Governor Patrick’s legacy: bold ideas, strong partnerships, inclusive politics

As someone who has served as a state legislator with Deval Patrick during his entire tenure as Governor (and four years under Governor Romney!), like many engaged Massachusetts progressives I have been thinking a lot about his legacy. So it was great to read the above the fold story in the Boston Sunday Globe, “The Patrick legacy: history and headwinds.” The story drove lots of discussion on Sunday, mostly on social media, and I have no doubt that it will be a big topic of discussion this week, as legislators for the 2015-2016 session get sworn-in and Governor Patrick makes his “Lone Walk” from the State House on Wednesday, and Charlie Baker becomes our next Governor on Thursday.

It’s hard to measure any elected official’s legacy, most especially a high-profile governor who commanded headlines almost every day, both good and bad, and quickly became a prominent national figure, such as Deval Patrick did. And of course, it’s often even unfair to assess a politician’s legacy just as its ending, compared to two, five, ten years down the road.

However, when I think of the impact that Governor Patrick had on Massachusetts, including its political culture, it’s important to remember the messages that Governor Patrick ran on that brought him to the Corner Office – it was to time change the culture on Beacon Hill, and we’re all in this together. I saw this as Deval Patrick using his rhetoric, his vision, and his administration and supporters to bring the hopes, dreams and concerns of people outside the State House, and give them a seat at the table, to move the Commonwealth of Massachusetts forward, together. From that initial “issues input website” that his staff created after his election in November 2006 (remember that?!), there was a tremendous amount of excitement about a potential new way of governing.

Of course, any new ideas, policies or pieces of legislation would need to pass the Legislature, and as Governor Patrick admits in the Globe story, the Legislature can be very confusing, and frustrating. In addition, there is the reality that the Legislature in its current form is highly centralized, with significant power wielded over rank and file members by the Speaker of the House and the Senate President. The challenge, then, was balancing the power of the grassroots, of voices outside Beacon Hill, with establishing a close rapport with the House and Senate leadership, and at least a significant portion of the Legislature, to carry out a vision that was bold, progressive, inclusive, and forward-looking.

This is very, very difficult, and to properly explain the dynamic that existed between the Legislature and Governor Patrick would require writings consisting of tens of thousands of words. However, I think it is fair to say that on most major initiatives that Governor Patrick and the Legislature committed itself to (clean energy, biotech, transportation infrastructure, gay marriage, substance abuse, Gateway Cities, protecting open space, ethics reform, health care reform, education, among others), a great deal of progress was made that improved the lives of everyday Massachusetts residents. To those who criticize the Governor on not doing enough, or having poor relationships with legislators, or for his administration making mistakes, I think that Massachusetts has come a long way since 2006, and much of that progress came about due to a strong partnership with the Legislature. To those who critique Governor Patrick as being too much of an outsider, I would respond (as I referenced in a BMG post last fall, “If only he governed MORE as an outsider!” All in all, I believe that Governor Patrick struck a healthy balance in governing with the co-equal branches, and I am sad to see him leave the State House this week.

There is no way to properly summarize Governor Patrick’s accomplishments on all of the issues that he championed, and the long-lasting impact he has had on Massachusetts. But I did want to highlight a few key areas where all of his (and his staff’s) impressive skills came together to engage and inspire people to action, comprehensive legislation was passed, and the consensus of the state was moved forward, such that the people of Massachusetts face a much brighter future.

On clean energy policy, Massachusetts became the leading state in the nation not only because of legislation such as the Green Communities Act and the Global Warming Solutions Act, but the way that Governor Patrick connected clean energy with generational responsibility, inspiring tens of thousands of Massachusetts residents to become global warming activists with his vision. These policies created thousands of new jobs, reduced energy costs, and struck a blow for combating climate change.

Governor Patrick made immigrants and communities of color feel that they had a seat at the table, and that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was as much theirs as their neighbors. He did this by tirelessly defending against attacks on non-citizens, making education, healthcare and workers’ rights accessible to more immigrants, and reminding all residents that we are all in this together. The state is a more welcoming place because of his outspokenness. Think of all of the new people now active in their communities across Massachusetts, running for office, taking leadership in their neighborhoods, demanding that their elected officials fight for bold change.

Finally, Governor Patrick has led a statewide conversation about comprehensive criminal justice reform, successfully fighting for laws like CORI reform and early release for nonviolent drug offenders. It is my sincere hope that the major changes that he has called out for over the past year will become law in the next session. Perhaps more than any other issue of our time, especially in light of the growing movement since the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, criminal justice reform is the next civil rights issue in this country, if we are serious about achieving racial equality.

Governor Patrick’s vision and accomplishments on clean energy, inclusiveness, and criminal justice reform, like many others, will positively shape the people of Massachusetts for generations to come. We will soon lose the man whose rhetoric and record created this change as our governor, and it’s now up to the rest of us to carry that vision forward.

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