Show 21-07 (Guest: Michael Dukakis)

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Mark Brewer 0:04
We are joined this week by 1988 Democratic nominee for president Michael Dukakis. He is the longest serving governor in Massachusetts history, winning the governorship in 1974. After losing the election in 1978, he staged a comeback in 1982 and served a two more terms. On top of that he’s the only the second Greek American governor in American history. Since leaving office, he served on Amtrak board of directors and has taught political science at Northeastern University and UCLA. He and his wife of 58 years, Kitty, have together published nine books,

Jeff Timmer 1:26
A little presidential campaign history. In 1984, Ronald Reagan won a 49-state, almost 20-point landslide over Walter Mondale. Four years later, Governor Dukakis’ campaign, launched what turned out to be a national Democratic revival. He won 10 states and came close in seven more cutting the popular vote gap in half and setting the stage for Bill Clinton’s defeat of George HW Bush in 1992. Beginning in 1992, Democratic presidential candidates have won the popular vote in seven of the last eight elections. Thank you so much for joining us

Governor Dukakis 2:02
Can I ask a question? Sure. (Of course). What’s happening in Michigan here what’s going on with this latest surge?

Jeff Timmer 2:09
It’s it’s, I mean, my perspective, I think the governor has been extraordinary in really surprises me how well she’s been able to kind of keep her head down and try to do what’s right. She’s, you know, hasn’t necessarily done everything right. Who does, but she’s largely done what’s right. There’s such political pressure from my former tribesmen, there’s such I’ve seen just the guard come down on people wearing masks on the distancing the protocols. It’s defiance, it’s willful ignorance.

Governor Dukakis 2:46
How do you explain it? Because I’ve always had a lot of respect for the people of Michigan. It’s a it’s a good state. It’s been a good state politically, no matter where you’re coming from. I was a big fan of Bill Milliken served with him. As Governor, I thought the world of him I mean, just just a wonderful guy. What is going on here?

Mark Brewer 3:07
Yeah, Governor, I think you know, we also have, I’ll just kind of, say, a darker side here. You know, look, Wallace won this state in 72, the Democratic primary, Trump won the state in 2016. And the pandemic here as elsewhere has been just become so politicized. Yeah, it’s it’s very difficult. Our partisan Supreme Court struck down the emergency powers act last year. So Governor Whitmer even if she wanted to, couldn’t impose a shutdown order again. So it has been a very ferocious partisan fight here, as well.

Governor Dukakis 3:45
Our approach here has been all mixed up. And you know, Charlie Baker is a good guy. He really, I mean, this thing has been kind of a mess. He’s finally kind of got his act together. And we’ve got our act together. But took a long time to get there. But I mean, the state obviously is, I think, is on its way to resolving this and doing it the way it should have been. But it’s kind of a crisis situation. Massachusetts has got in almost every one of its cities and towns, no matter how small, a professionally staffed health department. And one would think that in managing this thing, the first thing you would do is go to those people and say, Okay, I want you to be an important part of this. You’re close to people, you’re in their community, and so on and so forth. And in fact, the local health departments were geared up to do this. And then all of a sudden, Charlie went out and got some private contractors and next thing we knew he had to go to Gillette Stadium where the Patriots play in order to get your shot. I mean, older people couldn’t do that. A lot of them weren’t computer literate, you know, all this kind of stuff. But I do think there’s certainly is no widespread resistance. to getting vaccinated. And in point of fact, there’s a huge demand for it. And I’ve always thought of Michigan as being a pretty sensible, solid state, no matter who was running it at the time.

Jeff Timmer 5:15
There’s a new group in charge of the legislature. Michigan has divided government. The Republicans control both houses of the state capitol. And Whitmer is the Democrat governor. And the the legislators, especially the leadership has been very resistant, really defying sense, reason, science, everything when it comes to this. The Republican Party itself, the apparatus of the party has been very vocal. And they were very much at the center of organizing those well reported protests last spring, last April, where the guys stormed the capital with a long guns Michigan had this open carry ability in the state this other guys are standing in the Senate and House chambers with rifles above the the legislators. The party was at the center of that. And so it shows how that the pendulum has swung from those sensible Republicans like Bill Milliken, a pragmatic, pragmatic conservative, like John Engler into this into this, you know, crazy I, you know, don’t even want to make your own world?

