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Gruff Deval Patrick rankled Beacon Hill

Gruff Deval Patrick rankled Beacon Hill
By Hillary Chabot  |   Tuesday, April 12, 2011  |  http://www.bostonherald.com  |  Local Politics

Photo by Mark Garfinkel

Gov Deval Patrick’s memoir, “A Reason to Believe,” scheduled to hit bookstores today, skips details about his early struggles in office, especially his rocky relationships with key lawmakers on Beacon Hill. Several of Patrick’s cherished priorities died during his first two years in office thanks to the behind-the-scenes State House power struggle, the Herald learned through interviews with more than two dozen legislators, former staffers and other insiders.

Yesterday’s first installment of the Herald’s three-part series revealed how Patrick’s early stumbles left the governor deeply wounded and obsessed with perception.

Today, chief political reporter Hillary Chabot chronicles Patrick’s frayed relationship with Beacon Hill leaders and how it stymied his agenda.

Early in his administration, a cocky Gov. Deval Patrick sat down with then House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi and then Senate President Robert E. Travaglini.

“I see us as board members working together to run the state, but I’m the president of that board,” a take-charge Patrick told the two seasoned political power brokers.

The two lawmakers immediately bristled.

“The feeling in the early days was that they were being treated as an extension of the cabinet — they were there to rubber-stamp everything,” one insider recalled. “Those initial skirmishes between Patrick and DiMasi about taxes and casinos — some of it was philosophical, but some of it was just about knocking (Patrick) down a peg.”

Patrick had alienated some in the Legislature even before he took office in 2007. He campaigned against the “culture of inaction and neglect” on Beacon Hill. He went on a short “thank you” tour after his election, stopping by homes in Brookline and Newton and proclaiming, “Those people up there don’t get it.”

Travaglini was the first to strike back. At a private breakfast, he warned Patrick that he’d withhold legislative support for the new governor’s proposals if he didn’t back lawmakers’ pet bills. When Travaglini’s warning leaked to the press, he publicly apologized. Then he quickly carried out his threat by pushing forward an anti-gay marriage amendment and opposing Patrick’s push to close corporate tax loopholes.

“Why doesn’t Trav like me?” Patrick would petulantly ask, thinking he had more in common with the lower-profile DiMasi.

But DiMasi quickly emerged as Patrick’s biggest rival after Travaglini left office in March 2007. The veteran speaker quickly rebuffed Patrick’s plan on corporate taxes, and then outright killed the governor’s most ambitious proposal: legalizing casinos.

Legislators also seized on Patrick’s perceived disconnect from the building and were baffled that the same man who helped run a multibillion-dollar company such as Coca-Cola floundered when it came to the day-to-day operations on Beacon Hill.

And much to their surprise, four months into his first term, Patrick seemed unaware that the House was coming out with the state budget on the day it was due to be released — even asking one top House lawmaker as they rode the elevator that morning what was planned for the day.

“Wow, where is he?” the legislator later asked. “He either doesn’t care or it’s beneath him.”

As late as summer 2008, Patrick rankled legislators at what was supposed to be a peacemaking picnic he held at his Berkshires manse. The governor asked lawmakers to contribute up to $5,500 at the casual feast of hot dogs and hamburgers — but directed guests to relieve themselves in rented Porta-Potties.

“What? He didn’t want us trampling through his house?” asked a senator.

Patrick’s growing paranoia about the media also did little to smooth his relations with the Legislature. In December 2008, Patrick halted a tense two-hour transportation reform huddle with lawmakers and staffers when he noticed a legislative aide taking notes.

“What, are we going to read about this in tomorrow’s paper?” a snippy Patrick asked.

The woman, who was keeping track of Patrick’s points because her boss couldn’t make the meeting, was so startled she looked up and then to both sides to make sure the governor was addressing her.

“He took and blew something up that was completely innocent,” said one lawmaker at the meeting.

In an interview Sunday with the Herald, Patrick defended his relationship with the Legislature. He pointed to broad ethics, transportation and pension overhauls completed at the end of his first term as proof that he was able to work with legislators and pass many of his priorities into law.

“The agenda moved and then some,” Patrick said, adding that in his first campaign he “wasn’t running against the building — I was running for a more open and inclusive politics.”

Tomorrow, the final installment of the series examines Patrick’s rocky relationship with the media and how his press-savvy staff honed the governor’s political message as he looked toward re-election.

Article URL: http://www.bostonherald.com/news/politics/view.bg?articleid=1330060

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