I confess to being seduced by Governor Deval Patrick. Not literally, of course, but almost always being won over by his charm. It happened the very first time I met him at a house party, nine years ago, when he promised to use the power of the state to reduce property taxes. That didn’t quite work out, and on Emily Rooney’s valedictory edition of Greater Boston, he included that failure among his regrets at things left undone.
So, as the Governor prepares to leave the State House for the final time, how shall we size up his record? When it comes to vision, he has been informed by solid progressive values, an ability to identify big picture needs and chart creative ways to achieve them. Last year the legislature called his multi-modal, costly transportation package an overreach, but at least he was willing to try to address years of neglect. The legislature reduced it but its aspirational objectives are still on the table.
Patrick has stood out as a green governor, and his Green Communities Act has helped two thirds of the cities and towns to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gases. Despite the debacle of Evergreen Solar subsidies four years ago, he has overseen a huge increase in clean energy companies, including many doing solar installations. The Patrick-backed wind technology testing center in Charlestown has also been a success. For three years, Massachusetts has ranked #1 in energy efficiency. Under his leadership, we have also become #1 in life sciences, biotech, health care coverage, and student achievement.
There have also been many flaws in the Patrick firmament, usually on the administrative front. The administration’s much praised health care initiative (based on Romneycare and the model for Obamacare) was marred by last year’s messed up launch of the new Health Connector website, largely remedied for this year’s enrollment period. In other areas, failed administrative oversight of the Department of Children and Families, the New England Compounding Center, state crime lab malfeasance, EBT card fraud (which he lightly dismissed as “anecdotal”), and the abysmal medical marijuana licensing process represent significant blights on his record. The mental health system and correctional system also come up wanting.
By far the worst part of his legacy is Patrick’s sponsorship of a plan to build three casinos in Massachusetts. This was grabbing at straws at the depths of the recession, and, if he had to go that route, he should surely have limited casino enterprise to a single casino.
On a 10-point scale, I’d give our outgoing governor a 9.0 for values and mission and a 7.0 for execution. On that same scale, he’s an 11 for charm and likability. Notwithstanding all the problems, Patrick remains someone with a remarkable ability to communicate (though his occasional testiness with the press suggests that, despite that ability, he doesn’t relish it), an inspirational story to tell, a huge capacity for leadership, and a warm and affable personality to go along with it.
Patrick has expressed a keen desire to return to the private sector, and I’m told that’s exactly what his wife wants. The chattering classes are all about a potential Presidential bid down the road. I, for one, would rather see him sitting on the Supreme Court, where his intellect, legal experience (including as Assistant U.S. Attorney General under Clinton) and real life background would suit him well to the job, and he wouldn’t have to administer any department or agency. I wish him well.
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