Not good enough, or pretty good?
Distilled down, those are the arguments that the challenger and the incumbent, respectively, are making in their campaigns to be governor of Massachusetts for the next four years. It’s the choice they’re putting before voters.
Jay Gonzalez, the Democratic nominee, says Massachusetts is falling far short of its potential. He wants to move Massachusetts to a single-payer health care system; ensure every child age 0-5 has access to affordable child care and preschool by the end of his first term; plow new money into public K-12 and higher education; fix the MBTA; build a link between North Station and South Station; expand the Blue Line up to Lynn and the Commuter Rail down to New Bedford and Fall River — and raise taxes on the wealthy by billions of dollars to help pay for it.
Governor Charlie Baker says Massachusetts is on the right track, with a booming economy, great schools, and state government that works collaboratively to tackle tough issues such as the opioid epidemic. He says that there’s lots more to do to fight climate change, the scourge of drug overdoses, unaffordable housing prices, and public transit troubles. But he thinks the work can be done without raising broad-based taxes or fees, and points to the investment into education, the MBTA, and other areas he’s spearheaded over the last four years.
The two candidates for the Corner Office share resume bullet points: both served as state budget chief (although more than a decade apart), and both were health insurance executives after their time in state government.
Both support the state’s strict gun control laws. Both back abortion rights, marriage equality, and the state’s transgender public accommodations law. Both oppose President Trump on his inflammatory and race-baiting rhetoric, and they are on the opposite side of the White House on everything from repealing the Affordable Care Act to immigration.
But on many substantive issues of policy, trajectory, and tone, Baker, a Republican, and Gonzalez diverge.
Baker has opposed Trump’s efforts in muted statements of dismay, formal letters of protest, and occasional bursts of frustration.
Gonzalez says Baker hasn’t been forceful enough against Trump, substituting disappointment for the more necessary righteous indignation.
Nor, he says, has the governor been a strong enough advocate in favor of key issues like stronger gun restrictions, a woman’s right to choose an abortion, and transgender protections, where, he alleges, Baker just follows the Democratic-controlled Legislature’s lead.
Gonzalez says the state needs a governor who will be a strong advocate on such issues “not just some of the time, but all of the time. Not just reluctantly, but wholeheartedly.”
On Trump, Baker says it’s his job to get results, not just get angry, and points to his efforts with other governors to help stop the repeal of Obamacare. He says he’s long been a supporter of a woman’s right to choose, and not only signed the state’s transgender public accommodations law, but is also fighting the effort to repeal it. He has brushed aside criticism of his gun control bona fides, saying he helped lead the charge to ban bump stocks.
Baker supports bringing back the death penalty in Massachusetts for people convicted of murdering a police officer. Gonzalez does not support bringing the death penalty in Massachusetts for any crime. “I do not believe anyone has the moral authority to take another person’s life, including the state,” he said in a statement last week.
On the environment, Baker hails the state’s massive effort to expand off-shore wind and calls it a nation-leading effort that has put Massachusetts at the forefront on renewable energy.
“Our administration is the one that created an off-shore wind industry on the East Coast of the United States,” Baker said recently. “The fastest way to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels is to create affordable alternatives, and we’ve moved that ball way down the field.”
The governor also says continuing to work with all 351 cities and towns in the state to help communities prepare for climate change and figure out how to mitigate the hazards of the shifting environment.
Gonzalez wants to more urgently expand offshore wind power and have the state lean in with more exigency to other renewables such as solar. He dismisses the idea that Baker is any kind of leader on issues of climate and environment.
The Democrat backs a tax on carbon dioxide emissions to help shift the state away from fossil fuels.
Baker, on the other hand, says he would prefer a system like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. That nine-state program created a declining cap on CO2 emissions from the power sector and mandated companies purchase the right to emit the gas through auctions or on the secondary market from other companies. Baker said there have been discussions about expanding such a program to transportation.
Gonzalez says for the state to be able to aim higher, it needs a huge infusion of new revenue. He’s proposed taxing Harvard University, MIT, Boston College, and the state’s other richest universities and colleges to the collective tune of a billion dollars each year.
He’s also said he’d press for a so-called millionaires tax that, if approved, would bring in an estimated $2 billion annually. That tax, which would take at least four years to put in place, would add a 4-percentage-point surcharge to personal income above $1 million.
Baker argues that Gonzalez’s transportation and education plans are so expensive, the new billions he wants to bring in wouldn’t begin to pay for all of the promises he’s made on transportation and education. And that’s not even counting the Democrat’s push to remake the state’s healthcare industry and transform it into a single-payer system, Baker argues.
Gonzalez says he thinks his tax plans will pay for his costly new programs and that, if done thoughtfully, upending the health care system will actually save money.
Baker, for his part, ran successfully in 2014 as a no-new-fees, no-new taxes candidate but broke his pledge in office. This time around, there’s no such promise. But a campaign spokesman says the governor will “continue to protect Massachusetts taxpayers from broad-based fee and tax hikes.”
Amidst all the differences, they are also cut from similar cloth. Both candidates went to Ivy League schools for their undergraduate education, Harvard for Baker and Dartmouth College for Gonzalez.
Both are wonks, facile with the complexities of state budget line items having served as the top budget official — Baker under governors William F. Weld and Paul Cellucci, and Gonzalez under governor Deval Patrick.
And both men are seeking the highest office and arguably hardest job in Massachusetts.
Baker says he regularly prays. Gonzalez says he seeks and receives inspiration and guidance every day.
Joshua Miller can be reached at email@example.com.