Our Painful History of Gubernatorial Separation Anxiety

Massachusetts likes its top elected official to stay within state lines. Here's what the candidates can learn from governors past.

Massachusetts has a painful history of experiencing separation anxiety from its governors. Most recently, Mitt Romney received a torrent of criticism for traveling relentlessly as governor while promoting his prospects as a presidential candidate. And Gov. Deval Patrick took flak for stumping during long stretches of 2012 for President Obama.

As the line-up for governor’s race gets set, we asked the current crop of major party candidates via email the following questions: Do you promise to serve out your term if elected? And do you believe there should be limits on your political travel?

Republican Charlie Baker, who served as a top aide to Govs. William Weld and Paul Cellucci, said through a spokesman he would serve a full term and be “committed 100 percent” to the job.

Democrat Attorney General Martha Coakley, Treasurer Steve Grossman, former Obama health care aide Donald Berwick, and former Wellesley selectman and biotech executive Joseph C. Avellone III all pledged to stay on the job after being elected. Grossman and Berwick promised to travel only when it was in the commonwealth’s best interests.

State Sen. Dan Wolf’s campaign is suspended, while Juliette Kayyem did not respond.

The separation anxiety in Massachusetts stretches recently back to Govs. Michael Dukakis, Weld, and Cellucci. They each embraced trade missions—Weld alone went on 16 junkets. Dukakis tried and failed at winning the presidency, Weld resigned to pursue the ambassadorship to Mexico, and Cellucci stepped down when he was named ambassador to Canada.

Romney infamously spent more than 25 percent of his time as governor outside of the governor’s office, preparing for a White House run. According to a New York Times expose during the 2012 presidential election:

During Mr. Romney’s four-year term as governor of Massachusetts, he cumulatively spent more than a year—part or all of 417 days—out of the state, according to a review of his schedule and other records. More than 70 percent of that time was spent on personal or political trips unrelated to his job, a New York Times analysis found.

During his last year as governor, he was largely an absentee chief executive. In October 2006, for example, he was out of the state all or part of 25 days.

Deval Patrick hasn’t been immune to criticism stemming from his time away. He took heat last year for being out of town while the scandals enveloped his state drug lab, Chelsea Housing Authority, and his lieutenant governor. His travels in 2012 included:

• He was out-of-state on political business for 31 days, visiting 15 states and the District of Columbia between January 28 and November 10, hitting the hustings for Obama, according to Together PAC, his federal campaign committee.

• As governor, Patrick traveled out-of-state 21 days in 2012, according to his press secretary.

The state GOP is irked candidate Patrick got political mileage against Romney, yet always seems to be traveling—last week he stumped for Newark Mayor Corey Booker and just announced a Canada trade mission.

“There’s a lot going on Beacon Hill that he’s always conveniently away from Boston, either out of state or on his farm in western Mass.,” said Kirsten Hughes, executive director of the state Republican Party. “I question his commitment to the people of Massachusetts 100 percent.”

John Walsh, who heads up Together PAC and is former Democratic Party chairman, fired back that Patrick found it offensive that Romney made the Bay State the butt of jokes when he traveled trying to impress GOP presidential voters. Patrick, he said, promotes the state everywhere he goes. “Mitt was traveling the country auditioning for another job,” Walsh said. “When Deval Patrick is traveling the country, he’s selling Massachusetts as a great place to do business. We should embrace that.”

Gubernatorial candidates, take note: Patrick has escaped harsh fallout for his frequent flying (he’s polling at an OK 48 percent) because he’s kept his promise to do his job, said Thomas Whelan, a political historian at Boston University.

“Voters just want to know, are you with them for the long term?,” Whalen said. “So far, he’s lived up to his pledge that he was going to stay on and not take a Washington post.”