I have known Charlie Baker for over 30 years, since he was a graduate student in Chicago. In those days I covered politics for The Boston Phoenix, and Baker was a regular correspondent, sending me long dissenting letters written by hand on lined notebook paper. The letters were vintage Baker: smart, respectful, opinionated, brash. Somewhere I’ve saved a few, figuring one day he would make something of himself.
As a candidate for governor, Baker is largely in the mold of his old boss, Bill Weld — the kind of Republican an unrepentant liberal could almost love. He has that libertarian, live-and-let-live streak that leads him to support women’s rights and gay marriage, so long as taxpayer dollars aren’t involved. He’s experienced and creative and might make a claim to my vote, but . . . here is where my admiration flags:
Unlike Weld, a blinkered (albeit charming) ideologue who crusaded for starving “the beast’’ of government and who once called Massachusetts politics “rotten to the core,” Baker knows better. Weld was easily bored by details, which fueled simplistic rhetoric about government hacks. Baker relishes the arcane details of policy and understands how government can work. But he doesn’t campaign like it.
Baker the policy wonk knows that the tax burden in Massachusetts is lower than it was in all the years Weld was governor. But Baker the politician sounds the alarm, warning that the Democratic candidates “would raise your taxes again.” Baker the policy wonk knows that the number of Massachusetts families on welfare is half what it was in the 1990s under Weld, but Baker the politician says “welfare reform” is one of his top three priorities. It’s a disservice to the voters and his own intellect to campaign as if necessary public investments come free. But his support for November’s inane ballot question that would unhook the gasoline tax from inflation suggests as much.
Baker should say what he knows: that human capital is this state’s most valuable resource, that everyone deserves help to reach their full potential, and that visionary, compassionate government is worth paying for. Then we can talk.