Reality sets in
Deval Patrick's first year brings some hard lessons
successful without “listening to the experts.”
AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki.
On a Friday afternoon in early November 2006, I went to the office of Michael Dukakis, deep in the political science warren at Northeastern University, to talk about the job he held for 12 years, longer than anyone before or since, as governor of the Commonwealth. It was his birthday, I soon discovered, and he was in good spirits. His wife, Kitty, had congratulated him at breakfast, saying, “Well, you made the Herald.” The Boston tabloid had put his photo on the front page to illustrate a Howie Carr column suggesting the election of Deval Patrick would mean a return of the Dukakis era—“Duke Redux,” in Herald-speak.
The election of Patrick was still four days away, but by this time it was clear that Massachusetts was ready, for the first time in the 16 years since Dukakis left, to try a Democrat again. What would it be like? Republicans had been warning voters off this path for years, winning four gubernatorial elections largely on the claim that the state needed a night watchman to keep the Democratic Legislature from raiding the treasury. Now we were on the verge of returning to one-party control. Thus, it seemed to me, the governorship was about to become powerful again. The new governor would have a chance to really lead—not just to play defense against the Legislature, but to propose and dispose. We were about to see a new study in power and positive leadership.
Dukakis was one of several people I interviewed just before and after the election with these ideas in mind. The result was an article for CommonWealth, timed for Patrick’s inauguration in January, that raised the question, “What are the most important habits of highly effective governors?” (See “Recipe for Success,” CW, Winter, 2007.) Based on the interviews, I listed eight elements of success for a governor in Massachusetts. (See how he’s doing on these elements here.) And, in the spirit of Patrick’s uplifting campaign, in which he urged voters to “hope for the best,” I asked political veterans another question: What would it take for a governor to go from good to great? Is it even possible to imagine a chief executive in government running a great administration?
Yet Patrick’s governorship now looks like a triple-A bond that was suddenly downgraded. Good to great? The question on the minds of some close State House observers is: Can he go from shaky to steady? Patrick started the year with some high-profile stumbles—headlines about lavish spending on office furnishings and his desire to ride around in a Cadillac—then spent several months grappling with the budget process while shuffling people in and out of key administrative positions, and by October was confessing he was frustrated because so few of his agenda items were getting attention in the Legislature. In the meantime, he surprised many of his supporters by proposing a controversial plan to bring three resort casinos to the Commonwealth. The announcement generated much publicity, but little applause among his backers. The plan faces uncertain prospects on Beacon Hill, and the governor later complained that casino gambling was overshadowing other agenda items he cared about. As 2007 drew to a close, Patrick looked like nothing more than Rookie of the Year, which is not celebrated in politics the way it is in sports.
CAMPAIGNING VERSUS GOVERNING
“It’s stating the obvious to say he had a difficult transition,” said Marty Linsky, who teaches in leadership studies at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, when I checked in with him recently. “I think it’s a function, in part, of the nature of the campaign. It was an outsider’s campaign, and I think that predisposed [him] to having an outsider’s government, which is a very different proposition.”
Linsky, who worked for Republican Gov. William Weld from 1992 to 1995, recalled that it took Weld “a nanosecond” to realize that any success he might have would depend on making deals with top legislative leaders. Dukakis himself has long said that the difference between his unsuccessful first term (1975-79) and his generally acclaimed second one (1983-87) was his decision to drop what was seen as a standoffish approach and to work collaboratively on Beacon Hill. When I spoke with him for this piece, Dukakis conceded that Patrick’s “slow start” reminded him of his own rocky first term. “Though my first year was far worse in many ways and much more difficult,” Dukakis said. “I mean, I had a very bad first year, most of it of my own making.”
If Patrick has been slow to grasp the difference between campaigning and governing, or, if he has been reluctant to accept that the executive branch doesn’t necessarily trump the House Speaker and Senate president, especially in Massachusetts, the question is: Why? Isn’t such wisdom imparted in any Government 101 course? In mulling that over, my thoughts returned to the November 2006 afternoon when I visited Dukakis at Northeastern. After the interview, I walked the short distance to the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center in Roxbury. A large crowd was gathering, as US Sen. Barack Obama would be appearing at a campaign rally for Patrick.
