As Gov. Deval Patrick leaves office to make way for Governor-elect Charlie Baker, the legacy of the state’s first black governor has been opened up to debate.
Fred Bayles, the director of Boston University’s State House Program, a student political journalism program, said he was unsure if there was going to be any significant, lasting legacy from Patrick’s two terms.
“One could say he was a fairly good steward during a time of national economic crisis,” he said. “But I don’t think they’re going to be building lots of statues of him.”
Bayles said Patrick did not understand the limitations of the governor’s office and the power of the Legislature.
“Blindfold yourself and on some issues you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between him and Mitt Romney,” said Bayles.
John Portz, a political science professor at Northeastern University, disagreed. He thought Patrick’s legacy would be a “generally positive one.” Portz described Patrick as a “pragmatic liberal” – the kind of pol who resonates with the state’s voters. He thought casino gambling in the state could be the biggest part of Patrick’s legacy.
“To serve eight years and still come out with a relatively high opinion rating is pretty good,” said Portz. “Usually after eight years, you’ve outworn your welcome.”
Maurice Cunningham, a political science professor at UMass Boston, said securing $1 billion in funding over ten years to foster life sciences industry was one of Patrick’s most significant accomplishment. Development in that sector has followed in innovation districts in Boston, Cambridge and the Route 128 corridor, said Cunningham.
“We have brains in this state, we don’t have natural resources,” said Cunningham. “That was a huge thing.”
Cunningham thought Patrick’s failure to secure an additional $1.9 billion in state revenue for education and transportation in 2013 was one of the governor’s biggest failures. The Legislature wouldn’t support Patrick’s proposed tax increases needed to raise the funds.
“That was a big swing for the fence and he didn’t connect,” said Cunningham.
Tom Whalen, a political historian from Boston University, said Patrick fostered growth in biotech in the state and invested in education, but had management setbacks with scandals plaguing the Department of Children and Families and the state’s Health Connector. Patrick managed the state’s finances “fairly confidently,” – the state was spared the brunt of the 2008 recession – said Whalen, but the state’s casino gaming law was passed may “blow up in his face.”
Whalen and Cunningham both Patrick’s efforts to diversify the state government and judiciary were notable and significant.
“The judiciary may be his long standing legacy,” said Whalen. “Historically when you thought of Massachusetts judges, you thought of old Brahmin stock whose family can be traced back to the Mayflower. Now, the judiciary reflects Massachusetts as it is, which is incredibly diverse”
He added, “He has set himself up for national office if he chooses to do so.”
Cunningham was among those who thought that a part of Patrick’s legacy would be that he was the first black governor in the state’s history.
“He was the first person to win that office who is not a white male, that’s the first thing you have to say in terms of legacy. It’s a remarkable, historical achievement,” he said.
Bayles, however, wasn’t sure that distinction would weigh heavily on his legacy.
“In some ways that’s not a bad thing,” he said. “We’re speaking about the man as a politician rather than his race.”