[Cross-posted at planetgrafton.com]
A good friend of mine asked me a couple weeks ago what I thought about Governor Baker so far.
“He’s been okay,” I said.
“I really like him,” he replied.
“Quick, what was Charlie Baker’s greatest accomplishment his first year in office?”
Exactly. Which isn’t to say that Charlie Baker hasn’t accomplished anything his first year in office. But it does serve as a reminder that great poll numbers are not, in and of themselves, actual accomplishments. Rather, great poll numbers serve as political capital to institute a Governor’s vision for the Commonwealth.
But what is Charlie Baker’s vision for Massachusetts?
The Governor’s best moments so far have come in crisis-management moments. He was rightly critical of the MBTA in the wake of last year’s costly public transit meltdown, and has since instituted a plan for improved service. He has instituted policy reforms at DCF in the wake of the Bella Bond tragedy that even people within the agency are heralding as “long-awaited.”
Governor Baker’s pattern thus far is read and react. He’s a management professional who reads institutional failure and moves forward quickly and unequivocally to institute common-sense management reforms. Frankly, Massachusetts needs someone with that skill set as Governor right now.
The question is though: Is that all there is? Is he just picking low-hanging fruit at this point? Is it enough to simply respond to an agency failure? At some point, shouldn’t there be a vision of what we want government to do before it fails us? Does he even have a vision of Massachusetts that goes beyond tweeking state agencies and banning Syrian refugees from settling here?
Baker’s style is interesting to contrast with former Governor Deval Patrick’s style. Patrick was, essentially, Baker’s opposite. Patrick was a visionary who had an ideal in mind for Massachusetts and pursued it doggedly, often to the chagrin of Beacon Hill insiders who didn’t like his personality. Specific agency management reforms were not, however, a strong suit.
With Patrick, you got education reform, pension reform, CORI reform, transportation reform and legalized gaming. Big picture stuff. But because of his relationship issues with two straight Speakers of the House (and others), his detractors will never let you forget about the Cadillac or the drapes. He nixed a legislative pay-raise on his way out the door and the next thing you know, there’s an investigation about “secret accounts” leaked to the Herald.
Charlie Baker, meanwhile, has a fantastic relationship with our legislators. They can’t stop talking about him in glowing terms. One local Democratic pol told me how much easier it is to work with the new Governor, contrasted with the old one.
So, now freed from the imperial reign of Governor Patrick and his chaffing management style, how much has the legislature accomplished with a friendly face in the corner office? Well, next to nothing, actually.
So much for all that.
I’m not trying to be needlessly contrarian in the face of a 74% approval rating. That’s swell. But the point of governing isn’t to be popular. The point of governing is to govern, which can sometimes be decidedly unpopular.
So, the question about Governor Baker becomes: Is that all there is?