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For Baker, 6 tips to a successful inauguration speech

There are, as Governor-elect Charlie Baker and his team have no doubt learned, a thicket of rules governing the inaugural address.

It must be bold (a fresh start!), but not too specific (mustn't get pinned down). Forward-looking (a bright tomorrow!) and backward-gazing (at least one reference to Massachusetts as a "city upon a hill"). Apolitical (unity!) and hyper-political (a nod to as many constituencies as you can manage).

It's a lot to keep straight.

So, with just a week to go until Baker takes the rostrum in the House chamber, the Globe offers the big man a few pointers on his big speech.



Yes, we are a leader in industry. A hub of innovation. The birthplace of Wahlburgers.

But if your predecessors' inaugural addresses teach us anything, it's that our state government is forever on the brink of fiscal calamity.

"We, as a Commonwealth, face the most serious fiscal crisis that has ever confronted an incoming administration," said Governor Michael Dukakis in 1975.

His successor, William F. Weld, said Massachusetts had become a "fiscal Beirut" with its "spirits lower than its bond rating."

"We are facing a financial emergency," thundered Governor Mitt Romney in 2003.

Sure, the Bay State's economy is chugging along pretty well at the moment. Unemployment is down. There are cranes over Boston. But have no fear — or, rather, have plenty of it!

The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, an independent watchdog group, recently forecast a budget shortfall as high as $1 billion. All hope is lost!

Or is it? The ghosts of governors past say "no."


"History's habit is to see life's suffering and to warn of doom," said Governor Francis W. Sargent in his inaugural address in January 1971. "And we are victim of that habit now: It holds us and its hold on us is relentless."



"We condemn our times."

So negative.

"We languish in cynicism."

So negative!

"We forecast calamity."

Come on. Not all of us are that pessimistic, right?

"The affliction is universal."


"The young."

The young?

"The old."

Them too?

"Those no longer young, not yet old."


"I am here today to say — enough."

What's this?

"We must be done with despair."

Be done!

"We must call an end to a mood of melancholy that poisons a nation's spirit."

An end!

"It's time to dare to speak again — of hope."

Hope, governor, hope!

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated PRes

Mind your metaphors

Mitt Romney, he of Bain Capital, brought a lot to the corner office. A deep understanding of finance. An appreciation for innovation.

And in tough times, he said in his inaugural speech, it was time to move government in a new direction — away from the "bureaucratic and disconnected" and toward the "nimble and inventive."

We were seeing it everywhere, Romney said. In pharmaceuticals. In publishing. And . . . in terrorism?

"Surely, historians will look back at September 11, 2001, as a pivotal inflection point. . . . Massive battle groups and warheads capable of destroying the entire planet were frustrated by a handful of murderous fanatics with box cutters," he said. "The large, slow, impregnable force gave way to the nimble, stealthy and inventive."

Right. . .

Governor-elect Baker, you may want to stay away from the Mohamed Atta references.

Careful, now

We've spoken to all the experts and one thing is clear: This is the most important speech of your career, this is make or break, this is . . . well, maybe not.


"Inaugural speeches are eminently forgettable," said Jeffrey Berry, a political science professor at Tufts University. "They're one-day stories. And two days later, no one remembers what the new governor said."

Well, OK.

But you can be sure of this, Governor-elect: If we will soon forget your grand pronouncements on governing, your vision for this city upon a hill, we will undoubtedly hold you accountable for every promise made — minor or major.

"You want to make sure that things you talk about in your inaugural speech are things that are likely to get done," said Doug Rubin, a senior adviser to Governor Deval Patrick.

Patrick, in his first inaugural, pledged "simpler and faster regulatory processes," enhanced "early education and after-school programs," and "more accessible and more affordable health care."

Some of that worked out, some not so much.

And when Patrick started his reelection campaign, Rubin said, one of the first things his team did was to review his inaugural and state of the state speeches to see what had been accomplished and what was left undone.

The undone, of course, can be your undoing.

Break out

If the inaugural address is, for the most part, an eminently forgettable speech, a few of your recent predecessors managed to produce something that lingered — at least a little.

Eight years ago Patrick, the state's first black governor, took the oath of office on a Bible the kidnapped Africans of the Amistad slave ship gave to John Quincy Adams as a gift for helping to secure their freedom.


"It's time for a change," Patrick said, before a diverse crowd at the state's first outdoor inaugural. "And we are that change."

Weld, just a few months removed from his victory in the 1990 governor's race, promised a major break from 16 years of Democratic rule.

"Last fall," he declared, "the people of Massachusetts voted to disenthrall themselves from the failed dogmas of big government."

All it takes to break out, it seems, is the promise of epochal change.

And Governor-elect Baker — policy wonk, management guru, champion of bipartisanship — is offering plenty of it: Transparency in health care pricing! Streamlining of business regulations! A balanced approach to energy policy!

All right, so this may not be the stuff of poetry. But we all know it's important stuff, Governor-elect.

Tape up

Finally, as you prepare for the big day, some advice from the longest-serving governor in state history: "Wear plenty of tape on your fingers."

Michael Dukakis spent hours shaking hands after his first inaugural address. And it was a painful experience.

"You discover that women wear rings — women particularly — and they often include diamonds," he said. "By the time the day was over, I think I had three or four Band-Aids on my fingers. My hand was bleeding, for God's sake."

David Scharfenberg can be reached at david.scharfenberg@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @dscharfGlobe.