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AS WE APPROACH a critical election, Massachusetts is at a crossroads, and the break with the past we need is to put a Democrat in the governor’s office.

After 16 years of Republican governors, Massachusetts is in serious trouble. We have the third-worst state economy in the country. The median property tax is up 42 percent in five years. The state’s transportation system is falling apart. Rusting bridges and potholed highways are everywhere. Service on the MBTA is deteriorating.

Massachusetts is the only state in the country that has lost population two years in a row because our kids can’t afford to live here. When I was governor we were building 6,000 to 7,000 units of affordable housing a year. Today we are producing a tiny fraction of that—and as a result we are losing our best and our brightest to other regions of the country.

Health insurance premiums are going up in double digits for the seventh year in a row. The budgets of our state colleges and state university have been severely cut, even as more and more of our students depend on them for the educational opportunity they need and deserve. Violent crime is up again, and thanks to cuts in municipal assistance, our cities and towns can’t hire the police officers they need to deal with it.

But how does the Republican nominee, in the dirtiest gubernatorial campaign in my memory, define what’s at stake in the upcoming election? The threat supposedly posed by criminal defense lawyers, phantom taxes, and, most shameful of all, foreign immigrants.

Yes, Deval Patrick represented defendants in criminal cases. So did I. So did Paul Cellucci. So did Bill Weld. I don’t remember anybody suggesting that, as a result, we were unfit for public office.

Kerry Healey’s no tax pledge is laughable. Deval Patrick hasn’t proposed any new taxes, but she and Mitt Romney asked the Legislature for nearly a billion dollars in taxes and fees soon after they took office. I don’t blame them. After three previous Republican administrations, the state was broke. But please don’t tell us that you are a ‘‘no-taxer,’’ especially when you support an MBTA fare increase—a commuter tax if there ever was one—that will take twice as much out of our pockets as you want to give us back in the form of a tax cut.

The Healey campaign’s attacks on immigrants are particularly offensive. My dad came here at the age of 15. He didn’t have a nickel in his pocket and couldn’t speak English. Twelve years later that young Greek immigrant was graduating from the Harvard Medical School and was a family doctor for more than 50 years. My mother came here when she was 9. She was the first Greek-American young woman ever to go away to college and became a schoolteacher. Without people like them, this country wouldn’t be half the place it is today.

What this state needs in the governor’s office is bold vision; new ideas; fresh energy; competent public officials who can build tunnels that don’t kill us; and a governor who can unite us, not divide us.

That is what we will get from Deval Patrick.

Former governor Michael Dukakis is distinguished professor of political science at Northeastern University.

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