“USE EVERY TOOL IN THE TOOLBOX”

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^ Governor Baker with medical students committing to make addiction medicine their specialty

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At some press conference or other — I forget which — Governor Baker used these words to describe his method for accomplishing. Eleven months into his Governorship, we’ve seen it. “Use every tool in the toolbox,” and you not only do reform, you do it so thoroughly that you change the entire system and probably won’t have to revisit the problem for a long time. Which means you can move on from there.

That is what reform should be about.

Right now we see Baker’s “use every tool” method at work in two very different areas, both vital to making Massachusetts better governed : first, his opioid addiction legislation; second, his move to shake out the state’s Republican party.

First, his move to redo the state GOP :

A week ago I wrote an article in which I hinted at this effort. I said that the secret to Baker’s diffidence about the pending transgender public accommodations civil rights bill was occasioned by his battle with right-wing opponents in the state GOP. I said less then than I knew because I did not want to tip the Governor’s hand to those he seeks to oust. Yesterday, however, the Boston Globe wrote up the main story; I can now say more about it.

Baker decided quite a while ago that he would not accept a situation in which people holding state GOP office openly opposed him. To that end, he picked out state committee members for endorsement and support, His enemies then moved to challenge his own state committee supporters; Baker has now responded by explicitly non-endorsing state committee members (or candidates seeking the office) who oppose him or his agenda. And they are there.

As the Globe pointed out, there is an organization — one that almost no one outside GOP inside baseball has ever heard of — called the “Massachusetts Republican Assembly.” (MARA). It has no official connection whatsoever with the state GOP, but it uses the name and claims to be “the Republican wing of the Republican party.” This organization, organized by Congressional District, each with its own “Assembly Division, is peopled by very right wing activists who would be quite at home in the Alabama or Texas GOP. They oppose marriage equality, minimum wage lift, social justice initiatives, women’s rights to choose. They deny the existence of transgender people.

Not every member of MARA is an intransigent Baker opponent, but most are. MARA backed Mark Fisher in the 2014 Governor race, and many MARA people voted for anti-gay rights Scott Lively in the November election. Many “Republican” Assembly people have gravitated to the Trump campaign; others — more politically connected — have embraced Ted Cruz. Almost all, however, would agree with the woman quoted in the Globe article : that “the Governor is not acting in the best interests of the Republican party.”

Ordinarily, a Governor would ignore the noise made by such a fringe; but MARA counts a near majority of the 80 state committee members. An actual majority wrote last year’s notorious party platform, whose call for :”traditional marriage:” even the party chairperson, Kirsten Hughes of Quincy, felt obligated to repudiate; as did Baker. (the party platform put Baker on the defensive in last year’s campaign at a time when he was beginning to rise in the polls. Defending his support for marriage equality and women’s pro choice took months of time and campaign dollars.) Moreover, MARA claims the party’s national committeewoman, one Chanel Prunier, of Shrewsbury. As the national committeewoman is one of Massachusetts GOP’s two voices on the national GOP executive committee, her voice is heard there, and Governor Baker’s isn’t.

Baker seeks to end this once and for all. He has a candidate in mind and is supporting her openly.

What does any of this matter to the 89 percent of Massachusetts voters who are not registered as Republican ? It matters plenty. Being GOP gives Baker an independent support base when negotiating with the very Democratic legislature. Independence of Democratic party faction is an enormous political bonus for a Massachusetts Governor, as Democratic governors;’ difficulties have proven time and time again. This independence lacks spark when part of it opposes rather than supports Baker.

The pending transgender public accommodations bill offers a prime example of why Baker’s move to whip the state GOP into shape matters to every voter. Baker has had to avoid leadership on a bill he clearly supports — and has said so, in a round about way very unlike him — but does not dare for fear of handing his party opponents a hot button issue in the contest for party control.

It is too bad that our state’s transgender residents, people always at risk of being abused by those who do not understand, will likely have to wait until the new GOP state committee takes full control sometime next March; but it is surely better for every part of reform in Massachusetts that Baker accomplish this mission.

Baker is also using “every tool in the toolbox” to get his opioid addiction legislation enacted. There is opposition to the bill’s granting medical authorities power to force addicts into treatment and also some medical opposition to the bill’s 72-hour limitation on prescriptions of pain killer drugs. But Baker earned his way in the health care field, and he knows this issue up and down and also knows the people involved in health care delivery as well as those who have till now met drug addicts in the criminal justice system; and Baker has moved police chiefs, Sheriffs, medical school administrators, District attorneys, medical school students, and addiction treatment administrators, one by one, to his side. Baker has also addressed just about every opioid addiction Forum or conference or working group meeting he can get to; and if nothing else, he has made opioid addiction and how to remedy it the most talked about subjects in the state.

As he says : “use every tool in the toolbox.” That is how a determined, detail conscious, step by step Governor gets reforms accomplished in an enormously complex society.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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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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