While Deval Patrick rocketed to the governorship in 2006 from electoral obscurity, his successor, Charlie Baker, has gestated in Massachusetts political circles for more than three decades, a chief executive who arrives already widely known among the state’s establishment.
Baker has held senior posts on Beacon Hill and filled a Swampscott selectman’s seat, helped start the state’s leading right-leaning think tank, led one of the region’s largest health insurance companies and gunned as a venture capitalist for smaller health care start-ups that helped build his wealth. In a press conference Wednesday, he noted that he had been involved in a tax policy ballot referendum in 1980, when he was 23 years old.
And before the votes were counted, Baker associates said he would likely draw from all of those personnel pools in constructing a team that on Wednesday he called his highest priority.
“I think he’ll bring the best and brightest of the Commonwealth together,” said Jim Vallee, a Boston lawyer, Baker friend, and former Democratic majority leader in the House. “He’s been around long enough to know who the talent is.”
One health care industry executive who has worked with Baker but was neutral during the campaign cautioned that Baker’s governing style would likely keep even lowly state employees on their toes.
“He’s not hierarchical,” the official said. “He calls whoever he thinks has the answer. Any state employee could get a call from Charlie Baker.”
In a midday press conference at the Seaport Hotel on Wednesday, Baker, 57, repeatedly said his first priority was assembling a supporting cast.
“We’re both big believers that people are policy, and that’s going to be in many respects, I think, job number one,” he said, standing alongside the lieutenant-governor-elect Karyn Polito, a former state representative.
He named James Peyser, former chair of the state Board of Education and — like Baker — a veteran of Bill Weld’s administration, as executive director of his transition team.
Peyser got an early start on the job on Election Day, placing a call Tuesday morning to a Patrick aide charged to request a sitdown on Wednesday with the governor to discuss the transition. The meeting ultimately materialized, but Baker advisers acknowledged that Peyser had jumped the gun by asking for it hours before the polls had closed. Some political veterans regard such a maneuver as presumptuous.
Like Baker, Peyser worked as executive director of the Pioneer Institute, a right-leaning Boston think tank. And his inclusion in Baker’s inner circle signaled Baker’s willingness to rely on the network of supporters he has built up over decades in Massachusetts political, business, and policy circles.
Baker already has a vast array of candidates with which to populate his administration, including Weld alumni and an extensive group of business contacts from his work at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, and the Cambridge-based venture capital firm where he worked after his 2010 loss to Patrick,
He will also draw on his campaign team. Two top aides, communications director Tim Buckley and policy guru Elizabeth Mahoney, will probably take high-visibility roles at the State House, Buckley likely as the administration’s communications director, Baker associates said. Two of the architects of Baker’s winning effort, campaign manager Jim Conroy and chief strategist Will Keyser, are not expected to join the administration.
But a wave of independents and party-ditching Democrats put Baker over the top, and with a Legislature still heavily dominated by Democrats even after Tuesday’s Republican gains, associates say he will likely build a markedly bipartisan administration.
The list of Democratic elected officials who have publicly endorsed Baker, and to whom he is now politically indebted, is long, ranging from former North Adams mayor John Barrett to West Roxbury state Representative Ed Coppinger to Worcester Housing Authority executive director Raymond V. Mariano.
Plucking from Democrats would also allow Baker to score political points, flashing the bipartisan approach he sought to emphasize during the campaign and allowing him to come across as a less ideologically doctrinaire Republican than many of his colleagues nationally.
At issue, too, is the relative paucity of Republicans with governing experience, after eight years of all-Democrat rule on Beacon Hill.
“There just aren’t enough Republicans,” one longtime Baker associate said at his election-night party.
Supporters said they expect Baker to dive into the minutiae of state government, in which he worked as a senior aide in both the Weld and Cellucci administrations, and with which he worked during his tenure atop Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.
Weld, his old boss, said he expected Baker to be a detail-oriented executive. “I think he would be a very practical governor, hands on,” Weld said at Baker’s party Tuesday. “That’s one of his hallmarks.”
Cost-cutting measures that Baker took with the state’s mental health system in the early days of the administration, Weld said, were hailed by both patients’ families and government analysts as “much less expensive and much less intrusive.”
“I think of it as more liberal than conservative, although it helped save us a lot of money,” Weld said, adding, “I think Charlie’s very deep on the details of social services and human services.”
On Wednesday, Baker adopted a somewhat cautious approach to a range of policy questions that will greet him when he takes the oath of office in January.
Asked, for instance, about the prospect of bringing the Olympics to Boston in 2024, an idea much of the Boston establishment favors, Baker replied: “Really hard to tell without knowing much about the details. I’ve said all along that for me the devil really is in the details on this one, but I thought the exercise, the planning associated with that, was a worthwhile endeavor and something we could all learn a lot from. But, again, there’s not a lot of publicly available information for us to draw a lot of conclusions from.”
Baker will probably be confronted immediately with a slate of management decisions, much the way Patrick was when he took over from Republican Mitt Romney eight years ago. Among them: an anticipated current-year budget shortfall, the state’s ongoing negotiations with federal officials over a high-dollar Medicaid waiver, and the Nov. 15 start of the next open enrollment period with the Massachusetts Health Connector, whose launch has been plagued with problems.
“Charlie will be all over those issues — starting now, I think,” the health care industry executive said on Tuesday.
Baker has also pledged to release, on his first day in office, roughly $100 million in road funding that municipal officials have said they were expecting from the Patrick administration.
“He knows all the levels of government intimately, and I think that’s going to help him assemble a good team,” Vallee said.