DC Analysis: Deval Patrick, America’s most unpopular governor

Matt Purple Fellow, Defense Priorities
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Democratic Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick may well be the least popular governor in the United States.

That’s not hyperbole. Earlier this year, Public Policy Polling, a Democratic polling company, measured the popularity of a large handful of governors. Patrick, elected in Massachusetts back in 2006, faired the worst among those measured, with a 22% approval rating. A solid majority, 59% of Bay Staters, disapproved of Patrick’s job performance.

Many political commentators have defended Patrick, saying his numbers had tanked due to the poor economy. But Jodi Rell, Republican governor in neighboring Connecticut, enjoyed a 49% – 39% approval-disapproval rating. Even then-Democratic New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, the poster boy for out-of-touch state politicians, ranked higher than Patrick.

Patrick may win reelection this year thanks solely to a three-candidate governor race in which the anti-incumbent vote is split. But barring a political miracle, he’ll still remain wildly unpopular. How did this happen? Let’s count the ways.

His Very Own Bailout – Prior to running for governor, Patrick served on the board of directors of ACC Capital. One of ACC’s subsidiary mortgage companies, Ameriquest, was accused of predatory lending and ACC fell on hard times. Patrick swooped in, calling up Citigroup where his old friend from the Clinton administration, former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, worked, and requested a cash transfusion for ACC. Patrick later claimed he had contacted Citigroup only as a lowly former board member – even though he also happened to be the most powerful elected official in Massachusetts.

Cronyism, Part 1 – Patrick likes to reward old friends with jobs. Massachusetts Republicans think of it more as a patronage mill. First, Patrick created the position of Director of Real Estate Services and filled it with attorney Dana Harrell. Harrell is a neighbor of Patrick’s and donated to his gubernatorial campaign.

Cronyism, Part 2 – A year later Patrick nominated state Sen. Marian Walsh, a political ally, to the job of assistant executive director at the Massachusetts Health and Educational Facilities Authority. The plum position, which had been vacant for 12 years, came with a $175,000 per year salary. Patrick adamantly denied that he had anything to do with Walsh’s hiring, a claim that was almost immediately contradicted by leaked e-mails. Walsh declined to accept the position shortly thereafter, but the damage was already done.

Sales tax hike – To help raise revenue for the state, Patrick hiked the Massachusetts’ sales tax rate from 5% to 6.25%. Both of Patrick’s gubernatorial opponents are pledging to cut the sales tax.

The missing cops – Patrick promised during his campaign to put 1,000 new police officers on the streets. Instead he’s replaced uniformed cops with flaggers at construction sites and slashed pay for officers who receive degrees. Many of the police unions that supported Patrick in 2006 are now lining up behind state Treasurer Tim Cahill, who is running for governor as an independent.

Sanctuary state – Patrick has said he would support both in-state tuition and drivers’ licenses for illegal immigrants. Even in left-wing Massachusetts, 84% disagree.
Casino Devale – Patrick locked himself into a political deathmatch with the state legislature over a bill that would have expanded gambling in Massachusetts and allowed for the construction of three casino resorts. The governor ultimately vetoed the legislation over concerns about slot machines at racetracks. His rejection cost the state tens of thousands of jobs and led to the shuttering of the 75-year-old Wonderland greyhound racetrack on the North Shore.

Rainy Day Fund – When Patrick first came to Beacon Hill, Massachusetts’ Rainy Day Fund was more than $2 billion. Almost four years later, the Rainy Day Fund is projected at around $650 million and is drying up quickly. Patrick claims the fund was used to help shore up the economy during the recession. But as the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation has pointed out, Patrick spent $315 million from the Rainy Day Fund in 2008 before the economy tanked.

Tim Cahill – Perhaps the clearest repudiation of Patrick’s policies lies in the fact that his own treasurer is running against him. Cahill was elected state treasurer in 2003, but quickly became discouraged by Massachusetts’ finances, particularly its government-managed health care system. Last year, Cahill formally left the Democratic Party and is now running for governor as a staunch fiscal conservative.

Health care – Cahill has been hammering Patrick on Massachusetts’ state-managed health care system. Although signed into law by former Republican Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Cahill says problems with the system have exploded under Patrick. Health care costs have skyrocketed uniquely in Massachusetts and would have bankrupted the state were it not for a federal bailout, according to Cahill. Meanwhile small businesses in Massachusetts are dropping health care coverage for their employees thanks to the rising costs. Six hospitals are also suing the state for not reimbursing them on treatment for patients with state health care insurance. Patrick has stood by the system and even said it’s time to have a dialogue about single payer coverage.