Governor’s freshman year marked by missteps, tense relations with Legislature

Tom Benner

The coming of Deval Patrick was the big story on Beacon Hill in 2007, beginning with a first-ever outdoor gubernatorial inauguration on Jan. 4 reflecting a new governor’s journey from outsider candidate to a 21-point winner on Election Day.

The state’s first African-American governor and first Democrat to hold the title in 16 years, Patrick promised to live up to the high hopes and expectations that put him in the governor’s office. And he appealed to his supporters to stay involved in public life.

“I will be calling on you, each one of you, to stay engaged, to bring forward your solutions, not just your problems, to suggest a better way, to keep your eye on the higher ground we seek, and to act like this State House is your house,” Patrick said.

Patrick wasted no time in making a number of policy decisions that contrasted starkly with the style and substance of his predecessor, Mitt Romney. He rejoined the New England Governor’s Conference, an organization the Romney administration never paid the annual $112,000 dues to join. He withdrew from an agreement Romney signed with federal officials to have State Police involved with enforcing the law against illegal immigrants. He restored $380 million in budget cuts – mostly in the areas of health and human services – Romney made in the previous fall.

Then things got bumpy.

One month into office, Patrick faced ridicule for his personal spending. In a week in which Patrick proposed bills to raise the meals tax at restaurants and close corporate tax loopholes, he also was asked questions about his use of a State Police helicopter and a new Cadillac DeVille to move around the state. Then there was criticism for his hiring of a $72,000-a-year staff member to handle scheduling and interview requests for his wife, Diane.

Patrick also had to apologize for making a call from his office on behalf of a struggling lending company to which he had ties – Ameriquest, a mortgage company that has been accused of predatory lending practices. And he caught flak for spending nearly $27,000 on furnishings for his State House office, including $12,000 drapes.

A staff shakeup later, Patrick regained his footing. He learned the hard way, however, that legislative leaders weren’t about to rubber-stamp his agenda.

House Speaker Sal DiMasi refused to go along with a host of Patrick initiatives, such as a plan to close business tax “loopholes” and allow cities and towns to impose local option meals taxes.

“The governor is learning this is not an easy job, being governor,” DiMasi said in April. “There’s a big difference between the rhetoric of a campaign and the specifics of putting these details into a budget or into law.”

In September, when Patrick proposed to bring three full-scale casinos to Massachusetts to generate hundreds of millions in revenues and thousands of jobs, DiMasi immediately voiced objections and the bill might not get a full hearing before the House of Representatives for months.

The dynamic continues, with Patrick frequently complaining about the slow pace of legislating, particularly in the House. Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, on the other hand, supports Patrick’s casino plan other initiatives. Patrick makes no secret of his frustrations with the House, and he closes the year with many of his initiatives stuck in limbo.

Tom Benner may be reached at

Patriot Ledger