Charlie Baker: Four years later
Do newspaper endorsements matter? It’s a question that comes up every election, and it got us thinking about some of the most notable we’ve written in recent years.
One that jumped out was our 2014 endorsement of Charlie Baker for governor. A liberal rag supporting a Republican? Yes, it happened, and we can’t help but wonder if that helped him beat Democratic challenger Martha Coakley by a mere 40,000 votes.
We may never know the answer to that one. But we can make some judgments about whether we did a good job sizing up the issues that matter and predicting whether the candidate could tackle them.
Let’s be clear: This look back at our 2014 Baker endorsement is, by no means, an indication of what we’ll do for this year’s general election, when he faces off against Democrat Jay Gonzalez. Different year, different priorities, different issues.
But it does give us an opportunity to look ahead — and tease out some key questions for the 2018 race.
“Effective activist government isn’t built on good intentions. To provide consistently good results, especially for the state’s most vulnerable and troubled residents, agencies need to focus on outcomes, learn from their errors, and preserve and replicate approaches that succeed. Baker, a former health care executive, has made a career of doing just that.”
One of the big knocks on Governor Deval Patrick was the myriad bureaucratic failures that unfolded in the waning days of his administration, from a malfunctioning Health Connector website to the mishandling of evidence at a state crime lab. Turns out Baker has had his fair share of management mishaps, from a widening State Police overtime scandal to a data breach at the revenue department.
But he does get credit for taking on the sorts of thorny, no-win problems that most governors ignore. He worked to shorten lines at the Registry of Motor Vehicles. He made significant reforms at the long-troubled Bridgewater State Hospital. And he made important strides at the Department of Children and Families, hiring 350 new social workers, appointing the agency’s first medical director, and putting new procedures in place for evaluating at-risk kids.
But advocates say Baker’s reform effort will only reach its full potential if he’s willing to build on the investments he’s already made. In the case of DCF, the state should provide more mental health services for parents and take aggressive steps to grow a foster care system that’s struggling to meet demand.
A similar dynamic plays out at the MBTA, where Baker has drilled down into the agency’s problems but faces criticism for an unwillingness to raise taxes and make transformational investments. The question for the editorial board this fall — and more important, for voters — is do we give Baker more time to make the systemic fixes he’s started, or are we ready for revenue and reform?
“Baker would provide full-throated support for the kind of high standards, accountability, and innovation that will give all children in Massachusetts the opportunities they deserve.”
As the governor noted in his Republican primary victory speech last week, Massachusetts remains at the top of the heap when it comes to test scores. But has Baker left a substantial mark on education? Not so much.
The governor has signed incremental funding increases into law, but he hasn’t done much to address the growing inequities between the poorest and wealthiest districts. One data point that illustrates the gap: In the 2016-2017 school year, Brockton spent $1.28 per student on school supplies. Weston spent $275.
The governor did stand up for poor kids when he lent high-profile support to a ballot measure that would have raised the cap on charter schools; Massachusetts charters, after all, have made remarkable strides with low-income minority students. But the measure failed miserably at the polls, and the governor has to share the blame. The Legislature hasn’t delivered on education either, but Baker could have pushed lawmakers harder and more persistently for bills to help underperforming districts.
The truth is, the state is at a bit of a standstill when it comes to education. We need to chart a new course. Baker and Gonzalez have eight weeks to convince voters that’s a priority.
“Aware of his hard-charging reputation — and of criticism that his 2010 campaign was too angry — the Republican nominee has sought to project a more relaxed image this year. Still, a certain testiness shows through at times.”
It’s easy to forget that the most popular governor in America was once considered a testy character. And little wonder: During his first term, he’s been Mr. Geniality.
With the Republican Party in thrall to Donald Trump, Baker’s demeanor now has taken on outsize importance. Gonzalez’s pushback: We should set a higher bar for governor than good manners and basic sanity.
“One needn’t agree with every last one of Baker’s views to conclude that, at this time, the Republican nominee would provide the best counterpoint to the instincts of an overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature. His candidacy opens up the possibility of creative tension.”
Baker has done pretty well on this front.
After the MBTA broke down in the winter of 2015, he pressed for a T oversight board, wrangled with lawmakers over its powers, and landed on a panel that’s received high marks for its close management of a heretofore opaque agency. The governor and Legislature have worked out productive compromises on opioids and clean energy, too.
And lawmakers won reluctant signatures, from the governor, on transgender protections and sweeping criminal justice reform.
For Gonzalez and other Democrats bent on making Massachusetts a progressive beacon in Trump’s America, the state needs a governor who will take the lead on these sorts of issues rather than just come along. But for Baker’s supporters, a constructive bipartisanship may be the best rebuke to Trumpism there is.
Which is a better path? Voters have two months to decide.