The late Governor Mario Cuomo, a stirring orator, told the once significant The New Republic in 1985, “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose” In a clear break from his predecessor Deval Patrick, Governor Charlie Baker may never deliver soaring rhetoric. He didn’t even do that during the poetry part of the campaign. But Baker was not elected to be the state’s poet laureate. Voters responded to his simple pledge to make government work better, to perform the prosaic tasks that most people care about, and they are looking forward to his delivering on that promise. After Patrick’s managerial shortfalls, there’s a yearning for someone who can take Tom Menino’s urban mechanic approach statewide.
Citing John F. Kennedy’s values of courage, judgment, integrity and dedication, Baker made an okay inaugural address, well enough written, workmanlike, competent. He restated the agenda articulated during his campaign. Committing to challenge the status quo and try new bipartisan approaches, he said his priorities were eliminating the immediate budget deficit, closing the education gap (lifting the cap on charter schools), combatting the soaring rate of opiate addiction, making health care costs more transparent and bringing the benefits of a healthier economy to areas as yet untouched.
While his delivery was flat, his light and attractively boyish sense of humor came through during the ceremonies. And if listeners didn’t feel necessarily inspired, it was possible to feel reassured and hopeful about this decent man’s values, priorities and competence. Baker stands head and shoulders – literally – above virtually everyone else in government. It’s way too early to see if his physical demeanor will be a metaphor for future achievement.
But Baker inherits a significant budget shortfall. More than half a billion dollars has to come from somewhere. His new proposals, from combatting opiate addiction to closing the education gap, could cost significantly more money. Where will he get it? But he has already made his task more difficult by pledging to hold local aid harmless and not raise taxes and fees.
Charlie Baker has a reputation as a tough manager. He also showed on the campaign trail he is a person of compassion. I know him to be both. Given the numbers he and we are facing, he will be tested early in the game.
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