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listening : Charlie Baker is doing a lot of that lately

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Charlie Baker hasn’t even taken office yet, and the voters of Massachusetts are already besieging him with their wish lists of what he should do; what he should prioritize; what he shouldn’t do; and probably who he should and shouldn’t be. I suppose it’s only natural for everybody to bring forth their personal petitions. For many, the Baker administration presents an as yet open vista of possibilities upon which all can gaze, dream, implore.

That everybody — of an electorate that barely accorded Baker a majority — seems to feel that he will listen to them is a good thing and a bad thing. Good it is that everybody has faith in the system, that those who we elect, even by a slim number, will take our petitions sincerely to heart. bad it also is, however, that universal expectation must surely lead to almost universal disappointment ; because Baker is governor, not god. He cannot do much more than reform state administration. All else will be advocacy of matters where the ultimate Decider is the Speaker of the House.

Let me pour the cold water of numbers on the heat of petitioning the Governor :

1. The new House of Representatives will have 35 Republicans, 125 Democrats. That’s a veto-proof majority by far.

2. The Speaker of the House apppints all members of every committee. Robert deLeo has never been known to fail, when he cares to get involved, at wielding his total command of every member.

3. Much of what the voters are petitioning the Governor about — civil rights, the 2024 Olympics, transportation funding, transportation construction, charter schools, energy policy — are matters of legislation. The Governor has a bully pulpit to speak from, yes; but the Speaker was never much moved by Deval Patrick’s bully eloquence; I doubt he will suddenly crumple for Baker’s.

I see no sign that legislative progress is going to be any more generous in the coming session than it has been in the priors. Most legislators actually agree with the Speaker that reforms on all fronts probably aren’t much good if the state can’t deliver the services already enacted into law.

The priority for Baker is to put into shape the one task that he (very properly) made his campaign theme and which he can actually do : reform the way the state delivers its services, alter the culture of state agency task sheets, make the state budget transparent, build user-friendly online interfaces between the state and those who live in it. These things, Baker needs no legislative permission to accomplish. They’re all his.

Other than that, Baker can continue his mission to city people, especially people of color and ethnicity, for whom state government often feels like something alien than a boon that belongs to them. This is a calling that Baker obviously feels deeply. His visits to city communities haven’t stopped even after election day. Nor has he failed even once to talk about the crisis of addiction afflicting our state and the mission of recovery.

If Baker can infuse people of color and, or ethicity, or those suffering from addictions or who are beginning recovery, with a strong dose of optimism about career, health, family, and life work, he’ll be a very significant governor even if nothing else of his agenda gets past the bogs and obstructions he will almost certainly face.

Let Charlie Baker do HIS work. There’ll be plenty of opportunity later for him to do yours.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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