Governor Dukakis 6:27
Well, it’s been an interesting time, no question about it. But we’ve had almost none of that. And very strong support, obviously, for vaccination and for getting control of this thing. And it isn’t that we haven’t had some pretty tough moments with it. And since Trump himself was a disaster, when it came to this kind of thing. We had very little support at the national level, but certainly at the state level is good sense. I think the problem has been a management problem, which we’re finally getting control of. So we’ll be pretty well, I think, on our way to resolving this thing. On the other hand, you know, with with what’s going on, and, and these variations or variants, or whatever they call them, and that kind of stuff, who’s who’s got control of the thing? I mean, it’s an interesting, yeah, well, it’s interesting.

Jeff Timmer 7:20
We’re just learning about is the I’ve got the two doses of Pfizer in my arm, and, you know, how long is that going to last? How long is it gonna be good for?

Mark Brewer 7:28
I think one of the issues that we’ve got here is that Michigan is a focal point of one of the more contagious and transmissible variants.

Jeff Timmer 7:39
During your time as governor, what would be the most comparable? I mean, I know this is a once in a century pandemic situation, what was the biggest kind of crisis that you had to deal with, that you would compare in any way to, to having to react so quickly and kind of make some things up as you go along?

Governor Dukakis 7:57
Nothing, nothing compares with this, because it isn’t anything that lends itself to a quick, intensive response. This is not comparable, but the blizzard of 78 in Massachusetts, was the was the toughest thing I ever had to handle. It was an interesting week. And we handled it pretty effectively. But it was a week. We’ve never had anything like this. And by the way, a little history. My parents were Greek immigrants. My dad came over in 1912, when he was 15, my mother in 1913, when she was nine. My dad’s family settled as many Greek families did in the city of Lowell, Massachusetts, one of the great old textile towns. All of them got the flu. And his father and his oldest brother died from it in 1918. We haven’t read or heard much about how that was handled. Let’s head to the truth. I mean, I know there are some books that have been written on it. But here we are 100 years later, and we’re struggling. Let’s hope we get a hold of it because the country doesn’t need this. And we’ve got enough problems out in the wide world without having to go through this but but I think by the summer, Massachusetts, at least, will have this thing finally under control. Had we had a President of the United States who could manage his way out of a paper bag … let’s put it the other way … couldn’t maybe because we couldn’t he couldn’t manage his way out of a paper bag. You know, God knows how many people have died and and how what’s happened under the circumstances. Anyway, fire away, fire away. What’s on your mind?

Mark Brewer 9:43
Yeah, Governor, you know, something a little bit more pedestrian but fascinating topic to me. I was a student at Harvard during your first term. And I remember one of your big issues. You’re such a champion of mass transit, you know, riding the subway to work. Yeah. And then since that time, obviously, you’re serving on Amtrak Board of Directors, it’s over them. So I was really curious about your thoughts about President Biden’s infrastructure plans, you know what the country really needs to do, in your opinion, to deal with our transportation infrastructure.

