As the MBTA collapsed during the winter of 2015, Governor Charlie Baker faced a question that would shape the rest of his tenure atop Massachusetts state government: What to do with the troubled agency?
Some Baker allies put it bluntly. “It was not my problem,” Baker recounts being told by aides and legislators in his newly released 268-page book, “Results”, which he wrote with his former chief of staff, Steve Kadish. “Once I got involved, I would be stuck with the issue — forever.”
Ultimately Baker did engage, pushing legislation that handed the agency’s governance to his administration. But Baker presents the problem-ridden agency not as a regret but instead as evidence of how best to apply his approach to governing.
“Results: Getting Beyond Politics to Get Important Work Done”, due to be released Tuesday, is Baker’s version of a public official’s playbook, rather than a traditional memoir. Light on fly-on-the-wall descriptions of private meetings, Baker leans into the technocratic, delivering an in-the-weeds look at how the second-term Republican approached the COVID-19 pandemic, problems with the MBTA, and rebuilding the state’s Health Connector, among other issues.
The book notes that Baker and Kadish completed some of the writing in late fall of 2021. It does not offer insights of why Baker chose not to seek a third term, which he announced in December, nor dive into political battles with former president Donald Trump or others. Baker writes that he and Kadish had the seeds of a book idea in 2017, but put writing it on hold at the onset of the pandemic.
“When a mob of violent rioters attacked the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, the very concept of our democracy and our government was threatened,” Baker writes. “Demonstrating that government can work became all the more vital.”
Here are some key excerpts:
Going it alone, to start
Baker, at several points, frames the political dysfunction in Washington as a foil to his administration’s work, perhaps none more so than during the pandemic. He said the federal government “botched the job” on providing testing protocols, and that states were left to fend for themselves because the feds were “effectively punting on what to do.”
“The Trump administration had known about the novel coronavirus since January and was promising the distribution, any minute, of the tests themselves and a speedway to process them,” Baker writes in a rare mention of Trump. “Now days had turned to months.”
He, and other governors, were ultimately left to make drastic, far-reaching decisions in an attempt to curtail the virus. Baker said many of his early measures, including shuttering businesses and limiting gatherings, “stunned many people,” but given the lack of information about COVID, “we had little choice.”
He highlights an incident in which the state had negotiated to buy 3 million masks early in the pandemic before the federal government impounded the shipment in the Port of New York and New Jersey. “[T]hey were literally stolen,” Baker laments.
And he recounts the state’s dramatic acquisition of a shipment of masks from China with the help of Robert Kraft and the New England Patriots team plane, but offers few new details of the behind-the-scenes discussions with the Kraft family beyond calling it a template for how to secure personal protective equipment in that difficult time.
“That successful mission was a model for six more charter flights over the next couple of months,” he said.
Vaccines and jabs
Baker acknowledges problems in the state’s early rollout of the vaccines, saying for all the preparation, “instead of being welcomed by the public, it fell flat.” (Massachusetts ultimately became a leader in vaccination rates.)
That included his own personal friends, “who were neither old nor physically frail” but were lobbying him to get early access to shots.
“They had friends in Florida who had been able to ‘cut through the red tape’ and get vaccinated there, and they couldn’t understand why they couldn’t do the same thing here.”
Baker suggested questions of how best to juggle in-person learning were a big source of frustration. Baker, in wielding wide authority through his emergency powers, indicated he wanted to push more schools to return to in-person learning during the fall of 2020. That so many students missed a full year of in-person learning last school years, he writes, remains a “major disappointment.”
“While every bone in my body wanted to impose as much in-person learning as was safely possible, at this time, in discussions with Commissioner [Jeffrey] Riley, I felt that local officials needed to make their own decisions about which scenario made the most sense for their staff and students,” Baker writes, referring to the state’s commissioner of early and secondary education.
Baker clashed with teachers’ unions over issues ranging from when to return kids to classrooms to what masks the administration provided educators. In his book, Baker called the “approach” of the teachers’ union leadership “troubling.”
“For the fall of 2020, most of the teachers’ union leaders seemed opposed to many reasonable attempts to open our schools for in-person learning, despite the assurances and the appeals of the medical community,” he writes. “I don’t believe that this can be written off as a Republican governor versus a union. Not in Massachusetts. Not with me.”
Heart of government
Baker’s book offers a glimpse at the emotional side of his job, including after a series of children’s deaths rocked the Department of Children and Families, an agency Baker campaigned on turning around.
Baker wrote that he cried when thinking of Bella Bond, the 2-year-old girl whose body was found washed ashore on Deer Island in 2015. “I’m a dad,” the father of three writes. “I kept thinking of the horrors inflicted upon that little girl. In a moment alone, I wiped away my tears.”
Kadish, Baker writes, also posted a picture of the girl on the wall next to his desk “at eye level just a few away,” providing a reminder to not only him but everyone he met within his office about what drove their work.
“I knew the point he was making without asking and couldn’t have agreed more,” Baker writes.
Tackling the T
Baker describes his first meeting in 2015 with the MBTA’s then-general manager Beverly Scott after she abruptly stepped down. He and staffers stepped into a conference room within the MBTA headquarters, where he found Scott and her team seated around a U-shaped table.
“The atmosphere was tense and awkward,” he writes. “After a few MBTA staffers had spoken, it became clear to everyone in the room that the organization’s standard operating procedures were inadequate and no practical plans for recovery had been made.”
But he sought to build a discussion, not blame. “No finger-pointing. No raised voices,” he writes of the meeting. “Beverly readily accepted my offer of assistance.”
Baker touts the various improvements the T made under him, including dramatically scaling up capital work, reining in costs, and rehabilitating the Green Line Extension projects. He also acknowledges some downfalls. The MBTA’s pursuit of an automated fare collection system, for example, “was a bust on its first release,” and remains behind-schedule and over-budget.
The book does not dive deep into various safety issues that have plagued the T or how the MBTA’s approach under the governor, as detailed in a 2019 report, helped foster a culture in which “safety is not the priority.” But Baker also stopped short of a victory lap.
“We are in the middle innings of a long game,” he writes about the T, “with progress made and much more work ahead.”