Feeding the beast
It's a classic recipe. Take one issue that can be exploited for political purposes, add a still-learning or slightly tone deaf politician, stir and presto -- tempest in a teapot. For extra flavor, spice it up with a poor choice of words and a press corps itching to prove its relevance.
The roots of the Patrick transportation "scandal" can be found in the way the administration has conducted business so far. A dearth of "availabilities" contrasted with podcasting and radio call-in shows has the once somnolent political press corps waking up.
Here's a likely scenario. The state Republican Party (another group searching for relevance) drops a dime to the "enterprising" Herald, suggesting they file Freedom of Information Act requests with the State Police on Patrick's use of the Air Wing and his other transportation methods.
The Air Deval story fails to take wing (sorry) despite the Herald's efforts -- partly the result of their own sloppy reporting but also the fact the trips did not rise to the level of Jane swifts Air-ors.
So it's on to the Caddy Caper. I'll leave it to others to explore possible underlying factors, but this one has some legs because Patrick picked a bad time to Meet the Press -- and then botched the performance by not taking the time to adequately prepare for what he knew were inevitable questions. Let's go the tape:
At the bottom line this brouhaha shares an important similarity with the Pelosi contretemps: transportation decisions were being based on security needs. Once Pelosi made it clear the House Sergeant-at-Arms asked her transportation questions, the wind went out of GOP sails (OK, mixed metaphor!) A surprising assist from Tony Snow sure didn't hurt.
Governor Deval Patrick unabashedly defended his use of a $46,000 Cadillac DeVille for state business, saying yesterday that he abandoned the more customary and less expensive Crown Victoria used by former governor Mitt Romney because "they don't make it anymore."
Hours later his aides acknowledged that the statement was inaccurate. Crown Victorias are still being made, they said, but do not meet security standards mandated by State Police.
Patrick on the other hand, was poorly prepared for his encounter and made a non-story into something the Globe could no longer ignore. Flip remarks such as State Police wanted "something with giddyap" don't help in an environment where every move is going to be put under a microscope because of the planned leaks now springing to outline the broad parameters of the budget situation.
The Patrick administration should have had a top State Police official available to explain why the governor can't ride around in a Toyota or Honda hybrid, There should have been detailed breakdowns of the cost of the various vehicles and why the Cadillac was better than Chrysler 300C for their needs.
And for good measure, the media should have compared how these costs compare to Romney hauling state troopers around for two years during his "unofficial" White House run.
Similarly, the administration also turned a blind eye to the appearance of a $72,000 personal assistant to handle scheduling and interview requests for his wife. Diane Patrick is not Chuck Hunt and a case MIGHT be made for an aide -- but not now.
This flurry was predictable. The political press corps has been itching for something to reassert themselves since Patrick indicated he wasn't going to follow the tired old model of Statehouse media coverage.
I remain convinced Patrick is doing the right thing by using podcasts and other "direct to consumer" methods to reach voters. I continue to applaud what I see as a "work horse" model of governance and do his homework before speaking out on major issues.
Call it a rookie mistake though that he didn't do his homework across the board. And it does lend additional credibility to the idea of openness and accessibility to everyone -- including the media -- is the best long-term policy.
After all, Tommy Menino survived his Ford Excursion controversy.