January 21, 2016

As Governor Charlie Baker’s State of the State speech displayed the governor is a manager who loves fixing “stuff”: the Health Care Connector, the RMV, DCF, the MBTA – policies, procedures, systems. Yet he spoke most movingly about the average citizens he’s met who are in agony because of their own opioid addiction or that of a loved one; or the pain of parents who can’t get their children a good education. We hired Governor Fix-it and got Governor Empathy thrown in.

There was plenty of what we expected – e.g., accomplishment measured by lonely constituent services aides with nothing to do since clients aren’t complaining about the Health Connector not working. Some of the governor’s “successes” as the Boston Globe’s Shirley Leung has pointed out, are just beginnings. The T isn’t fixed, DCF isn’t fixed – those things take time. The administration and legislature dealt twice with budget deficits without raising taxes or fees. That won’t get any easier – the governor projects a billion dollar deficit in FY 2017; the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation points to rising health care costs and the unavailability of one time funds relied on this year.

In 2014 candidate Baker did not assail the governmental edifice built by the Democrats. He promised to make it work as it should. The pronounced lack of partisanship is because the governor is neither ideological nor partisan. In the State of the State he reminded Democrats that we should not confuse profligate spending with results then warned against confusing outcomes with partisan bickering. Making government work is not a rallying cry of the national Republican Party but it is for Baker.

If you want Sam Brownback or Scott Walker, you won’t find them here. Baker thanked state workers for their efforts early in the speech, and later commended unions for cooperating with him to reduce state worker rolls while maintaining services. He conspicuously thanked Peter MacKinnon of SEIU and praised unionized social workers as partners in the effort to improve DCF. (He will be in a big fight with teachers unions this year over charter schools).

Baker probably would like to spend more time explaining queueing theory but the speech attained a much more human dimension when he discussed the opioid crisis and charter schools. He has obviously been moved by the many families he has met across Massachusetts who have faced the torment of a loved one afflicted with opiate addiction. Four people a day dying in Massachusetts of opioid abuse is just too much. He spoke with pride of being a health care guy but made clear that his former industry has to clean up its act on over-prescription of opioids.

Baker doesn’t speak in moral tones but he cast the charter school expansion issue with the injustice of poor minority parents who are unable to get their children a better education. He used the word “pain” twice in this passage to describe parents who cannot provide their children the opportunities that middle class parents take for granted.

One shortcoming was that Baker did not address renewing our cities. In his Inaugural Address he counted among the "loudest" of his initial moves "revitalizing our urban centers." Where is the urban plan?

It wasn’t long ago that Baker was being attacked for a compassion deficit. Now it appears that the wonk we hired is deeply moved by the ordinary people he meets.

Baker, Charlie

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