Hello everyone — hoping your 4th was restful, safe, genuinely patriotic, and tank-free.
I want to play off of nopolitician’s trenchant observation regarding the latest RMV failure:
If Democrats want to take back the corner office, they must treat Charlie Baker the way the GOP treated Deval Patrick. Given that most of Patrick’s “scandals” were bogus, failure to hold Baker accountable for these failures is even worse.
… I know that no one can be the perfect executive, but that’s not what Charlie told us. That’s why he needs to pay a political price here, because that was the checking account he used to win election and re-election.
You may recall that we at BMG were not particularly forgiving to Governor Patrick regarding the failure of the state’s health insurance Connector website. No one could possibly have expected Gov. Patrick to personally know the ins and outs of contracting and running the website. But we hammered him nonetheless. Why? Because accountability is political, and he’s the guy in charge. We had to let him know it’s important.
Our esteemed BMGer is not the only one suggesting we judge Baker’s work by the Patrick standard. Matt Stout and Joshua Miller tentatively raise the same question, using “second term blues” as a kind of unavoidable structural condition, like arthritis or a worn timing-belt:
Governor Charlie Baker rode onto Beacon Hill in 2015 pledging to make state bureaucracy hum and correct his predecessor’s failures. But as he heads deeper into his fifth year in office, Baker is facing new problems — ones firmly rooted in his administration’s own mistakes or, in critics’ eyes, born from an inability to deliver on long-held promises.
But with a cascade of crises at the Registry of Motor Vehicles and MBTA, is this a short summer slump, or the beginning of Baker’s second-term blues?
Adrian Walker and Shirley Leung at the Globe are starting to bring the heat to Baker as well. Walker calls the RMV head’s resignation “the way Beacon Hill works … fake accountability.” That’s right.
To recount the recent failures of the executive branch under Charlie Baker:
- MBTA: You know this story. [heavy sigh]
- MassDEP: Failure to protect the communities of the South Shore by permitting the Weymouth gas compressor.
- DCF: Three children dead in DCF custody.
- RMV: Seven dead in a DUI by a driver who had multiple previous violations. RMV ignored violations sent from out of state.
- State trooper overtime scandal.
Perhaps it’s fair to give executive branch failures a taxonomy:
- Bureaucratic failure, in which a Governor can be expected to appoint good qualified staff, but can’t really be expected to know everything about the day-to-day operations (e.g. Patrick and the health Connector). Political liability: Variable — depends on the response.
- Vision/strategy failure, in which a Governor truly bears some responsibility; since the botched execution really does trace back to the Governor’s stated policy goals or ideological commitments. Political liability: High. You should have known better.
The RMV probably counts as mostly a bureaucratic failure. But as Leung points out, Baker prioritized the RMV’s convenience in the 2014 campaign, but not its role in public safety: “Nobody ever died waiting in line at the RMV,” she writes. There’s a political factor there as well.
But in the case of the MBTA, DCF, the Weymouth Compressor … these are all foreseeable policy failures. The first two are prime failures of Baker’s stubborn commitment to austerity; and the compressor dovetails nicely with Baker’s daft “combo platter” energy policy.
The deaths come amid a push to beef up child protection services at the state’s Department of Children and Families, which has struggled with high caseloads for swamped social workers, a severe lack of foster families, and archaic technology to track children in state custody.
In Weymouth, the fix seems to have been in. At the demand of various South Shore communities, Baker ordered a Health Impact Assessment from MassDEP. You want to talk about bureaucratic bungling? MassDEP lost (or suppressed) the full evidence; and then ignored it in granting a permit.
How would a decent progressive Democrat — Jay Gonzalez, say — have acted in Baker’s stead? Differently, and likely better. South Shore voters take note. There will be a new lawsuit against the compressor, which will re-litigate MassDEP’s shortcomings.
Why is Charlie Baker treated with so much more deference than Governor Patrick? I am mystified by his enduring finest-silk approval ratings, even while a good chunk of Greater Boston endures huge challenges just getting to work. Just 29% approve of his handling of the MBTA … but he gets 69% approval overall.
I don’t get it. At what point do Baker’s words come off as so much patronizing empty talk and obfuscation? This guy ain’t magic, Massachusetts.