STATE GOVERNMENT : A CULTURE ALMOST COMPLETELY CHANGED

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^ inclusion : Governor Baker announces first in nation LGBT equality in State supplier contracts

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It’s been not quite a year since Charlie Baker was sworn in as Governor, and already he has completely changed the culture of Massachusetts governance. The expectations have risen; the morale of state employees; the pace and the responsiveness. “We now know what  we’re doing,” one State employee told me. “You can’t imagine bye relieved we are.”

Baker may be a cautious CEO, seen up close, but over time one grasps is determination and the boldness. I speak not chiefly of fixing the MBTA — that was a mission that he was made for — but of the more challenging initiatives : the opioid addiction legislation, with its controversial provisions; support for increasing the number of charter schools; focusing DCF; and a readiness to think outside the box on the matter of affordable housing in the City of Boston.

People who expected Baker to be a “Republican Governor” have found that he is a Governor first — and second. That he is a Republican, and thus has a power base independent of Democratic faction, is so and is important to his manoeuvering room; but once that factor — essential, yes — is accounted for, everything else takes center stage. I have yet to find a major Massachusetts voter group or neighborhood that he has not developed policy for and put it to work:

  • substantial Mass Works awards to fund the building of affordable housing in our big cities
  • a first in the nation inclusion of LGBT people in awarding of state supplier service contracts
  • putting medical people into policy positions at DCF, and for implementation of major structural changes
  • appointing people of color — many more than just a few — to top positions in state administration, including policy positions

So far, pretty great.

Yet tasks and missions remain unfinished. Baker’s Opioid Addiction bill faces opposition from much of the state’s medical community, and insurance coverage remains problematic. Criminal justice reform legislation seems stalled in the House. The State Senate balks at baker’s charter cap lift bill. And the bill to grant public accommodations protection to transgender people has fallen victim, so far, to a “you first” game between Baker and House Speaker DeLeo. The Speaker clearly wants Baker to lead — to take the heat on this matter.

Fortunately,  the state’s finances look stronger than anyone would have expected a year ago, and state employees feel the difference between bu/dget leakage and budgets air tight.

But let’s go back to that last unfinished matter I mentioned above : the transgender public accommodations bill. Baker has been unwilling to invest even a nickel’s worth of political capital to see this common sense reform through to law. Many observers, myself included, have noted the political play involved. It’s all about the Republican party, that independent pillar upon which Baker’s freedom of action stands.

Here is how I see this bramble, based on sources and observations :

First, the 37 or so GOP members of the House are divided whether to vote yea or nay; and their division has a lot to do with sentiment within the GOP voters in their districts. Those who will likely vote “yea” — I count maybe seven — will surely face opposition; those who vote “nay” can count on support from outside PACs.

Second, an important Massachusetts GOP operative has in the past generated primary opposition to GOP Representatives inclined to support gay and transgender civil rights and is likely to do so again and has a network of like-minded activists to assist the effort. Many of these activists opposed Baker at the State Convention, and some opposed him all the way to election day and still do.

Third, the party operative I am referring to is challenging the re-election of Baker-allied state committee members, mounting candidacies for like-minded anti-gay and anti-transgender activists. Election day for these party positions takes place March 1st at the Presidential Primary.

Normally, a Governor would take no notice of mere party elections; but Baker certainly does not wish to hand his party enemies an issue, and his advocacy of the present transgender public accommodations bill would activate even more anti-Baker sentiment than he already faces. Thus his reluctance to take the lead on an issue that to most people seems a no-brainer.

My own feeling is that a Governor as popular and bold as Baker should take the lead even on the transgender issue and let his enemies do their damnedest. But that’s me. Baker may be bold in the long run, but step by step his M/O is caution and more caution. Long game reform built on short step caution has served Baker superbly well so far. It’s now the name of the game on Beacon Hill and in state administration.

So, which should come first ? Baker defeating his intra-party enemies and acquire even more policy leg room, or transgender people securing full civil rights protection ? One hates to make such a choice; but the anti’s have, unfortunately, lain a very effective speed bump on Baker’s road to fully inclusive reform of the state.

Meanwhile, there Is that first in the nation LGBT equality order in State supply, done without any opposition. “Slowly but surely…”

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

Author: hereandsphere

Here and Sphere is an online journal of news, opinion, reviews, advice, & bits n' pieces of everything else - from HERE to SPHERE...... Co-founded by Michael Freedberg, a long-time Boston Phoenix journalist, and Heather Cornell, a South Coast Massachusetts columnist and editor.

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