Baker may tighten grip on state GOP

Governor-elect, State House leaders confer

A week removed from his victory in the governor’s race, Charlie Baker is pushing to strengthen his grip on a fractious state Republican Party even as he reaches out to top Democratic lawmakers.

The governor-elect, in an unexpected move, is supporting the party’s embattled chairwoman for another term. He is also backing as executive director of the party a 24-year-old data guru who played a central role in his campaign, and pitching his campaign manager as an outside consultant.

A Baker adviser said he expects the party’s state committee to go along with the proposed appointments, given the GOP’s successes in the governor’s race and legislative contests this year. “At this point, looking at last Tuesday, it is hard to argue that the model is not successful,” the adviser said.


On Beacon Hill, Baker met privately Monday morning with House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo and state Senator Stanley C. Rosenberg, who is expected to ascend to the Senate presidency in January. Afterward, in a public appearance with the pair, he pledged an amicable relationship, even in the face of inevitable disagreements.

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“As the son of a Democrat and Republican, I grew up in a house where I watched two people disagree a lot without being disagreeable,” Baker said.

The press conference, outside DeLeo’s office, was an affirmation of the governor-elect’s campaign pledge of bipartisanship and a sign of the changing of the guard on Beacon Hill.

DeLeo is a holdover and a known commodity. But it remains to be seen how Rosenberg, who is more liberal than departing Senate President Therese Murray, and Baker, who ran as a compassionate centrist, will govern.

Baker’s push to grab hold of the GOP apparatus represents a break from Republican predecessors William F. Weld, Paul Cellucci, and Jane Swift, who kept varying degrees of distance from the often unruly state party. (Governor Mitt Romney was more involved.)


The GOP was a powerful political force in state politics from the late 19th century through the 1960s. But since then, battered by Democratic victories and embarrassing headlines, its influence has greatly diminished.

It has fielded a parade of oddball candidates for major offices. Its leading gubernatorial candidate in 1986 had to drop out after reports he was seen twice standing naked in his office. His party then endorsed a popular legislator who also had to drop out because he lied about his military record. Several years later, its former chairman and a prominent party figure was charged with drunken driving after he was stopped by police because his wife was hanging naked out of the rear-passenger window.

More recently, the party has been riven by ideological fights. Last year, Kirsten Hughes narrowly won a race for party chairman against conservative state committeeman and wealthy businessman Rick Green.

Baker, who campaigned as a moderate this year, is backing Hughes for another term as chair. His pick for executive director, voter data specialist Brian Wynne, would replace Rob Cunningham, who is held in high regard and is expected to play a role going forward.

Baker and Rosenberg worked together in the 1990s, when Baker was budget chief in the Weld and Cellucci administrations and Rosenberg was chairman of the Senate Ways and Means committee. On Monday, Rosenberg said, the pair reminisced in their private meeting about what he said was an “excellent” working relationship: “We’re both policy wonks, we both love state finance, and we would delve deeply.”


Rosenberg said they exchanged contact information — cell and home phone numbers — and pledged to keep in touch even in times of conflict. They did not discuss their legislative agendas for the coming year.

Baker walked out of Rosenberg’s office to a collection of photographers and television cameramen and quickly made his way to DeLeo’s office for a similar meet-and-greet.

At the joint appearance afterward, Baker, the speaker, Rosenberg, and Murray, the departing Senate president, declined to speculate on possible points of conflict. Instead, they pledged comity and a productive relationship.

“It’s simple, the people have spoken,” said Rosenberg. “They’ve chosen Governor-elect Baker and they’ve chosen their legislators.. . . And unlike our friends in Washington, we have no gridlock here.”

DeLeo said he doesn’t know Baker “as well as I should,” but will get to know him. “I don’t see any difficulty at all in terms of where we were and where we will be in the future,” he said.

The agenda Baker sketched out during the gubernatorial campaign — including tax cuts and a push to lift the state cap on charter schools — could lead to friction with the Legislature, particularly the left-leaning Senate.

But the governor-elect has shied away from any detailed policy pronouncements since the election, saying he is focused on building an administration and getting a firm grasp on the state’s finances.

Observers say he could face an immediate, current-year deficit upon taking office, forcing him to take the knife to state services in his first few weeks. And he will have just two months to propose a spending blueprint for the fiscal year that starts in July.

Jim O’Sullivan of the Globe staff contributed to this report. David Scharfenberg can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @dscharfGlobe.