Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A Sign of Trouble

This story tells us a lot about the fledgeling Patrick administration:

State Representative Daniel E. Bosley, appointed a few weeks ago to be Deval Patrick's new economic development adviser, has backed out in a dispute over the scope of his duties and his pay, according to two close colleagues.

Bosley, a Democrat from North Adams elected this fall to his 11th term in the House, had been promised a position overseeing all state agencies involved in economic development, but 10 days ago learned from Patrick that his role would be limited and his power diminished, the colleagues said.

Also, his pay had been adjusted from $150k to $130k, and his office had moved from the Governor's Suite to One Ashburton (that's like going from the Oval Office to the OEOB basement).


All of this happened while Patrick was on vacation in South Africa, so I suspect the "change of terms" was the impetus of Patrick's Chief of Staff, Joan Wallace Benjamin.

But the most striking piece of this story is this:

Patrick said he will take over the role of overseeing economic development agencies himself, revealing a hands-on style of governing that is a sharp departure from the way his Republican predecessors operated.

Republican predecessors? Is there any precedent anywhere, Republican, Democrat, Massachusetts -- the entire United States, where a newly elected Governor has opted to actually serves as an uber-cabinet secretary to himself? In the economic development role?

This move is strikingly odd. The economic affairs arena is vast, multi-faceted and highly dynamic. There are aspects that cause internal conflict and competition in any administration. It is critical to have someone with deep experience in the field who can prioritize, mediate and articulate a comprehensive and consistent vision. It is a full-time job in any administration. How is the Governor going to manage this task while running the rest of the state?

There is one more aspect to this that is going to cause problems for Patrick. An economic affairs secretariat is in the position of acting as a buffer between the Governor and business interests that are competing for attention or policy preferences. Somone asking the Governor for this or that can be told, "go see EOEA," and the mere fact of "getting a meeting" with the secretary is an effective tool for controlling expectations. Further, the secretariat is (or should be) staffed with policy experts who can cut through bullshit and play more effective hardball with those lobbying for a particular policy.

Patrick cannot play that role himself. It is politically reckless.

The same observation is true about competing policy preferences among the various economic affairs offices. How does the labor and workforce development office have its (union-influenced) positions on minimum wage and working conditions arbitraged against other offices advocating for more competitive market conditions? Is Patrick going to referee these policy conflicts himself?

With Patrick's broad thematic appeals during the campaign, he portrayed himself as a "Big Picture" guy. Already, he has had to back off of two of the broader themes, reducing property taxes, increasing police presence. I regard these as the usual garden variety broken campaign pledges (revealing to me thast Patrick isn't any different than the common campaigner), but of course, he wasn't paying attention to the details of his pledges when he made them -- they weren't made to actually be carried out.

Now, in this critical field of economic development, he needs someone with deep experience to be focussed on the details, or else he risks making further blunders on the policy front -- in addition to having already made his relationship with the key legislative leader in the field a little tougher.

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