Massachusetts' Dukakis moderates his liberal stand in 2nd term

NOBODY on the Massachusetts political scene has worked harder to broaden his voter appeal than Gov. Michael S. Dukakis. Although he is by his own definition still a liberal, the Bay State chief executive now may appear to some as more of a moderate than during his first gubernatorial term, from 1975 to 1978.

Today's Governor Dukakis, for example, has gone out of his way to dispel any doubts about his commitment to tougher crime measures.

High on his legislative agenda are proposals for revamping the commonwealth's sentencing structure to ensure certain and evenhanded punishment for wrongdoers, and substantial expansion of state corrections facilities.

Certainly these moves provide little comfort to any would-be 1986 challengers, hoping to project Mr. Dukakis as soft on crime -- as he was portrayed by conservative Edward J. King, who bested him in the 1978 Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

While several factors, including strong ties to the business community, contributed to the King victories both in the primary and election, none may have been more potent than his firm law-and-order stance.

Since regaining the executive chair 21/2 years ago, Dukakis has strongly supported the idea of making Massachusetts safer through better paid, trained, and equipped police. In the process, however, the governor does not appear to have weakened his liberal credentials, since presumably those of all political stripes and parties are for making society as safe as possible.

In the waning months of his first gubernatorial term, Dukakis vetoed legislation to raise the state's minimum drinking age from 18 to 19. But like some of his fellow liberals, he has long since abandoned the philosophy that youths old enough to vote are old enough for liquor.

Last year, despite strong opposition from activist college students, he signed legislation increasing the drinking age from 20 to 21.

This action, in effect, was a recognition on the governor's part that his earlier move was a mistake. That is something no public official likes to concede.

Such visible Dukakis changes on issues, however, are rare.

Probably the most conspicuous difference in the two Dukakis governorships is in tone. On the surface at least, he appears less idealistic and dogmatic, and more flexible -- even political.

Most of his current major legislation was crafted after a lot of listening and often broad-based participation from citizens and experts.

Clearly relations between the governor and state lawmakers, especially the leadership and other key senators and representatives, are much more harmonious than in his first term. Back then he got off on the wrong foot in developing lines of communication, and was strongly resented.

Despite the improved atmosphere, including much gubernatorial praising of the legislature for its cooperation and accomplishments, so far the 1985 teamwork has been none too productive. And the output of last year's legislative sitting would hardly qualify for inclusion in the ``Guiness Book of World Records.''

Instead of putting the heat on lawmakers, Dukakis has been the epitome of patience and understanding. Whether this strategy works, and how well, is subject to debate.

It is unrealistic to expect that all the major Dukakis proposals now under consideration will gain passage. The success of some of them could hinge considerably on lining up support from lawmakers and concerned groups.

For example, without a shove from the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the House-approved public-education reform legislation could be doomed. And unless Dukakis can get organized labor and the business community to agree on what is needed, prospects for a long-overdue revision of the commonwealth's workmen's compensation program seem dim.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the governor, as he moves toward next year's election and an almost certain reach for a third term, is to hang onto these and other constituencies.

And certainly one of the best things he has going for him is the possible absence of a potent opponent in the Democratic primary.

With former Governor King having switched his political affiliation to the Republican Party, Dukakis could have a free ride to Democratic renomination. But the Bay State chief executive is taking nothing for granted, since the GOP competition for the election could be his conservative predecessor, Mr. King.

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