Globe Editorial

Vision, and a record of reform: Patrick deserves second term

(The Boston Globe)
October 28, 2010

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FOR MASSACHUSETTS to emerge stronger from the economic downturn, it must reduce the costs of its government, while using its significant educational and scientific resources to become a world leader in life sciences and clean energy. It’s a solid and sensible game plan, which would reduce the burden on taxpayers while putting the state in a position to attract hundreds of thousands of private-sector jobs.

This year’s gubernatorial race has helped clarify that mission. Both major-party candidates promise further reforms, with Republican Charlie Baker building his campaign around the need for tougher measures to curb spending on state employees. Both major-party candidates also see a future for Massachusetts in biotech and clean energy, with Democratic Governor Deval Patrick touting his support of the Cape Wind project and his billion-dollar life-sciences initiative.

While Baker is right to insist that Patrick can do more to change government, he’s wrong to suggest that the governor has been slow to embrace the need for major reforms. From jousting with organized labor for the right to remove underperforming teachers, to combining all the state’s transportation agencies into one, to ousting police officers from their lucrative gigs overseeing some construction projects, Patrick has been willing to take on entrenched Beacon Hill interests to promote efficiency.

And while Baker clearly believes in a biotech and clean-energy future for Massachusetts, his approach of cutting business taxes and letting the free market work its magic isn’t sufficient. Patrick vows to marshal all the state’s resources — from higher education to infrastructure spending to tax breaks — behind those core industries. With other states competing for the same clean-energy jobs, Patrick’s concerted, coordinated effort stands a better chance of bearing fruit.

Baker is a very intelligent administrator who would be a forceful and capable governor. But his central theme — “Had enough?’’ — conveys a haughty sense of disgust over the disarray on Beacon Hill. He overstates the case. The budget gaps brought about by declining revenues have been managed with competence and efficiency. Patrick’s mix of cutbacks, targeted tax increases, and one-time revenue fixes has been the best way to avoid precisely the disarray that Baker worries about. Deeper cuts would disrupt core services; greater tax hikes would push the state back into recession.

Baker’s crude slogan is also unfair because Patrick, despite some early missteps, is a governor of unusual grace and character. He listens closely to average citizens and understands their needs. His ability to communicate on a personal level with all the communities of Massachusetts is exemplary.

In the times of greatest stress, his equanimity is most apparent. In the current campaign, Baker and independent candidate Tim Cahill have often engaged in finger-pointing, table-pounding exchanges; Patrick has never lost his cool.

He embodies the sense of class and dignity that voters say they crave in their leaders. And in a race against a talented but sometimes overheated Republican, Patrick’s steadiness is a visible point of distinction. His understanding of state government has grown over his time in office. Initially caught flat-footed because of some poor personnel choices, petty political fights, and legislative resistance, he increasingly rose to the challenges before him. The education-reform bill, which dramatically increased the number of charter-school seats and positioned the state to finish first in the fight for Race to the Top funds, was only the most significant of a string of legislative successes over the past year and a half.

Now, if he can use his experience to advance his economic plan, building on what’s already special about Massachusetts, the state could see substantial growth over the next four years.

In particular, Massachusetts should take advantage of the expected influx of federal dollars to develop clean-energy technology. This is one issue on which President Obama and House Republicans agree; if Republicans take over Congress, it could be a major bipartisan initiative next year. More than federal dollars are at stake: With the world facing an eventual conversion to renewable energy, firms that gain an early foothold can look forward to almost limitless expansion.

Picking companies to receive state aid — Patrick’s approach to developing the clean-energy industry in Massachusetts — carries an inherent risk of failure; but the potential rewards justify the investment. No state has an insurmountable lead in attracting clean-energy companies; if Massachusetts can jump ahead of the pack it could become home to an entire industry.

Having the nation’s first major offshore wind farm will help attract wind-power companies, and Patrick’s decision to support Cape Wind when almost no other politicians would touch it was an early indication of his political courage. Baker has vowed that he would use “whatever means I have’’ to kill the project. That’s a good way to win political support on the Cape, but a disaster for the clean-energy industry in Massachusetts. Baker would fulfill the state’s renewable-energy commitment by buying more electricity from HydroQuebec — a boon for Canada. This would be cheaper for the moment, but would shortchange the state in the long run. For Massachusetts to attract the highest-value jobs in the most cutting-edge industries, it requires a broader vision — and a more expansive spirit.

That spirit may be less evident in Baker, but his managerial skills are stellar. Over 15 months on the campaign trail, he’s sought to speak for private-sector workers who’ve suffered from pay cuts and benefit changes and want their state government to share their pain. In important ways, it already has. But Baker, a former state administration and finance secretary and Harvard-Pilgrim CEO, is justified in criticizing Patrick’s reluctance to force municipal retirees to join Medicare or to give cities and towns the power to design less-expensive health plans without union approval. Whatever the state’s economic climate, voters deserve the most efficient government possible, and Patrick must continue to fight for reform even after tax revenues bounce back.

Patrick argues, with some justification, that his more conciliatory approach has curbed excesses in state pensions and opened the door to health-care savings in ways that Baker’s more insistent approach would not; Patrick has cajoled more reforms out of the Democratic-dominated Legislature than his four Republican predecessors.

At the end of this week’s debate, Patrick vowed that if re-elected, he would happily borrow some of Baker’s ideas. It was a characteristically broad-minded pledge. The next governor will need all the help he can get, and Baker’s service to the state should not end with this campaign. In addition, Cahill — the state treasurer whose campaign never quite took off — and Green-Rainbow nominee Jill Stein have valuable ideas, be they about building schools (Cahill) or putting home weatherization funds in the hands of community groups (Stein).

The best leaders draw strength from the entire community, striving for consensus even as they blaze a new path. Sometimes that journey requires courage; other times, restraint. Patrick has shown both qualities in confronting the worst circumstances any new governor has faced in decades. He deserves the chance to lead the state into better times.

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