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The history Mitt Romney likes to cite in his political resume   – his time as Governor here in MA- is more like revisionist history. When we truly needed a governor he was more interested in a corporate-style take-over of our state legislature. The legislative elections of 2004 were ugly and expensive and showed the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that Mitt Romney was an outsider with delusions of grandeur and an endless supply of cash.

From the "I was there!" files:
Lie # 1 “I’ll reach across the aisle and work with Democrats.”  Yeah right. Let me tell you what we saw here in MA! It was "wickahd" ugly and frustrating.

We know Romney here and it’s almost criminal that our national press has not bothered to do a little research and report on what happened here as they covered the presidential campaign.

Romney plots The Evil Takeover with a costly strategy to turn the Commonwealth of Massachusetts from Blue to Red.
Despite his constant boasting about working with the Democratic legislature, he actually put more time and energy into a diabolical plan to remove 131 Democratic state legislators from office.  It was the government version of a Bain-style takeover with the CEO at the top doing his best to issue popular state representatives and senators pink slips.

At the same time he was changing state budget priorities in ways that created local panic, he began planning a Bain-style attack on the Democrats he vowed to work with, and to this day insists that this is one of his personal political strengths.  He oversaw the recruitment of 131 GOP candidates and with a 3 million dollar pot of donations vowed to outspend Democratic candidates and begin what we he saw as a long-term plan to move the state from blue to red.  In 2004 a local right wing newsletter explained:

“Governor Romney has been very effective in recruiting candidates for the House and Senate,” said Matt St. Hilaire, regional field coordinator for the Republican State Party. “This year we have 131 candidates on the ballot. That’s the most we’ve had since 1990.”  

“With the democrats holding a super- majority in the House and Senate,” St. Hilaire continued, “Governor Romney can’t sustain a veto right now, leaving the democrats with too much power at The State House. What we need in the House are 54 Republican representatives to sustain a veto. Right now we only have 23. That means we have to pick up 31 more seats just to even the playing field and get a two party system that really means something in Massachusetts.”  

St. Hilaire also says that with GOP Senator Joanne Sprague resigning, the party needs to win at least eight more Republican races to capture a total of fourteen Senate seats and stop a supermajority.


Romney’s role in that takeover attempt seemed to trump his role as governor. It was another story that was just strange to watch. Anyone involved in local politics knows when to show the playbook to the public, and the other side. Romney showed his “smartest person in the room” personality by making a spectacle out of this effort to take down MA Democrats.

He gathered all 131 of his candidates, calling them "The Reform Team," for a major photo op and boasted about his plans while state government was falling further into fiscal crisis-mode. His playbook was open for all to see.


At the local level we were terrified. Romney had showed us what his priorities would be right from the start; local interests were in trouble.  I had been working with my own state senator, Rob O’Leary and when it was clear he was one of those targeted I joined his campaign.

Rob’s opponent was Dr. Gail Lese, who had only purchased a house in the state a few months prior to her candidacy. My memories of her are of a wealthy, aloof and odd woman who knew nothing about the people she sought to represent.  Her letter of introduction on her website  (still there) illustrates her style, no specific issues, just "I’m here to save the district."  

The Martha’s Vineyard Gazette, a local paper in Rob’s district, said this of the election:

Republicans want to win back the Cape and Islands seat in the state senate, and they're throwing big wads of cash at a campaign to defeat the incumbent Democrat, two-term Sen. Robert O'Leary.

His challenger is Dr. Gail Lese, a pediatrician-turned-investment manager, who has plunked $75,000 of her own money into the race and has outspent the incumbent by more than ten-to-one.

So far this year, Dr. Lese's expenditures total $164,897 compared to Sen. O'Leary's spending of $14,636.

She's also come out swinging, issuing a press release last week that criticized Senator O'Leary for accepting donations in 2003 from political action committees (PAC).


Dr. Lese has already tapped one of the state's top Republican advisers, Rob Gray, owner of Gray Media and Boston and the campaign manager for former Gov. Paul Cellucci. According to her expenditure report, the Lese for State Senate committee has paid Gray Media $81,000 so far this year.

Senator O'Leary, not surprisingly, is feeling some of the pressure.

"I am told there is a lot of money coming down here for this election," he said. "My opponent came in December, and she is very wealthy."

In addition to spending, Dr. Lese also outdistanced the incumbent in the fund-raising arena, pulling in $108,323 in donations plus $75,000 of her own money. The donations alone are more than double the $50,067 raised by supporters of the Cape and Islands senator.

"I'm trying to raise money, which I am not very good at, and it's sort of agonizing because truthfully I just want to do my job as senator," said Mr. O'Leary.

"Four years ago I raised $60,000. In the last race I raised about $30,000. Now people are talking about hundreds of thousands in this race, which is sad," he added. "If you don't raise any money and your opponent has a lot of it, you are going to lose, but you don't have to match dollar for dollar."

Rob had never really had to do a lot of fundraising and like Romney, Lese had money of her own. A Boston Globe article discussed the self-funding issue:
Gail Lese, a Republican nominee for the state Senate, a medical doctor, and a former Fidelity Investments executive, has given her campaign $75,000, part of the $183,000 she raised this year. Last year, she bought a house on Cape Cod and is now challenging an incumbent state senator, Robert A. O'Leary, Democrat of Barnstable.
This meant a major circling of the wagons and in Rob's race, Democrats, Republicans and Independents all came together to help the local guy run against this carpet-bagger.

