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Mitt Romney: Ready for his close-up

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So now that Mitt Romney is the presumptive presidential nominee for the Republicans, it’s time for The Post to take a closer look at his record and what kind of president he might be.

To me, the best predictor of Romney as president is not as the former Bain Capital chief executive, but as the former governor of Massachusetts.

As the commonwealth’s CEO from 2003 to 2007, he did all the things that presidents do: appoint senior staff, judges and cabinet members; propose budgets and try to get them passed; communicate his strategy and goals to voters; interact and compromise with powerful legislative bodies and their leaders; sign and implement executive orders and regulations; manage a vast bureaucracy; and be the salesman for his state.

How did he do on all of those things? Well, you have to look pretty hard through The Post’s archives to find stories about his record as the Bay State’s leader, whether in 2007 and 2008, when he ran for president the first time, or during the recent primary battles. (Still, there are some, and you can find them online in the omblog.)

In the coverage of Romney four years ago, the meatiest story about his time as governor, not surprisingly, was by The Post’s Mr. Shoe Leather, the late David S. Broder. Broder went to Boston in November 2006 and talked to people about it. Fancy that.

This weekI reviewed 700 stories about Romney published by the Boston Globe during his campaign for, and first year as, governor. Patterns emerge in any politician, and they do with Romney, too.

Romney, for example, is nothing if not agile. In his gubernatorial campaign, he tried many messages before finally landing on themes along these lines: I fixed the Salt Lake City Olympics and I’ll fix the patronage and budget deficits of Massachusetts. I’ll veto any tax increases. I support the statewide ballot initiative to abolish bilingual education. And I’m the only guy who stands in the way of an entrenched ‘Gang of Three’ — Democrats controlling the governor’s chair, and House and Senate.

He also, in the final three weeks, ran a relentless and expensive negative TV ad campaign against his opponent, Shannon P. O’Brien, just like he did this year against GOP rivals Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and others. Voters interviewed by the Globe in 2002 said they couldn’t wait for the election to be over and called it the most negative campaign for governor they could remember.

As governor, Romney cut spending, and, as promised, didn’t raise income taxes, but he did close tax “loopholes” on corporations — and he dramatically raised state fees, such as tuition at state universities. He also won unprecedented powers to cut state aid to cities and towns, and then he angered mayors by assigning his lieutenant governor and underlings to meet and explain the plan to municipal leaders.

Indeed, his aloof management style turned off a lot of people. He would do a PowerPoint or major speech on TV to outline broad themes, and then walk away and let his staff do the hard work. Globe columnist Brian McGrory said Romney in his first year (he got better later) didn’t have just a “tin ear” to the schmoozing and politicking necessary to get things done on Beacon Hill but a “steel ear.”

Romney proposed big reorganizations, getting some changes to the Massachusetts human services and transportation departments, but he flamed out completely on a restructuring of the state university system. He did manage, eventually, to get the unpopular head of the system to resign.

Quietly, with an unpublicized executive order, Romney abolished affirmative action in the state, only to backtrack completely when enraged minority groups found out.

He also tried to control information. He discouraged officials from talking to the media, fired almost half of the state’s press secretaries and centralized control of information in the governor’s office. And he tried unsuccessfully to close down the office of the state inspector general, which looks into corruption.

And this teetotaler Mormon signed a bill allowing liquor sales on Sunday.

That’s from just his first year as governor. There is plenty of grist there for The Post’s journalistic mill. And all of it is more instructive than his “National Lampoon’s Vacation”-style moment with his dog atop the family car.

Patrick B. Pexton can be reached at 202-334-7582 or at ombudsman@washpost.com. For updates, read the omblog at www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/omblog.

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