwealth Against Slots and Casinos at Fanueil Hall this Thursday, and maybe he'll even come. But more importantly, I hope you, those of you who've been blazing this trail right along with me all this time, those of you who lived it, who never gave up, never bought into inevitability, will be. Because, believe it or not, you were all there too yesterday, sitting beside me in that hard-won meeting yesterday.
And because this long strange trip ain't over yet.
Hope to see you there!