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Deval Patrick: Eager Policy Maker, Reluctant Politician 02:57

This article is more than 10 years old.
Gov. Deval Patrick crossed his fingers while talking about funding from the proposed federal stimulus plan in Boston on Feb. 11. (Charles Krupa/AP)
Gov. Deval Patrick crossed his fingers while talking about funding from the proposed federal stimulus plan in Boston on Feb. 11. (Charles Krupa/AP)

WHILE GOV. DEVAL PATRICK WAS ADDRESSING STUDENTS Thursday night at the Kennedy School of Government, you could hear that public service has taken a toll on him over the last two years.

"I will admit that there were a few things that I did not anticipate," Patrick told the students. "I knew there would be close media scrutiny, but I did not anticipate that sometimes I would be left feeling that if I walked on water, the headline splash would be: 'Patrick Can't Swim.' "

"I knew that change would come slowly, but I did not anticipate that we would sometimes have to do hand-to-hand combat with members of my own party."

President Obama comes to town Friday to raise money for the governor's re-election campaign. Two years into his first term, Patrick finds himself in a tough spot. He faces not only a Republican opponent but a Democrat-turned-independent, former state Treasurer Tim Cahilll. One possible explanation for Patrick's quandary: He doesn't like the give-and-take of politics on Beacon Hill.

From Patrick's perspective, and from the perspective of his staff, he has been tremendously successful at enacting most of his agenda.

"We have closed an $8 billion budget gap so far and delivered three budgets that were responsible, transparent, balanced and on time, not something that every state can say," Patrick told the students.

"We reformed the state pension system, tightened the ethics and lobbying rules, radically simplified the transportation network, reduced everybody's auto insurance premium rates by introducing competition, and joined 49 other states by introducing civilian flaggers instead of police officers to state construction sites — changes people have been clamoring for in our commonwealth for over 20 years but that we have delivered."

BUT THE ADMINISTRATION ACKNOWLEDGES FAILURES. The governor was not able to get the gas tax passed and although he tried hard to stop a sales tax increase, in the end, it was the only way the Legislature was willing to raise money to close a budget deficit that keeps yawning wider every month.

But what about that hand-to-hand combat with members of his own party? Lawmakers say the governor won't work with them. Last May, right in the middle of negotiations over what kind of taxes the state should raise, Senate President Therese Murray appeared on a radio talk show, WBZ's "Nightside" with Dan Ray, and said this about Patrick:

"Unfortunately, he's kinda making himself irrelevant at this point in the game, which is too bad, because we really need him. We haven't had a Democratic governor in 16 years, and this makes no sense to me."
"I knew there would be close media scrutiny, but I did not anticipate that sometimes I would be left feeling that if I walked on water, the headline splash would be: Patrick Can't Swim.''

--Gov. Deval PatrickWe called Senate President Murray's office three times to talk to her for this story about how she works with the governor. We never heard back.

This summer, another state senator also vented her frustration with the governor publicly. During a hearing, the state senator complained to a crowd of 100 people that the governor was in her district making an announcement about federal stimulus money and hadn't even bothered to invite her.

One of the governor's former staffers said the Legislature just isn't used to a governor who fights back.

That state senator didn't return our calls. Neither did the chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, nor Speaker Robert De Leo.

ONE LEGISLATOR SAID NO DEMOCRAT WANTS TO CRITICIZE the governor in public, because he's the Democratic governor going into a tough election. This legislator says Patrick is perceived by just about everybody as having campaigned against the Legislature ever since he has been in office, but doesn't understand that he's responsible for the rift with lawmakers.

The Senate Republican leader, Richard Tisei, isn't reluctant to criticize.

"The governor's office isn't really communicating with anybody in the Legislature," Tisei said, "so we can't really plan off of anything that we're hearing from them, because they don't talk to either Democrats or Republicans in the Legislature alike."

A top official from a previous administration appreciates the challenges Patrick faces. Marty Linsky, who was Republican Gov. Bill Weld's chief counsel, said Patrick and his administration have the liabilities and the virtues of being outsiders.

"They have a tremendous passion for the changes they wanted to make," Linsky said. "The downside, I think, is they have had few fingertips and little taste for the day-to-day politics that actually makes things happen in the State House. It's not what the governor and his people signed up for."

But Democratic State Rep. Jay Kaufman, of Lexington, thinks that's too simple an explanation.

"I'd say that many unfairly and, more importantly, inaccurately, say that the governor loves the policymaking and the play of ideas, but hates the politics," Kaufman said. "I think that misses the mark by a lot. I don't think he hates it, but I don't think he gets any great sense of joy from it. I don't think he loves it."

We weren't able to talk to Gov. Patrick about any of this for this story, but his staff suggested we talk to John Walsh, the chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party. Walsh does not see in Patrick a reluctant politician.

"I don't think he's reluctant at all," Walsh said, "particularly in the give-and-take to accomplish something, and I think there is ample evidence of that. For example, in the need for revenue this past year, the governor was not in favor of the sales tax. That wasn't his first proposal. But he engaged in the give-and-take, and one of the give-and-takes he engaged in there was he put on the table three pending reform packages."

So, Walsh said, Patrick forced the Legislature to push through the reforms, in exchange for which he agreed to the sales tax. Walsh's point: If Patrick is such a bad politician, how come he got most of his agenda passed by the Legislature this year?

This program aired on October 23, 2009.

Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.


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