Baker quietly puts political team together as he considers 3rd term
Acknowledging he may seek a groundbreaking third term, Governor Charlie Baker is quietly putting together a robust staff of political aides, proven fund-raisers, and seasoned consultants who worked on his previous two victorious campaigns, including last year’s landslide reelection.
Baker and his advisers said they are keeping his political organization intact to allow him to consider a third consecutive four-year term in 2022 — something no Massachusetts incumbent governor has ever done — but that no decision has been made.
The 62-year-old Republican said his love of the job and his determination to complete major initiatives that will extend past this term have prompted him to consider it.
“Some of the stuff we are working on will likely take more than four years to see our way through it,’’ Baker said in a brief interview last week. He pointed to a signature housing proposal and the five-year capital plan for the MBTA. “And there’s a whole series of climate change initiatives, including expanding and investing in deep-water off-shore wind.’’
Baker also said he feels compelled to showcase the successful bipartisan politics and policy making that he and Beacon Hill’s Democratic leaders have engaged in.
“I really want to fight for this approach to governing that’s based on the idea there is such a thing as a bipartisan, pragmatic approach to governing,’’ he said. He said the bipartisan interactions at the State House “stand in distinct contrast to what is going on around the country.’’
Still, his interest in running again is highly unusual: No other Massachusetts governor in recent political history has begun a second term with such a bulked-up political organization. According to online records, Baker’s committee now has five full-time staff members, costing over $16,000 a month. The payroll includes Brian Wynne, the former executive director of the state Republican Party who managed Baker’s 2018 election.
Baker has also put on retainer two of his longtime top political consultants: Jim Conroy, a veteran GOP operative who has been paid $70,000 since late December, and Will Keyser, a Democrat who linked up with Baker in his 2014 run for governor. Keyser has collected $40,000 from the Baker Committee since the beginning of the year.
Any final decision to run again is far down the road, Baker and his staff said.
“He very much wants to continue to have all the options before him going forward,’’ said Keyser.
In the meantime, Baker and his team plan to be active in the political trenches over the next three years. His committee has spent $23,000 for a statewide poll taken in February. And, as of June 1, Baker’s campaign had more than $600,000 in the bank, much of it left over from his last race.
Baker said he and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito will be heavy presences on the campaign trail in this year’s municipal elections across the state. They plan to back candidates, including Democrats, most of them incumbents, running for mayor.
“I am going to make sure that I and the lieutenant governor support and help incumbents this year on both sides of the partisan aisle who have helped us and we will also work for folks running for office in 2020,’’ he said.
Only one governor in state history — Michael Dukakis — served for 12 years. But his tenure was broken up by his reelection defeat in 1978, when he lost the Democratic nomination to Edward J. King. Dukakis beat King in a 1982 primary rematch and went on to serve two consecutive terms.
Baker, who faced only nominal Democratic opposition last year, could encounter a tough Democratic opponent in 2022. Several major political figures who have emerged in recent years — such as Attorney General Maura Healey, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, and US Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III — could be a major threat to any hopes for a third term.
While Baker is often cited as the most popular governor in the country, his Democratic opponents note that the tables can quickly turn on popular figures.
“If he decided to run again, he would be formidable,’’ acknowledged Philip Johnston, a longtime Democratic leader and former chairman of the state party. But, he added, Massachusetts history shows that political ground can shift suddenly for an incumbent governor.
“His political position could easily be turned around by 2022,” Johnston said.
As he ponders another campaign, Baker faces complicated political hurdles, even within his own state party.
In January, conservatives took over the GOP state committee, rejecting Baker’s choice for party chairman in favor of a former state representative and supporter of President Trump. (Baker is a frequent critic of the president).
Now, instead of running his political operations out of the Republican State Committee headquarters on Merrimac Street, Baker’s political crew is in a $3,000-a-month office on West Street, just around the corner from his State House office.
With that conservative takeover of the party, Baker has also lost the advantage of using the committee to raise donations under federal rules, which are hugely more generous than the $1,000-a-year limit imposed by state campaign finance law. Donors can give up to $10,000 a year to the party’s federal committee or $45,500 to a unique joint fund-raising agreement between the state party and Republican National Committee. This system also allowed Baker to raise several millions of dollars to boost his 2014 and 2018 races.
That arrangement, state campaign finance regulators said in a controversial 2016 decision, slips through the loopholes of a Massachusetts campaign finance law that aims to ban the use of federal funds for state political expenses.
In another sign he is staying politically active, Baker acknowledged he will again wade into the elections for the 80 members of the GOP state committee when Republican presidential primary voters go to the polls next winter. By having more of his supporters on the committee, Baker would have greater control of the party’s cash use ahead of another campaign.
He did the same in 2016 when, in a controversial move never before done by a sitting governor, Baker spent as much as $1 million to elect his supporters and defeated several conservative opponents. He has declined to identify the source of those funds, noting he is not required by law to do so.