Four years ago it was "Together We Can." Now it's "We did what we could." In his first run for governor - or any elected office, for that matter - Deval Patrick inspired new people to join the political process. He summoned them to "civic engagement," promising to translate a new kind of campaigning into a new way of governing.
Four years ago it was "Together We Can." Now it's "We did what we could."
In his first run for governor - or any elected office, for that matter - Deval Patrick inspired new people to join the political process. He summoned them to "civic engagement," promising to translate a new kind of campaigning into a new way of governing.
But he landed in the same old State House, forced to deal with the same old recalcitrant pols, the same old media cynics, the same nagging problems: roads breaking down, bills piling up, corruption and incompetence in government. Then a global recession kicked the budget into a deep hole.
So Patrick returns to the campaign trail asking voters not to dream about a bright new day, but to evaluate with a mature eye his performance reorganizing obscure agencies, minimizing cuts to existing services, and bringing small reforms - but reforms nonetheless - to Beacon Hill.
This time around, it's Republican Charlie Baker who gets to run on what Sarah Palin calls "the hope-y change-y thing." He'll cut taxes and waste, he promises. He'll create jobs and fix the economy. He'll keep local aid intact. He'll whip those public employee unions into shape, strip them of benefits we can't afford and show Massachusetts what real reform looks like.
Trust him, the Baker camp says. After all, he rescued Harvard Pilgrim.
Four years ago, Patrick's opponents ridiculed his flighty vagueness - "sweet nothings," Christy Mihos called them. "Together we can... do what?" They asked.
But there's nothing specific in Baker's slogan: "Had enough?" Like Patrick's old slogan, it's an appeal to emotion, only this time the emotion is a tea-party flavored anger. With voters in an anti-incumbent mood, that may be just the ticket.
Complicating everyone's plans is Tim Cahill, whose campaign seems based on the idea that if neither the Democrats nor the Republicans would nominate you for governor, you must be the best candidate. Independent Cahill is running on independence itself, along with the indispensability of Tim Cahill.
Don't forget Jill Stein, I hear someone call from the audience. Stein, the Green-Rainbow candidate, has a coherent governing philosophy and positions on issues distinct from what she calls the "business-as-usual" candidates. She's also sitting at 1 percent in the polls.
Cahill also polls well behind Baker and Patrick, but he shows no sign of getting out. Cahill got into the heads of Republican strategists months ago, and has continued to rattle the insiders. Baker and his theoretically independent allies in the Republican Governors Association went negative on Cahill early, building him up as a legitimate opponent even as they tried to take him down.
In a textbook example of the insular world of political consultants, a trio of Republican strategists, whose hearts were with Baker even while Cahill paid their salaries, jumped ship, taking campaign secrets - internal polls, voter and donor lists, and maybe a pair of laptop computers, Cahill alleges - with them.
A week later, they took Cahill's running mate, Paul Loscocco, with them as well. The out-of-town consultants thought this would be their "coup de grace," knocking Cahill out of the race. But they underestimated Loscocco's obscurity - he's still unknown outside MetroWest and not exactly a rock star here. The consultants' bold play backfired big time. It generated sympathy for Cahill, contempt for Loscocco and made Baker look like just another game-playing pol.
So at a crucial moment, when thousands of undecideds have just started paying attention to the race, Patrick's chief opponents are caught up in court hearings, embarrassing emails, charges and counter-charges that make it tough for either Baker or Cahill to strike a heroic pose.
That has given Patrick the opportunity to make his case. He's been Mr. Congeniality in the debates, with kind words for his combative opponents. He's even more effective in small groups on the campaign trail. He's soft-spoken, listens well, and gives answers to questions that sound like explanations, not sound bites.
Patrick has a story to tell: Massachusetts students lead the nation on standardized tests. We lead the nation in health insurance coverage, with 97 percent insured. Sure, the economy's in rough shape, here and everywhere else. But an analysis by UMass economists released last week confirmed that the state's economy is growing faster than the nation's, adding more jobs in the past year than any state but Texas.
You want budget cuts? Patrick will tell you he's made $4.3 billion in budget cuts, eliminated 3,000 state jobs, cut salaries, furloughed workers and extracted contract concessions from public employee unions. When state finances were crashing in capitals across the country, Patrick skillfully leveraged federal stimulus funds, modest tax increases and targeted program cuts to weather the storm. There are more rough seas ahead, but he's shown a steady hand on the tiller.
You want reform? Patrick will tell you he killed the Mass. Turnpike Authority and streamlined the state's economic development bureaucracy. He brought competition to the auto insurance market. He bucked the teachers unions to raise the cap on new charter schools. He enraged the police unions by cutting their Quinn Bill bonuses and allowing civilian flaggers on some state construction projects.
Patrick will say he challenged the entrenched powers on Beacon Hill with more success than any of his four Republican predecessors. He signed bills outlawing the worst of the pension abuses and setting tougher ethics standards.
Small potatoes, Baker responds. He promises to do more to get rid of pensions and health benefits the state can't afford. He'll reduce regulations that make it hard for businesses to hire. He'll cut taxes, he says, over and over again.
I asked Patrick the other day if he could have made deeper reforms if he hadn't been so solicitous of the unions. I pointed to the construction outside our Framingham office, where all summer I've watched detail cops earn fat checks mostly standing around. Patrick's civilian flaggers, who aren't that much less expensive than the cops, are still a rare sight.
"Now you sound like Charlie, belittling my accomplishments," he said.
The candidate voters embraced four years ago for his fresh face, high ideals and outsider credentials now asks voters to measure his accomplishments, to count the half-loaves with which he's stocked his political pantry, to evaluate his performance as an executive, a budgeter, a legislative manager. Politics is the art of the possible, and he's done what he could.
In response, Baker declares Patrick's glass at least half-empty. If you're satisfied with the direction the state is heading, he says in his latest TV ad, vote for Patrick. But if you've had enough, if you think Beacon Hill is still a mess, if you think we can do better, vote for me.
Two years after Patrick rode "Together We Can" to the corner office, his buddy Barack Obama rode "Yes We Can" to the White House. Obama, too, is now shifting from an appeal to ideals to a defense of his record. Both are hoping voters whose emotions catapulted them into office with the highest of hopes will re-elect them based on rational evaluations of how much change was possible and how much was realized.
Given the economy and the public mood, they are asking a lot. "It's an inconvenient time to have an election," Patrick said. But the election has arrived, and how Patrick performs will be closely watched not just here, but in the White House.
Rick Holmes, opinion editor of the MetroWest Daily News, blogs at Holmes & Co. (http://blogs.townonline.com/holmesandco). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.