In three weeks, Gov. Deval Patrick will walk out of the front doors of the State House for the last time as the state's chief executive, eight years after rocketing to prominence as the first black governor of the state.
While his future remains uncertain, Patrick on Monday said he will leave Massachusetts at a 25-year high in employment thanks to sectors like the life sciences and clean technology that are "on fire" and with near universal health care coverage and a collective student body leading the nation in achievement.
There are also those things left undone.
"I wish we'd gone further in sentencing reform," Patrick said. "We made some good steps, but I wish we'd really put a full end to mandatory minimum sentences."
Murray departs as well, gives Guv a "B" grade, Patrick says "she's a tough grader"
As Patrick prepares to leave Beacon Hill, he does so amidst significant change. Come next year, not only Patrick, but Senate President Therese Murray will also depart.
In an interview with WCVB-TV last week, Murray gave Patrick a "B" grade for his time in office, citing his strategy to sometimes try to work around the Legislature to accomplish his policy goals by bringing public pressure to bear on lawmakers.
"She's a tough grader," Patrick joked, before sloughing off the idea that he could have done more to build relationships with the Legislature as "background noise."
"I've heard that. On the other hand I look at the body of work and the results," Patrick said. "I don't go around the building or through life looking to hurt people's feelings but I think sometimes the substance of the work, the importance of the outcome is more important."
Patrick, who worked with two speakers and Murray over his two terms, said it's natural that his relationships with legislative leaders had an "ebb and flow," but said he has a lot of respect for the leaders of the House and Senate, and believes it's reciprocal.
"A lot of power is concentrated in the leadership and there aren't many members and hardly any on the broader leadership team among committee chairs who are in a position to resist leadership, so what you find is you're spending a lot of your time, if not most of your time, trying to cultivate those relationships and it takes two to make those relationships, or three as the case may be," Patrick said.
In one of the more recent examples, Patrick in 2013 tried to push forward with broad tax reform to pay for transportation and education priorities by marshaling support outside of the State House to bring pressure on lawmakers.
Asked if that strategy was reflective of his general view of how government should work, Patrick said, "It's the only way it was going to work for an outsider. This is a very tight inward-looking political establishment here in Massachusetts, and a lot of really good people are a part of it, but they get stuff done based on the relationships they have had and the trades they have made."
Continuing, Patrick said, "That's not evil. I'm just saying that's the way it is. So if you're new, and you're not simply going to be a governor who heels when the legislature tells you to, if you actually want to drive an agenda then sometimes you have to use other pressure points."
In a final sit-down interview with the News Service, Patrick spoke about seeking the presidency, his relationship with the Legislature, and his hopes for Governor-elect Charlie Baker, a 2010 campaign foe who in January will replace Patrick and return Republican control to the governor's office.
"My biggest hope is that the thing that will last is a focus beyond the next election cycle to the next generation, because I think that's the real difference we've made and I hope that's the difference that lasts," Patrick said.
Snapping his fingers to show how quickly he feels the past eight years have sped by, Patrick said it could be years before he truly "digests" what the experience of being governor has been for him. He said he has not allowed himself to consider what his legacy might have been had he not be forced to govern through one of the deepest national recessions in recent memory.
"That's like thinking about what your legacy might have been if you'd grown up in 2060, instead of the here and now. No," Patrick said.
Patrick, who described the recession as an "incredibly painful" time of job and program cuts, said it also created the climate that might have been needed to accomplish difficult reforms with labor concessions around pension system changes and municipal health insurance.
Patrick said he and First Lady Diane Patrick plan to take a "long warm-weather nap" after Baker's inauguration, after which he said he will seriously begin to consider what comes next in his career, which he envisions to a be return to business and the private sector.
"You never have a dull day, but you frequently don't have time to reflect and before you know it, it's over," Patrick said.
Frequently mentioned as a potential national candidate, Patrick suggested the talk about a run for president has been driven by a "surprising number and range of people" who have asked him to consider it, but said, "It hasn't been my idea."
Governor would not rule out a future national campaign
Yet even as he reiterated that he has no designs on the White House for 2016, the governor would not rule out a future national campaign.
"I didn't run for this job to get some other job. I just wanted to do this job, and do it as well as I could for two terms," Patrick said. "So if I think about the presidency, I want to think about it in that same way which is to say, is it a moment when I have something to contribute that isn't being offered by others and does it make sense or might it make sense for the country as well as me and my family?"
Even without clear political ambitions beyond Massachusetts, Patrick has carved out a national profile as a leader among Democratic governors, a sought after surrogate on the campaign trail and visitor to the Sunday talk shows to discuss everything from race to national politics.
As for preserving and using that voice as he steps away from office, Patrick said, "As and when it makes sense. I don't want to be a pundit."
After eight years in office that has seen both political victories and defeats, Patrick said in some respects he still considers himself the same outsider who challenged more entrenched politicians in 2006 and came out on top.
"I think they still consider me an outsider," he said, laughing. "Look, I've been here for eight years. I have a lot of relationships now. I know a lot of people. But I'm still a relative newcomer."
Patrick, who defeated Baker in a bitter 2010 contest and campaigned hard for Democratic Martha Coakley this cycle, said the Baker he watched on the trail in 2014 was a different candidate "in both style and substance."
Though former Gov. Michael Dukakis recently said in an interview he expects Baker to continue many of the policies championed under Patrick, the governor said he respects the fact that Baker now gets to set his own agenda.
Patrick wants Baker to succeed
"I want Charlie Baker to succeed. I want the transition to be successful. I think it has been. I want his launch to be successful. And as a citizen, I want him to do well by us," Patrick said.
Patrick said he believes that if Baker takes the same long-view toward governing that he did, then "a lot of the choices we've made will be sustained."
"This is not the same government or state or country or world that it was 20 years ago when Charlie Baker was in this building, so he's going to have to think about whether ideas that may come from his experience in the past make sense today," Patrick said.
Though not long after winning a second term Patrick ruled out a run for a third term, he said Monday that he did consider trying to extend his stay in the Corner Office. He would have been the first governor since Dukakis, who served three non-consecutive terms, to put his name on the ballot more than twice.
"I love the job and you never have a dull day. Who can say that in their work?" Patrick said. "But I'm also aware of the wear and tear that my whole family experiences as a result of being in public life. Some of it is superficial, but some of it is profound, and I have to think about them."