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Gov. Patrick has done it his way during first term

Glen Johnson
Gov. Patrick has done it his way during first term
Gov. Deval Patrick and Lt. Gov. Tim Murray are accompanied by veterans from all branches of the armed forces and members of their families at a recent rally held on the steps of the Statehouse to kick-off the “Veterans and Military Families for Partrick-Murray Bus Tour.” (Photo: Gov. Deval Patrick’s campaign office)

CHICOPEE, Mass. — Regrets, Gov. Deval Patrick’s had a few, but most of all during his first term, he’s done it his way.

The Democrat held his 2007 inaugural outside, in the January chill, despite tradition and warnings about bad weather. It turned out to be a brilliant day on the Statehouse steps.

He insisted on being “governor of the whole state,” so he spent much of the next three years away from the Corner Office. It’s given him street credit in places like Holyoke and Fall River and Gloucester.

And when the Legislature delayed in passing his ethics, pension and transportation bills last year, Patrick refused to sign a sales tax increase lawmakers needed to underwrite their budget. In the end, the House and Senate did what he demanded, much as they did this year.

By most measures, it’s an admirable record, but it’s not the whole story of this former corporate lawyer’s first four years in elective office.

The man who chastised the “Beacon Hill culture” during his 2006 campaign has done much to embrace it.

He replaced the fresh-faced aides he first hired with a familiar cast of Statehouse veterans. He hired James Aloisi to be his transportation secretary despite his extensive links to the Big Dig. And he tried to put one legislator, Sen. Marian Walsh, in a $175,000 post that had been vacant, while his administration tried to boost campaign donors such as the New England Patriots and the Savings Bank Life Insurance Co.

Despite the worst recession since the Great Depression, the governor also has been a reluctant budget-cutter. He tapped the state’s rainy-day fund before, as Republican opponent Charles Baker puts it, “it started raining.” And recently, Patrick conceded he doesn’t like to make cuts until absolutely necessary.

That partly explains why the state is facing a $2 billion deficit for the fiscal year that will begin July 1, 2011 — an impending train wreck that still hasn’t elicited much response.

And in a small but symbolic transgression, Patrick’s staff has wholly adopted the Statehouse tactic of releasing bad news on Friday afternoons, when it often will be missed by people wrapping up their workweek and heading into the weekend.

“Together We Can” sometimes yields to “I Hope Nobody Notices.”

The 53-year-old Patrick himself agrees he’s become a more wizened politico.

“I think I have learned to call the point at which there’s not going to be compromise sooner,” he said lastThursday in Chicopee, a western Massachusetts city where he traveled for the 15th of 16 gubernatorial debates this campaign. “I’m very interested in trying to find common ground, but when it’s clear there’s not going to be common ground, I can call that sooner and then just press ahead.”

State lawmakers notice the transformation, as well.

“As governor, you’re by yourself, and you have to utilize the powers the constitution gives you, and he has learned to wield them effectively,” said Sen. Steven Panagiotakos, a Lowell Democrat who is retiring after serving as chairman of the budget-setting SenateWays and Means Committee throughout Patrick’s term.

In an energetic speech earlier this month introducing President Barack Obama, Patrick defended his record. The tax hikes — including a 25 percent jump in the state sales tax last year — have inflamed conservatives, who kick him around the radio dial and across the opinion pages. His support for casino gambling both last year and this has torqued off his base, liberal Democrats.

“Some of you may not support every choice we’ve made. Some of those choices have made even some of our traditional allies uncomfortable,” the governor said in a message Obama himself may be delivering two years hence. “But this job and these times demand more than making each other comfortable. The times demand that we face the hard choices before us with candor and courage, because doing so today will make us stronger tomorrow.”

Patrick went on to highlight his effort to invest in public education, the state’s universal health care program and emerging industries such as clean energy.

Yet his sunny demeanor — which is commented upon by virtually everyone who meets and speaks with him — evaporates when it comes to discussing Baker, his principle re-election opponent.

“Every accomplishment that is not his is something that he finds very difficult to value,” the governor said after he glad-handed a group at the Newton Senior Citizens Center.

A day earlier, after an AARP debate at Faneuil Hall, Patrick conceded Baker can exasperate him.

“I listen to fiction,” he said, shaking his head. “I listen to somebody who spent twice as much time on Beacon Hill as I have and has done half as much — or less.”

The election has taken perhaps an even greater toll on his wife, Diane, a corporate attorney who experienced a bout of depression after the negativity of the 2006 campaign. A top adviser says she is struggling again this year — especially with the stream of Republican commercials that have attacked her husband.

Nonetheless, Patrick’s supporters are undeterred.

“I think he is stately,” said Mel Ball, a 63-year-old retired semiconductor worker from Haverhill who attended the AARP debate.

“I think he has a lot more connection to people. I think he tries very hard to get people together. He works with the Legislature, which isn’t always the easiest group to work with,” said Ball.

Pat Carney, a 55-year-old Springfield resident who works with the disabled, praised Patrick’s concern for the less advantaged as he has coped with the recession.

“He did a phenomenal job making the cuts so they would have the least amount of impact on people,” she said last week while holding a campaign sign outside the Chicopee debate.

Panagiotakos, the state senator, said being governor has proven to be “a natural fit” for Patrick.

“What impresses me is not his intellect, which is very high, or his oratorical skills, which are among the best, but that he’s got a sincere and caring heart,” the senator said. “That means more than the other two.”

Associated Press