By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
---- — BOSTON — Gov. Deval Patrick turned 57 yesterday, but another significant number for that day was 2,401 — the number of days he has been in office — making him the longest serving Massachusetts governor since Michael Dukakis.
“That’s an exciting milestone,” said John Walsh, the departing state Democratic Party chairman, who helped secure Patrick’s first electoral victory in 2006. Walsh, who is returning to work for Patrick’s political operation, told the News Service, “I had to tell you that I’m spending more time looking forward than moving back.”
A successful lawyer who had never run for elected office when he beat Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey in 2006, Patrick broke a streak of 16 years of Republican control of the Corner Office. The Republican run witnessed four chief executives, one who served only as acting governor, while Patrick is set to finish out eight years of Democratic rule on his own.
Sixteen years ago Monday, Gov. Bill Weld, who was midway into his second term, handed the governorship over to the late Lt. Gov. Argeo Paul Cellucci as Weld pursued an ambassadorship to Mexico that was ultimately unsuccessful. Patrick yesterday passed Weld in continuous service as governor.
Attaining the office about a year before the nation and then the state fell into a major recession, Patrick raised taxes three times, imposed deep spending cuts while overseeing numerous government reform initiatives, oversaw implementation of the state’s groundbreaking 2006 health care law and became a figure of national importance such that he has had to beat back speculation of a bid for the presidency.
“I think people will see that he’s a guy who saw Massachusetts through the toughest time, and in the course of that brought us out strong,” Walsh said.
“The governor working with the Legislature deserves high marks for the handling of the state’s long and deep fiscal crisis,” said Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation President Michael Widmer. “It was a very difficult period for any governor and Massachusetts performed much better than most of our comparable states.”
House Minority Leader Brad Jones, who has headed up the Republican House contingent throughout Patrick’s term, found some poetry in the fact that the milestone will fall on a day when gas, tobacco and computer services taxes are about to rise.
“To celebrate that day we are inflicting $500 million in tax increases on the citizens of the Commonwealth,” Jones told the News Service. He said, “I think that pretty much sums up the seven years.”
Jones said Patrick’s early cultivation of a relationship with the minority party soon “died on the vine” and said Patrick’s recent battle with Democratic leaders for a larger tax increase, which culminated in Patrick vetoing a revenue package he found wanting only to have Democrats in the Legislature overrule him, have “accelerated his lame duck status.”
Widmer said Patrick’s record on transportation has been “very much a plus,” though he criticized the approach of applying the sales tax to certain computer services, which he said is an “albatross” that will “cause incalculable harm.”
On issues of public safety, Patrick has shown a willingness to use his executive powers and bully pulpit, shutting down roads ahead of a major blizzard earlier this year and extolling residents in Metro Boston to stay behind locked doors during this April’s manhunt for one of the suspected Boston Marathon bombers.
Other areas within his administration have allowed problems to fester into disaster as in the case of a fungal meningitis outbreak linked to a Massachusetts company that has killed 61 people across the country, and what he termed a “rogue chemist” at a state lab who has thrown into question the evidence in tens of thousands of drug crime cases.
Walsh said Patrick has turned around the state, inheriting a government loaded with debt from the Big Dig tunnel project, a transportation system with $20 billion in needs and a state with 3 megawatts of solar energy capacity. Patrick consolidated the disparate transportation bureaucracies into one department, raised taxes to fund more transportation investments and boosted the state’s alternative energy economy.
Patrick was a Democratic activist, corporate attorney and former official in President Bill Clinton’s Justice Department when he hit the campaign trail in 2005, running against Attorney General Tom Reilly and businessman Chris Gabrieli in the primary.
“He was prepared. He knew he wanted to do it. You had to be. It was such a seemingly long shot, and the amount of work it took to get elected,” said Patrick chief of staff Brendan Ryan, who started on the campaign at the age of 23 first as a fundraiser and then as Patrick’s driver and all-around political aide.
Describing the relentless schedule, Ryan said, “I can remember four days in 18 months where we had nothing during that first campaign: Christmas, Thanksgiving, his birthday and one random blizzard. And those were literally the only days that time when there was nothing.”
Walsh said he met with the candidate for tea and laid out the challenges that he thought would prevent him from attaining the highest state office in Massachusetts, a state of 6.6 million people.
“You’re really starting from scratch, and by the way you’re black and we’ve only have one black person elected governor in the history of the United States of America,” Walsh said he told Patrick. Citing Patrick’s support of Cape Wind, the offshore wind energy project that was opposed by the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy and is currently gathering investors, Walsh said Patrick was “willing to lose” and determined to share his vision.
“There was nobody in Massachusetts who was willing to buck Ted Kennedy on Cape Wind,” said Walsh, who said he was drawn to Patrick by “an energy level and a spark that really comes off him right away that makes you say, this guy’s different.”
Patrick captivated Democratic activists who helped speed him to victory. But the early days of his administration were so beset by controversies over his renovating the executive suite and upgrading the governor’s car to a Cadillac, that Patrick said, “Oh yeah, we screwed up,” and pledged to pay for the new drapes, furniture and new car. Eventually, he asked residents not to give up on him.
“I think it was a certain tone-deafness coming into office,” said Jones, who said those controversial purchases proved to be “in the grand scheme of things, seemingly inconsequential.”
After a campaign featuring far fewer promises than his first one, Patrick won re-election in 2010, defeating Republican Charlie Baker, and pledged to fill out the rest of his term and then enter the private sector. Earlier this year, Patrick’s longtime No. 2 in the Statehouse, former Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, departed the administration to head up the chamber of commerce in Worcester, the city where he was a city councilor and mayor before running statewide and joining Patrick on the Democratic ticket.
Because Weld was sworn in Jan. 3, 1993, and left office June 29, 1998, and Patrick was sworn in Jan. 4, 2007, Wednesday, July 31, was the day that Patrick surpasses Weld in longevity behind the wheel of the state. Dukakis, who spent three terms, two of which were consecutive, as governor, is the longest-serving governor of the state. Next year, Patrick will be the fourth longest serving governor of Massachusetts in the history of the nation, following behind Levi Lincoln Jr., who helmed for nine years from 1825 to 1834, and then won election to Congress, the state Senate and finally the Worcester mayoralty in 1845.
Three governors served for seven or more years since the United States gained independence. They are Caleb Strong, who served a total of 11 years in the early 19th century, John Brooks, who fought at Concord and Bunker Hill in the revolution and served as governor for seven years, and George Briggs, who was governor for seven years about a decade before the Civil War.
Patrick’s luring of Walsh away from the state party to join his political action committee sparked new questions of whether Patrick has his eyes on the Oval Office, an ambition Patrick has never publicly entertained. Walsh, who Patrick said had asked him to run for president, said that while Patrick is “always open to input, which is one of his greatest strengths,” he expects his decisions to stand and he has made his mind up against running for the office.
“No. I’m not encouraging him to run for president anymore. He’s made his decision,” Walsh said.