Governor Charlie Baker took a hit on election day, but those who smell blood in the water are seriously mistaken. Baker supported expanding charter schools, Question Two on the ballot. He was right on the issue, but the expansion referendum went down in flames. He opposed legalizing marijuana. That, too, made sense. But despite his efforts and those of most Massachusetts officials, Question 4 passed. He walked away from the nominee of his party. Again, right decision. But Donald Trump won.
So the whisperers are buzzing that Charlie was a big loser on November 8th. I beg to differ.
Charlie Baker is one of the most popular governors in the nation. A month before the election, his favorability rating was 70 percent, just behind Governors Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota and Larry Hogan of Maryland. In a time when most politicians jealously hoard their political capital, he was willing to spend some to push for things in which he believed. He took to the airwaves, and he was featured in ads. In short, he was a stand-up kind of guy.
To be sure, he now has to negotiate a new terrain. He’ll have to work with the legislature to amend the laws the voters passed. He’ll have to oversee the incursion of the pot industry, whose presence he did not want in the first place. This will require regulating how the state handles edibles and raising the pitifully low excise tax on marijuana. He’ll have earned the enmity of the teachers unions, who oppose expanding charter schools. He’ll have to figure out how to bring the benefits of (public) charter schools to the more traditional district schools.
The November ballot included tests of Baker’s leadership, and I respect the way he handled himself. When it was all over, Baker, as did Democratic leaders, expressed hope that Trump would work quickly to help heal the deep wounds of division the Presidential campaign inflicted on us.
Baker will have his own divisions to attend to. Even in Massachusetts, this election showed a growth in Trump strength, especially in western Massachusetts, which has been slower to rebound economically. So our governor will have to manage his relationship with the right wing of the state GOP. And he’ll have to continue working with legislative Democrats. (Notwithstanding his rejection of Trump, Baker’s ties with the Republican leadership in Congress should work to Massachusetts’ benefit.)
Given the lopsided one-party control of our state legislature, Massachusetts voters tend to like the checks and balances of split government. Charlie Baker is one of the best exemplars of that tradition and did not tarnish himself in the recent election.
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