Guv’s challenges ahead

Sunday December 2, 2012

Should Senator John Kerry accept a Cabi net position in the next Obama administration, there will be pressure applied to Democratic Governor Deval Patrick to run for the vacant seat in a special election. The governor has said on many occasions that he will complete his second term, which ends in 2014, and as a proven man of his word there is no reason to doubt him. One has to wonder, however, if Mr. Patrick wishes he had left himself an escape hatch given what is likely to be a difficult two years ahead.

Governor Patrick is coming off a year in which his hard work to get his friend and political ally Barack Obama re-elected was rewarded and he made a significant national splash with his impassioned speech before the Democratic National Convention. The governor urged Democrats to "grow a backbone and stand up for what we believe in," and the evidence of November 6 indicates that Democrats complied. Pundits and political opponents complained about the time he spent on the national stage, but this was not akin to Governor Mitt Romney spending the last two years of his one four-year term as Massachusetts governor campaigning for president and bashing the state in the process. The governor didn’t abandon Massachusetts.

The year ahead, however, is likely to be far less satisfying and far more aggravating. The state drug lab scandal will plague the state all year, beginning with finding an estimated $332 million, according to a Boston Globe report, needed to address the fallout of a mess triggered by the alleged falsification of evidence by a chemist. An estimated 35,000 criminal cases have been affected and the Committee for Public Counsel Services will need funding to defend as many as 10,000 people in cases that will have to be retried. The lab mess is bad enough, but for a progressive governor who would like to spend scarce public dollars constructively, the pricetag on the scandal may be prohibitive.

At the request of Governor Patrick, Boston Attorney David Meier is pursuing the drug lab scandal, as are Inspector Gen eral Glenn Cunha and Attorney General Martha Coakley. The damage can’t be undone, but it must be determined how this breakdown happened and what can be done to prevent a reoccurrence. That may mean more money to hire additional personnel for an overworked and obviously underregulated laboratory.

The Globe’s revelation that the now-former Massachusetts highway safety director had a long list of traffic violations, including speeding and failure to stop and had failed to pay excise taxes, was a textbook example of the patronage hiring that has long plagued the state. The governor said that Sheila Burgess, who has resigned for health reasons following a recent car accident, should not have been hired and it is unclear who did so. It is clear, however, why she was given a state job she was singularly unqualified for -- she was a longtime Democratic consultant and political operative. This is why voters get cynical, and forgivably so.

The governor has, however, built up a reservoir of political good will over the past six months that will help him deal with these and other issues, such as the stagnant economy, in the years ahead. He was handily re-elected two years ago, and after a slow start, works well with the Legislature. Massa chusetts has avoided or been less affected by the flat economy than most other states. He has a sense of humor and a winning personality -- qualities not shared by a lot of politicians -- which contribute to that good will, and it is safe to say that whatever happens over the next two years the part-time Richmond resident and his wife Diane will always be welcome in the Berkshires.

What happens over the next two years will play a large part in determining Governor Patrick’s political future after 2014 -- assuming he wants that future. He has indicated he would be glad to go back to the private sector, but it is difficult to imagine the governor who blew the lid off the arena in Charlotte this September with his speech to Democrats to be content once again as a corporate lawyer. What happens over the next two years, however, will also shape a legacy as governor which through nearly six years has been a good one. It will be a challenge.


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