October 06, 2015

Yesterday Professor Ubertaccio posted a wise analysis of the constitutional reasons for the Democratic Party’s abstention from a partisan challenge to Governor Charlie Baker. I’ll return to the focus of Jim O’Sullivan’s Boston Globe piece When the opposition party isn’t so opposed: the politics of the Beacon Hill Summer of Love. The governor is off to a strong start because his job is not to be a Republican, it’s to fix the stuff the Democrats have done poorly; and thus, paradoxically, to save the Democratic Party by restoring faith that Democratic programs work.

As Boston College’s David Hopkins and Michigan State’s Matt Grossman wrote recently, the Republican Party is constructed around an extreme ideology of small government. That’s the national Republican Party, the one Elizabeth Warren wrapped around Scott Brown’s neck as she held his head under the water in Webster’s Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagaugchaubunagungamaugg. The Massachusetts Republican Party is a limited government party, but it is not a party that promises to drown government in the bathtub (or in Lake Chargogg . . .  well, you know).

In 2014 Baker did not wage an ideological battle to dismantle the Democratic edifice. He offered at least tacit acceptance of the contours of Massachusetts government, but his campaign was built on a promise to make that government work efficiently and, to be sure, without new taxes. There was a lot to fix – DCF, the Health Care Connector, medical marijuana, etc. – and Baker argued that he could repair the programs that Democratic values had brought forth but that prior administrations could not run right. As Professor Duquette has argued, many legislative Democrats lean socially liberal like Baker, but they are not tax and spend liberals. Baker suits them just fine

Even as O’Sullivan describes the “I’m OK, you’re OK” atmosphere on Beacon Hill, there are fights going on or brewing. Take unions, for instance. Public transportation was on no one’s agenda during campaign 2014, but give us nine feet of snow and the governor owns MBTA reform. The administration’s battle with the Carmen’s Union and their legislative allies is thus not so much Baker picking an ideological fight as having conflict thrown his way.  On the other hand the looming legislative and ballot fight with the teachers’ unions over charter school caps is a contest we could all see coming.

But last week the president of SEIU Local 509, which represents DCF social workers, and a number of his members stood with Governor Baker as they announced a new plan to keep endangered children safe. WGBH’s Mike Deehan reports that the union has had a seat at the table working with the administration to improve DCF’s practices. Baker is no Scott Walker.

Relationships are crucial in politics and the governor has cultivated a good rapport with the Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg. Baker did not indulge much in the brain dead “mess on Beacon Hill” rhetoric that is a staple of campaigns.  He has promoted state Republican Party aspirations without provoking Democratic legislators for no good reason. It remains to be seen if we will see a 2016 version of the “Romney Reform Team” that suffered a humiliating defeat in the 2004 campaign. More likely, Baker will follow the admonition of the late Republican Governor Frank Sargent who once explained, “I pissed off some Republicans, but there was no other way to get anything done.”

Baker didn’t come into office with a strong ideological bent, spoiling for a fight. (Governors don’t want to shut down government, usually). Some of his governing agenda has been thrust upon him. If he succeeds, he may prove that programs inspired by Democratic values work – so long as they are run by a capable Republican manager.

Stan Rosenberg, Robert DeLeo, Charlie Baker

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