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Romney passes reins to Patrick; Swearing-in today at noon.

Byline: John J. Monahan

BOSTON - A political transition began on Beacon Hill yesterday, with Democrats regaining the governor's office for the first time in 16 years and Deval L. Patrick fine-tuning plans for his swearing-in ceremony at noon today in front of the Statehouse.

Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, who took the state by storm with a late entry into the governor's race amid a fiscal crisis four years ago, visited the sprawling state capitol building yesterday, thanking lawmakers and key supporters and making decisions on a final stack of bills on his desk.

An hour before taking the traditional "long walk" of an outgoing governor through the building and down the front steps to Beacon Street with his wife, Ann, Mr. Romney set the course for his immediate political future, filing papers to form an exploratory committee to seek the Republican presidential nomination.

He had aides file the papers with the Federal Election Commission late yesterday afternoon, which will allow Mr. Romney to begin raising funds for his presidential campaign.

He is not expected to announce his candidacy for several more weeks, but the exploratory committee will get campaign organizing and financing started. Money raised by the committee can be transferred to a presidential campaign account later.

Mr. Romney, who has spent most of the last year establishing his national identity and building a network of supporters in key states, officially left the office of governor behind at 5 p.m., but could still complete bill signings until Mr. Patrick takes the oath of office.

In one of his last actions, Mr. Romney signed a bill authorizing Worcester to borrow up to $30 million for upgrades to the DCU Center and convention center, and construction of a skyway pedestrian bridge to a hotel and parking garage.

Per tradition, Mr. Romney handed over a 19th-century Bible, an antique gavel and a pewter key to Mr. Patrick in the governor's office, then walked alone to greet supporters who were stationed around the Statehouse.

On leaving the meeting with Mr. Patrick, Mr. Romney walked down a red-carpeted House corridor lined with state troopers to the Grand Staircase, where he greeted recipients of the Adams scholarships, officials of the Massachusetts National Guard, the Rev. Jeffrey Brown - who led the state's Katrina relief program in 2005 - and the family of Melanie Powell, a victim of a drunken driving accident whose death prompted tough new laws for repeat drunken drivers.

From there Mr. Romney met with his wife and walked out of the main entrance, down the stairs and out to Boston Common amid a 19-gun salute, as part of what has been called the long walk or at times "the lone walk" of outgoing governors.

Mr. Romney will enter a growing field of possible Republican presidential candidates that includes U.S. Sen. John S. McCain 3rd, former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, U.S. Sen. Samuel D. Brownback of Kansas, and former U.S. House Speaker Newton L. Gingrich.

Senate President Robert E. Travaglini, D-Boston, said yesterday that while Democratic lawmakers disagreed frequently with Mr. Romney, "he forced all of us to bring our A-game" to the daily decision-making on Beacon Hill. He was always well informed and prepared. He brought out the best of us in the Senate."

"I enjoyed my relationship with Gov. Romney," he said, noting that Mr. Romney was actively engaged in development of the state's stem cell research legislation, formation of a new universal health care program, and education reforms.

While the dynamic between the executive and legislative branches will change with a Democratic governor, Mr. Travaglini insisted the Senate will retain its independence, and said he hopes to pursue legislation for paid medical and family leave for workers and higher education improvements. Inevitably, he said, decisions will also be made in the coming term on whether to put a proposed ban on gay marriage before voters in 2008, an issue on which the Senate president disagrees with Mr. Patrick.

"We are certainly not going to become passive observers," Mr. Travaglini said in an interview after the new Senate was sworn in yesterday.

While Mr. Patrick failed to get the joint House and Senate to scuttle the pending constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage Tuesday, the measure needs another 50-vote approval in the coming term by lawmakers in a Constitutional Convention to send it to the ballot in November 2008. Mr. Patrick has said he will work to stop the amendment from going to voters.

Mr. Travaglini, who controls the scheduling and presides over the Constitutional Convention, said he personally believes gay couples should get all the benefits and rights of married couples "in the form of a civil union" and that marriage should be "between a man and a woman." As for when the second and final approval of the ballot measure would come up for vote in a new Constitutional Convention, Mr. Travaglini said he will make that decision in consultation with House leaders and Mr. Patrick.

"Personally, I have always felt that to bring some finality to the discussion, a part of that has got to be a vote of the general public," Mr. Travaglini said.

He also said the most important issue to him this year is improving the state's higher education system, which he said is needed to train workers for technical and medical jobs in what he said is the state's increasingly "white coat" economy.

Tax increases, he said, will be "off the table" as the new budget is reviewed.

State Rep. Vincent A. Pedone, D-Worcester, said Mr. Romney came into office with "great support and potential" and while enjoying some successes in working with lawmakers, there were some disappointments as well.

In the second half of his term, as Mr. Romney spent more time setting up a run for the presidency, Mr. Pedone said, "There was a lack of involvement on housing and other social issues that needed attention." Still, the Worcester Democrat said, "He is leaving the corner office with the commonwealth stronger than when he came in."

Mr. Patrick, meanwhile, was looking forward to being the first black governor in Massachusetts, and only the second elected black governor of any state in the nation.

His spokeswoman, Cyndi Roy, said that besides inviting L. Douglas Wilder, former governor of Virginia who was the first black governor in the U.S., Mr. Patrick yesterday was also trying to arrange for attendance by his third-grade teacher from Chicago and the seventh-grade teacher who helped arrange a scholarship to Milton Academy. Mr. Patrick has credited the Milton Academy opportunity with lifting him out of poverty in South Chicago to enjoy extraordinary opportunities and successes.

ART: PHOTOS

PHOTOG: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

CUTLINE: (1) Gov. Mitt Romney shakes hands with Gov.-elect Deval L. Patrick as he presents him with a pewter key to the governor's office at the Statehouse yesterday. Mr. Romney also gave his successor four historic and traditional welcoming gifts. (2) Gov. Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, turn to wave from the red carpet in front of the Statehouse yesterday, as Mr. Romney completes the traditional "lone walk" of an exiting governor.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jan 4, 2007
Words:1191
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