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At meeting, Baker is known as the governor of snow

Governor Charlie Baker waited for the start of a special session of the National Governors Winter Meeting.Cliff Owen/AP/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Sitting together at a forum, governors from across the country discussed the biggest economic issue each state faces right now.

Hawaii’s chief executive detailed the struggles of connecting graduates and jobs. The governor of Wyoming spoke about infrastructure and energy costs.

“Governor Baker, biggest issue you face in Massachusetts?” the moderator asked.

“Snow,” he replied instantly. The governors and the audience burst into loud laughter and applause.

Charlie Baker spent the weekend in Washington discussing the opiate addiction crisis, education, energy costs, and other topics.

But at this year’s winter meeting of the National Governors Association, his first big event outside of Massachusetts since he took office, Baker is known, simply, as the governor of snow.


As the conference began in earnest Saturday, Governor Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island, a Democrat, said she has been speaking to Baker in the weeks since she attended his January inauguration.

“Sadly, we’ve talked about snow,” she said with a laugh. “Most of our conversations to date have been about: ‘Are you closing the highway?’ ‘When are you reopening the highway?’ ‘Can I borrow salt?’ ”

Governor Peter Shumlin of Vermont, who dispatched equipment to help Massachusetts with the cleanup, recalled an earlier conversation with Baker.

“I said: ‘Listen, don’t feel bad. When I became governor [in 2011], I had Irene,’ ” the Democrat said, referring to the tropical storm. But a weather crisis early in a term “hardens you for the fights ahead.”

It snowed in Washington on Saturday and Baker said he was barraged by ribbing.

“Lots of jokes of about me bringing it with me,” he said. “Lots of jokes about that.”

At the forum on the economy, which took place on Saturday, Baker, a Republican, was one of the most casually dressed governors. Sitting between Democratic Governors Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania and Terry McAuliffe of Virginia, Baker wore garb that could be classified as storm chic — boots, blue jeans, a button-down shirt, a pullover, and a sport coat. Most other governors wore suits and ties.


He explained that for many Massachusetts businesses, February has been a grim month. The massive snowfall has wrenched local budgets, he said, and he talked about property damage and roof collapses.

Perhaps noticing the darkening visages of some fellow governors, Baker interrupted himself: “Is this apocalyptic for all of you?”

The crowd chuckled and the governor noted it had been a “pretty interesting” month and a half in office for him.

Along with topic-specific sessions — the economy, education — the National Governors Association meeting has given Baker a chance to meet some of his fellow governors in person for the first time, and talk with leaders of nearby states.

Baker said he huddled with most New England governors as well as staff from New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s office Sunday morning. In an interview, he said they discussed high energy costs and distribution issues and planned a March meeting in Massachusetts “to really dive into the energy stuff generally.”

Baker, who has said he sees energy prices as a threat to Massachusetts’ economic competitiveness, indicated that March meeting would include questions about increasing natural gas distribution capacity with an eye toward lowering costs.

Governors attended a black-tie event at the White House with President Obama on Sunday night (among dishes on the menu: shrimp a la plancha and braised beef short ribs) and are set to return there for an event with the president on Monday.


Discussion with and about those who are likely to try to succeed Obama has been something of a sideshow at this National Governors Association meeting.

Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, currently seen as among the top tier of probable GOP 2016 presidential candidates, was surrounded by reporters on Saturday.

McAuliffe, a longtime close ally of the Clinton family, was peppered with questions about former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, seen as the likely Democratic White House nominee.

Baker, who arrived in Washington Friday, has drawn less national attention, and has also gone to some activities apart from the National Governors Association meeting.

The governor and his wife, Lauren, visited one of their children who lives in the Washington area on Saturday night.

He also went to some Republican Governors Association events. That partisan group spent millions of dollars on television ads boosting Baker and attacking his Democratic opponent, then-attorney general Martha Coakley, during the 2014 race for governor.

But it has been tough for Baker to escape the overriding theme of his time in the nation’s capital and, indeed, his time so far as governor.

On Sunday morning, Baker attended a National Governors Association session on education policy. He asked questions and spoke briefly about schools in Massachusetts.

But his comments came after he walked into the meeting about a half-hour late.

He was waylaid on the phone with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, which was giving him a briefing on the latest storm back home.


Joshua Miller can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.