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In a nation bitterly divided, the transfer of power from Baker to Healey in Massachusetts gets off to a warm start

Governor-elect Maura Healey pointed to the words "girl power" as she met with children at Girls Inc. in Lynn on Wednesday.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Across the nation on Wednesday, Democrats and Republicans were still battling out the results of a bloody midterm election, clawing, scratching, and suing for every last vote in contentious and unresolved races, with control of Congress, and the fate of President Biden’s agenda, on the line.

Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, the transfer of power from one party to another was not just peaceful, but downright warm. For just the second time in 30 years, Democrats are seizing back control of the governor’s office. The transition could hardly be more friendly.

As Washington readied for another season of bitter partisan division, bipartisan comity reigned at an afternoon meeting at the State House. Outgoing Republican Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito were friendly, if stilted, as they congratulated their Democratic successors, Attorney General Maura Healey and Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, and promised to do all they could to ensure a smooth transition.

Polito told the sweet story of an interaction years ago between her young daughter and Healey, telling the governor-elect how important her victory is for young women. Baker cracked the inevitable joke about Healey and Driscoll both playing college basketball, as did he. Baker and Healey shook hands, and then, after a brief will-they-won’t-they, went in for the hug.

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“The lieutenant governor and I will do everything we can to make sure that the incoming administration is as prepared as possible for when they take office in January,” Baker said. “And we wish them, of course, nothing but the best.”

In a state where the Democratic-dominated Legislature more often than not sings in tune with the Republican in the corner office, it remains to be seen just how much will change when the governor’s office flips from red to blue. During the campaign, Healey often sounded more like Baker than her GOP opponent did, praising the governor’s approach on everything from combating climate change to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.

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On Wednesday, fresh off her decisive victory over former state representative Geoff Diehl, Healey sang another verse of that kumbaya, thanking Baker for his partnership and cooperation, and, even when pressed, declining to name any ways in which her administration would diverge from the Republican’s. Asked, for example, whether she would push for a package of tax breaks Baker has supported, Healey demurred: “We’re going to be taking a look at any number” of proposals, she replied.

“There’s a lot of work to do here in the coming days and weeks,” she told reporters. “We look forward to digging in, but certainly today was a good start.”

If it pained Baker to hand over his office to Democrats, he did not show it. Asked how he voted Tuesday, the wildly popular lame duck would not say whom he had supported for governor. (Baker did not endorse in the race.) Asked about the decisive defeat suffered by his party, Baker said only “elections are about the people on the ticket. . . .The governor-elect and lieutenant governor-elect both ran a very strong campaign.”

“I will be sad personally” to leave the office of governor, added Baker, who has publicly feuded with the current, Trump-supporting leadership of the state GOP, but “I won’t be sad for the Commonwealth” as Healey takes the reins.

Baker and Healey said they had had a productive meeting, though they provided few details on what had been discussed. Baker said Healey’s transition team has been offered office space in the State House, and been invited to attend meetings on planning for inclement winter weather and the upcoming budget cycle. Top officials in his administration will be made available to brief incoming aides, Baker said.

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Healey announced Wednesday afternoon that Driscoll will chair the transition team. The incoming lieutenant governor advised anyone interested in working for the new administration to submit their resumes on a new website, healeydriscolltransition.com. Asked who else she was considering for top posts in her administration, Healey said only that she would share more details in the coming days and weeks.

Later Wednesday afternoon, in their only other post-victory appearance of the day, Healey and Driscoll made a stop at Girls Inc., an after-school program in Lynn. A room of 7-, 8-, and 9-year-olds in Crocs and sparkly sneakers presented them with a card bearing a cheerful message: “Women governor girls rule.”

Healey explained that “we wanted this to be the very first place that we came.”

“This is the first time that Massachusetts has [elected] a female governor — all guys before that,” Driscoll added. “And we wanted to make sure that we came here so you guys know that we may be the first people, but we’re not gonna be the last.”

Healey also faced off against one little girl in an elaborate jumping game popular among the group. After a few rounds, the former professional basketball player ultimately defeated her young rival.

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“She wins again,” remarked Linda Hall, literacy coordinator at the after-school program. “Last night, and again today.”

Throughout the afternoon, Healey spoke to elementary and middle school-age girls about the inspiration she drew from her mother and the importance of Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination in education based on gender. She repeatedly made mention of the history she, Driscoll, and the rest of a mostly female slate of Democrats had made on Tuesday.

But as her Democratic administration prepares to take control in January, it’s not clear how much change the state should expect from that momentous shift.

What will be different under a Healey administration? a reporter asked Healey as she stood in front of a podium in the State House, near a wing of offices she is soon to inherit.

“Well, the microphones are gonna be a little lower,” Healey joked, looking back and smiling at the 6 foot 6 Baker. “And the rest, we’ll see.”

Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Emma Platoff can be reached at emma.platoff@globe.com. Follow her @emmaplatoff.