By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The Tao of Deval

When is the former dynamo known as Deval Patrick going to step up? Or was his campaign an anomaly, and what we’re seeing now is the real Patrick? Boston Herald reporter Jay Fitzgerald has the latest. It’s a bit convoluted, and I suspect it speaks to Patrick’s lack of leadership rather than to anything more nefarious.

In a nutshell, the Legislature recently passed a law allowing employees to collect triple damages if they win a wage dispute with their employer. Patrick opposed the bill but, unlike his predecessor, Mitt Romney, declined to veto it. Instead, he allowed it to become law without signing it.

Naturally, this will be a boon for lawyers — including Patrick’s wife, Diane Patrick, who was one of six lawyers at Ropes & Gray to sign a letter to clients alerting them about this new legal hazard. (Question: Did R&G really need her signature to drive the point home? This would be less of a story without that angle.)

Nearly two months ago, then-Boston Globe columnist Steve Bailey reported that Patrick’s doomed proposal to build three casinos in Massachusetts would benefit Ropes & Gray, which has an extensive practice helping casino owners fight off gambling addicts and campaign-finance laws. Nice.

It’s all pretty remarkable and disheartening. In this week’s Boston Phoenix, Adam Reilly attempts the meta-take, looking at Patrick’s communications strategy. Reilly writes:

The problem is simple: while Candidate Patrick seemed to say or do whatever the situation required, Governor Patrick frequently does exactly the opposite — whether it’s picking fights with the media, neglecting his staunchest grassroots supporters, or making ill-advised decisions that complicate his job instead of making it easier.

Over at WBZ-TV, Jon Keller reports that Patrick’s approval rating continues to nosedive. According to a Survey USA poll commissioned by WBZ, just 41 percent of registered voters now approve of the job Patrick’s doing, as opposed to 56 percent who don’t.

By now it should be obvious to Patrick that the governor’s job is hard — hard to learn and hard to do well. So why does he keep stepping in it, over and over again

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  1. sco

    He can’t win on this one. If he vetoes it, he loses as the legislature overrides him and he’s got another story about how ineffective he is. If he signs it, he’s trying to line his pockets. He tries to split the difference by not signing it and that’s not good enough either.

  2. just saying

    Deval was in a no-win position here. If he vetoed the legislation, he would be accused of helping companies represented by his wife.

  3. jvwalt

    I suspect that Deval, like his four immediate predecessors, has decided that he just doesn’t have the stomach for the job. If President Obama offers him a cabinet post (or a halfway-decent ambassadorship), he’ll be out of Beacon Hill in a heartbeat.

  4. Anonymous

    Maybe I was living in a different Massachusetts in 2006, but what campaign dynamo are you talking about? I remember Patrick falling upward to victory, as Kerry Healey ran a campaign so bad it was beyond stupefying. Any idiot could have won against her simply by keeping quiet while she committed political suicide. I’m starting to wonder if perhaps one did.

  5. Anonymous

    Why does he keep stepping in it? Can you say arrogance? Incompetence? Staff who don’t have a clue and give lousy advice? All of the above?

  6. Anonymous

    I agree that the job is quite hard and that Patrick has disappointed. What is particularly annoying, however, is that his greatest gaffes have not been caused by the difficulty of the job, but by his tone deafness, as well as that of his wife and advisers. I don’t consider it difficult at all to anticipate the negative reactions provoked by his stupid behavior.

  7. Not Whitey Bulger

    The man ran on “Together we can!” and you’re surprised? Really?

  8. Steve

    A couple of observations:- A governor’s popularity is heavily influenced by the overall economic climate. It’s easy to look good when times are good and coffers are flush. Compare Dukakis in ’79 (Clueless!) to Dukakis in ’86 (Miracle worker!) to Dukakis in ’89 (Idiot!).- Last night my wife remarked that she has noticed Deval being more visible at local events recently than she can ever remember for a governor. Is this just anecdotal or is there more data to back up this observation? And if it is the case, is this the leading edge of a deliberate strategy to build Deval’s approval? If so, it might be working.

  9. Anonymous

    EB3 here,”So why does he keep stepping in it, over and over again”Because people who make ice cream have been telling him it is ice cream over and over and over and over again. Since grade school. Even though they knew it was not ice cream. They just did not want to upset him. Besides, he already stepped in it. Easier to tell him it’s ice cream.

  10. Anonymous

    The problem of indecision lies not with his handling of the bill, but with the ongoing conflict of interest or appearance thereof regarding his wife’s position at R&G. Getting elected governor should have meant some adjustment there. As long as that situation persists, every bill that comes to his desk will be viewed in that light.On a separate note – if Patrick had turned out to be the kind of governor Democrats like me thought he would be, would Clinton have won the Mass. Democratic primary?

  11. Charles Foster Kane

    If the genius who saved the Olympics couldn’t run Massachusetts, why should a non-Olympian mortal like Deval Patrick be expected to do any better? When do we come to the conclusion that Massachusetts is like Iraq, governed essentially by tribal chieftains with grudges, with a small group of tax-hating know-nothings from the North Shore mixed in? It really doesn’t matter if Ahmad Chalabi Romney is running the place or someone else.

  12. Larz

    Triple damages on wage disputes? Is that any way to lure new businesses? He’d be smart to veto it, but it won’t happen.— Larz

  13. man who is a libertarian

    Triple damages on wage disputes? Is that any way to lure new businesses? Actually, yes…because it provides an incentive to treat your employees well. Well-treated employees = productive employees = better company overall.Why would you want to lure a company to Massachusetts that treats its employees badly? That’ll just exacerbate the already epidemic-level brain-drain going on.

  14. JeffMediaTake:

    Just wondering why so many commenting here refer to the Governor by his first name only? (A very large number of folks must be very close to him.)