It was the best kind of Patrick rally—full of young people, enthusiasm, and the rhetoric of hope that Obama and Patrick use so well. Obama spoke first and rocked the house. Then Patrick went on, calling out, “Are you ready to win?” He spoke about the idea that a candidate like him could not prevail in Massachusetts: “The experts said you had to have name recognition, and contacts and connections already, with interest groups and with advocates and with the insiders on Beacon Hill.” He built up to his applause line: “Well, I’ve stopped listening to the experts, ladies and gentlemen, and so should you!”
That was a standard part of Patrick’s stump speech throughout the campaign. But now, as he was on the verge of an impressive victory, it hit my ears a little differently. Certainly he had every right to crow. And I knew the line wasn’t meant to be taken literally. He had listened to many political experts—including Dukakis, who sat with other honorables that very evening in Roxbury in a roped-off section near the stage.
It’s too early to make pronouncements on whether Patrick is, or will be, a successful governor. But we are learning more about his judgment. As the Legislature prepared in November to finish its business for the year, I spoke again with some of the people I consulted a year ago about executive leadership, and also visited with two key figures in the governor’s office. In December, I had a brief interview with Patrick himself. Except when I was in the governor’s suite, I found general agreement that Patrick has faltered in two critical areas: working closely with the Legislature and setting clear, achievable priorities. These are two commonly accepted “rules” for executive branch success, yet most of the people I spoke with were unsure whether the governor would see it that way. In fact, I wasn’t so sure myself. Maybe it qualifies as the kind of “expert” wisdom he likes to disprove.
the bosley affair
While the statewide media devoted considerable coverage in Patrick’s first month to the money he wanted to spend on the interior of the governor’s office and on his preference for a Cadillac instead of a Ford, there was a more telling drama unfolding even in the days before Patrick’s inauguration on January 4.
AP Photo/Elise Amendola.
One of the first and most important steps a new governor makes is naming his chief of staff. Traditionally a governor looks for someone with a mind for political strategy, an eye for hiring talented people, and a knack for winning friends and influencing people in the Legislature. The chief of staff should know the governor’s thinking better than anyone else. Several weeks before his swearing-in, Patrick announced his choice: Joan Wallace-Benjamin, a well-regarded administrator of a Boston nonprofit organization—and someone without any of the usual credentials. She didn’t have a background in state politics, and she hadn’t worked closely with Patrick before.
Suddenly Wallace-Benjamin was helping Patrick set up an administration. And before long, a significant slip-up occurred. Patrick had decided he wanted to hire one of the Legislature’s most respected members: Rep. Dan Bosley, a Democrat from western Massachusetts. Bosley had immersed himself in complex economic development issues for years. In fact, when Patrick was just beginning his campaign for governor, he paid a visit to Bosley. It was supposed to be a 15-minute getting-acquainted session, Bosley recalls, but it turned into a two-hour discussion. Both parties were apparently impressed. Bosley supported Patrick for governor, and shortly after Patrick won, the governor-elect was on the phone talking to Bosley about a job in the administration. Bosley accepted the post—which, in his understanding, was to involve coordinating economic development policies at a cabinet secretary level. He told friends and supporters he would give up his House seat.
As Patrick took a holiday vacation, Bosley met with Wallace-Benjamin and was disturbed by how the job responsibilities were described. By the time Bosley spoke again with the governor, they were unable to come to terms. The governor decided he would assemble a “development cabinet” and chair it himself. Bosley quickly decided he would stay in the Legislature.
A minor personnel snafu? Perhaps. But it immediately called into question the governor’s management skills. And it’s exactly the kind of misstep the governor’s chief of staff is expected—fairly or unfairly—to prevent. It took a couple more months of rough going before Patrick admitted what most insiders had suspected: He needed a more politically savvy team around him. By April he had replaced Wallace-Benjamin with Doug Rubin, a 39-year-old political consultant who had been his campaign manager. He also hired David Morales, an aide to then-Senate President Robert Travaglini, to be a senior advisor. And he brought in Joe Landolfi, a veteran of previous administrations, to supervise his communications.
