Dukakis encourages Dean students to pursue politics: ‘It’s a great life, folks’

The Massachusetts Statehouse. Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

By Molly Farrar
Boston University Statehouse Program

FRANKLIN — It’s been said that experience is the best teacher.

And so it was for Michael Dukakis, who 48 years ago this week was first elected governor of Massachusetts. He served just a single term before being defeated by Edward King in the Democratic primary in 1978.

Dukakis said he blamed himself for the loss and vowed to do better going forward. 

“I spent a lot of time listening and realized that it’s not enough to be a good talker,” he told students, faculty and staff, during a visit this week to Dean College. “People want to make sure that you respect their ideas, and as a result, during my second and third term as governor, I was a much better governor than I was the first time around.”

He would go on to win two additional terms as governor, serving from 1983 to 1991.

New Chancellor Edward M. Augustus Jr. hosted the conversation with Dukakis Wednesday evening at the Guidrey Center as a part of the Dean Leadership Institute. The two men connected over shared experience in local politics, as Augustus is the former city manager in Worcester and a former state senator.

Dukakis, who was also the Democratic nominee for president in 1988, losing to George H.W. Bush, addressed such topics such as voter participation, immigration and the current political landscape of the commonwealth leading up to the mid-term elections.

Women and politics

Even without mentioning current Democratic gubernatorial nominee Maura Healey by name, he noted that this is a watershed year for women in Massachusetts state politics.

“Things are changing,” said Dukakis, who turns 89 on Thursday Nov. 3. “A woman (Healey) will be our governor. A woman (Kim Driscoll) will be our lieutenant governor. A woman will be our attorney general (Andrea Campbell). I think a woman may well be Brookline’s new police chief since the one that was recruited nationally was fired five days after he took it. Don’t get me started.”

Dukakis urged young people to become more involved with public life and politics. 

“My hope is that many of you, and students on this campus and every campus all over the country, will pursue that because it’s a great life, folks,” he said. “It really is.”

Augustus mentioned “nativist strains” that crop up throughout history and said that “we’re experiencing one right now.” Dukakis, the son of Greek immigrants, agreed, speaking about his heritage and the disparities that immigrants face in the United States.

“We’re all immigrants, aren’t we? Except for Native Americans,” Dukakis said. “We’ve still got work to do when it comes to reaching out to all of our people … I’m so impressed with young African-American, Latino-American kids who are coming along, just as my people did, and will be contributing great things to the future of this country.”

Dukakis also addressed the overturning of Roe v. Wade earlier this year, saying it will lead to “several years of endless conflict.” 

“I won’t get into the whys and wherefores of the opinion itself, but I thought it was a terrible decision and, frankly, kind of off the wall,” he said after a student asked his reaction.

Darby Nicholson, president of Franklin High School Young Democrats Club, attended the forum and asked Dukakis for advice on how to get involved in local politics.

“You’d be surprised at the influence you can have, both as individuals and as members of political organizations,” he told her. “For one thing, it’s a hell of a lot of fun, and for another, you really can make a difference.”

Since leaving office, Dukakis has served on the board of directors for Amtrak and has taught political science at Northeastern University and UCLA. He and former U.S. Sen. Paul Simon authored “How to Get Into Politics – and Why,” which encourages young people to consider politics and public service as a career.

This story originally appeared in the MetroWest Daily News.

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