Second-term Charlie Baker will be like first-term Charlie Baker, says Charlie Baker
Massachusetts residents will be very familiar with the new operating system running state government come January.
Governor Charlie Baker version 2.0 will look a whole lot like Governor Charlie Baker version 1.0, he pledged Thursday, nine days after winning a resounding reelection victory.
The Republican said his constituents appreciate his “no muss, no fuss” governing style, and that his “respectful and detail-oriented approach” will continue.
If Baker, emboldened by his runaway win, is considering embracing a more, well, Republican agenda, there was no evidence of it Thursday. His ideological bent seemed anchored in carefully steering the state in its current lane rather than tacking to the right.
“The big message from the voters is constructive friction, fiscal discipline, bipartisanship works,” he said. “We heard that message loud and clear.”
In a wide-ranging interview with the Globe, Baker offered long, wonkish answers about moving Massachusetts forward peppered with acronyms. At one point, he leapt up from his chair to draw two line graphs about the budget on a whiteboard.
Baker expounded about fighting climate change; the power of courts to hold some of President Trump’s policies at bay; and doubling down on his efforts to fight the scourge of opioid addiction.
He also weighed in on his own internal state party politics, where there could be a brewing fight over whether the Massachusetts GOP keeps its middle-of-the-road leadership, or lurches to the right. Kirsten Hughes, the GOP’s longtime chair, said this week she’s still weighing whether to seek a fourth, two-year term at the same time the more conservative Geoff Diehl, the former US Senate candidate and supporter of Trump, says he’s considering a bid for the seat.
Hughes got a glowing endorsement Thursday from Baker, who lauded her dual role as party chair and local official — she’s a Quincy city councilor — and he defended the party’s Election Day losses in the Legislature under her watch.
“If someone were to have said we were going to have 2.7 million people vote in the midterms at a point in time in Massachusetts when the president has an unfavorability rating north of 60 percent, most people would have expected that to be a pretty tough day for the Republicans,” Baker said, adding, “I think we did OK.”
The titular state party head, Baker sidestepped a question of whether Diehl’s right-wing credentials are too conservative for GOP leadership. “I’m a big Kirsten fan,” he responded.
Baker’s plan to politically navigate Massachusetts’ blue waters as a Republican doesn’t appear primed for a course-change, either. A sometimes-critic of the president, he continued to show little appetite for involving himself in national political affairs outside of when Massachusetts’ interests are involved.
At a time when Trump is challenging a host of constitutional norms — this week, for example, he asserted he has “broad discretion” over what journalists are allowed access to the White House — Baker said he has confidence in the judicial branch to serve as a check.
“The courts have had no trouble over the course of the past couple of years saying no to the president on a whole variety of things if they felt what he was proposing to do did not pass constitutional muster,” Baker said.
The Swampscott Republican has repeatedly said there’s more work to do in battling the state’s opioid crisis, but many of his stated priorities Thursday were extensions of plans he’s already floated or signed.
He said that he wants to funnel more cash toward local police departments for investigating fentanyl trafficking. (He filed a bill last month on this). And he touted his push toward credentialing recovery coaches. (He signed an omnibus bill in August that moves toward that.)
“Our biggest problem at this point really is creating what I would describe as support for people on recovery on a long-term basis,” Baker said Thursday.
A similar theme emerged on climate change, where Baker cheered ongoing mitigation planning at the local level, acclaimed the state’s efforts to expand renewable energy, especially off-shore wind, and said those endeavors will continue. He also emphasized a continued focus on energy storage.
He said better storage makes intermittent sources of renewable energy like wind and solar more viable, and makes it possible to “purchase power at a point and time when the price is low and from the sources you want to purchase it from.”
But Baker balked at efforts to drive down greenhouse gas emissions by Massachusetts imposing a new charge on fossil fuels like gasoline.
He said it would mean people could just drive to nearby states to get cheaper gas. “So you don’t get any of the benefit associated with a single-state carbon tax,” he said. “The right way to do this is think about it regionally.”
Not everyone in the State House will agree.
The state Senate, seen as more liberal than both the House of Representatives and Baker, is expected to push for a varied progressive agenda over the next two years.
Asked whether he is expecting more friction, he replied he’s had a good working relationship with Senate President Karen E. Spilka and doesn’t see any reason why it wouldn’t continue.
He also used the question to draw a distinction with the turmoil in Washington, D.C.
“There’s always going to be friction, OK?” Baker said. “But the key is to recognize and understand that friction is an opportunity for discussion. And I think one of the things we’ve tried to do here in Massachusetts — and I believe have done better than people in D.C., certainly — is at the first sign of friction, we don’t turn our backs. I mean, we continue to talk and to see if we can’t get somewhere.”