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Mitt Romney then and now
September 21, 2012 2:02 PM   Subscribe

How was Mitt Romney able to win the election for Governor of Massachusetts? How effective was he as governor?

Romney's team seems incapable of selling their guy, and he seems incapable of making a case for himself. How was he able to win before? And what kind of leader did he turn out to be? I'm interested because he seems so transparently haughty and uninterested in people outside of his experience, yet he must (?) have had to work with lots of different groups as governor.
posted by oneirodynia to Law & Government (31 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
Massachusetts has a reputation for being one of those states where people want to be governor as a sort of jumping-off point to run for president or other higher office. Dukakis, Weld, Celluci, they all went on to bigger and better things. One of the Globe writers once wrote, "you know, it would be so nice, for once, to have a governor who actually wants to be here."

Not sure why he was elected, as I didn't vote for him myself (IIRC, he was flashier than Shannon O'Brien, who was criticized for some financial missteps), but as for his effectiveness, I point to you this article about Angelo Buonpane, the Romney-appointed Labor Director who got caught doing absolutely nothing for more than $100,000 a year. (Fascinating story, read the follow-ups too.)
posted by Melismata at 2:17 PM on September 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Romney was a different candidate as Governor.
- He was in favor of obamacare style health reform. He passed something similar.
- He supported domestic partnership benefits (but not marriage) for gay couples.
- He supported gun control
- He worked to limit the effect of global warming
- He was pro-choice.

I could go on. He was a northeast Republican (meaning, more liberal than the heart of the republican party).
posted by Flood at 2:25 PM on September 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


Well, he did institute his healthcare plan there and that was very effective. But he can't use that to sell himself to the greater conservative population. From what I read that's the case with a lot of his successes in Massachusetts, they would paint him as too liberal for the national conservative demographic.
posted by schroedinger at 2:26 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The NY Times has reported that he had a bad relationship with the legislature. He didn't learn the names of individual legislators, was not skilled at or engaged in lobbying, and, consequently, seemed to have more trouble in getting bills passed than earlier Republican governors. He was seen as distant and cold, focused on data and issuing commands.

His signature accomplishment was the health care reform. He can't campaign on that, as it is so similar to what he now opposes at the Federal level.
posted by Area Man at 2:29 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Massachusetts's state legislature is so completely dominated by Democrats that Republicans are often elected as governor in an attempt to bring more "balance" into the process. I voted for Bill Weld, for example, for that reason.

Romney ran on a strong pro-reproductive choice, pro-GLBTQ rights platform. He vowed to clean up corruption and patronage in the state legislature. This appealed to lots of independent voters as well as to Republicans.

In the event, he didn't do much of anything and was frequently absent from the state. He did cooperate with the state legislature on health care reform, for which he took unwarranted credit at the time, and from which he's now distancing himself.

He was not a terrible governor, but he was not a good governor, either. Massachusetts is a "weak governor" state, so it's not clear how much of an impact even the best governor is going to have (Calvin Coolidge got to be Vice President by busting the Boston police strike, but opportunities like that don't come along often).
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:29 PM on September 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


Shannon O'Brien was a very weak candidate who did not campaign well. Romney was much more personable on the campaign trail in MA, and a reasonably well-known entity.

A lot of Massachusetts voters historically preferred Republican governors, both because the governors were very moderate (like Bill Weld) and out of a often-stated desire to have a check on the (overwhelmingly Democratic) legislature.

Romney had a pretty progressive record back then. See also his debate with Ted Kennedy. Most of his modern posturing happened during his governorship (particularly after the court rulings legalizing gay marriage, when he launched a massive, unsuccessful reactionary campaign known as the "superslate"), which is why he left with a terrible approval rating.
posted by zvs at 2:32 PM on September 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


The Massachusetts healthcare plan was not originated by Romney---the state legislature had been discussing it for years before he was elected---and although he did cooperate in the process, and made some decent appointments to the task forces drafting the plan, he did not "enact" it, nor could he have. It was created and approved by the legislature.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:33 PM on September 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


yet he must (?) have had to work with lots of different groups as governor.

I recently came across this article on Romney dealing (not very well, apparently) with different groups, in the context of GLBT rights, while he was Governor.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 2:34 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


And the Massachusetts healthcare plan was instigated by citizen initiative petition and advocacy groups' lobbying. Romney came in at the end of the party, helped serve the cake, and got credit for being the host.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:35 PM on September 21, 2012


Watching Romney speak is like listening to acquaintances of my parents at terrible Cape Cod (MA) fundraisers, and most of those acquaintances seem to adore him. I'm not at all surprised he was elected, honestly.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 2:40 PM on September 21, 2012


Mitt Romney billed himself as a Northeast Republican: socially liberal (or at least, centrist), fiscally conservative. Massachusetts has a long history of moderate Republican governors. He was also facing off against a very weak Democratic candidate.

After he was elected, Romney got Washington fever, swung hard to the right, and spent most of his time campaigning out of the state. His posturing against gay marriage was massively unpopular, and generally seen as not the sort of thing that the governor should be spending his time on.

