A number of commenters take issue with my post arguing that Mitt Romney basically cut and run from Massachusetts. As I originally said in that blog post, I don’t think declining to run for reelection after completing your term is morally equivalent to Sarah Palin’s resigning midway through. Nor do I think Romney’s case can be used to justify Palin’s or that the political impact on their candidacies will be the same. I’m not defending Palin in any way. But I do believe Romney bailed to run for president and left the Bay State taxpayers holding the bag.
Take a look at the items in Romney’s record as governor that he emphasized during his presidential run:
Marriage: After Tom Finneran was out as speaker of the house, Mitt Romney was the only major state elected official who actively opposed the Goodridge decision and same-sex marriage. He twice helped cobble together the votes needed for two separate anti-Goodridge constitutional amendments, mainly by getting a majority of Republicans on the same page as to which amendment to support.
Unfortunately, departure from office before a second vote in the legislature on the second anti-Goodridge amendment virtually guaranteed that there would be no democratic resolution of marriage’s definition or reversal of same-sex marriage. When Deval Patrick took office, there was no voice in state government for traditional marriage and the legislature easily strangled a defense-of-marriage initiative in the crib.
Health care: Romney has argued that his Massachusetts record shows him to be a champion of free-market health care reform. The results of the bill he signed into law are very different. Romney generally blames the state legislature for these problems (even though some were evident from the beginning). But the bottom line is that Romney signed the bill into law and then left office, guaranteeing that a Democratic governor and Democratic legislature were going to get their way with how the plan would evolve and be implemented.
Illegal immigration: Romney campaigned on an agreement he reached with the federal government to train certain state police officers to deal with illegal immigrants and help enforce immigration laws. Although the agreement was concluded, it was late in his term and no actual training took place. Deval Patrick rescinded the program. If Romney had continued in office, it surely would have continued.
Life issues: I won’t criticize Romney much here, because I don’t think doing much more was politically possible. He fought the good fight with very few friends at his side. But it is worth noting that the bulk of his pro-life record since changing his position on abortion — a change I welcomed at the time — consists of vetoes that were overridden by the legislature. Romney’s sucessor as governor is pro-choice.
The one significant exception to this general pattern is Romney’s resolution of Massachusetts’ budget crisis early in his term. He saw that through to fruition and, Romney Care aside, can’t be blamed for the budget mess under his successor’s watch.
An argument can be made — and several commenters made it — that Romney had done all he realistically could do in a state where almost all the other elected officials are liberal Democrats. Once the budget crisis was solved, the Democratic leadership on Beacon Hill lost all interest in working with Romney. Maybe it is unfair to assume that Romney only worked at these conservative issues long enough to put them on his resume in preparation for a presidential run given this political reality. Maybe he would have gone down in flames in 2006 just as badly as Kerry Healey and the rest of the state’s Republican ticket.
For me, however, the bottom line is this: Romney — like Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci before him — left when the next job opportunity beckoned, not when the job was done. Unlike Weld, Cellucci, and Palin, he at least bothered to finish the term to which he was elected. But neither did he do all he could to leave the state in the hands of a Cellucci, a Swift, or a Sean Parnell.
UPDATE: Ahh, this makes me miss the old days when people used to complain I was too soft on Romney.