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“It struck me that there were three courses to take; two easy, one hard,” Romney said of his fiscal crisis. “Those courses included simply raising taxes or alternatively, borrowing money. I rejected both of those as being too hard on working families and too punitive to future generations. Instead, I chose the third, more difficult course, which was finding ways to reduce spending, cutting back government, and using every vehicle imaginable to restore fiscal discipline, allowing us in the future to invest in education, healthcare, and the environment and job creation.”
This storyline is not universally accepted. Both the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation and the Cato Institute put the deficit at something more like $2 billion, and the latter awarded Romney only a “C” in its annual Governors’ Fiscal Policy Report Card, noting, “His first budget, presented under a cloud of a $2 billion deficit, balanced the budget with some spending cuts, but a $500 million increase in various fees was the largest component of the budget fix.”
Romney doesn’t give an inch defending his fiscal legacy, though. “No question but that we have structurally reduced our spending and our budget is generating surpluses,” he said adding, “We have reduced taxes and cut taxes in several ways over the last few years. Those are permanent benefits for our citizens, unless the legislature changes its mind down the road.” With surpluses of hundreds of millions of dollars (though the structural surplus is likely a smaller, but still significant, number) and the Massachusetts rainy day fund at its highest level ever ($2.3 billion), Romney certainly has earned some crowing rights.
FOR SUCH A SHORT TENURE, these are not small accomplishments, said Massachusetts House Minority Leader Brad Jones. He believes Romney’s willingness to get personally involved in many high-profile issues has advanced conservative causes where others have failed.
“Unlike some previous governors, when issues have come up that need to be addressed, he has no problem coming down to my office to meet with our caucus and get the view from the ground,” Jones said. “He doesn’t hide out in the corner office waiting for people to bang on his door. Personally, I find that very refreshing.”
It’s an ethos that has been inspirational to some. Timothy Murphy first met Romney while serving as an investment banker at J.P. Morgan during Bain Capital’s purchase of Domino’s Pizza in 1998. It was a brief meeting, but one that stuck with Murphy. When Romney made a post-victory call for individuals with “different skill sets” to come into the public sector, Murphy answered.
“He was the type of leader I was willing to put my career on hold to follow,” Murphy, a native of Massachusetts who now serves as the state’s secretary of health and human services, explained. “It seemed like a unique opportunity to help fundamentally change the way state government delivers services and does business. And I haven’t been disappointed.
“The governor looks to hire people he can trust to delegate to who will come back with solid policy,” Murphy continued. “But you better be ready for him to probe and question what you bring back. You better do your homework. He’s going to want to pull different levers. He listens closely, but you’re dealing with someone open to pushback. You’re dealing with someone very comfortable with his role as chief executive officer. It’s a creative environment, but corner cutting and sloppy research is not tolerated.”
Boston Foundation President Paul Grogan, who worked with Romney on housing and education issues, found this to be true as well as he headed up a task force for the governor on how to fix under-performing schools.
“Often as not these commissions are just window dressing,” Grogan said. “This was authentic. The conclusions we came to were not foreordained. In a state like Massachusetts where teachers’ unions are entrenched and any sort of pragmatic thinking about how to spur meaningful reform meets with some intransigence, the prospects for the suggestions we made are uncertain, but on the merits of being willing to address a tough issue head on, I think the governor deserves a lot of credit.”
“Probably the most unique thing about Mitt Romney, as far as politicians go, is that he doesn’t take offense when you tell him what you really think,” Barbara Anderson added. “Everybody says they won’t take offense, of course, but Mitt’s one of the few who really doesn’t.”
NOT THAT THERE HAVEN’T BEEN LOSSES. Ultimately, the Democratic legislature, with enough votes to override Romney’s veto, calls the shots. Within those confines, however, he’s been able to get much more done than many pundits expected when he took his oath.
“Any time you lose something, you’re disappointed,” Romney said. “But I don’t measure myself on a win/loss record. It’s not like a baseball team where you’re worried about any loss. Every time you win something I figure it’s another step in helping people, and I take a great deal of satisfaction in every single victory.”
In such an outgunned environment, it would be easy to play the martyr card, but Romney prefers to demur. During the 2004 elections he attempted to gain more traction in the Massachusetts legislature by recruiting and campaigning for 100 Republican House and Senate candidates, backed by $3 million from the Republican Party. He even gave them a spiffy, collective name — “Team Reform” — but on Election Day the results were less than stellar: a net loss for the GOP of two seats in the House and one in the Senate. Worse, the attempt only cemented opposition to his policies.
“Seeking a healthier balance between the two parties might be good for democracy, but people in the House weren’t used to that sort of challenge,” Minority Leader Jones said. “It shouldn’t be taken personally, but it did not sit well with some Democrats around here.”
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