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Baker’s two unstated, but obvious, messages at State of the Commonwealth

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Governor Charlie Baker greeted members of the Legislature after delivering his first State of the Commonwealth speech.
Governor Charlie Baker greeted members of the Legislature after delivering his first State of the Commonwealth speech.Keith Bedford/Globe Staff

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker had two unstated but obvious messages in his State of the State speech Thursday night.

The first was to the public, and it went like this: You hired me as a bipartisan manager, and rest assured, you're getting your money's worth. To that end, Baker reeled off a list of things he — often with the cooperation of the Legislature — has been busy working on:

• The cranky, problem-prone, weather-plagued MBTA.

• The formerly cranky, formerly problem-prone, non-weather plagued Health Connector.

• The long-beleaguered Department of Children and Families, with its vital mission of looking after the state's most vulnerable children.

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• That place of lost hours, the once-wait-plagued Registry of Motor Vehicles.

And he emphasized the way it's been done.

"As the administration ends its first year in office, some have lamented how boring we are," Baker said. "I have to admit, that makes me smile. No fights. No yelling. No partisan scrums."

That lack may displease the hyper-partisans on both sides, who prefer their politics peppery, but it really is a tribute to Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senate President Stan Rosenberg, and the chambers they lead that governance has been largely free of gratuitous conflict and sniping.

His second message was to the Legislature, and it boiled down to this: Guys, we worked well together last year; I listened, I compromised, I shared credit. So please, stay with me this year.

Will they? On some of his (limited) agenda, they should.

Baker is certainly right about the need to bring Canadian hydro to Massachusetts. That electricity could and should be an important part of meeting the state's energy needs in a clean, green way.

On opioid and heroin addiction, he won't get precisely what he wants, but the Legislature is poised to make a reasonable start.

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Lifting the cap on charter schools will be trickier, given the entrenched opposition of the teachers' unions and of some traditional-public-school parents who unfortunately see charters as a zero-sum game.

Baker made a strong and welcome pitch there, noting the quality of this state's charter-school sector, the strong results charters have achieved, and the many thousands of families hoping for a charter slot for their children. If research, results, and rationality prevail, the Legislature will raise the cap. Those aren't always trump in public policy, however. Getting a legislative deal done will test not just Baker's leadership skills, but also those of Rosenberg, who leads a skeptical, stubborn Senate.

As he starts his second year in office, Baker has governed the way he promised. His smart steps have far outpaced his missteps, and he's won over many skeptics.

He has ample reason to be pleased — as do those who voted for him.


Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GlobeScotLehigh.