Governor Dukakis 10:14
If I were Joe, and I’m an admirer of Joe’s, I’d go back to the Clinton years, take his rail plan off the shelf. And it was a damn good one, which by the way, had a strong Midwestern component, as you know, as well as the Northeast Corridor here and high speed rail in California and other places. I’d take it off the shelf and, and go to work on it. And I think in a, in some sense, we’ve done that. We need a National Rail strategy in this country. What’s happened to rail transportation is a disgrace. It’s gotten worse. Trump, needless to say was was a disaster on the subject. And that plan is as good today as it was then now, it’s not a super high speed rail plan, with trains running at 250 miles an hour. But it consisted of, as I recall, 12, or 13, relatively high speed corridors as part of a national system all over the country. And it made a great deal of sense, then. And it still makes a great deal of sense. And don’t pay any attention to these folks who say, well, everybody’s going to stay home and work at home and we’re not going to need first-rate ground transportation system. You guys need it, we need it, the West Coast needs it, the South needs it. And the faster we get on with the better. And it looks to me as if that’s one of the things that Biden has already done. And of course, he’s a big rail fan, as you know, he used to commute from Washington to Wilmington, Delaware every day to see his family. And he’s the best guy we’ve ever had when it comes to rail system. But, you know, if we don’t do something about this, we’re going to be a third world country. I mean, this, what’s the rest of the world is going right by us when it comes to high speed ground transportation. I’m delighted he’s there. And I hope that he’s going to have plenty of time to implement this. But the sooner the better. And as I say, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel here we can, we’ve got good solid plans that that could be implemented tomorrow. But one of the things that we’ve got to worry about is that we don’t do infrastructure, and especially transportation infrastructure, well in this country. I’ll give you one example. Those of you who have gone to school here or even showed up here will know what I’m talking about. One of the major pieces of the Amtrak network is the so called Northeast Corridor running from Washington to Portland, Maine, and someday ought to be running from Portland, Maine, and from Boston, to Montreal, and should connect Canada to Canada with us with this very dense and, and, and in good. rail corridor. And so we you know, we’re familiar with with with rail transportation, and we use it. There’s one hole in the middle of it between Portland, Maine, and Washington. And it’s the one mile between North Station and substation in Boston. So a bunch of us including Bill Weld and me (Weld is a big supporter of this too) have been trying to get Charlie Baker to get serious about what we call the north south railing. One mile, now it’s underground, okay. Other countries aren’t having difficulty going under, and tunneling through and now with new construction methods, we ought to be able to do that fairly easily. Under Baker it’s been a disaster can’t get them interested. And can you imagine if you look at a map of the rail system that serves eastern Massachusetts and eastern New England, it’s quite comprehensive, except for this one mile gap in the middle of Boston.

Jeff Timmer 14:15
It’s so similar to people in Windsor into Canada, you there’s there’s no freeway. The freeway ends at the Canadian border, and you have to weave your way through the town of Windsor to connect to the Q2 and in, in Ontario. And it sounds very similar to that and you’d have such institutional opposition to that all the businesses that have sprung up along the route don’t want to don’t want any changes and it’s the driving from anywhere in the Midwest to Washington with the famous Breezewood exit in Pennsylvania where you can’t connect to the Pennsylvania Turnpike you have to go through the town and pass the the neon you know, the roar of neon and stop it all the diners and hotels there. So I don’t know if it’s, you know what the holdup is been in, in Boston. But it does sound like it makes sense.

Governor Dukakis 15:05
But think of what … the holdup is that we haven’t had a state administration long enough in office to be able to do this. And this is a no brainer. I mean, can you imagine: it’s one mile!

Jeff Timmer 15:23
When we were when we were preparing for the show and talking amongst ourselves, Mark was talking about your reputation as a reformer in government. I could hear that, well, I could hear that tone about you get it done and get it done right. And in dealing with politicians and bureaucrats, in my whole career, I can understand that kind of resistance to that as part of their DNA for the most part, you know, if that makes too much sense, we don’t want to do it.

Governor Dukakis 15:48
Maybe. But the single most important thing people say to me, “so how come you … you were governor for 12 years … and how’d you do and all that kind of stuff? It’s very simple. It’s surround yourself with top notch people. And yeah, you want to try to motivate them and you want to, you know, you want to make sure you’ve got a team that works. But in the last analysis it’s the quality and competence of the people that you bring into the process that makes it it makes it makes it makes a difference. And fortunately, in a state like this, and Michigan is also one, you’ve got a lot of good competent people who who want to do public sector sector work, if you give them an opportunity to do so. And you’ve got it, we have it. And it made a huge difference. Well anyway, we’re talking too much.

Jeff Timmer 16:40
We want to hear you.

