Charlie Baker says that some folks think he is boring, and that’s fine, thank you very much. The style of his State of the State speech confirms that assessment. His delivery, while polished, was flat, with monotonous pacing and few tonal variations. The most significant exception was his discussion of the opioid crisis, in which he clearly is particularly invested emotionally. Criticism of his delivery aside, Baker is just what the Commonwealth needs: a fixer, a problem solver, a Commonwealth mechanic who can make government work for the people. He is a compelling blend of MBA smarts and compassion.
Everyone else has to work hard on the job, and to perform, Baker said, and “So should we.” His shout-out to those who had rallied behind him, including state employees at all levels, sounded genuine and not contrived.
Beyond opioid abuse, he pushed for lifting the cap on charter schools; expanding energy supply, especially hydropower; modifying the costly tax credits on films made in Massachusetts (which the House thwarted him on in 2015.)
Much of Baker’s first year in office was driven by crises. Achieving efficiencies was necessitated by revenue shortfall (a problem he is expected to have to face again this year). Creating the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board was prompted when last winter’s snow stopped public transit dead in its tracks. Reforming Department of Children and Families was driven by deaths of children under the supervision of DCF. In each instance, Baker responded by bringing the right people together and designing strategies to deal with the problems. Stop-gap measures must now be followed with longer-term plans and successful implementation.
Critics say that Baker is all nuts-and-bolts governing and hasn’t articulated a big vision for the Commonwealth. But we’ve had our share of big dreamers with stirring rhetoric who lacked top-notch management skills. As a veteran of previous Republican administrations said, Charlie is Bill Weld with a work ethic.
If Baker’s vision translates into a government that works for the people, that’s fine for now. Or at least until Democrats start trying to find someone to run against him in 2018. If he sustains his performance and maintains anything close to his first-in-the-nation (among governors) favorability rating of 74 percent, that will be a tall order.
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