But the Bosley affair was not without potential political consequences: Bosley, a leading opponent of bringing casino gambling to Massachusetts, is the chairman of the economic development committee in the House, which has jurisdiction over Patrick’s casino bill. Bosley insisted he is “not upset” about what he calls a simple miscommunication about a job offer, that he holds no grudge, that he will give the governor’s casino plan (eventually) a fair hearing.
The governor himself, however, may believe otherwise. When asked in an October television interview with Jim Braude on New England Cable News about Bosley’s views on casinos, Patrick said, “I see absolutely nothing objective about what comes out of Chairman Bosley’s mouth on this subject, so I’m going to set that aside.” I asked Bosley if there had been any attempt by the governor’s staff to smooth things over after that remark. Bosley said no and clambered for high ground: “I think what he said he said out of frustration. I don’t take it personally.”
Boston Globe/Pat Greenhouse/Landov.
Still, a question lingers: Is this how the governor intends to treat his legislative friends? Was it necessary to knock Bosley’s integrity, publicly questioning his “objectivity,” as if the governor had the one unbiased position on the state’s gambling policy? In fact, the matter of Patrick’s treatment of his friends and potential allies was a simmering issue all year, and it lasted well into the new tenure of Patrick’s more experienced political team.
dancing with the legislature
Eventually, the governor’s staff pulled together two meetings with a group of about two dozen House Democrats who had been early supporters of the governor’s campaign but were becoming increasingly disaffected. The lawmakers met on November 6 with chief of staff Rubin and other members of the governor’s senior staff. On November 15 they met again, this time with the governor present.
One complaint lodged with the governor was what some saw as a nearly complete breakdown in communication between House allies and the governor’s office, according to one attendee, who found it stunning that the 26 representatives had to go around the room and introduce themselves before the meeting with Rubin got underway.
It was more than benign neglect that worried some members. Did the governor intend to score political points by bashing the Legislature? Both Rubin and Patrick were questioned about an event that left some lawmakers steaming. In October, the governor had sent Kevin Burke, his secretary of public safety, to the joint committee on the judiciary, which was holding a hearing on a capital punishment bill. Burke’s instructions were to read a letter from the governor in which the committee was castigated for the “annual spectacle” of holding a hearing on a death penalty bill while other crime-related proposals were waiting for their turn.
The legislators’ point was that sometimes bills get a hearing even when everyone knows the bill will not advance. The governor’s public scolding of committee members provoked Sen. Robert Creedon, a conservative Democrat from Brockton, to comment that the framers of constitutional government “took sovereignty away from the king.” Even among Democrats sympathetic to Patrick, according to one lawmaker who attended both meetings, the Burke letter “inflicted more harm than anything he’s done.”
Rep. Jay Kaufman, a Democrat from Lexington who had helped set up the November meetings with Rubin and Patrick, said that he, too, had thought the Burke letter was a “bizarre” way for the governor to attempt to move his agenda. Did the governor have an explanation for it at their meeting? “I did not hear a response from him,” said Kaufman.
Rubin, for his part, disputed that. He said the governor’s answer was that he was trying to make a legitimate point about the need to deal with “real solutions” on crime. “I understand why the Legislature reacted to the Kevin Burke testimony,” Rubin said. “I respect it, but I also think there was legitimate reason why the governor and the team felt that made sense to do.”
But what puzzled me most was that it took almost a year for the governor to hold a meeting with his earliest legislative political supporters. I asked Kaufman why it had taken so long. “The governor and his team may have underestimated the challenge of learning to dance with the Legislature,” he said.
And the governor himself? When I met with Gov. Patrick in his corner office in the State House, he said he had always understood there was little to be gained by berating the legislature. “All through the campaign I remember I got all this advice,” he said, “about how we should run against the Legislature. And I rejected that advice, because my [intention] is not just to win the job, it is to do the job.”
But you talked about “the Big Dig culture” and the Beacon Hill culture, I noted.
“There is a culture,” he said. “But it’s not just the Legislature. There is a culture, there’s no denying that. The fact of the matter is, the Legislature is full of really bright, creative, thoughtful people who, on a whole host of issues, have worked on them a long time, and they want to do stuff. What we have to find is a place where we can work on substance, and trust a little bit more in each other’s good faith. And I think we’re getting there, but I think that takes time.”
