Gun-shy Massachusetts voters spent Gov. Deval Patrick’s first term wondering whether he’d serve all four years, or up and leave for some other job like his recent predecessors.
Now, as Patrick kicks off his re-election campaign, the Democrat is making clear again he’s not going anywhere if he wins a second term this fall. And he’s not alone in making the pledge.
His top political rival, Republican and former state fiscal chief Charles Baker, says he would remain governor as long as the voters would let him. For someone who would be only 53 if he were to win in November, that’s a long-term commitment.
State Treasurer Timothy Cahill, a former Democrat running as an independent, also says he would serve not just one but two terms if elected.
“I have no interest in serving in Washington,” Baker said earlier this month while addressing law and public policy students at Suffolk University’s Rappaport Center.
“I don’t want to be an ambassador,” said Baker, who resigned last year as president of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care to run for governor. “I don’t want to write a book. And I’m not doing this because it’s the next step on my political ladder. I’m doing this because I am worried about the future of the commonwealth, and I think I have a lot to bring to it.”
Three others also say they are planning to run for governor next fall: convenience store magnate Christy Mihos, as a Republican; community activist Grace Ross, as a Democrat; and Jill Stein of the Green-Rainbow Party.
The possibility of a top executive who is going to stick around has become important in the Bay State, given recent history.
In 1997, Baker’s then-boss, Republican Gov. William F. Weld, resigned amid his second term to pursue an appointment as U.S. ambassador to Mexico.
Weld’s lieutenant governor, Paul Cellucci, replaced him, but after being elected outright in 1998, he also resigned, in 2000 to become U.S. ambassador to Canada.
Cellucci’s lieutenant governor, Jane Swift, became acting governor, but she was elbowed out for her own term in 2002 when fellow Republican Mitt Romney declared he was running for governor.
In 2005, not even three years after taking office, Romney announced he had accomplished all he could as governor and would not seek a second term. He ended up making an unsuccessful bid for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.
Yet when former Attorney General Scott Harshbarger tweaked Baker about that GOP history during the Suffolk appearance, Baker had a ready retort for the Democrat.
Baker noted the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1980; former Gov. Michael S. Dukakis was the Democrats’ candidate for president in 1988; and Sen. John Kerry similarly set aside his official duties to become the Democrats’ 2004 presidential nominee.
Cahill said making a long-term commitment to serving as governor isn’t just good politics, it’s good policy for the state.
“I think it’s going to take at least four years to turn the state around,” the treasurer said. “I’d love to serve eight if I can get it. I think that’s one of the problems we’ve had: We haven’t had a governor serve two full terms since Dukakis, and he ran for president in the middle of his second term.”
Cahill said positioning one’s self for the next job distracts from the task at hand.
“If you’re spending time campaigning, traveling the world, doing other things, then the Legislature is going to control the game,” he said. “I still believe that showing up and going to work every day is one of the most important parts of the job.”
Patrick was ripe for speculation about his intentions this term, not just because he replaced Romney at a time it was clear the Republican had been positioning himself for a White House run. Patrick also was a political neophyte, and his prior work in Washington — as well as his close friendship with fellow Chicagoan Barack Obama — fueled talk he would join the newly elected president as attorney general or even Supreme Court justice.
The governor denied the rumors to the point of exasperation. Yet last week, addressing the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, he talked about his future in unusually personal detail.
He highlighted his 40-year experience in Massachusetts, starting as a 14-year-old high school scholarship student, continuing through Harvard and Harvard Law School, and extending to today as the state’s first black chief executive.
“I’m not motivated by the usual things that motivate people in elected office,” Patrick told the crowd. “I’m not motivated by ambition for higher or other office, or by entitlement, or by powerful connections just urging me, you know, into public life. I am motivated by simple gratitude. ... I owe something.”
There are limits to that gratitude, though.
During a December interview, Patrick was asked about seeking a third term.
“I’m done after a second term,” he told the GateHouse Media newspaper chain. “I need to (go back) and earn some money.”