  15. Dan Kennedy

    Several people have made the observation that Patrick may have decided he should neither sign nor veto the bill because he didn’t want to be accused of a conflict of interest regarding his wife.Perhaps that’s right. Now think about it. Is it good for the state to have a governor who has to recuse himself from important public-policy matters? That’s not good, folks.

  16. Anonymous

    Good point, Jeff. Who knows whether they’re talking about the OTHER famous guy named “Deval”?

  17. Stella

    Resignation would be honorable. From inauguration day DP has been out of touch, over matched, and outwitted.Nice smile, though.

  18. Peter Porcupine

    DK – I have a theory about this.I believe – no empirical evidence – that the reason that Deval keeps ‘stepping in it’ isn’t because he thinks it’s ice cream (although heaven knows, he has gone out of his way to surround himself with ice cream apologists).I think it’s because he believes that being elected a Democrat Governor in a state with a legislature comprised over 90% of Democrats would make him….Top Democrat. As if he outranked them. As if two other co-equal branches would take dictation from him, as HE was now Top Gun. As if, indeed.I think Deval believed that the troubles of Romney, Swift, et al, came from their party persuasion, rather than the natural tension between the Executive and Legislative. We’ve had GOP governors for so long, nobody remembers the problems Ed King and Dukakis had with the legislature. Deval had thought this would be an easy gig.It’s ironic – it’s Deval who is changing the sacrosanct state employee contribution for health insurance, which has been tried for the last 16 years; it’s Deval who will merge the Mass Highway and Mass Turnpike, a Romney obsession rejected by the Lege; it’s Deval who will cut state employee perks and pensions, something the GOP never even dared try. And when it happens, the Lege will be happy to direct disgruntled SEUI and NAGE activists to the Third Floor and away from themselves.

  19. Anonymous

    EB# here,How about one of those bright Ivy light bulb lawyers at Ropes and Gray saying, “Hey, maybe we should leave Diane’s name off this one. Right now her husband is has the sole legal authority to decide what the next step is. Doesn’t pass the smell test.”Or of course they did consider it for about 2 seconds, laughed, and said, “Screw Diane, lets’ make sure everyone of our huge $$$$ clients absolutely knows that we have in our employment a woman that has been sleeping with the Governor for a long time.”Mintz Levin is much more subtle with there who’s who of relatives, I mean lawyers. Hello John Markey et al.These people (Ropes and Gray and other high high end law firms) are all about themselves, there status, their egos, and their billable hours. The more I see the more I believe that Deval and Dianne allow themselves to be their patsys. I do not mean anything corrupt in the Patrick’s hearts. Just the jerks he’s been surrounding himslef with since 8th grade.BTW alot of good “cool” people went the prep school, Ivy League, prestigous education route like Deval. They were just better at not getting caught up with the wrong crowd.

  20. Anonymous

    [Anon. 12:40 here]I agree with man who is a libertarian – triple damages for dicking people over on their paychecks is a good thing.Of course, that’s not the problem here. The problem is the governor apparently doesn’t feel free to say that. Or, if he disagrees, to veto the bill and explain why.

  21. man who is a libertarian

    I think Deval believed that the troubles of Romney, Swift, et al, came from their party persuasion, rather than the natural tension between the Executive and Legislative.There’s precedent for this…and local precedent, no less. Didn’t Jimmy Carter have similar problems with Tip O’Neill when they were President and Speaker of the House, respectively?I suppose one could argue that Patrick and Romney are (vaguely) cut from the same cloth in that they’re both CEO-style businessmen that seem to (at their core) believe that the “powers of the free market” should trump wasteful politics. They never seemed to realize that you can attack “sacred cows”, and then when it doesn’t work, you can crow about it to the press all you like. But that never actually accomplishes anything.One could argue this is the greatest problem with the Massachusetts governorship being used as a springboard for national politics so much: you get people who aren’t interested in actually governing the state. Just people who want to look good for the cameras so they can leverage it for higher office. Meanwhile everything else (like our bridges) just slowly crumbles.Does this mean I think Deval is going to bail out early? Yes, although I’m not convinced he was planning that before he won the election. But I seriously doubt he’s going to run again given how things are going, and if Obama wins and if he offers Patrick a post, then I think Patrick won’t think twice about jumping ship.

  22. Anonymous

    [Anon. 12:40 and 1:14 again]man who is a libertarian – on the other hand, if Obama’s people are keeping track of what’s going on here in Massachusetts, they are hopefully not returning the governor’s calls. While I’m spewing – was Diane Patrick’s brief breakdown (or whatever we call breakdowns now) triggered by being told her role at Ropes & Gray had to either dramatically change, or end altogether? You know – Congratulations, your husband is governor, and your career is over?

  23. mike_b1

    This graf …“By now it should be obvious to Patrick that the governor’s job is hard — hard to learn and hard to do well. So why does he keep stepping in it, over and over again?” … makes no sense. The answer to your question is in the preceding sentence.That said, DiMasi is no saint, and questions about his ethics keep arising. Patrick should just manage — not lead — for a year as the House and Senate leaders get tagged, then unroll his (new, non-Casino based) platform to a public now turned off to the brazenly corrupt legislature.

  24. Anonymous

    Just noticed Charley has somewhat of an opposing viewpoint on this over at Blue Mass Group, and he links to DK’s post here. I think Charley raises some valid issues, but I can’t say I agree with his conclusions. Just because the solution to the problem isn’t obvious doesn’t mean we should just ignore the problem. And I think Diane Patrick’s work at R&G is a problem for the governor.This is a relatively new problem, since on the old days, men got elected to high office and their wives didn’t have jobs at prestigious law firms. Now that’s all changed. How to resolve the problem of apparent or potential conflicts is a difficult question.

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