Romney Leaving Mass. With Mixed Record
Sunday, November 26, 2006
BOSTON -- He has been a successful venture capitalist and management consultant, and he saved the tainted 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics from scandal. But it is his single term as Massachusetts governor that is Mitt Romney's chief credential in his bid for the Republican nomination for president.
He began his term four years ago on a high note, rescuing the state from an inherited budget deficit. But now, as he prepares to leave office and focus full time on his White House aspirations, his tenure is being viewed in a more mixed fashion.
While he can point to a major policy success in health care, his relationship with the Democratic-controlled legislature that made it possible is in tatters. His efforts to challenge the Democrats and promote Republican candidates for the legislature failed. His partner in the statehouse, Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, lost a bid to succeed him. And Romney is leaving office with the state GOP weaker than when he arrived.
Massachusetts is a liberal state and was the first in the nation to permit same-sex marriage. But Romney is a staunch conservative who finds himself running against all that his state symbolizes to national Republican voters -- he opposes single-sex marriage, stem cell research and abortion. That may help him with GOP conservatives who hold sway in the party's primaries. But if he wins the nomination, Romney could find himself in the same position as Al Gore in 2000 -- losing his home state in the general election.
In fact, Romney has commented that if he had known he was going to seek the presidency, he probably would have chosen to plant his flag not in Massachusetts but in Michigan, where his father, George Romney, served as governor and where the political culture is more compatible with his conservatism.
In a recent interview reflecting on his administration, Romney said he accomplished his main goals of balancing the budget, resisting any general tax increase and launching initiatives that can spur growth. He said he has shown he can surround himself with smart advisers and set high expectations.
"I am used to debating things back and forth," he said. Credited even by critics with having an agile mind, Romney said he has learned to manage by "hiring people smarter than I am and then arguing with them," adding: "I will by nature disagree when everybody has the same view; I want to hear an alternative."
Romney has run Massachusetts's government with a handful of close aides, many of them drawn from Bain & Co., the consulting firm whose venture capital arm he ran. It is top-down management, designed to keep control firmly in Romney's hands and to deliver a single, upbeat message to voters through a relentless public relations offensive.
Even before he was sworn in, Romney ordered a reorganization of the executive branch, designed to improve the coordination of government services. Warned by a predecessor, Gov. William F. Weld (R), that the departments of transportation and environment were perpetually at war, Romney ordered them to join the housing and energy agencies in a new Office for Commonwealth Development. To the surprise of many business supporters, he named Douglas Foy, a prominent environmentalist, to head the super-agency, which has worked to concentrate business development and housing close to transit lines and reduce sprawl.
Romney ordered a similar consolidation of the business, finance and economic agencies into another super-department and picked another Democrat, Robert Pozen, to run it. Foy and Pozen, along with then-Chief of Staff Beth Myers and a handful of others, formed an inner circle of decision-makers, working more or less smoothly with Romney's political team from the 2002 campaign.
Their initial challenge, a threatened state budget deficit of almost $3 billion, was created by the dot-com collapse. Having vowed in the campaign to oppose any general tax increase, Romney quickly won approval from the legislature for a variety of spending cuts.
But when those came far short of balancing the budget, Romney turned to closing what he called "loopholes" in the corporate tax code. That, along with higher local property taxes, produced millions in new revenue -- and allowed critics to challenge Romney's claim that he held the line on taxes.