Born poor in Chicago, where he shared a bedroom with his mother and sister, Deval Patrick became a prominent civil rights lawyer and was sworn in last month as Governor of Massachusetts, his first elected office. A few weeks into the job, Patrick, 50, talked to TIME's Perry Bacon Jr. about the pitfalls of a "color-blind" America, the likelihood of his state's universal health-care coverage being adopted nationwide and the politics of baseball.
When you were growing up, did you ever imagine you would be Governor?
It's not what I planned for, but you know that phrase, Life is what happens when you're making other plans. My achieving this position is about a moment in time when a lot of people were feeling hungry for leadership that is more hopeful and more engaged and more purposeful.
You're part of a new crop of young African-American politicians--like Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Illinois Senator Barack Obama--who attended élite colleges. Do you feel any kinship with them?
Of course. We're all beneficiaries of a moment in time, and that moment in some ways transcends race. There has been such an emphasis on personal responsibility for a long time as part of our public policy, but shared responsibility is in part what government is about. That vision of government has been reasserted in my campaign, in Senator Obama's campaign and in Cory Booker's campaign, and in others', white and black.
Before you won this fall, only one African American, Virginia's Doug Wilder in 1989, had ever been elected Governor in the U.S. Was that daunting to you?
Well, it's a factor, but if I had run with my main argument being Massachusetts should elect its first African-American Governor, then I don't think I would have won, or deserved to win. That's a part of who I am, but that's not all that I bring.
You ran a grass-roots campaign focused on giving people more direct access to government. There's a push in Washington to get members of Congress to post their complete schedules online so voters can see how much time they spend with lobbyists and business groups. Would you consider doing that as Governor?
I can see some pros and cons to that. There are some conversations I need to be able to have without everybody speculating about those conversations and what it signals.
Massachusetts is the first state to adopt a universal health-care plan. Should Congress create a national plan in the next couple of years?
The best solution is going to be a national solution, but I don't think that's coming in the short run. In the meantime, we have to use Massachusetts and other states as laboratories to try some things and make adjustments as we go along. What we did here for a long time was behave as if we had two choices: a perfect solution or no solution. The good news about our own legislation is we decided to take a step in the right direction.
Some groups in Massachusetts are pushing for a ballot initiative to ban gay marriage. Do you support the court ruling that allows it?
Our Supreme Judicial Court got it right, because all it did was affirm the principle that people come before their governments as equals. I don't see any reason to upset that. We need to get this issue settled and off the table so we can get on to the issues people are really worried about.