Mark Brewer 16:42
Yeah, there’s so much we’d like to ask you about I mean, you know, your lengthy career in public service and in teaching. I’d really like to ask you about, you know, what do you think about the current state of politics, and I’ll be more specific, in what I consider our broken campaign finance system? And I’d welcome your thoughts on that. What would you do?

Governor Dukakis 17:01
I don’t want to sound discouraging. But we’ve tried so many times, John McCain was was, you know, a key guy in this. We’ve tried so many times to fix the system that I’m not sure it’s fixable. Now, in saying that I’m not saying that you can’t do important things to reform campaign finance. But the best thing that ever happened to democratizing the fundraising process was the internet, because that is you’ll recall, with both McCain and the former governor of Vermont, was part of this, as I say, democratized fundraising. I mean, look at what the Democrats this time, and Republicans previously were able to raise. I mean, we outraised the Republicans and outraised Trump. That’s really kind of amazing. Now, it doesn’t get big money out of the process. But it brings tons of small money into the process. Speaking from from my standpoint, when people come to me and say, I want to run for office, what should I do? They got to listen to the three minute Dukakis speech. So I’ll give it to you, maybe in a minute and a half. Go out and get yourself a precinct captain, every single precinct. His or her job is to then get a half a dozen sub captains, if you will, neighborhood captains, and their job is to make contact on an ongoing basis with every single voting household. That’s the Dukakis speech. And it’s the one I gave Elizabeth Warren. And when I first met her, I had heard about her. I admired some of the work that she was doing, as you recall on on the whole financial thing, but I never met her. She was over at Harvard Law School teaching. First thing she did was take out a notebook and start taking notes – that kind of impressed me. And the next thing she did was to go out and get herself 2157 precinct captains in every single precinct for the state. They were in place by the early summer, early fall, you know, she was behind…

Jeff Timmer 19:15
Scott Brown?

With five days to go both Boston newspapers published polls. One said that it was tied, the other one said that he was ahead. She beat him by nine percentage points. How come? 2107 precinct captains, and she never had a money problem. Because what you do is not only recruit a network of precinct captains, you also say and one of the things you got to do is go out and raise money at the grassroots. And they did. She never had a money problem. Never had a money problem. As I say, it’s not that I’m giving up on campaign finance reform. But I do think that there are so many ways to get around that stuff that I’ve decided the best way to do it is use the internet and and go out and democratize your fundraising effort. And that’s effectively what she did and others have been doing since. Look at the amount of money that Biden raised. I mean, he would see outraised, outraised the other guy. And that’s saying something.

Governor Mike Dukakis, the former governor of Massachusetts, and the 1988 Democrat presidential nominee is joining us today. And, you know, Governor, I’m sure that you know, you spend a lot of time and people like us spend a lot of time talking to you about your time in politics and public service. And, you know, we were doing the math. And you know, you had roughly a 30 year career mostly in public service. But, you know, that was 30 years ago, and you spent the good chunk of that time teaching now. And we’d like to hear your your thoughts on your second career. You’ve taught at a couple of universities on each coast. You witnessed, I’m sure, you know, activism and engagement by, you know, university students, you know, during your time as governor and you know, Mark’s time at Harvard back in the 70s. How does today compare to to them? What are you seeing now, in your second career that you’d like to talk about maybe that people don’t know about you?

Governor Dukakis 22:44
Well, I want to trick and tell him much that they don’t know about me, I will say this, I love the enthusiasm that I sensed and continue to sense among young people when it comes to public service. Don’t let anybody tell you that young people are deeply and actively involved in this. They are anxious to get involved, that these kids are terrific. They continue to knock on my door and get in touch and can I be an intern? Can I do this? Can I do that, and so on and so forth. So I spend a lot of my time these days just kind of working with them to see if I can help them to get internships primarily, and start them on their way. And two of my UCLA students are now members of Congress, both Latinos, both terrific, young man, young woman, and I’m very proud of them. I don’t see any falling off in their interest or their contemporaries interest in public service. They’re really, really very interested. And the more we can do, you can do I can do all of us can do to encourage that the better as far as I’m concerned.