I asked about the controversial letter he delivered, via Burke, to the judiciary committee.
After recalling the frustration he felt about seeing his legislative package on crime receiving no attention, and after defending his desire to prod the committee, Patrick conceded that it might not have been the wisest course. “There are better ways to do it,” Patrick said. “I think one of the things I’ve learned in the first year is that you can be frustrated, but you can’t express it, for fear you’re going to hurt somebody’s feelings.”
It was not hard to detect an edge to the governor’s remark. And most people outside the Beacon Hill culture would not fault him for it. Are lawmakers really so brittle that a message intended to say “let’s get real” rattles them so? But though the complaints the governor heard in November might seem petty, the underlying questions about respect are not. In campaigns, would-be governors have always scored easy points by playing along with the widespread public perception of the Legislature as an arena for knaves and fools. Politically astute governors know, though, that on the day after the inauguration they need to develop an inside game. That means, as Patrick acknowledged in a late November television interview with WFXT-TV (Channel 25), “that we have to do more than just, as I say, ‘call out’ the Legislature in public, as important as the use of the bully pulpit is. We’ve also got to work with them.”
Sen. Mark Montigny, a 15-year veteran of the Legislature, says the challenge is acute for governors who run as outsiders, which is most of them. “The minute you arrive you have two problems,” said Montigny. “First, the public each day more and more sees you as an insider. Second, in order to solve problems you have to work inside the culture. That is a very difficult situation.”
FAILURE TO FOCUS
Author David Osborne was one of several people who spoke to me last year about the importance of clear priorities. In his 1988 book Laboratories of Democracy, he noted that successful governors tended to focus their public energies on a few things at a time. “Bill Clinton taught me this, back when he was governor,” Osborne had told me. “He said the public has to be able to articulate what you’re about in one or two sentences. If you’re doing 15 good things, to them it’s nothing. It needs to be one or two big things that they understand about you.”
When I checked back this year with Osborne, who lives on the North Shore and follows Massachusetts politics closely, I found him to be generally positive about the Patrick administration. (In full disclosure, he told me that the consulting company he works with, though he is now on temporary leave, has had preliminary talks with the governor’s finance people about “budgeting for outcomes,” an idea for leaner, more efficient government that Osborne wrote about in a recent book, The Price of Government.) Yet when I asked him if he had a good sense of Patrick’s top priorities, he responded: “No. He does not appear to me to be pursuing that path. He doesn’t appear to be trying to have people understand his one or two top priorities. He’s got transportation, he’s got education, he’s got health care, he’s got the environment and energy…I guess that’s the list. Am I missing something?”
I suggested economic development and jobs.
“Yes.” he agreed. “That would be the fifth one.”
In fact, I put the question about priorities to just about everyone I spoke with. The answers were all over the map.
“It’s tough to say,” said Bosley. He sees much attention to economic development issues, such as the governor’s plan to stimulate the life sciences sector, and yet on the day we spoke the governor was emphasizing transportation issues.
Kaufman, the Lexington lawmaker, mentioned the governor’s desire to make big changes in public schools, although, he added, “the jury’s out on what’s being proposed and how implementable it will be.” Rep. Ruth Balser, a Democrat from Newton who campaigned for Patrick and praises his “progressive values” (although she strongly dislikes his casino proposal) discerns no dominant agenda items. “They probably wouldn’t say they have a signature issue,” said Balser.
“His vision seems to be more of a process vision than a content vision,” said Linsky, recalling the governor’s speeches about changing the culture on Beacon Hill and revitalizing civic life. Still, Linsky said, “If you’re having to intuit what the basic theme is, that’s the problem.”
Not everyone agrees. Montigny, a Democrat from New Bedford, said he doesn’t fault the governor for proposing lots of “bold ideas,” such as reforming the state’s transportation agencies, even though that means “taking on many, many, vested and entrenched special interests.” Where some see a lack of focus Montigny sees ambition. “I think this guy wants to be seen for what he is, which is a hyperactive guy who wants to be everywhere and get things done,” he said. “I respect that as a strategy.”
