Satisfied, or out of touch?
In our conversation about policy issues of his first and, perhaps, second term, Patrick was relaxed, focused, and insatiably sunny. He gladly dove into details and examples, fleshing out the bullet-point bills and initiatives with concrete examples and data off the top of his head.
He declined repeated opportunities to acknowledge any disappointment, even in areas where it is widely understood that the legislature has thwarted his will. Those (including me) who have suggested that candidate Patrick would tread the well-worn path of running against the legislature appear to be wrong, at least for now.
In his effort to portray the last three years as a string of uninterrupted successes, Patrick insists that he is fully pleased with transportation reform, pension reform, ethics reform, and education reform as they came to his desk. Although he refers vaguely to "hand-to-hand combat with his friends" in his push for change, he has nothing but praise for the legislature — which he credits with taking "some really hard votes" to enact his reform bills.
The disconnect between such congratulatory talk and the dim view taken by the public figures to make the legislation success story a tough sell. Outside of the State House, few people think that last year's pension and ethics bills have really changed anything — or were more than lawmakers doing the very least they could get away with under the circumstances. So, Patrick's praise of the legislature for passing them, valid or not, is likely to sound like a defense of the status quo, not a convincing show of progress.
From time to time, Patrick's frustration with the legislature still slips out. At one point, discussing the obvious savings available from allowing municipalities to change their health-care provider — which, although Patrick didn't say so explicitly, is being blocked by the legislature on behalf of public-employee unions — Patrick mused that "even the sensible isn't easy."
And, trying to remain optimistic about the seemingly unlikely chances for large-scale criminal-justice reform, Patrick conceded that "probation [reform] is going to be hard for this legislature, because probation has been a patronage haven."
That's exactly the kind of truth-telling that many people wish Patrick would pound away about atop his soapbox. But Patrick is taking a very different approach. Immediately before his interview with the Phoenix, Patrick met with a group of key representatives to map out a strategy for passing some version of criminal-justice reform, probably containing little more than a watered-down relaxation of Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) use. He is trying to find some way to pass a bill and claim another victory — after which Patrick will undoubtedly crow, as he has with all the other reforms of the past three years, that the legislature has given him a fantastic bill exactly to his liking.
There is a flip side to Patrick's reluctance to brag, which is a reluctance to villainize.
Almost any other Democratic governor — one less admirably and frustratingly high-minded about being judged on his own merits — would have spent much of his first term releasing juicy stories about the mess inherited from 16 years of Republican governance. Patrick's staff and advisors wanted to get those stories out; he wouldn't let them.