Mark Brewer 23:57
Governor, one of the another topic that I really like to explore with you a little bit is we talked about campaign finance and great insights there. I agree with your approach there. What about just more generally, you know, the political system in terms of voting rights. I mean, we’ve got a huge controversy going on now around the country. Right? in reaction to what we saw in the presidential election, here in Michigan and other states. We’re seeing efforts to really roll back voting rights. Do you have any thoughts about about your where we are now in terms of voting rights and what we can or should be doing going forward?

Governor Dukakis 24:33
Look, I don’t think it’s complicated. The Republican Party is doing everything it can to make it difficult, if not impossible, for people who otherwise might vote Democratic to do so. And what’s happened in Georgia is not a mystery to me. I mean, yes, it is Jim Crow. That’s exactly what it is. And it’s a deliberate effort to make it difficult if not impossible for poorer people, minorities, or whatever, to vote. I think what happened in this past election, putting aside putting aside the results, there’s enormous turnout, which, by the way, included a lot of new Republicans. People tend to forget that this didn’t depress the Republican vote. Whatever you think of Trump, and I think very little of the guy, he certainly was able to stimulate participation. I thought the running of the election was superb. Why would we want to suppress people’s desire to vote? Because the more of that you get, the more participation you get, the more young people you’re going to get involved. And the better it’s going to be, you know, at the state and local level. And there are Republican governors and Republican legislatures, and you’ve got one of them. And we don’t, at this point have that I’m happy to say, but what’s been going on locally is that the quality and caliber, you have to speak from Michigan on this because I don’t know what’s happening there in terms of people showing up with with with guns at the statehouse. But the quantity caliber of local government these days, is it better, much better? Many, many ways. I think a lot of that has to do with public administration programs in our universities, and the kind of thing that we didn’t have back when I was, and I suspect even you guys I had to deal with in and had good take advantage of at the time. But the more of that we get the better and, and at the state local level, I think the quality and caliber of government is really pretty good. You know, it’s unfortunate that we have what we have at the national level at this point. And I hope at some point we’ll get a hold of ourselves, and, and both parties will produce good people and a high quality of government and governmental performance. But, you know, we should not be discouraged. Even though this weird guy who I think is one of the most corrupt people who has ever served in public office as well as` one of them one of the most dishonest, we hope we won’t have that again. But 1000s and 1000s of young people in this country are interested in getting involved. Some of them Democrats, some of the Republicans, that’s okay. I work with some very, very good Republicans during the course of my political career, and they were committed to lots of very good things. You know, in Massachusetts, at least I can’t speak for the rest of the country, the environmental movement was largely Republican many years ago, because the Republicans and I suspect that maybe what happened in Michigan. Planned Parenthood was a Republican thing in this state, not a Democratic one. You know, we’ve had good people on both sides. And I just wish I could explain to you what’s going on in the Republican Party these days nationally, but I can’t I mean, it’s it’s it’s it’s very troubling. That’s that’s not where the USA is. I don’t care where you’re coming from.

Jeff Timmer 28:13
I would agree with that. You know, I’ve been very outspoken I was one of the earlier Republicans in Michigan, at least I was speaking against Trump back in 2016. And what was going on in the party and ended up, you know, playing part in a national platform. We had organized a group last year called Republicans for Biden that was co-chaired by planet Whitman. And Bill well, was part of our group and got to know and work with those people. And one of our conversations were always, how can everybody be seeing the things so differently than we are? This isn’t about a disagreement about marginal tax rates. This is fundamental issues of right and wrong of democracy, of you know, fighting illiberalism. This is uh, it really isn’t. Yeah, yeah. Well, you mentioned Jim Crow I, I get people scold me when I’ve said that, that, you know, Michigan is one of the states looking to change voting laws to answer a non-existent problem, and I’ve used Jim Crow I used it in regard to what’s going on in Georgia and used it here in Michigan. We don’t want to react this way. Because it is it is putting up obstacles largely for D emocrat voters largely for black and brown populations to make it harder for them to vote. And that’s, that’s fundamentally wrong. If we can’t, as a party, appeal to a broad swath of people, if we could only win by limiting who participates: that’s a self defeating future for any party in any organization, just like that.

