Our Opinion: Patrick would bring welcome class to presidential race

The prospect of two-term Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick running for president in 2020 is an intriguing one for Democrats, as well as Berkshirites who include the part-time Richmond resident among their own. Mr. Patrick would bring a lot to a race for the White House, and putting governmental issues aside for the moment, he would offer qualities that are in short supply in politics these days — class and grace.

The former governor, in Kansas City last week for an event titled "An Evening With Deval Patrick: Reinvesting In America," told the public radio station there that running for president in 2020 is on his "radar screen." Politico has reported that members of former President Obama's inner circle, including top strategist David Axelrod, have urged him to consider running for the White House.

Mr. Patrick, who is 61, served from 2007 to 2015 as the state's first African-American governor. A Chicago native and graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, he championed progressive causes as governor, such as an increase to the minimum wage and implementation of strict greenhouse gas regulations. His advocacy of new businesses, in particular those in the green energy sector, continues today with the initiatives he supports in appearances like the one in Kansas City. His pursuit of a federal Race to the Top education grant did, however, did afflict the state with watered down federal Common Core standards for its public schools.

Any governor who serves eight years is going to have mistakes, missteps and missed opportunities along with the successes. But even those who opposed some or most of Governor Patrick's initiatives during his two terms can't complain about the way he comported himself in office. There was never a whiff of personal or political scandal surrounding the governor. He locked horns with political rivals — perhaps most notably with House Speaker Robert DeLeo, a fellow Democrat but also a fiscal conservative who disagreed with the governor on funding priorities — and while those disagreements were sometimes heated they were professional, not personal. No demeaning nicknames were handed out by the governor.

The Patrick administration was dramatically different from the Trump administration — a revolving door of political hacks, rank amateurs, family retainers, right wing ideologues and shady businessmen. Mr. Patrick built a team of competent professionals to head departments devoted to education, finance, transportation, the environment and other aspects of state government. There was little turnover, and when people did move on they were replaced by similarly capable appointees who gave a good name to much-disparaged government service.

Governor Patrick's good nature, sense of humor, passion for his chosen causes and eloquence in articulating that passion also distinguished him during his eight years in office. Those qualities were rarely in evidence during the 2016 campaign and would be more than welcome in 2020.

Should a Patrick For President movement take hold it will be interesting to see if the former governor's current employment with Bain Capital proves controversial. That was certainly the case with Mr. Patrick's predecessor, Mitt Romney, a Bain CEO, when he ran for president in 2012.

The Boston-based investment firm built a reputation for buying into struggling businesses, saddling them with debt, forcing the companies to make cuts in jobs and salaries to pay off that debt, extracting high management fees and moving on, leaving the dying husk of a company behind. That recipe was followed most notoriously with Indiana-based Ampad, but also with the demise in 2000 of KB Toys, which had its corporate headquarters in Pittsfield.

So it surprised many in the Berkshires when Mr. Patrick went to work for Bain in 2015. He is managing director of the company's Double Impact fund, which invests in companies seeking to make a positive social impact. That company's mission — its first two investments were in a large recycling firm and a fitness organization — may inoculate him against the criticism that plagued Mr. Romney.

With the 2018 mid-term election campaign heating up, we're a long way from what promises to be a brutal 2020 presidential campaign — just like its predecessor. If he chooses to run for the White House, Mr. Patrick would bring a welcome positive and gracious tone to the campaign, along with his experience and many accomplishments. We hope the idea remains on his radar screen in the months ahead.


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