By Joshua Holland, AlterNet
Mitt Romney’s “closing argument” redefines chutzpah. “You know that if the President is re-elected, he will still be unable to work with the people in Congress,” Romney said on Friday. He warned of a government shut-down, or another debt-ceiling crisis – two examples of Congressional Republicans taking the economy hostage for partisan gain – if Barack Obama emerges victorious next week. If elected, Romney promised not to “pass partisan legislation.”
It’s a dubious assertion. Romney has made one claim on the campaign trail that is undeniably true. He did bring bipartisanship to Massachusetts – by the time he left the governor’s mansion in 2006, many Republicans in the Bay State, like their Democratic counterparts, couldn’t stand him.
That’s probably not what he meant. In his first debate with Barack Obama, as he shook his Etch-a-sketch, Romney said of his time in Massachusetts, “I had the great experience — it didn’t seem like it at the time — of being elected in a state where my legislature was 87 percent Democrat. And that meant I figured out from day one I had to get along and I had to work across the aisle to get anything done.”
The reality of his time as Governor was quite different. Mitt Romney had the dubious distinction of vetoing over 800 measures passed by that Democrat-controlled legislature. According to the Boston Globe, in a television ad for his 2008 presidential campaign, Romney even gloated about it. ”I know how to veto,” he said in the ad. “I like vetoes. I’ve vetoed hundreds of spending appropriations as governor.” This endeared him to neither Democrats nor Republicans, according to the Globe:
What he doesn’t say is the Legislature overrode those vetoes almost at will. When the House decided to challenge him, Romney was overridden 99.6 percent of the time: 775 to 3, according to the House minority leader’s office. In the Senate, Romney was overridden every time, often unanimously.
In other words, the six Republicans in the state senate often joined their Democratic colleagues to kill Romney’s vetoes. That’s because he was aloof and, after a failed attempt to build up the Republican brand in his state, he withdrew, refusing to work with legislators – even Republicans.
According to NPR, “apart from health care, Romney defined success not with big-picture legislative accomplishments but with confrontation.”
Democrat Ellen Story recalls a Gov. Romney who had a policeman screen visitors and who did not allow lawmakers to use the bank of elevators just outside his office: “He was aloof; he was not approachable,” Story says. “He was very much an outsider, the whole time he was here.”
And Story remembers something else about the former governor: “The Republican reps would grumble that he didn’t even know their names.”
George Peterson was one of those Republicans; he does not take issue with his colleague’s characterization of Romney: “It took him a little bit to get used to dealing with elected officials, let’s put it that way,” he says.
“The first year was, I’d say, a struggle,” Peterson says. “He was used to being a top executive, ‘and this is where we’re going, and this is how we’re going to do it.’ And this animal [the state Legislature] doesn’t work that way. Not at all. Especially when it’s overwhelmingly ruled by one party.”
Frustrated by not being able to manage the state like he did Bain Capital, Romney spent most of his final year outside Massachusetts, laying the groundwork for a national campaign. According to Think Progress, “Romney spent 212 days out of state – more than four days each week, on average” in 2006. He then left office with a 34 percent approval rating. Today, his approval rating in Massachusetts is just 40 percent. In his final year, his unfavorable ratings among Massachusetts Republicans bounced between the mid-20s and the mid-30s.
If Romney wins on Tuesday, we can only expect more of the same inability to work with Congress – people whom Romney apparently views as “the help.” He’ll be forced to adhere to a severely conservative agenda by House Republicans, and he’ll get little help from Democrats given the hard-right policies he’s proposed. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said on Friday, “Mitt Romney’s fantasy that Senate Democrats will work with him to pass his ‘severely conservative’ agenda is laughable.”