My liberal Democrat parents voted for Mittens the first time around, but not this time.

Mitt Romney is just the worst.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 2:41 PM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


He doesn't seem "transparently haughty and uninterested" to everyone. He mainly appears that way to people on the Left end of the political spectrum. To people on the other end who agree with his platform, he is just "saying what everyone already knows, but never says out loud."

Hopefully that makes sense, although I know it is generalization of the highest order.
posted by tacodave at 2:47 PM on September 21, 2012


The people in Massachusetts who love Scott Brown (Republican senator up for re-election) don't love Mitt Romney. If I had a dollar for every house I saw that had Scott Brown signs and signs for whoever the local Republican candidate for Congress might be, with nary a whiff of a Mitt Romney sign to be seen, I could take my husband out for a 1% style dinner, with champagne.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:59 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


At the time Mitt Romney was elected, Massachusetts was in a severe recession. Shannon O'Brian - the Democratic candidate - didn't have any plan at all to address the issue: in fact, she didn't seem to even want to acknowledge that this problem existed. Romney, on the other hand, made fixing the problem a large part of his campaign and emphasized programs that would train workers to acquire new skills to make them more competitive in the market. (Whether he actually followed through is for better minds that myself to debate.) And he did initiate Romneycare (now "Obamacare") - which was a smashing success, even though Romney is distancing himself from it now.

Of course, we can't minimize the fact that Shannon O'Brian had the debating skills of a three year old. I remember at one point during the debate, Shannon O'Brien turned to Romney and said "You're lying! You're a liar!" There was a short pause, and then Romney said "Shannon, perhaps we could raise the tone of this debate just a few notches." In those few seconds, you could literally hear her poll numbers drop, it was that bad.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 3:05 PM on September 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yes, I would add that the reason why many Republicans are elected in liberal Massachusetts is that the Democratic candidates are much worse (and/or, they don't know how to campaign). See also: John Silber, Martha Coakley.
posted by Melismata at 3:10 PM on September 21, 2012


He had way more money to work with than O'Brien (6 million of his own cash if I recall correctly).

He ran as a moderate.
posted by murfed13 at 3:17 PM on September 21, 2012


Also, I don't think you can minimize his connections to Bain and the well-heeled Boston elite.
posted by murfed13 at 3:18 PM on September 21, 2012


He doesn't seem "transparently haughty and uninterested" to everyone. He mainly appears that way to people on the Left end of the political spectrum. To people on the other end who agree with his platform, he is just "saying what everyone already knows, but never says out loud."

Hopefully that makes sense, although I know it is generalization of the highest order.


I think you're talking about presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The OP wants to know about MA gov Romney. And I'm responding to this because I want to make this point clear: They are completely different. Mitt Romney is a sell-out who will say anything to get elected. He changed his public persona and positions on many, many issues in the hopes of becoming a viable national candidate.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 4:01 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, he actually did conform relatively well to Massachusetts values while he was governor of Massachusetts. His views as stated now bear very little relationship to his views as stated in his gubernatorial campaign or his record as governor. And he was the last in a 15-year string of Republican governors for Massachusetts, so there's nothing all that unusual about Massachusetts electing a Republican governor.

I always felt like Romney was transparently obviously only interested in the governorship as a jumping-off point for bigger things, but he wasn't a terrible governor.

I have no idea what he actually believes about anything.
posted by mskyle at 4:25 PM on September 21, 2012


Romney absolutely did NOT initiate Massachusetts health care reform. The state legislature had been working on it since the Cellucci administration, spurred on by public initiatives and advocacy. See here for a good overview of the history of health care reform in Massachusetts.

Now what Romney did do was to cooperate with the legislature and make some good appointments of well-qualified people to the commissions and task forces charged with creating the text of the law. Which was by far his most significant accomplishment as governor, and a very laudable one (much as he's pretending now it didn't happen).

But he didn't initiate it, he didn't have to lean on the legislature to get it passed (iirc, it passed with a veto-proof majority) and he wasn't around to implement it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:26 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Checking on this shows that Romney vetoed 8 provisions of the Massachusetts Health Care Insurance Reform Law; the vetoes were overridden in each case.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:32 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I don't suppose Romney could have stopped health care reform in Massachusetts if he'd wanted to.
posted by mskyle at 4:47 PM on September 21, 2012


One of the reasons Shannon O'Brien ran such a terrible campaign for governor was that she had expected to run against incumbent governor Jane Swift. O'Brien was a decent candidate to run against Swift---both were longtime pols with finance-wonk credentials and soccer-mom bland charm.