Governor Dukakis 29:54
Not only that, not only that, they misread history. We’re beginning to see some evidence, as you guys probably know, even better than I do, of a move on the part of some Latino voters with the Republican Party. Are you surprised? I wish I could tell you that every Greek American is a Democrat. But we aren’t, why not? Well, because Greeks came over here, open up those restaurants, ran little businesses, and are fundamentally kind of small business people. And yeah, they were very supportive of me for ethnic reasons. But I guess are you surprised that an important group of immigrants from a particular part of the world, like the idea of small businesses succeeding and policies that will help them. That’s the USA. I’m not surprised by this. I mean, I grew up in this kind of situation, I’m very proud of my own ethnic group and the success in the whole it has made the United States and they’re not all Democrats, I can tell you that. That’s okay. That’s okay. Cuz they’re good citizens. And they work hard. And they try to help their communities become better places. And that’s the last analysis what this is all about.

Jeff Timmer 31:18
At the end of the day, if we’re not, if people can’t have faith in the elections not being rigged, with the kind of somebody with their finger on the scale before it starts. You know, in Michigan at the at the end of the day, what they’re trying to do the legislature, the Republicans who control the legislature right now are trying to effectively give themselves the latitude to step in and kind of take over the certification process in certain areas like, like Wayne County in Detroit. They wouldn’t give themselves the Express latitude that they felt they lacked in the last election. And, you know, I was at the center of that, you know, that fight behind the scenes. Mark was too, and we came perilously close to Michigan, not certifying their their election results. The legislature then may have certified a Trump slate, may not have certified any, you know, spend any electors to, you know, forcing it, you know, the House of Representatives to decide. If one state would have fallen, you know, then then it could have been dominoes, then the whole house comes crashing down and in people, you know, we didn’t just dodge the bullet by it not happening in 2020, in the beginning of 2020. They’re making plans to what’s the next elections that they didn’t have in the last. And this is, this is an existential fight for for democracy itself. And is the truth, most people, you know, that sounds hyperbolic to a lot of people who don’t live and breathe this every day. But it is the truth. And I’m doing my part to, you know, talk to center-right folks and trying to bring a voice of rationality, I hope, one of the few things I’ve ever been rational about in my life, most people who know me would say, but I’m trying to speak clearly and loudly about this. And so I appreciate your passion on your show as well.

Governor Dukakis 33:07
Yes, indeed. Yes, it indeed.

Mark Brewer 33:10
And it’s been great to see in light of this discussion here and around the country, the business community step up. Here in Michigan, the Detroit Chamber of Commerce, and lots of large businesses, including Ford and GM, spoke up just today and said, You know, we’re not going to put up with this as voter suppression legislation. People have a right to vote. That’s really encouraging. You’re talking about young people participating and encouraging democracy. It’s really great to see the business community stand up.

Jeff Timmer 33:43
Well, Governor, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today. You know, I don’t know if you have any further question. The one thing we didn’t get to on your list, if you speak now or forever hold your peace.

Governor Dukakis 33:56
Why did why did I lose in ’88 ? Well, I Next Next time, I’ll talk to you about that one?

Jeff Timmer 34:03
Well, I’m sure you know, we we actually talked about that we figured over the last 30 years, you’ve probably done that interview twice. You probably answered that question.

Governor Dukakis 34:11
We’ll do it. We’ll do it again. I’d love to do it.

Jeff Timmer 34:13
We really appreciate this has been fascinating. And thank you so much for joining us.

Mark Brewer 34:18
And thanks very much, Governor. Great to see you. Take care now.

Jeff Timmer 34:21
Thank you. And thank Greg for putting us all together for us. We appreciate it.

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