Governor Charlie Baker, in a farewell address from the State House on Tuesday, thanked Massachusetts residents for their resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic and recounted a series of successes over his eight “sometimes crazy years” as governor.
Wearing a purple tie and seated at the desk in his ceremonial office, Baker at several points emphasized the bipartisan touch he sought to bring as a Republican governing a blue state, calling the speech what his late mother would term a “proper goodbye.”
He and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito are scheduled to take the ceremonial “lone walk” out of the State House on Wednesday, in a symbolic return to life as private citizens that, as Baker put it, marks “the last time” they’ll leave the building.
Baker recounted during his 6½-minute livestreamed speech of getting push-back from his staff as he agreed to multiple nighttime and weekend events, galas, or fund-raisers for different causes, saying his aides warned it “would wear me out.”
“I thought just the opposite. It was like fuel for me,” he said, with pictures of his wife, Lauren, and a mug that said “Do your job” sitting on a table behind him. “Watching people do good things to benefit others gave me joy. No one cares what party somebody belongs to at these events. It’s all about people helping one another.”
Baker leaves office after two terms as the most well-liked Massachusetts governor in recorded history, having reshaped scores of policies and managed countless crises, not least of which was the COVID-19 pandemic that struck Massachusetts early and hard.
The public health crisis figured heavily into his closing remarks. He cited the state’s place, with Hawaii, at the top of one organization’s rankings as the states whose health systems best navigated the pandemic, and what he described as people’s nimbleness, adaptability, and generosity.
“While I know that many of you didn’t agree with all the decisions the lieutenant governor and I made during the pandemic, you tried your very best to abide by the rules and to share in the work to be done,” Baker said. “I believe that’s why we’ve recovered almost all of the jobs that we lost during the pandemic.”
Massachusetts’ unemployment rate in November was 3.4 percent, slightly below the national rate of 3.7 percent.
Baker also took a victory lap on several fronts. He cited the estimated $1 billion budget gap the state faced when he took office, and its flush coffers now: The state had a roughly $5 billion surplus to end last fiscal year, and returned nearly $3 billion to taxpayers after triggering a nearly 40-year-old law.
His administration, he said, delivered “major infrastructure projects long promised, but never done” — an apparent reference to the Green Line Extension and South Coast rail projects, if not others — and, with the Democrat-dominated Legislature, the state passed major housing reforms.
“And we did it all without partisan bickering,” Baker said.
Polito herself visited all 351 towns and cities in Massachusetts; Baker estimated Tuesday he’s been to at least 250.
“Despite a myriad of political fights and distractions that were raging all around us, people here chose to focus on the work and it paid off,” he said.
His address was part of the series of events surrounding Beacon Hill this week. On Wednesday, members-elect of the House and Senate will be sworn into office, and Baker will take the traditional “lone walk” out of the State House.
Baker will also meet with Governor-elect Maura Healey on Wednesday afternoon, when they’ll do an exchange of traditional gifts, including a pewter key that once used to unlock the original governor’s office and a gavel made out of white oak from the USS Constitution.
On Thursday, Healey will be sworn into office inside the Massachusetts House chamber, after which she’ll hold an inaugural celebration at TD Garden.
Baker said Tuesday he wishes Healey and Lieutenant Governor-elect Kim Driscoll “all the success in the world.”