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Morning Sun
  • Rick Holmes: Was Mitt Romney a bipartisan governor?

  • Sixteen months after launching his campaign for president, “moderate Mitt”  -- as Bill Clinton calls him -- has suddenly replaced “severely conservative” Mitt Romney. The candidate who spent years pretending he’d never set foot in deep blue Massachusetts has begun bragging about his record of bipartisanship bonhomie during his four years as governor.

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  • Sixteen months after launching his campaign for president, “moderate Mitt”  -- as Bill Clinton calls him -- has suddenly replaced “severely conservative” Mitt Romney. The candidate who spent years pretending he’d never set foot in deep blue Massachusetts has begun bragging about his record of bipartisanship bonhomie during his four years as governor.
    At the first presidential candidates debate in Denver, Romney shook the Etch-A-Sketch and drew a picture of Beacon Hill harmony.
    “I figured out from Day 1 I had to get along, and I had to work across the aisle to get anything done.” The result, he said, was that “we drove our schools to be No. 1 in the nation. We cut taxes 19 times.”
    That’s not exactly how those who were there remember it.
    Romney brought a CEO mentality to the governor’s office, they say. He could be a capable manager, but he made little effort to develop the personal relationships that would be needed to advance a political agenda. One Democratic state senator said he got smiles and waves often from Romney when they passed in the halls, but later figured out the governor had never bothered to learn his name.
    “I get the sense that at some point early on — and I don’t know this for sure — that the leaders of the Legislature let Romney know that ‘you don’t run this place; we do.’ And after that, it was all about running for president,” Rep. David Linsky, D-Natick, told me recently.
    “He put a velvet rope across the door to keep people from walking into the governor’s offices,” Linsky said. “He commandeered an elevator for his exclusive use.”
    Romney issued more than 800 vetoes, almost all of which were easily overridden by the Legislature. He announced a few initiatives that went nowhere. Romney talked about reorganizing transportation agencies, reforming the pension system and expanding charter schools, but it was his successor, Gov. Deval Patrick, who got those things done.
    Yes, Romney closed a budget gap, but House Speaker Tom Finneran called the shots on state finances. Yes, he signed "Romneycare" into law – though no one called it that at the time.  But that was a Democratic train Romney jumped on to give himself a feather to wear into a presidential campaign. It was Speaker Sal DiMasi, Linsky said, who was driving that train, not Romney.
    As for education, the state’s school reforms were enacted well before Romney took office, and our students were already at the front of the class.
    Linsky has made several swing state tours on behalf of the Obama campaign, and doesn’t pretend to be an objective observer. But his views are pretty close to the local consensus that Romney promised much but delivered little.
    Page 2 of 2 - Romney “put on the table in his inaugural address, and then in his budget, a series of proposed reforms like civil service reform, pension reform — going right to the heart of the lion’s den,” Michael Widmer, president of the nonpartisan Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, told The New York Times last week. But with the exception of health care, “he never followed up. There was a handful of successes, but there was never a full-blown or focused program in the sense of saying, ‘Here’s our vision.’ ”
    Romney made a serious effort in 2004 to change the dynamic on Beacon Hill, recruiting a strong crop of Republicans to run for legislative seats. But Republicans don’t do well in Massachusetts in presidential elections, and that year Sen. John Kerry topped the Democratic ticket. Romney’s party ended up losing seats in the Legislature, and Romney turned his attention to other states – especially those that hold early presidential primaries.
    What does this record say about Romney’s ability to deal with a different political dynamic in Washington, especially a Congress so divided it can’t seem to get anything done? It’s hard to say.
    But however Moderate Mitt tries to spin his record as governor, Massachusetts voters aren’t likely to be convinced. Before he announced he wouldn’t seek a second term as governor, polls had him trailing the leading Democratic candidate by 16 points. He may lose his home state in November by twice that margin, and is making no effort to compete here.
    What does that say about the one-term governor who would be president?
    Rick Holmes, opinion editor for the Daily News, blogs at Holmes & Co. (http://blogs.wickedlocal.com/holmesandco). He can be reached at rholmes@wickedlocal.com.
     

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