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Endorsement for governor: Charlie Baker

October 29, 2014

When Charlie Baker first ran for governor in 2010, he had the misfortune of being a first-time candidate, running against a charismatic politician, at a time when state Democrats were eager to avenge for the loss of a critical U.S. Senate seat taken away from them earlier in the year.

One of the biggest reasons why Mr. Baker failed in 2010, against Governor Deval Patrick, is because Mr. Baker is a better administrator than a politician. Mr. Baker is perhaps overqualified for the position of governor, but voters often prefer voting for someone who makes them feel good, and who tells them what they want to hear. He was criticized for being too much of a policy wonk, and for focusing too much on the budget bottom line rather than on the people affected by the bottom line.

In this year’s campaign, Mr. Baker has made an effort to run a more upbeat campaign without getting stuck in the weeds of policy minutiae. This approach to campaigning may well pay off for him on Election Day. Shame on us, the voters, for allowing style to trump substance.

But Mr. Baker’s biggest liabilities – that he is not a polished speaker, and he lacks charisma that other politicians possess – are in fact what makes him such a great choice for governor. Mr. Baker is better at actually doing the job of governor, than just talking his way into the job like most politicians.

If the gubernatorial campaign was a job interview, Mr. Baker would get the job handily. If we treat the governor’s job as what it is – an executive position that oversees expansive bureaucracies with a wide range of stakeholders – Mr. Baker’s previous work in both the public and private sectors makes him clearly qualified for the job.

Mr. Baker worked during the 1990s for two moderate Republican governors – Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci. Both of those great governors served the Commonwealth ably despite their party affiliation. Mr. Weld and Mr. Cellucci may have been members of that dreaded party that a large subset of Massachusetts residents seem to hate so much, but they worked with Democratic legislatures to enact historic tax relief, reduce government spending, and strengthen the economy.

There is a reason why Massachusetts voters kept Republican governors for 16 years straight between 1990 and 2006 – voters trusted them to keep an eye on the Democrat-dominated legislature. This two-party system of governance paid off in our state when it occurred.

Mr. Baker is seeking to govern in the mold of both of those governors. He will also draw on the skills, and lessons, he learned from working for them. During the Cellucci administration, he had the unenviable task of coming up with a financing plan to the Big Dig fiasco, working with a wide range of government officials and stakeholders. The plan, which required heavy borrowing to make up for the project’s financial shortfall, was politically difficult but ultimately was supported by legislators in both parties at the time. He did the best he could to address a serious financial problem.

After leaving government, Mr. Baker went to the private sector where he skillfully steered Harvard Pilgrim out of bankruptcy as its CEO. His work there has earned accolades on all sides of the political spectrum. He had to make a lot of tough decisions, including laying off employees, increasing premiums, and cutting expenses, but he did it with compassion and honesty. The company likely would not have survived at all without his leadership. Some of his strongest supporters in this year’s election have been people who he worked with at Harvard Pilgrim, who saw first hand just how hard he worked to save their jobs and the company.

He also served as a Selectman in his hometown of Swampscott, where he focused primarily on budget issues and was credited with helping to bring a business approach to the town’s fiscal issues. Owing to that experience, Mr. Baker will be the first governor since Governor Cellucci who has served in local government and understands the impact of unfunded mandates and local aid cuts.

As governor, Mr. Baker would resort to tax hikes not as a first option, but as a last resort. He would review the state budget with the same business-oriented, responsible approach that he used in turning around Harvard Pilgrim’s budget in the 2000s, and the state budget in the 1990s. Like Governors Weld and Cellucci, Mr. Baker recognizes that state government isn’t evil, but it can do a lot of things a lot better. Citizens don’t mind paying taxes, but they want to see those dollars spent efficiently, with quality services in return.

Mr. Baker’s opponent, Martha Coakley, a career prosecutor with no business or municipal government experience, has shied away from offering specific policy proposals on the campaign trail. She seems to be more interested in coasting into the job than in doing the job well. Where does Mrs. Coakley stand on property tax relief? What about unfunded mandates on our cities and towns? Does Mrs. Coakley have any specifics on cutting red tape for businesses, or on reforming state agencies such as the Department of Children and Families or the welfare system?

With just a week to go until the election, Mrs. Coakley has not answered any of these questions, because she knows most residents won’t like the answers she is going to give. That’s not characteristic of someone who would do a good job as governor – that’s characteristic of someone who will do and say anything to get elected. That’s not the kind of leadership we need.

For a clue on the types of people and influences that Mr. Baker will choose to surround himself with in his administration, one needs to look no further than the person he chose to be his Lieutenant Governor.

Mr. Baker’s running mate, Karyn Polito, has an impressive resume of both political and business experience. Besides having served as a Selectman, as a member of the State Lottery Commission, and as a state representative, Mrs. Polito serves in her local Chamber of Commerce, and runs a business.

Due to her experience, she would serve as an important advocate in the Baker administration for municipal and legislative officials. And unlike Mrs. Coakley’s running mate Steve Kerrigan, whose only major claim to fame is as a hyper-partisan Democratic Party activist, Mrs. Polito would be very qualified for the position of governor in the unlikely event Mr. Baker had to step down.

Although Mr. Baker is extremely moderate, which has turned off many conservatives in the state, he does promise to bring back sound fiscal prudence to state government. Mrs. Coakley can not deliver on that at all. Conservatives who wish to sit out this election out of anger over Mr. Baker’s policies are simply hurting their own cause. A true fiscal conservative, with an array of relevant experience that makes him qualified for the job, like Mr. Baker, is a much better choice than a slick politician like Mrs. Coakley. As shown during the 1990s, Massachusetts has worked best, and seen the most prudent financial management, when it is governed by two parties, rather than one.

If you think it is time for a fiscally conservative, prudent financial overseer who can provide two-party balance on Beacon Hill, Charlie Baker deserves your vote for governor.

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