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By Jim Campanini

Two weeks ago, 1,900 Democrats met at the party’s state convention in Springfield with a look toward the future of governing Massachusetts.

These were top activists and elected leaders, people who supposedly raise ideas and issues that might become part of the party’s platform in the next election.

This is serious and opportunistic business. Massachusetts Democrats always do well in U.S. presidential election years and 2016 promises to bring out liberal voters. However, there are no high-profile state constitutional office races on the ballot. And by the sound of things from Springfield, Democrats don’t seem to care about 2016, except for possibly crowning another White House leader. What’s on their minds is the 2018 state election, and dethroning the Republicans in the Executive Office and regaining control of all three legislative branches of state government.

Gov. Deval Patrick enjoyed this great political monopoly as governor from 2006 to 2014. Yet for all the undiluted power and bold promises, he delivered mediocre results and a mixed legacy.

Patrick’s campaign call to lower property taxes never materialized. Rather, he led Democrats on a veiled feeding frenzy, growing a state budget by more than $10 billion despite the great fiscal crisis of 2008 that tossed tens of thousands out of work. While state programs were cut, local property taxes grew as municipalities foraged taxpayers’ pockets to make up the difference.

Democrats never wavered in the face of a balloon destined to go bust. This was evidenced in Patrick’s final two years of office, when he galloped all over the Western Hemisphere, Europe and the Middle East on résumé-building political junkets designed to drum up business for Massachusetts. Has anyone seen a business or job arrive yet?

Patrick also left the incoming administration Gov. Charlie Baker with a $1 billion hole from a federal health-care exchange the state didn’t need and has never worked properly since; weakened controls on government-monitored entitlement programs that led to increased client rolls and spending; lax scrutiny of the Department of Children and Families that borders on the criminal; and inept leadership in transportation agencies that left commuter trains and buses idling because workers failed to show up to do their jobs.

Oh, and let’s not forget the $1.5 billion structural budget deficit — another Patrick farewell kiss.

Liberal Democrats did not bring up any of these management messes in Springfield. Rather, powerbrokers turned their focused on retaking the Corner Office in 2018. Ambitious Boston Mayor Marty Walsh didn’t mention his own name, but surely he’ll be a player. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and state Attorney General Maura Healey were other obvious choices to surface.

At present, it’s unlikely that Massachusetts voters would want to rock the balanced boat that the Charlie Baker-Karyn Polito team have inspired at the Statehouse. Baker’s opened up the Corner Office to Democrat leaders, including House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, and recruited Cabinet-level managers from both political parties to implement reforms where necessary. He’s governed as a moderate and pushed for political consensus. In some cases Democrats have yielded to Baker’s union-defying proposals such as establishing a financial control board over the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, and at other times they’ve negated them and offered their own compromise plans. It’s been a congenial, democratic and principled process. Key issues are getting addressed.

About the only people upset with Baker are a small group of conservative Republicans who feel left out — a road they paved by ardently supporting a tea-party candidate in the GOP primary and then abandoning Baker in the general election.

A June MassINC poll of statewide residents gave Baker a 69 percent job performance approval rating, a rock solid evaluation in one of the nation’s bluest of states. Naturally, there’s still three years to go before the 2018 gubernatorial election and a lot can change — and it probably will to some degree. Yet there is a strong feeling that Baker’s pragmatic Republicanism has found peaceful — and hopefully prosperous — co-existence with Beacon Hill Democrats who want to put the Patrick years behind them and truly make a difference for Massachusetts citizens.

Jim Campanini is editor of The Sun. Send comments to jcampanini@lowellsun.com

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