^ Biking buddies : Governor Baker (2nd L) and Mayor Walsh (R) at Pan-Mass Bike Ride
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How much good fortune can one elected leader acquire ? Right now Governor Baker has just about everything going his way. The state finds that — after enduring seven months of stringent accounts — has a budget surplus. Boston’s 2024 Olympics Bid became a mudpie donnybrook — that never left even a spatter on Baker’s face. State Senate President Stan Rosenberg’s move to give the Senate some legislative independence forced House Speaker DeLeo to partner more closely with Baker than he might have liked, on budget and MBTA matters. Meanwhile, Rosenberg’s policy preferences enabled Baker to win his proposal to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Speaking of which, tomorrow, at 1.30 PM, in the Briefing area of Room 157 at the State House, Baker will. sign the Earned Income Tax Credit and hold a press conference.
Every week of Baker’s term so far seems to uncover management failure or taxpayer money wasted, all of it traceable to the prior administration. Imagine the room this gives Baker to reform yet more aisles of state government’s supermarket. The Health Connector, The Registry of Motor Vehicles, DCF, Medicaid allotments, and, finally, the state’s outmoded Public Records Law, which everybody now wants to update, where a year ago the issue passed the lips of no one. Naturally, Baker announced updated public records regulations first. While others talked, he acted.
Meanwhile, Baker won almost all of his MBTA reform proposals. He has complete control now of the T’s day to day operations — with a Fiscal Control board — that includes one of the state’s shrewdest union leaders — innovating work practices, such as using the Commuter rail operator’s $ 5 million in performance fines to upgrade Commuter rail staff — that left opponents stuttering. Baker even has control now of the T Workers’ pension trust, through an oversight committee that features Steve Grossman, the smartest of his 2014 campaign’s Democratic rivals. Grossman vows to reposition the T workers pension, and he showed everybody, in last year’s campaign, that he has almost flawless knowledge of the state’s administrative pathways.
If the above were not enough to raise Baker’s political stock higher than high, consider this : where last year he sought diligently and every day to win at least the neutrality of Boston’s Mayor Walsh, and after first election sought Boston opportunities for partnering with Walsh today it is Walsh, stung by the collapse of an Olympics Bid that he all but committed his political career to, who goes out of his way to tout a partnership with Baker — evident recently in numerous joint appearances all across Boston and topped by Walsh’s praiseful announcement that he was joining Baker in the 25-mile Pan-Mass Bike Ride, an event dedicated to fighting cancer, of which Walsh himself was a childhood survivor.
Baker’s political hand does not play a perfect tune. He missed the significance of the South Carolina Confederate flag takedown and had to apologize for his first comment on it. Last year he at first missed the full significance of the Hobby Lobby decision and had to clarify his initial opinion. He is such a locally Massachusetts man that he just doesn’t seem to have paid attention to events like these, emanating from elsewhere, or to the controversies begetting them. Yet this lack hasn’t hurt him hardly at all, or for long; voters understand that Baker is our governor, not our Senator or a Congressman, and that within his chosen arena — state administration and the people it serves — he has the kind of mastery and grasp that few if any governors have ever equaled, and a winning personality never, in my memory, possessed by governors who mastered the issues. How many policy wonk politicians do you know who are also selfie kings ?
Baker is re4makintg the state’s political expectations. It’s quite the trick to make “I want state government to work for those it serves”: into a big, idealistic dream ? He has done it.
It works because, I think, at a time when people no longer trust government, Baker has given people solid, boots on the ground reasons to trust government again; and the voters believe in what he is doing. that is why the criticisms — few but not absent — being made of his budget decisions by Progressives have found almost no takers. Most often today, criticisms of elected leaders become a battle cry; they go viral on twitter even against the President. With Baker — so far — that doesn’t happen. Gone is the BakerFacts twitter account, of last year’s campaign; and rare, too, is any derogation of Baker by left-wing tweeters. Even the right wing, so vicious and ugly, has given Baker wide berth..
Meanwhile, Baker has all that surplus money to hand out. We will soon see who gets how much. So far, money has gone to Summer Youth Work, the Opioid addiction fight, reforms at the RMV, and repairs of MBTA infrastructure. Higher education has had its vetoed appropriation restored; pre-school funds too. Money has been granted to expanding alternative energy, solar power especially. Still, these grants hardly satisfy the needs of road and bridge infrastructure, MBTA expansion, Court staffs and District attorney budgets, or funds for upgrading the state’s beaches and parks.
Nor does the new funding accomplish criminal justice reform, nor has anyone yet moved to add public accommodations civil protection to our state’s transgender rights law. These are policy fights, not fix-it reforms. Tackling them will move Baker out of his sweet spot. Look for an interesting the two years in Room 330 of the State House.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere