The governor’s defenders argue that he has been accomplishing things that will help the state get through the crisis — which ultimately is what will improve his public image. Last week, for example, Patrick announced new emergency budget cuts, which spared schools and local aid. He also convened an economic summit, which brought together an impressive group of business leaders and generated a plan for a small-business capital fund. And this week saw the final consolidation of transportation agencies — a long-sought reform accomplished this year.
Plus, in key job-creation work that hasn’t garnered many headlines, the administration has been implementing the clean-energy and life-science bills that were passed a year ago — as well as bringing in, and spending, federal stimulus funds.
“This governor has been the one that’s been steady at the wheel this whole time,” says Rubin.
But it’s also true that we are nearing the end of this year’s legislative session, without movement on a string of Patrick initiatives: a second municipalities bill; two education-reform bills; criminal-justice reform, including changes to the use of Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) data; and, of course, casino gambling.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo and his committee chairs are discussing this week what bills to move. But legislators and their aides seem pessimistic about getting much done in the remainder of this year’s session. At best, they predict, we might see passage of a charter-school bill (because federal funds are riding on it), but not the more important “Readiness Schools” component that Patrick has championed, and CORI reform, but not the more comprehensive criminal-justice reforms that Patrick has been promising.
Some are pointing to this as a sign of the absence of gubernatorial leadership — and Patrick’s declining influence in his own party, the most glaring example of which was his embarrassing failure to sell out his fundraiser with President Barack Obama.
Meanwhile, he’s simultaneously battling Senate President Therese Murray, who not only won’t get behind any Patrick initiatives, but, inside observers claim, wants to actively deny him any success. Others are putting the blame for stalled legislation on DeLeo, who may be trying to steer his nervous members away from controversial votes.
Some of this criticism is probably undeserved. The fiscal crisis has consumed far more time and energy than may be apparent. It has also frozen everyone in place: as one legislature insider puts it, any proposal that costs money is dead in the water, and any proposal not involving money risks looking frivolous.
“Because of revenue shortfalls, the campaign promises are difficult to deliver now,” says a sympathetic Robert Travaglini, former State Senate president and fellow Democrat. During this time out of the spotlight, he says, the administration is retooling its message to get voters to understand that Patrick “made difficult decisions that minimized the damage, and in the long term will be beneficial.”
Farm team, or B team?
As for the top officials heading for the exits — or fleeing the sinking ship — that may be mostly a matter of timing. Rubin confirms that Patrick asked his top-level people to leave by year’s end if they could not commit to staying through next November’s election. That’s a common practice, to avoid resignations in the heat of a campaign, and it’s not unusual for such a request to trigger a lot of change. Overall, compared with other administrations, Patrick has not had unusually high turnover.