BOSTON -- Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis (D), who has repeatedly insisted that he can run for president without sacrificing his ability to run his home state, is weathering new criticism in his back yard, and spending an increasing amount of his time and energy in local political battles.
With a legislature dominated by Democrats and a schedule that keeps him in the capital three to four days a week, Dukakis said, he can easily afford to campaign away from home on long weekends and still lead the state.
"Plane time is great work time," he said recently. "I'm more up to date on state stuff than I've ever been."
But "state stuff" is not going as smoothly as the Dukakis presidential campaign had hoped. Recently, Dukakis canceled a campaign trip to Iowa so he could lobby state representatives for passage of a universal health care bill, only to have fellow Democrats, the leaders of the state House of Representatives, postpone consideration of the measure, effectively killing it for this legislative session.
The health care bill, which would have assured medical care for about 600,000 residents under age 65 who have no health insurance, was the centerpiece of Dukakis' legislative agenda in 1987. And, because it would have made Massachusetts the first state in the nation to offer such guarantees, the bill was to be an important political feather in Dukakis' cap during the crucial primary campaigning early this year.
As it is, Dukakis' failure over the Christmas weekend to persuade House leaders to take up the measure before the end of the legislative session on Jan. 5 drew a stinging rebuke from the Boston Globe, which often stands in the governor's corner.
"Gov. Dukakis should be red-faced . . . " said a lead editorial on Dec. 30. "Neither the governor nor his spokesmen had a public word to say about the urgency of the bill's status. Nor did the governor display his professed skill in behind-the-scenes maneuvering."
Proponents of the health care bill in the state Senate -- which has approved the legislation -- were pushing hard for passage before the end of the session because they fear that a fragile coalition of business groups and health care advocates may not hold together long enough for another round of public hearings and lengthy consideration by the House.
Nevertheless, Dukakis said he still hopes to win approval of major health care legislation in time for the Feb. 8 Iowa caucuses and the Feb. 16 presidential primary in neighboring New Hampshire.
"I'm hopeful I'll be able to do that," he said at a news conference. The next legislative session here begins Wednesday.
House leaders, however, are offering no guarantees, other than to say they will take up the matter "early" in 1988. Furthermore, at a news conference of his own, House Speaker George Keverian, a Democrat, flatly told reporters that Dukakis' presidential campaign schedule is of no importance to state representatives.
"Our timetables, you may be surprised to learn, are not set by the governor's timetable or the national elections," he said.
In addition to the haggling over the health care bill, Dukakis has been mired in a bitter dispute with Boston Mayor Raymond L. Flynn, who has endorsed Dukakis for president.
The argument centers on the siting of a $185 million incinerator in a Boston neighborhood on land partially owned by the state.
City officials have been planning the facility for four years and have looked toward the waste-to-energy plant as a way to save up to $20 million annually in charges to transport the city's daily 1,750-ton trash output to disposal sites in other parts of the state.
Recently, however, Dukakis announced his opposition to the plan and said the state would instead build a smaller recycling facility capable of handling only up to a third of the city's solid waste.
Flynn, who had been counting on the governor's support, called the new Dukakis initiative "pathetic" while other city officials accused Dukakis of striking a deal with Senate President William Bulger, whose district includes the incinerator site and who is opposed to construction of the facility.
Dukakis denied the existence of an arrangement with the senate president, saying his decision was based on the discovery of ground contamination at the proposed location for the incinerator, and then tried to patch things up with the mayor.
But a hastily scheduled meeting between Dukakis and Flynn at the State House failed to produce a meeting of the minds. Upon leaving the governor's office, Flynn said the Dukakis trash plan "is not in the best interest of the city and is based on pie-in-the-sky technology that does not exist."
Despite the setback on the health care bill and the public disagreement between Dukakis and Flynn, officials in the Dukakis administration said the governor has had a good year; that he achieved many of his legislative goals and that his presidential campaign has had little effect on his ability to govern.
"I can't think of anything we've lost because he's been campaigning," said Hale Champion, Dukakis' chief secretary.
Champion said the administration's achievements this year include the passage of legislation providing $500 million to preserve open space, a bill authorizing $400 million in bond sales for the construction and renovation of low-income housing, and legislation that would make public the results of investigations into judicial misconduct.
The legislature, in its final hours this week, also is poised to approve a bill that would wipe out a $9.8 billion pension debt.
"We've been working on that for five years," Champion said, adding that, after health care, the bill is at the top of Dukakis' list of legislative priorities.
That Dukakis' accomplishments have been overshadowed by a major legislative setback and a dispute with the mayor of Boston can be attributed to the loss of John Sasso, Dukakis' former chief secretary, according to several liberal and conservative regulars at the State House.
Sasso resigned as manager of Dukakis' presidential campaign after admitting that he had distributed a videotape that showed Sen. Joseph Biden Jr. (D-Del.) using parts of a speech by a British Labor Party leader without attribution. News stories based on the tape led Biden to withdraw from the presidential race.
Rep. John Flood, chairman of the joint taxation committee and a conservative Democrat who is often critical of Dukakis, said the health care bill would have had a better chance of winning approval in the House if Sasso had been available to oversee the administration's lobbying effort.
"He was always good at muting the opposition, if not silencing it," Flood said. "I've always had problems with the fiscal side of this administration, yet John and I got along well."
Judy Meredith, a lobbyist who works for organizations representing the poor, said she recently wrote Sasso a note in which she said, "I miss you more each day."
Flood said that without Sasso, the Dukakis administration often exhibits a disdain for the give and take of politics that offends many representatives.
"If you disagree, they see it as proof that you don't understand the problem," he said. "I respected John because he never did that. He never discounted me."
At news conferences, Dukakis tries to grin and bear the increased criticism he faces from local reporters. When questioned about delays in securing various pieces of legislation, he frequently uses the phrase, "the race is not to the swift nor to the strong, but to those who persevere."
And when asked what his failure to win passage of the health care bill means to the image his campaign is working hard to promote -- as a can-do, hands-on administrator -- Dukakis said, "not a darn thing."