POLITICS

Mass. Gov. Patrick has renewed focus post-election

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BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Deval Patrick is again facing the more mundane tasks of managing state government after spending time on the campaign trail this year stumping for President Barack Obama and Democratic U.S. Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren.

Following those twin victories, Patrick is also trying to tamp down speculation about his future plans.

For Patrick, the past year offered a chance to raise his national profile.

The governor defended Obama on television news shows, created his own political action committee, crisscrossed the country to rally the party's foot soldiers and urged fellow Democrats to "grow a backbone" during a rousing speech at the Democratic National Convention.

To cap it off, Patrick celebrated Obama's win with a dinner with the president at the White House on Friday.

That dinner, combined with Patrick's relationship with the president, has fueled speculation that he could be in line for a cabinet position despite his pledge to serve out his term as governor, which ends in January 2015.

Asked last week what role he would play in a second Obama term, Patrick said, "Any role I am asked to play so long as I don't have to leave my current job."

Pressed on his future plans, Patrick added: "I don't have any plans ... I was all in for this president."

Obama fended off a challenger from Republican challenger and former Gov. Mitt Romney while Warren succeeded in unseating GOP incumbent U.S. Sen. Scott Brown.

Patrick has no shortage of challenges facing him in Massachusetts including two evolving crises.

There's the nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak linked to a steroid distributed by Framingham-based New England Compounding Center. The outbreak has sickened more than 400 people and caused more than 30 deaths.

There's also the testing scandal at a former state drug lab that threatens to unravel thousands of criminal cases.

Patrick has already asked state Inspector General Glenn Cunha to take over the drug lab review and ordered state pharmacy regulators to conduct surprise inspections of compounding pharmacies.

Patrick is also facing new warning signs in the state's economy.

Massachusetts' unemployment rate crept up from 6 percent in June to 6.5 percent in September, and tax collections have fallen below predictions for four straight months.

Then there's the decision of Massachusetts voters to legalize medical marijuana.

The ballot question approved by voters requires Patrick's Department of Public Health, already criticized for a lack of oversight over the drug lab, to draft the new marijuana regulations. The state pharmacy board, under the auspices of DPH, has also come under scrutiny in the fungal meningitis outbreak.

Patrick said he's confident the DPH can draft the medical marijuana regulations.

Patrick has said his other priorities include expanding job growth in Massachusetts, investing in education and infrastructure projects and finalizing a transportation financing proposal.

"We're busy," he said.

Patrick put more than just his time to the service of Obama; he also put his fundraising muscle. Patrick's political action committee — formed to help pay for his campaigning for Obama and the national Democratic Party — raised nearly $1.4 million as of the end of September.

Among the donors were executives of health care organizations, financial firms, real estate companies and law firms. Many donated up to $5,000 to Patrick's Together PAC.

As for that White House dinner, Patrick characterized it as a chance to share tales from the campaign.

"It was fun. It was intimate. It was long. It was funny, a lot of stories about the campaign and also looking ahead," he said. "It was small, just 14 people. It was really nice."

Pressed for more details, Patrick described the menu.

"We had a salad to start. I think that we had kale from the White House garden. And we had steak," he said. "I don't remember the rest of it."

Patrick said for him, the recent election reinforced his view that people gravitate toward political figures with a strong core message.

"We saw and we see again that people want candidates with backbone, who actually stand for something," he said. "I emphasize the 'for something' rather than just 'against something' or 'against someone.'"

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