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^ Charlie Baker (top) and Martha Coakley (bottom) have similar plans, but dissimilar commitments as they seek election as massachusetts Governor

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Charlie Baker and Martha Coakley have both presented their Plan for bringing Massachusetts’s economy and social justice to a better place. All of us, except the rejectionists, agree that a plan is needed. We can’t have more state government failures such as those at DCf and the Health Connector, nor can we waste hundreds of millions of dollars, nor can we be lashed to the masts of Beacon Hill and limited to the priorities of Boston. There’s a big state out there, beyond Boston and its prosperity, that counts too and needs to be brought aboard a new “Massachusetts Miracle.” So the issuance of a forward Plan by our two prospective governors is something we should all applaud.

It’s also good news that the Coakley team understands that Charlie Baker and his running mate have grown immensely since their respective 2010 campaigns and that they now campaign as “happy warriors,” as the Coakley team puts it. Optimism is the fuel on which citizen economies run, the engine that makes citizen communities healthy societies. The anger expressed by Baker in his 2010 campaign was a mistake, and he knows it; like many people who have served in public administration but not actually run for elective office, Baker, as a novice candidate in 2010 clearly hadn’t grasped what a candidate has to be about. Now, he gets it. That’s why he seems well poised to win it.

But “poised to win” is not victory. For that, more than optimism is needed. The winner of this governor election will have to convince a majority of Massachusetts voters that his or her plan is the smarter and that he or she is the more likely to actually accomplish it, efficiently and without scandal, systemic failure, or bureaucratic fog. On that score, in my opinion, Martha Coakley hs much to prove. Having seen her at dozens of Forums, along with her rivals for the Democratic nomination, I have no confidence that she even understands the issues, much less mastered them — as Steve Grossman clearly had, not to mention the detailed analyses presented — at least in health care, which uses 42% of our state budget — by Don Berwick. Nor was my impression of her an outlier. Coakley won the votes of only 23% of activists at her Party’s convention. She barely finished ahead of the quite unknown Berwick. Clearly those who know Coakley best have grave doubts.

Coakley can yet prove them wrong. The election ball is in her court. She’s the Democratic nominee, and all she has to do is become someone she has yet to show herself to be. It can happen. Spirited campaigns force candidates to grow — or to lose.

Thus the question : “does Martha Coakley really want to Do the job she is now running for ? Really really want it ?” We know that Baker wants to do it. Administering huge organizations is what he does. and how can there be any question how badly he wants it, after seeing that iconic photo if him climbing fifteen feet of fence, at the Caribbean parade, to shake the hand of one female spectator ?

I point the spotlight to the two candidates themselves because their plans are similar, as they must be. The needs of Massachusetts today are not hard to figure. First, everybody in the state must be mainstreamed : all facets of the LGBT community; immigrants; low-wage workers; all the cities beyond Route 495. Second, every public and charter school in the state must gear its curriculum to preparing students for the jobs of tomorrow (including vocational, non-college) and must adopt best practices in the classroom. Third, the state’s technology brain power cannot be allowed to empower Boston only. Worcester, Springfield, New Bedford, Lowell, Pittsfield, Lynn, Fall River (and more) all count, too. Boston will always be the focus, given the city’s centrality in higher education, but the outlying cities have advantages not to be passed by : cheap land costs and commercial rents, access to interstate highways or water transport, and workforces badly needing upgraded employment. Fourth, the state needs to raise up its low wage workers, somehow, even more than the recent minimum wage hike, so that everybody can spend into the economy and not need public, taxpayer assistance just to survive.

There are other needs — reforming our criminal justice and prison system, delivering health care insurance without snag, repairing the DCF, hugely transforming state government’s technology — but these win best when accomplished in the context of the four priorities that I listed above.

Both the candidates, and at least 80 % of the state’s voters, recognize what is needed. The decision in November will be made on who can be better trusted to get the job done.

One other point : the Coakley team didn’t just say that Baker and his running mate are campaigning with optimism. Coakley also intimated that the Baker team will, as she put it, “govern more conservatively” than they are saying. That’s good campaign talk, but it isn’t true. The only thing that I see in Baker’s plan that’s conservative is that he’ll demand a dollar of value for every taxpayer dollar spent. As it should be.

Tomorrow i will examine the two candidates’ plans in detail.

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