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Romney Leaving Mass. With Mixed Record

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) has had policy successes with health care and the budget, but he has faced a number of political setbacks.
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) has had policy successes with health care and the budget, but he has faced a number of political setbacks. (By Chitose Suzuki -- Associated Press)

As the budget crisis eased, fights with the legislature became more frequent and bitter. Romney failed to develop the warm personal relationships with Democratic leaders that Weld had enjoyed with some of their predecessors. The Democrats had no compunction about rejecting Romney's initiatives, including his push to reduce the state's top income tax rate.

Frustrated by seeing big parts of his program roadblocked, Romney mounted a major effort to change the makeup of the legislature in his midterm election in 2004. He campaigned and financed races in dozens of districts, spending $3 million, and when the returns came in, Republicans had two fewer seats than before -- leaving the Democrats with an overwhelming, veto-proof majority in both the state House and Senate.

The result has been a series of fights that have left the state politically polarized, and that reality has shaped -- and limited -- Romney's actions in the past two years. Where the Democrats have been motivated to act, he has had notable successes. His plan for health care treats it much like car insurance, requiring people to buy it or face a fine. It was tweaked and substantially expanded by the legislature, and in the final analysis, the negotiations that led to success were managed more by the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate than by the governor.

But Romney could claim parenthood of the plan, and he presided with pride over the bill-signing ceremony, cheered on by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D) and prominent leaders of business, labor and the health-care industry.

Romney has taken the health-care bill on the road as he has carried on his undeclared campaign for the presidential nomination. He has also emphasized his efforts to hold down taxes, restore the death penalty, block research on embryonic stem cells and oppose same-sex marriages.

His national effort to portray himself as a counterforce to the liberalism of his state has not gone down well with many at home. In the 2006 campaign, Deval Patrick, the Democrat who will succeed Romney as governor, spoke out in defense of his state and its traditions.

Patrick's victory over Healey marked a kind of repudiation of the Romney legacy in Massachusetts. The Republican Party there, never robust, is now at its weakest point in years.

Romney's campaign travels as head of the Republican Governors Association kept him on the road much of the past year. But he was on the job, and deeply immersed in the details, when the collapse of a concrete ceiling in a "Big Dig" tunnel in Boston killed a motorist this summer. He forced the legislature to give him control of the independent Turnpike Authority -- power it had previously denied him -- and he fired the administrator and moved in his own people.

"He was 100 percent engaged in all the critical decisions," said Myers, the former chief of staff.

As Romney turns his focus to the presidential race, those decisions and his record will receive greater scrutiny than ever.

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