What, exactly, is going on in Deval Patrick’s head?
Mind you, I don’t mean that sarcastically. I’m genuinely curious. The last year or so has been one of the most perplexing periods I’ve seen in Massachusetts politics. Except for occasional bouts of belated crisis management, the governor has leaned into lame-duckdom on Beacon Hill.
Since his big tax-and-transportation package got sliced and diced on the legislative chopping block last summer, Patrick has largely disengaged with the Legislature. Instead, he’s focused on visiting communities to help with local projects and problems and to cut ribbons, and on travel such as his current trade mission to Israel. Although his staff insists it’s important work, it feels like Patrick is mostly marking time until his term ends. Certainly the widespread conclusion at the State House is that he’s checked out.
Yet his federal Together PAC, where devoted loyalist John Walsh works and chief of staff Brendan Ryan will soon land, is prodding supporters to pen letters praising his tenure. My account of that effort comes from Judy Meredith, a well-known liberal and poor people’s lobbyist who worked for Patrick’s election in 2006 and voted for him in 2010, but has grown disappointed with his indifferent management and lack of legislative engagement.
“If I talk about it, people say, ‘Oh Judy, don’t, we can’t criticize him because he is a progressive, and it is not his fault, it is the Legislature’s fault,’ ’’ Meredith said. “But I saw Bill Weld do magic with Democratic legislative leaders. Mike Dukakis was pretty good at it. I started working in the 1970s with [liberal Republican governor] Frank Sargent, who was a master at working with legislators who came from a different philosophical point of view.”
So Meredith said “no thanks” when Sallye Bleiberg, the volunteer who leads Together PAC’s outreach effort, called to enlist her in its Patrick-promotion efforts. Despite that, Bleiberg e-mailed Meredith information from the PAC suggesting things she could do.
“One of our big projects is to get the message out there about what the governor has accomplished over the last eight years, and so one of the things we’re doing is asking our supporters if they might be interested in writing an op-ed or a letter to the editor reflecting on the Governor’s legacy,” that e-mail says. “For example: We’re leading the nation in terms of health care coverage, in student achievement, in veterans services, and are a national leader in clean and alternative energy.” (That formulation overlooks the administration’s frustrating flop trying to set up a new health-insurance exchange, as well as the fact that our kids had reached tops-in- the-nation status before Patrick was elected.)
But what if you’re not the supposedly-spontaneous-letter-or-op-ed-writing type? Well, one could shoot a “brief video testament . . . talking about the difference the Patrick administration has made in your life, or the lives of your friends and neighbors, using our ‘story cards’ as a jumping-off point.” Some of the PAC’s suggested “story lines”: “Governor of the whole state; Ma[ssachusetts] is back in the leadership business; opportunity; innovation; education; clean energy; infrastructure.”
Then there’s the PAC’s “Got-15 effort,” which asks supporters to track down 15 friends who are Patrick supporters “so we can get their updated contact information.”
Now, normally, I’d suspect that a politician whose PAC is out ginning up accolades is positioning himself for a national run. Not so, declares Walsh, who says Patrick really is headed back to the private sector.
Here’s why I tend to believe that: I can’t see him taking on Hillary Clinton, and even if Clinton doesn’t run, as a springboard, Patrick’s problem-plagued second term would be more likely to break than bounce. And as for a post-2016 run, when one is out of office that long, unlikely becomes highly improbable. VP positioning? Possibly, though Patrick claims he’s not interested.
So why Together PAC’s please-praise-Patrick campaign?
“I don’t think it is that unusual that a politician tries to put their work in the best possible light, and to engage people in doing that,” says Walsh.
Actually, it sounds like an odd vanity project.
But here’s the irony: If Patrick had swallowed his bitterness at legislative leaders, rolled up his sleeves, worked the process diligently, and managed proactively, Together PAC likely wouldn’t have to be coaxing progressives to sing his praises. A positive second-term story might well be telling itself.