However, Romney muscled Swift out with pressure from the state Republican party. O'Brien was no match for him.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:01 PM on September 21, 2012


At least one of his neighbors in Belmont was/is convinced that he was the Anti-Christ who was prophesied to become president and then do whatever Anti-Christs do. Presumably, something bad. How this lady came into this knowledge about Romney, I don't know. She told me this in 2006 and Romney didn't seem like viable presidential material at the time. Today...well, here we are.
posted by gentian at 5:58 PM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


During Romney's governorship, someone was killed in her car by an enormous of steel that fell off a tunnel that was part of the Big Dig. This happened during the middle of the night, but Romney raced down to the scene to talk to everyone involved and figure out what went wrong. That struck me as real leadership and real caring, or at least the appearance thereof. I don't like Republican politicians, but that did leave a good impression on me.
posted by gentian at 6:07 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Simplest answer: he had a better campaign. I was living in MA at that time and working at a company that ended up being a stop on the campaign trail. Romney was all PowerPoint slides, ideas, and enthusiasm. O'Brien spent the whole time complaining about Romney. It just wasn't going to happen any other way.
posted by fairfax at 6:17 PM on September 21, 2012


This presidential campaign is absolutely worst case for Romney. He is basically a socially incompetent but reasonably intelligent technocrat with an over-inflated sense of entitlement. He is not an ideologue.

As a technocrat and an investment banker no less Romney knows arithmetic and basic rules of logic. Yet he's chosen to run for president as the head of party that requires its members to completely ignore math and logic. The result has been something like that scene from Star Trek where Spock tells the robots that Vulcans always tell the truth and then says to them "I am lying.". They gibber in circles for a while as their eyes cross and eventually they blow some fuses and shut down. He's just not cut out for the basic adherence to illogic that the Republicans demand.

In Massachusets it was very different. As others have pointed out he had a lousy opponent and more importantly he was able to sell the state a much simpler bill of goods. People didn't notice they were being conned and used as a stepping stone.

But he's very unpopular here now, needless to say. It's kind of ludicrous that his campaign headquarters are set up in the capital of a state he has absolutely no chance of winning.
posted by alms at 6:50 PM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


- He was in favor of obamacare style health reform. He passed something similar.
- He supported domestic partnership benefits (but not marriage) for gay couples.
- He supported gun control
- He worked to limit the effect of global warming
- He was pro-choice.


He was and is an opportunist, saying what it takes to get more power in a given context that was Massachusetts. Now he has to appeal to a different group to get power, so his "beliefs" have changed.

The people in Massachusetts who love Scott Brown (Republican senator up for re-election) don't love Mitt Romney. If I had a dollar for every house I saw that had Scott Brown signs and signs for whoever the local Republican candidate for Congress might be, with nary a whiff of a Mitt Romney sign to be seen, I could take my husband out for a 1% style dinner, with champagne.

That's because Scott Brown hasn't had to go national and become (for example) anti-choice. He's playing the exact same game.

... One other thing to note about Romney is that he was terrible about paying attention to the rest of the state outside of Boston. I believe he never visited southeastern Mass, for example (and let languish various plans that would have helped spark the economy there.) Playing to the same theme, his attention was, is, and will be solely on the most efficient sources of power.
posted by spbmp at 8:29 PM on September 21, 2012


alms, I believe a candidate's campaign headquarters have to be in their home state per the FEC.

Which is another whole can of worms for Romney, who doesn't actually live in Massachusetts...
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:39 PM on September 21, 2012


Thanks everyone! All these answers were very helpful- I marked as "best" ones that had information that was particularly interesting to me.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:34 PM on September 21, 2012


These are all good answers, but there were other things going on in 2002, as well:

o The economy was still teetering in 2002, and the state budget was in a precarious situation at the time, and the state was still reeling from the mismanagement and cost overruns of the Big Dig. Romney's reputation as "Mr. Fixit" at Bain and the SLC Olympics helped him immensely here.

o The speaker of the MA state house at the time was the notoriously corrupt machine politician Tom Finneran. There was some nascent rumblings among grassroots Democratic party activists to provide a counterweight to Finneran's powerbase (they supported Robert Reich in 2002 and ultimately were responsible for the nomination of Deval Patrick), but at the time, the perfect way to offset Finneran seemed to elected a moderate/liberal New England Republican as governor in the model of William Weld, and Romney seemed like that guy.

He doesn't seem "transparently haughty and uninterested" to everyone. He mainly appears that way to people on the Left end of the political spectrum

Not true. Romney comes across as unlikable across the political spectrum once people get to know him:
It’s telling that during and after the 2008 Republican primary, warm feelings did not abound for Mitt Romney. All the other candidates basically got along, even after the fierce competition. There was a sense of camaraderie that came from the surreality of their situation. But the easy off-camera humor never extended to Mitt. Instead there was stiff formality and a simmering resentment.

“Four years ago, the other candidates couldn’t stand him,” said a longtime Republican operative affiliated with another competing campaign in 2008. “There was just this aloofness to him and an elitism that set the tone. There wasn’t the comradeship that you normally have with candidates—you know, when you get to know each other in the course of the campaign and you kind of like each other and respect each other, no matter how badly you beat the daylights out of each other.
Then there was Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine who, in endorsing Santorum said that unlike Romney, Santorum is human.
posted by deanc at 5:02 AM on September 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


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