Policies, Not Public Appearances, Define ‘Commitment’

Much has been said and written recently about Gov. Deval Patrick’s “commitment to Western Mass.” — whatever that is — and whether he will live up to it.
This happens every time there’s a new occupant of the governor’s office, an individual who, during the campaign for office, continually pledged his or her undying support for the region west of Worcester. There is rampant speculation during the first 100 days or so of the new administration about whether the individual in question will pay much attention to this part of the state, and then close scrutiny of everything said or done in search for clues to what will (or won’t) unfold.

The local media dissects such things as the number of people from the 413 area code placed on transition teams, advisory boards, or commissions; the number of visits to the region; and the general tone used when referring to this area. All this is a byproduct of the inferiority complex so rampant in this region, but also a very real feeling that, as some people have said for years, the Pioneer Valley would be better off if it tried to secede and become part of Vermont.

Usually, the governor-watching ends after the first few months in office, when there are more and better things to do with ink and air time, but sometimes it doesn’t; indeed, the local newspaper made sport of former Gov. Mitt Romney’s continued absence from the Big E years after he was elected.

From our vantage point, commitment to this region does not equate to speeches before area chambers of commerce (Patrick has done a lot of that), placing people from this area in state jobs and positions of authority (he’s trying), or even reopening the so-called Western Statehouse closed down by Romney. Patrick vowed to reopen an office in Springfield if the budget permits him to do so.

No, commitment, in our view, means contributing to real progress with the issues that impact this region most — poverty, high dropout rates in urban high schools, job-training programs needed to secure a better workforce, and, in the case of Springfield, programs and people that will help ensure that the city moves forward from its recent fiscal nightmare and doesn’t slide backward.

These are the things to be watching for, and it’s obviously much too early to formulate any opinion.

In our view, Patrick should be far less concerned about any “commitment” to Western Mass., real or imagined, and more focused on those issues stated above, because they impact every region of the state. Indeed, as much as we’d like to think that our problems are unique, they aren’t. High dropout rates are as much of an issue in Lawrence as they are in Holyoke, and workforce development is as big a concern in Fall River as it is in Springfield or Chicopee.

While being visible is important, and this region likes to feel connected — because in large part, it isn’t — programs and policies, and not public appearances, are what define commitment.

Aside from some effective appointments to the Finance Control Board, Romney didn’t honor his commitment to Western Mass. But, in the larger scheme of things, he didn’t honor his commitment to the state as a whole, and that is the bigger issue.

Moving forward, Patrick shouldn’t dwell on whether he opens offices in Springfield, Pittsfield, or anywhere else in this region — those are mostly symbolic gestures. Instead, he should focus on programs that will improve quality of life across the Commonwealth.

And we don’t really care if he comes to the Big E.-