“You gotta understand,” said former governor Dukakis. “You campaign your tail off, right? You’ve worked as hard as on anything you’ve ever done. You get elected by 21 percentage points, in his case… And you’ve got this very broad agenda. You want to be working on 30 different fronts simultaneously. If you pick good people, you can make real progress on 30 different fronts. But you’ve got to focus on the two or three big ones.”
AN EYE ON CREATING JOBS?
By this time, I had developed my own hypothesis: Patrick wants to be seen as a job-creating governor. He understands that unless the economy grows, there won’t be enough government revenue to fund the programs he cares about and the new initiatives he has plans for. He spoke plenty during the campaign about the need to stimulate clean energy industries and the life sciences sector. He’s kept a steady drumbeat as governor to advance a 10-year, $1 billion plan to promote biotech and life sciences. Even the casino proposal fit in. He wasn’t talking about allowing any old dog track to add slot machines. He was talking about big resort casinos that, presumably, would have economic spillover effects.
So when I trekked up Beacon Hill on the last day of November and sat down with chief of staff Rubin and top communications man Landolfi and asked them to list the accomplishments of the year, I thought I had hit the jackpot: “First and foremost,” Rubin began, “the governor’s talked a lot about economic development and job growth.” Rubin said Massachusetts had added 26,000 new jobs in 2007 (as of October), “which is well on the way to 100,000 new jobs in four years, which is what he had talked about as a goal for the administration.”
The life sciences bond bill has the support of top legislative leaders, Rubin noted, and will be at the top of the agenda when the legislature reconvenes after the new year. The governor’s staff has worked closely with House Speaker Sal DiMasi on a major bill to promote clean energy initiatives. Again, I thought: economic development and jobs.
But Rubin moved on to the implementation of the universal health care law. Big priority to make that a success. And civic engagement. The governor is proud of a bill he promoted and signed creating a Commonwealth Corps to harness the power of volunteerism. Marriage equality. The governor clearly felt strongly about that, and worked hard to keep an initiative off the ballot that could have reversed the historic Supreme Judicial Court decision on same-sex marriage.
“I think one of the signature issues that the governor’s been talking about is education reform—the next phase of education reform,” Rubin continued. The governor has asked more than 150 experts in education to suggest ways to develop this next phase, which in Patrick’s view should involve longer school days and a longer school year, full-day kindergarten, and free community colleges.
Given all this, I asked Rubin if he and the governor reject the conventional wisdom about the need to focus on a few agenda items at a time. The answer was yes. “This governor feels very strongly that we’ve inherited a state government that has been led in a very different direction than he wants to take state government,” Rubin said. “There is an enormous amount of things he wants to get done, and reform, and fix, and make better quickly. And so he’s not going to apologize for putting a lot of issues on the table and for trying to bring change in a lot of different areas.”
As for those who doubt that approach is realistic, Rubin invoked the lessons of Patrick’s campaign. “From the first day I started working with him back in the campaign, he has had a very clear strategy and game plan to accomplish things,” he said. “Early on, the media didn’t understand some of the things he was doing on the campaign, or why he was doing certain things, but he always had a long-term game plan about what he wanted to get accomplished. And he consistently worked to implement that game plan. I think it’s the exact same thing in the administration.”
In other words, stay tuned. Watch and learn. It’s an attitude that is perhaps justifiable after only one year in office. And if Patrick makes headway in his second year by advancing economic stimulus bills and transportation reforms and improvements in public education, he will begin to acquire believers outside of his office in his “long-term game plan.”
But one only needs to look at the governor’s casino gambling proposal to see the risks involved in pushing on too many fronts. As a matter of political strategy, there is no apparent reason the governor—who as a candidate did not take a firm position on casinos—couldn’t have said, “This is not a first- or second-year priority for me.” The drive to promote gambling does nothing to improve his public image. Boston Globe business columnist Steve Bailey has taken to referring to Patrick as “Governor Slots,” unleashing recurrent zingers such as this one in October: “Deval Patrick ran as the candidate of hope. Gambling, by contrast, is all about false hope.”
“I think it’s very unfortunate for him politically that he’s been forced to take such a high-profile position on that,” said Osborne. “It’s kind of a no-win issue for a governor. Casino gambling is not something people are proud to have in their state, most of them. So it makes you look a bit like a salesman who will peddle anything.”
