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Joan Vennochi

Patrick goes from 'we' to 'me'

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Joan Vennochi
Globe Columnist / March 30, 2008

AFTER 15 MONTHS in office, Governor Deval Patrick is ready to write a new chapter in his political life. From "Together we can," it's "Me, me, me."

The governor traveled to New York to shop a proposal for an autobiography on the same day state legislators took up casino gambling, a centerpiece of his economic agenda. A trip on that day for that purpose proves one thing: politically speaking, the great communicator is deaf.

Patrick's casino proposal was crushed, 108-to-46, a defeat he blamed on arm-twisting and other alleged horrors by House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi. Boo hoo hoo. At least DiMasi cared enough about the issue to exert influence up until the votes were cast.

Was there no adviser brave or wise enough to throw their body between Patrick and the exit door? Sticking around Beacon Hill would not have changed the outcome. But the governor could have demonstrated grace in the face of defeat, as well as gratitude to supporters, especially those legislators who did as he asked and stood up to DiMasi.

The House isn't as opposed to gambling as the final tally indicates. This fight became very personal between Patrick and DiMasi, forcing legislators to rally behind their leader, some less eagerly than others.

Even though the governor lost the casino battle, there's a much bigger war at stake.

It's not over slots. It's over change - the kind Patrick promised voters as a candidate for office.

He was going to change Beacon Hill's culture and priorities; and when he said that, no one thought he meant casinos for Massachusetts and a $1.35 million book deal for himself. (An unspecified portion of Patrick's royalties will go to "A Better Chance," the organization that helped the governor attend Milton Academy.)

After its defeat, Doug Rubin, the governor's chief of staff, said the casino proposal was about more than gambling. Through it, Patrick jump-started an important conversation around job creation, new, non-tax revenue options and the need to move quickly to address fiscal issues. "We've got to get to the point where our state government can react at the speed of business," Rubin said.

There's truth to that argument. Rejecting casinos forces legislators - and especially DiMasi - to consider other ways to provide cities and towns with new local aid, while reducing the burden of property taxes. They can't say no to every revenue proposal, can they? If they do, that means saying no to government programs and services.

Besides, DiMasi was starting to slide over Niagara Falls in a barrel weighted down by lobbyist friends and sweetheart contracts. Someone was helping the press pull back the curtain to show how the speaker does business on Beacon Hill.

For the first time since he took office, the governor had some leverage. Then came news that Patrick was chasing a book deal in Manhattan. Advantage DiMasi.

This development goes beyond petty politics and a power struggle between the executive and legislative branches. It's about Patrick's ability to advance an agenda, if it looks like he is doing a version of what his predecessors did: moving on.

"I look forward to being your governor," Patrick told voters.

Today, the reality of governing seems less enjoyable to him, just as it was less than enjoyable for a succession of Republican governors who couldn't wait to leave. Is Massachusetts-as-steppingstone what voters expected from the first Democrat elected to the governor's office in 16 years?

Patrick's ties to presidential candidate Barack Obama fuel speculation that his political ambition doesn't end on Beacon Hill. The two share rhetoric and now, Patrick is following Obama's path as author. The governor has said he would not leave Massachusetts to take a job in Obama's cabinet if his friend wins the White House. But he is campaigning on Obama's behalf and has appeared on some national news programs to discuss his candidacy.

Patrick's book, said the publisher, will draw upon the governor's "extraordinary journey from Chicago's Wabash Avenue to the Massachusetts State House." Will it end on Inauguration Day? It might have to, because the chapter after that could be very thin.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com.

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