There is a scene in “The Campaign,” that rare Will Ferrell movie that fails to live up to expectations, during which Congressman Cam Brady follows up a brief physical encounter with a supporter in a portable toilet by misdialing her number and leaving a racy voicemail on the machine of a devoutly religious family, just as they are saying grace before dinner.
When Brady appears before the news media to explain, he points his finger at the battery of cameras and sternly announces that he will not tolerate this kind of behavior. But congressman, one reporter says, you’re talking about your own behavior. Brady quickly slips off the stage.
I thought of this scene last week when my governor and yours, Deval Patrick, sternly declared “I am not happy” after the Globe’s intrepid Sean Murphy revealed that Patrick’s highway safety director has a driving record longer than some college chemistry textbooks: speeding, crashes, failures to stop. Maybe the administration was captivated by her resume, the one with no transportation or government experience.
You like Deval Patrick. I’m not ashamed to admit I like Deval Patrick. To not like Deval Patrick is to not like bunnies and balloons. He is the anti-Christie, unfailingly polite, usually gracious, an island of warmth in a churning sea of political discord.
But he’s got this small problem on his hands, and it goes like this: His governorship is basically falling off a cliff. It’s unclear whether he realizes this, especially after he said on Tuesday, while announcing a change in his chief of staff, “We just keep getting better and better.”
They do? He’s certainly getting better at declaring his outrage over the failures of his administration. There was, of course, the fact that senior administration officials ignored brightly lit warning signs that a chemist in the state crime lab had gone rogue and was tampering with drug evidence.
Hundreds and possibly thousands of people convicted or held on drug charges will be set free because their cases involved potentially tainted drug evidence. That crisis will end up costing many tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money, as well as the unquantifiable costs of having so many drug dealers pouring back into the neighborhoods they terrorized for so long.
Then there was the lack of meaningful state oversight of drug compounding companies in Massachusetts, particularly the New England Compounding Center, which sent tainted injectable steroids all over the country from their operation in Framingham. Not to put too fine a point on this, but three dozen people have already died and hundreds more became ill after injecting bad drugs from a lab that should have been stopped by state regulators.
I always believed Patrick was too good for things to get this bad. Or perhaps I simply couldn’t imagine how bad things could get for this or any other governor. We have dead people in one drug crisis, freed criminals in another, and maybe this is a good time to mention the rising unemployment rate and the falling tax revenues in Massachusetts.
If this sounds “better and better,” you don’t want to be around when things start to go bad.
Patrick’s compounding problem (sorry) is he’s rapidly running out of time to make things right. Aides whisper that he’s planning to go bold in terms of policy proposals in his last two years, and he has a good, new, young chief of staff, Brendan Ryan, to find the way. Indeed, the governor himself left me a voicemail a couple of months back after I questioned whether the Deval Patrick we know is as good as the Deval Patrick who spoke so forcefully at the Democratic National Convention. Watch me, he basically said.
And we are, with sincere hopes. But right now, he looks like a guy who has either lost control, lost interest, or lost both. Before bold, we just need stable.