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Joan Vennochi

Governor, it’s not a pretty picture

By Joan Vennochi
July 30, 2009

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GOVERNOR DEVAL PATRICK is in deep political trouble if Massachusetts voters seriously trust their lawmakers more than their governor.

According to a recent Boston Globe poll, 40 percent of those surveyed said they trusted the Legislature when it comes to handling the state’s economic problems. Only 23 percent said they trusted Patrick.

Those 545 randomly selected adults who took part in the poll may technically reside in Massachusetts. But, whatever their zip code, they must live on another political planet.

Didn’t they hear about those high-profile cases of alleged corruption and misbehavior involving state legislators, including Salvatore F. DiMasi, the now ex-speaker of the House? They must not know that 135 of 160 House lawmakers voted to reelect DiMasi as their leader, despite serious ethical controversies. They must have missed the photographs of ex-state senator Dianne Wilkerson allegedly stuffing cash in her bra, along with the exploits of now ex-state senator James Marzilli, who allegedly made inappropriate sexual comments to assorted women in Lowell.

Or, maybe these Globe poll-takers knew about these less-than-sterling legislative role models and wrote them off as a few bad Beacon Hill apples. If that is their rationale, they simply don’t understand what the rest of their elected representatives have been up to.

For starters, they have been sticking it to Patrick, a fellow Democrat.

Proving that a woman can play the Bay State’s favorite game of petty, ego-driven politics as well as any man, Senate President Therese Murray proudly labeled Patrick “irrelevant.’’ Reacting to the gubernatorial candidacy of Republican Charlie Baker, Murray also released a statement that said, “I have known Charlie Baker for many years. I am familiar with his work and have a great deal of respect for him.’’

When Patrick sought to raise revenue by increasing the gas tax, House Speaker Robert DeLeo immediately sought to thwart him. He put his clout behind an increase in the sales tax. Of course, the House, and then the Senate, followed DeLeo’s lead.

Both branches challenged different aspects of Patrick’s ethics, transportation, and pension reform proposals. They ultimately reached a compromise after the governor threatened to veto the sales tax increase - and after DiMasi was indicted and the people’s representatives felt the need to deflect attention from their role as enablers.

Massachusetts is struggling to offset steep revenue drops caused by the national recession. Tough budget choices must be made. Instead of facing the crisis with a spirit of teamwork, too often lawmakers let petty political considerations drive the debate. Their willingness to override Patrick’s veto of $4 million to fund two zoos is a prime example. The zoo officials threatened to euthanize animals if their funding wasn’t restored. Lawmakers appear ready to cave in, even after the zoo officials backed off their threat to kill animals. People want to save the zoos, even as they complain about new taxes. Lawmakers want to keep their constituents happy and are pleased to do it at Patrick’s expense.

According to that same Globe poll, 52 percent of those surveyed have an unfavorable opinion of the incumbent governor. Patrick can’t blame this dismal rating on the Legislature. It stems from a series of well-chronicled political mistakes and an inability to showcase any accomplishments that connect with voters. It’s up to him to persuade those voters that the changes he championed to laws governing ethics, pensions, and transportation policy will truly improve the entrenched political culture.

Patrick’s core constituency will stick with him, but even some true Patrick believers have lost faith. The reality is that this governor, elected with such pride and promise, needs a three-man race to survive.

Any poll is the usual snapshot. The picture adjusts when Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, who left the Democratic Party to plan a potential run as an independent, makes a formal announcement. The picture changes if Baker, who is untested as a statewide political candidate, looks better on paper than he does on the campaign trail. If the economy improves, the picture brightens for Patrick.

But, if people trust the Legislature more than the governor, the picture Patrick is looking at right now is not pretty.

In Massachusetts, that’s as ugly as it gets.

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

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