I asked the governor in December why, just as a matter of political strategy, he didn’t hold off on what he had to know was going to be one of the most controversial parts of his legislative package.
“First of all,” he said, “I’m completely confident the Legislature can handle more than one issue at a time. The press can, too, for that matter.” Patrick gave no sign that political strategy entered into it. “I promised I would come to rest on the question by the end of the summer after I’d done my homework,” he said. “I did my homework and I came to rest. I think we made a very thoughtful proposal, which is neither a panacea nor the end of civilization as we know it.”
And on the question of focus? While Rubin and Landolfi had laid out the extended version of the agenda, Patrick had a coherent distillation. “I can tell you what our agenda is about,” he said. “It’s about schools, jobs, and citizenship. I could give you a soundbite, policy by policy, but every one of the policy initiatives, every one of the legislative initiatives fits under that [agenda], and that’s because it’s those three things that transform lives.”
Nothing that’s happened in Gov. Patrick’s first year has caused the people I spoke with to doubt the governor’s work ethic or good intentions. “My sense is that he’s very smart and he really wants to do the right thing,” said Linsky. “And, much more than his predecessor, he’s deeply engaged in the job.”
“He’s had a much better first year than I had,” said Dukakis. “You know, rookie governors make mistakes, and we learn on the job, and if you’re smart and perceptive, as he is, you get better and better as time goes on.”
A certain amount of wheel-spinning is to be expected in any governor’s first year. If you combine inexperience, though, with righteousness and insularity—which is what worries some of Patrick’s own allies—you end up undermining your ability to persuade, which is the key to political leadership, and which was expected to be one of Patrick’s strengths. Why hasn’t that persuasive power shown itself?
The fact is, we learned only a little about Patrick’s relevant skills during the campaign. We learned that his persuasion is effective when employed in front of sympathetic crowds, and when pitted in debate against middling candidates. We could discern that much of his campaign skill comes from his own superb speechwriting abilities and his understanding of the power of inspired oratory.
If you mine the public record, you find other things that made him successful in his years before seeking elective office. Patrick was a lawyer who cared passionately about civil rights, and especially about rooting out discrimination in the workplace and in mortgage lending. He was a lawyer who excelled at a certain kind of negotiation; many of his successes came not in trials but in boardroom settlements. He specialized in working with companies that had been deeply compromised. In the 1990s that meant working with Texaco, which had allowed racism to become part of its corporate culture, and with ACC Capital Holdings, the parent company of the notorious Ameriquest Mortgage Co., to address predatory lending practices.
Patrick also developed a politics that could sound vaguely populist—with exhortations about America’s need to become “an inclusive democracy”—while at the same time working with corporate executives at the highest levels and getting rewarded to the tune of millions of dollars. Consequently, the impression of Patrick as a reflexive liberal has long competed with his image as a corporate-friendly Democrat. When he testified in front of a Senate committee in 1994, shortly before he was confirmed for his post as assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Clinton administration, he explained himself this way: “I come to this challenge, despite some of the things you may have read, as neither a so-called liberal nor a so-called conservative. I come to this as a pragmatist with very high ideals.”
In his career as a litigator and negotiator for civil rights, Patrick occupied the moral high ground as soon as he walked into the room. But most legislative negotiations are of a different nature; the governor has political preferences, which aren’t usually accorded special moral or ethical status. The bright shining exception during the past year was when a civil rights issue took center stage. When the Legislature was forced to decide, once again, whether the right of same-sex couples to marry should be put to a statewide vote, we saw Patrick in his most natural element, and many would say we saw him at his best.
The citizen-initiated constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage cleared its first hurdle when the Legislature, meeting in constitutional convention on the last day of its session in 2006 (just days before Patrick was sworn in as governor), put the matter to a vote. The amendment needed at least 50 votes to advance; it received 62. Then, Senate President Robert Travaglini, who was not strongly opposed to a statewide vote, was replaced by Therese Murray. In the spring, the state’s three top leaders and their staffs did what skilled politicians do: They counted votes, swayed opinions, counted again, and then moved when the time was right. When the amendment came up for the second vote after a climactic week in June, it was voted down 45 to 151.
