Governor Deval Patrick was “all in” for his friend, the president. Now, it’s time to be “all in” for the citizens of Massachusetts.
After helping President Obama win reelection, Patrick said he won’t leave the State House for the Obama administration and isn’t considering a presidential run. “I don’t have any plans, and I don’t know how. I was all in for this president,” he told reporters last week.
If the road trips and victory laps are truly over, this state is more than ready for a governor devoted to the day-to-day workings of government.
Patrick was present and accounted for in fleece when Hurricane Sandy whipped into New England. But serious issues requiring more than storm garb demand his attention.
The scandal involving a Framingham compounding pharmacy that is blamed for a national health crisis isn’t going away.
Last week, the director of the state pharmacy board was fired, and the board’s attorney was put on administration leave for allegedly ignoring a complaint in July that the New England Compounding Center was distributing bulk shipments of drugs in Colorado, in violation of its state licenses. Pharmacy board director James D. Coffey passed the complaint on to board attorney Susan Manning, who failed to follow up. No one notified the state Department of Public Health, which oversees the board.
A steroid produced at the Framingham pharmacy has been linked to 424 fungal meningitis cases and 31 deaths. When the problem first came to light, the state issued emergency regulations to tighten oversight, and Patrick appointed a commission to review the regulatory structure.
Better late than never. But that’s reactive government, and it’s typical of the Patrick administration on any number of fronts. First comes scandal, then the belated push for reform in areas ranging from parole and probation to local housing authorities and a state drug lab. Systemic problems involving various state agencies and authorities reinforce the feeling that the lights were on in the governor’s office, but no one was home — even before Patrick took to the presidential campaign trail on Obama’s behalf.
Michael Dukakis was probably the last Massachusetts governor who combined a broad vision of government with an undying love of minute detail. While running for president, Dukakis frustrated aides by working on state issues from the campaign trail.
His successors were more inclined to leave the minutiae to surrogates. Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci had Charlie Baker. Jane Swift had Steve Crosby. Mitt Romney had Eric Kriss.
Difficulties can develop when ambition distracts governors from parochial interests back home. Midway through his first term, Romney started running for president, leaving Massachusetts and its problems behind. He engaged in them when it suited a larger purpose; for instance, he rushed back to take charge of the Big Dig tunnel collapse to promote his image as a hands-on chief executive.
Midway through his second term, Patrick started running around the country to help Obama run for president. Scandals involving the state DPH coincided with his efforts on behalf of Obama, as well as his own emergence as a national political figure.
Those left behind in state government take their cues from the guy at the top. If that guy doesn’t want to hear bad news, they don’t tell him. Or perhaps, they don’t know about it, because their attention is diverted, too.
Now that the 2012 presidential election is over, the musical chairs of Massachusetts politics is already under discussion.
Democrats like state Treasurer Steven Grossman, Attorney General Martha Coakley, and Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray are mentioned as possible gubernatorial contenders.
On the Republican side, Baker — the detail person in two gubernatorial administrations and the rival Patrick defeated in 2010 — is said to be considering another run for governor. Baker, who is also a former health care CEO, has the take-charge resume that, in theory, could be the antidote to the current perceived drift.
If Patrick cares about his legacy — and cares about the prospects of Democrats seeking to succeed him — now is the time to reclaim the mantle of leadership.
That takes commitment to the unsexy business of state government, such as the business of regulating compounding pharmacies. As unsexy as that sounds, it can have life-or-death consequences.