Charlie Baker earned Tuesday night what eluded him in 2014: a strong popular mandate. In his first successful gubernatorial race four years ago, the Swampscott Republican barely scraped into office, winning by a thin 40,000-vote margin. This time, though, he won a decisive victory.
The Democratic nominee, Jay Gonzalez, abandoned by the party’s traditional backers and even some elected Democratic officials, fell far short, and conceded by 9:15 p.m. Even in Democratic strongholds like Dedham, Natick, and Belmont, he finished behind Baker. The race could turn out to be one of the largest spreads in a Massachusetts gubernatorial contest since 1994.
The results are a validation of the consensus-driven style of governing that Baker embraced throughout his first term — and an endorsement of the priorities he offered voters in seeking a second.
So now what? Of all the issues Baker talked about during the campaign, the three he ought to spend some of his stockpiled political capital on are the uneven quality of the Commonwealth’s schools, the high cost of housing in virtually every corner of Massachusetts, and the continued inadequacies of the state’s transportation system.
On education, it’s an old story, but unfortunately it’s still true: Suburban Massachusetts boasts some of the world’s best public schools, but too many urban schools lag way behind. In an interview with the Globe editorial board before the election, Baker agreed the state needed to spend more on public education, target that money to districts with more low-income students, and attach strings to make sure it’s well spent on reforms that really boost learning, such as longer school days. The idea of attaching mandates to extra dollars makes some in the state Senate uncomfortable, so Baker will need to be tough.
Unaffordable housing, caused by insufficient new construction that’s driving prices for existing homes to ridiculous levels, hurts the state’s competitiveness and quality of life. The ripple effects are pernicious: Businesses think twice about locating in places their employees can’t afford to live. Zoning codes steer development to big lots, threatening open space. Urban neighborhoods experience more gentrification pressure because there aren’t enough new units to absorb the demand instead.
Like education, housing and zoning can be tricky political terrain. People who already own a home probably aren’t pressuring their state representatives and senators to fix problems they don’t see personally. And the solutions — allowing denser housing and reducing zoning obstacles — often provoke local opposition. It will take leadership, starting with Baker, to build the case that the state has a severe housing problem and needs to solve it.
Everyone, meanwhile, can relate to clogged highways and late trains. In his first term, Baker approached the MBTA’s woes as mainly a management problem — which is certainly was — and began a transformation that will need to continue. But he should also consider whether the system — along with other regional transportation agencies — needs more money, and get behind regional sales taxes or other creative ways to generate funds.
Baker must also do more to protect the environment, including making good on a promise to boost funding. During the last gubernatorial debate, when asked about the big idea that would define his second term, he surprisingly responded that he wanted to be known for fighting climate change. Let’s hold him to that. Other pieces of unfinished business: bringing more reforms to the scandal-ridden State Police and reining in health care costs. Then there is Donald Trump. In his second term, Baker needs to be a leader in fighting back against Trump’s influence within the Republican Party.
Gonzalez always faced an uphill battle, and he deserves credit for carrying the Democratic baton in a year when the party’s A-list candidates passed. Still, Democrats eyeing a run in 2022 might want to consider the lessons to be learned. A former official in the Patrick administration, Gonzalez checked every progressive box, promising billions in new spending with only the haziest plan for how to pay for it. Voters didn’t bite.
Baker hasn’t said whether he’d seek a third term. Since the state adopted four-year terms, only Michael Dukakis has been elected three times. Whatever his personal plans, Baker has earned the full confidence of his constituents. His margin of victory is a powerful statement. Baker has been a good governor, and now he has the mandate to be a great one.
That was reflected in his exuberant victory speech. “That collaborative, purposeful, and humble approach to governing is exactly what you are going to get from us and from our team for the next four years,” Baker told a cheering crowd. “That is going to be nonstop, pedal to the metal, let it rock . . . and