Montigny, the New Bedford state senator, said Patrick’s work in the marriage battle was “masterful.” And it’s the most prominent example of one way state politics—and people’s lives—will be different in coming years by virtue of Patrick’s leadership. “I think if Romney were still governor it may very well have gone a different way,” said Montigny. Patrick helped prevent a long and expensive, and probably ugly, ballot campaign on same-sex marriage.
Lurking in the record of how the governor handled the same-sex marriage issue, though, is something else worth noting. Patrick was initially willing to sanction a “whatever it takes” approach to achieving his desired end. Even after the Supreme Judicial Court re-stated the Legislature’s constitutional obligation to vote on a validly submitted initiative for a constitutional amendment, governor-elect Patrick let it be known he wouldn’t mind if the Legislature avoided a direct vote. Travaglini (and later Murray in June) decided against using a parliamentary dodge.
Will the governor’s impatience to “move on” and “get things done” sometimes collide with the high expectations he’s created by his talk of democratic inclusiveness and “grass-roots governing”? The problem with legislative collaboration, not to mention citizen participation, is that it slows things down. The other problem is that grass-roots agitation has no value to the governor in the abstract. One of the most active networks to get going since he took office consists of churches and good-government groups that are mobilizing to oppose an expansion of gambling. On the other side are well-paid lobbyists, as well as labor unions, who hope to exert influence the old-fashioned way: as insiders working the right connections on Beacon Hill. In this case, the governor is on the side of the big interests.
Cynics at the State House, of course, have always discounted Patrick’s ideas about broad-based citizen participation. But even sympathetic legislators who see it as part of Patrick’s penchant for “high ideals” wonder about the pragmatism of it. Kaufman, who said he admires the desire to move from grass-roots campaigning to grass-roots governing, added, “That’s never been done before.”
Old hands in politics advise Patrick to focus on smaller, practical steps as he starts out. In late 2006, when I spoke with Alan Ehrenhalt, executive editor of Governing magazine, I asked him about governors who achieved notable success. He put New York governor Al Smith, who had three terms in the 1920s, at the top of his list. “His greatness was that he had the practical political skill of a Tammany Hall politician and the vision of a Progressive,” Ehrenhalt said. Later, I spoke with Ehrenhalt about Patrick’s goal of inspiring wider citizen engagement with politics. The practical problem with that for a governor, Ehrenhalt said, is that “the main reason most citizens participate most of the time is to oppose things.” If Patrick were able to forge a strong relationship with the House Speaker and Senate President, cut some deals, and enact good legislation, why not, Ehrenhalt wondered, be happy with that?
The answer has to do with Patrick’s vision of himself as a pragmatist and an idealist. Patrick the pragmatist wants to get things done in a hurry. Patrick the idealist wants to align himself with a citizen army that marches on Beacon Hill and transforms the political culture. On the one side are the “experts,” the insiders, the cynics in the press. On the other side is a grand “you,” who, in agreeing with Patrick, will change politics in Massachusetts.
At the rally in Roxbury four days before his resounding election, Patrick followed his declaration about ignoring the experts with a lofty vow. “See, I don’t pretend to be smarter than everybody else,” he said. “I know how to listen well. And I know that a big part of leadership is articulating a vision, developing a plan with you, and then motivating you to deliver on that plan. That is how we built this campaign, but that’s also how we’ll govern.”
Those are very high ideals. Sitting with the governor in the corner office, I asked him about the tension between political pragmatism and idealism. I asked if he agrees that the ideals are evident during the campaign and the pragmatism becomes evident upon taking office.
He looked into the middle distance. “Well I wish it were as simple as that,” he said. “An important objective is not to let your ideals be the casualties of your confrontation with reality. Because, I think that would be a betrayal both of the people who supported me and of my own core.”But don’t the ideals need to be given shape by practical political skill?
“I take your point,” he said. But did he? He seemed to assume I was saying the loftiness of the campaign needed to be abandoned, as opposed to made real. He may be ready to consign the first year of his term to the past—noting that “your legacy is not based on the first year, for heaven’s sake” —but, meanwhile, the high hopes of the campaign are still very much with him. “Some people say the campaign is the poetry and governing is prose,” he said. “Well the prose should be poetic, too.”