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Patrick blasts ‘cynicism’ in Mass. political culture

Glen Johnson

Massachusetts is “awash in cynicism,” Gov. Deval Patrick said last Wednesday, as he accused those opposed to his political ideas of resorting to “cheap shots” and “cartoons” to put them down.

Patrick refused several requests to be more specific about who or what has been bothering him.

The governor has enjoyed remarkable success winning approval for his political agenda during his first two years in office. The Legislature passed his landmark energy legislation, a $1 billion, 10-year life sciences initiative and heeded his call to defeat a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, among other successes.

More recently, state Treasurer Timothy Cahill — who said last week he would consider challenging his fellow Democrat for governor in 2010 — has questioned the governor’s plan to dismantle the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority. Other ideas have been lampooned on talk radio, editorial pages or by the Massachusetts Republican Party.

“We are awash in cynicism in the Commonwealth, but the cynical are not smart; they’re just pretending to be,” Patrick said. “The truth is, we’ve got big problems, and we better start thinking big about the solutions. Ideological purity from the left or the right, in times like these, is like trying to put a Band-Aid on a broken bone.”

A Cahill spokeswoman said the treasurer had no comment.

The state GOP has criticized Patrick for making ethically questionable phone calls on behalf of subprime lender Ameriquest, of restoring funding for his Commonwealth Corps program despite cutting other budgets and for traveling the state in a Cadillac during an energy crisis.

“If he wants less cynicism directed towards his administration, perhaps he should try doing a better job as governor,” said Republican Party spokesman Barney Keller.

Patrick delivered his remarks at Suffolk University, which he visited to mark the state’s top ranking in a national survey of economic competitiveness. They came as a surprise not only to his audience, but to some of his own aides.

The governor rebuffed reporters’ follow-up questions for specifics.

“You know that there is a tendency in much of our public discourse to trivialize other people’s ideas, to dismiss them as the cartoon of the left or the right,” he said. “That is not what we need right now.”

In his remarks, Patrick lauded the general public, saying it understood the big picture of his agenda. He alluded to the recent defeat of a ballot question proposing to eliminate the state income tax, saying voters realized cuts in community and educational subsidies provided by the state would have triggered higher property taxes.

“They know that we can’t have better service on the T or improved and safer roads and bridges unless we deal with nearly two decades of neglect in maintenance and find a permanent solution to Big Dig debt,” he added.

Patrick also claimed public support for charter schools and his ideas for trimming access to criminal records, despite some union or political opposition.

“The public wants us to try some solutions and try working together to get at it,” he said. “In that spirit, my door is open to you — all of you. If all you’ve got is the standard list of nonnegotiable demands, and you will accept nothing short of your way, let me tell you, just take a number, because that line is long. But if you want to try some big ideas, and to press for a modernized, outward- and upward-looking public policy and politics, then come on in.”

He added: “The chance to bring real and lasting reform for our schools, our economy and our communities is right in front of us. All that is missing is our willingness to put aside the tired, cynical habits of Massachusetts public discourse and get down to business.”

(Associated Press)