Desperately Seeking Deval
Returning to Boston after the Marblehead forum, the governor got back to the State House at 11 p.m. About 20 members of his inner circle were waiting for him around the conference table in his office. Most were in after-hours gear: jeans, shorts, T-shirts. An air of suppressed excitement charged the room. They were fired up by the prospect of the “reform before revenue” agenda succeeding, but they were also trying to be cool about it. Patrick, who had been going nonstop since early in the morning, was still in business attire, his white shirt still crisp, no sign of slackening in the knot of his tie. Someone handed him a bottle of Harpoon ale, which he sipped as, one by one, each person present offered an assessment of where they stood.
The consensus around the table was that the governor held a strong hand with the legislature but had to be careful not to overplay it. All he needed now was for a couple of representatives with the right sort of clout to go to the speaker of the House and tell him they would not vote to override a gubernatorial veto of the budget. Such votes could be found, but the governor wanted to press gently, cultivating his relationship with Robert DeLeo and taking care not to undercut him as he settled into his role as speaker.
Therese Murray remained a more difficult problem. Over the past few months, her posture toward the governor had gone from chilly cordiality to the kind of naked personal dislike that bigtime politicians rarely allow themselves to display. She had developed a patent aversion to uttering Patrick’s name or making eye contact with him. Explanations abounded in The Building as to the exact mix of reasons for the bad blood, but most agreed that Murray felt compelled to be the legislature’s chief defender in the face of the governor’s habit of criticizing members in public to improve his political leverage, even as his staffers made deals with them behind the scenes. “A lot of members are still really ripped at him,” as one seasoned observer in The Building put it, because the governor was “still punching us in the face on the radio.”
The advisers around the table considered such bruised feelings to be an acceptable price to pay for what they had gained. They believed they were finally exploding the perception that Patrick couldn’t get much done with the legislature, putting to rest the persistent narrative of the State House novice who had gotten off to a slow start. Some saw a bigger sea change, a passing of the old guard and the gradual rise of a new generation of political professionals whose frame of reference was not circumscribed by The Building. One staffer said, “We’re doing what we said we’d do, and it makes even our friends nervous.” They were as giddy as self-consciously hard-boiled political professionals could allow themselves to be.
Having heard from everyone at the table, the governor spoke. First, he cautioned them to calm down. “Testosterone is a poison,” he said. “A poison.” He looked at one of the toughest-talking staffers. “Okay?” “Okay.” Patrick caught another’s eye. “Okay?” “Okay, Governor.”
“You’ve heard me say it before,” Patrick went on. “Watch yourself. When we’re in a position to embarrass back, we cannot sink to this. I have to check myself not to get down into this personal thing. The office always deserves respect. If we’re going to set a different tone, if we’re going to ask for a different tone, we’ve got to show it.”
Then he directed them to the longer view. “Let’s win on reform so we can have the credibility and leverage to do the big ones: life sciences, clean energy, healthcare, the Readiness Project”—a major educational reform. “I believe that we can’t do those until we do the smaller ones that are really important to people. I think we can get revenue and reform, but if we accept revenue without reform, then we won’t be able to fight for what we really want.”
Victory was in the air at that late-night session, but the poll putting the governor’s approval rating at 36 percent, released a few weeks later, would cast the gathering in a different light: Whatever Patrick and his staff were seeing and believing, they still had a great deal of work to do to convince the citizens of Massachusetts to see and believe the same thing.