We'd seen the playbook and knew what we were up against.

But after putting all of that effort into his take-over initiative, and believe me, Romney was putting more effort into this massive campaign than he was into solving our fiscal troubles, MA residents didn’t respond the way Romney expected.  He may have thought he was the smartest person in the room, but we all could see this Emperor had no clothes. Massachusetts residents don’t like being played.

The Boston Phoenix from October 2004:

Five months ago, when Mitt Romney stood on stage at the Parker House to introduce his "Reform Team," the 131 Republican candidates were feted like conquering heroes. As confetti exploded and classic rock blared, Romney beamed like a proud parent. "I have been looking forward to this day for a long, long time," he declared.

Since then, the buzz around the governor’s recruits has diminished. A lot. In mid September, Alex Dunn, Romney’s political director, said he regarded only 24 to 30 of the upcoming legislative races as competitive. And at a rally ostensibly aimed at hyping the Republican legislative slate, Romney told reporters he would be happy just to pick up a single seat. (Republicans currently hold seven of the 40 seats in the Massachusetts Senate, and 22 of the 160 in the House — in both chambers, not nearly enough to sustain gubernatorial vetoes.)

Last week, Romney’s pessimism deepened. After joining Red Sox mascot Wally the Green Monster on the State House steps to unveil a GO SOX! banner, Romney warned that Republicans might lose a legislator or two when the votes were in. "We have four people retiring as Republicans," he said. "Under normal circumstances, we’d end up losing four seats. We hope to keep it level or maybe add a couple of seats." Our dependably earnest governor then segued into an upbeat analogy. "One thing I know is, if you don’t swing hard, you’re not gonna have any hits," he said. "We’re gonna fight real hard, win or lose." But instead of spending last weekend working the Republican hustling in Massachusetts, Romney was off to Nevada, Oklahoma, and Iowa to stump for President Bush.

A Cataclysmic FAILURE.

Well - in the end Masschusetts rejected Romney's take-over. Instead of GAINING Republican seat, Romney's plan crashed and burned. That year Republicans ended up with a net LOSS of 1 seat!
The Phoenix again:

NOVEMBER 2, 2004, was a dark day for Romney and his inner circle. For the better part of a year, the local media (including the Phoenix) had taken seriously Romney’s efforts to revivify the Massachusetts Republican Party. Unlike former Republican governors Jane Swift and Paul Cellucci, both of whom allowed the Massachusetts GOP’s grassroots to wither, Romney seemed to have both the desire to build the party and the ability to do it. In March, when Republican Scott Brown defeated Democrat Angus McQuilken in a special election for the Norfolk, Bristol, and Middlesex state Senate seat vacated by Cheryl Jacques, Romney spun the victory as a harbinger of things to come. "The Democratic machine up on Beacon Hill worked for Angus and didn’t win," he gloated. "Against all those odds, a candidate stepped forward, fought with a message of reform, and was able to win. That’s a great symbol for what we hope to have this fall." In May, a beaming, fist-pumping Romney stood on stage at the Omni Parker House and introduced 131 Republican candidates he’d recruited to finish the job. THE "R" IS FOR "REFORM," trumpeted a huge blue-and-white sign. But it might as well have stood for "Romney."

The election made fools of everyone who believed the hype. When the votes were counted, not a single Republican challenger had won; instead, the Republicans managed to lose a seat, and now control only 21 of 160 seats in the House and six of 40 in the Senate. In subsequent weeks, Massachusetts Republicans have sought to save face by making two different arguments. First, they claim the loss of a seat obscures subtle but significant gains; after all, they say, the Republicans made the Democrats work, and created a farm team for future races. Second, they plead impotence in the face of the inexorable political force that was John Kerry. "There was this tsunami of a Kerry presidential campaign that had a definite effect on the governor’s ability to pull any votes out for his individual candidates," says one Republican consultant. "I just think it was something he couldn’t overcome."

What a wonderful night that was for all of us as we sat around a local pub in Barnstable, surrounding Rob O'Leary, cheering results came in for his race and all of the others we had worried about during the take-over attempt.

Everyone was safe. Romney's plan failed.

State Senator Rob O'Leary

And the moral of this story lies in the gubernatorial race that followed. Romney left the state, actually he left the state for most of the last two years of his term. He didn't run for a second term. He was too busy organizing to run for president....

His Lt. Governor, Kerry Healy ran against Deval Patrick.

She lost.

Deval Patrick became the first African American Governor of Massachusetts.

And, that meant the house, the senate and the governor's office were all Democratic. Massachusetts was BLUER THAN BLUE.  

Wouldn't it be nice if we woke up next Wednesday morning to find that our country's election results send the same sort of message to Mitt Romney?  Perhaps then he will retire to one of the state's he refers to as his "home state" - preferably not MA.

Originally posted to 51 Percent on Thu Nov 01, 2012 at 01:50 AM PDT.

Also republished by Massachusetts Kosmopolitans.

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