First of all, after several governors in a row who paid too little attention to the details of state government and its budget, and legislation in the state house, Deval Patrick was a huge change just because he actually cares, pays attention, and works very hard. I started hearing this from multiple sources shortly after he took office. Representatives and Senators and activists and people from nonprofits, who were really surprised that the Governor wanted to talk to them and was usually familiar with the issues they wanted to talk about, and actually knew something and had good questions.
Along those lines, here’s a recent endorsement from someone who’s worked in state government with Patrick and with others in the past, including Charlie Baker:
I’m sending you that link because she writes about the same thing I am saying, which I’ve heard from a variety of other sources as well.
So, what are some good things he’s done?
He’s kept the state budget remarkably sane in the worst crisis in our lifetimes. Despite a much larger percentage of revenues disappearing than in the recession in the early part of the decade, we’re in much less crisis, and state services and spending are stabler. Also, the large property tax increases of 2003-2007 have mostly stabilized because local aid has somewhat stabilized. There’s still be a lot of damage, but that’s unavoidable in such a bad recession; however, the surprise is that there’s been less damage than in the previous and much smaller recession. And in addition, ratings agencies and various outside “good government” organizations have praised Massachusetts for having better financial management than most states.
It’s also impressive that he’s managed to keep Massachusetts’ health care reform alive and functional even though it began right before the financial crisis, perfect timing for it to have failed.
(Contrast this with Baker, who had a big hand in the Celucci administration’s awful financial mismanagement)
While doing this, Patrick also managed to do something huge and difficult: reorganize and merge the plethora of state transport agencies into one, not only saving a lot of money but also enabling more coordinated policies and improvements. In the process of doing this he also reformed some of the wasteful practices that people were often upset about, like MBTA pension rules. Overall I think these were a relatively small deal in terms of the overall budget, but they looked really bad and made people distrust government so fixing them was important. Along those lines, he also managed to change the rules about police details on road construction sites, something people had been talking about for a long long time but never managed to do anything about because of opposition from the police union (which, perhaps unsurprisingly, now endorses Baker).
Improvements in the MBTA are already apparent. It just had a surplus for the first time in years. That’s not going to help as much as it should, because the almost $2 billion debt from the big dig is being foisted onto the MBTA – but that’s a mess that was left over from the past (and that Charlie Baker also deserves some blame for, and was partly responsible for procrastinating on dealing with it). Also, the MBTA has actually improved service in recent years, after two decades of steady deterioration. And they’re now publishing real time locations of all buses and trains (except the Green line, which doesn’t have the right sensors yet) via a public API. So you can get an iPhone app that’ll tell you exactly how far away the next bus is, for example.
The Green line extension to Somerville and Medford, which was almost killed by Mitt Romney, has been revived and is well on its way to reality. This is partly due to some great legislators, and also partly due to Patrick’s support and attention to detail. He saved Massachusetts from losing a lot of federal funding for it, too – the federal government was going to pull it because of the state the project was in before Patrick. And another long talked about project that was going to die, the Boston – South Coast rail, he also revived. The state has actually done things like secure the rights of way and federal funding, and this is likely to happen in the next few years. Trains to New Bedford and Fall River will reduce car traffic and help people get to jobs and increase land values and help the economy, and it’s long overdue.
He also helped accomplish another big, important reform, in education, though that was just at the beginning of this year so I don’t know if we can see a lot of effect yet. But it bridged the competing points of view on charter schools by creating a new class of charters that are more integrated into their public school districts while remaining individually flexible. It also made it easier to promote good teachers and lay off bad teachers, something that’s sensible but politically very hard to do.
And, Patrick helped with an important reform of the CORI system, though that was driven more by some members of the legislature.
It’s easy to forget now because a couple of years have passed, but Patrick and the legislature made some great advances in renwable energy and energy efficiency and promoting the growth of new energy businesses in Massachusetts, in the 2006/2007 legislative session. They haven’t gone much further since, because of the economic crisis. And of course Patrick supports Cape Wind while Baker promises to try to kill it if he can.
Also, Deval Patrick fought really hard to defeat the constitutional amendment that would’ve banned gay marriage. That was both the right and admirable thing to do, and also quite a service to the state, because if that had been on the 2008 ballot it would’ve been awful. And now he’s supporting a transgender equal rights bill, which Charlie Baker opposes merely for the purposes of political pandering as far as I can tell.
Charlie Baker talks up his record but as far as I can tell, his record when he was in state government was not particularly impressive. Other than his record, though, all he seems to offer are vague promises that he can’t back up with details. I think it means he’d be a lot like Patrick’s three predecessors, who never bothered to learn the details when they were in office. But even if Charlie Baker didn’t seem clueless, or evasive, or negligent – as he does – it still wouldn’t be reason to un-elect a Governor who’s doing such an effective job in such a difficult time.