^ co-operation, not confrontation : Gvernor Baker (R) with State Senator Eileen Donoghue (D)  of Lowell

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During this season of the GOP’s discontent, here in Massachusetts our GOP Governor is crafting a trail all his own. The record he is establishing, and the example he is setting, fits no current model; and that, in my mind, is as it should be. A leader need not seek the approbation of others, only of his voters.

How separate is Baker’s example from the GOP elsewhere ? Consider the following :

1.Almost all of his so far enacted reforms have been adopted unanimously in the legislature. That includes his opioid addiction bill; municipal law reform; the drastic reforms meted out to the MBTA; and two successive, no new taxes-no new fees balanced budgets.

2.He has made it clear that he will not vote vfor Trump in November.

3.He demands that the Senate accord President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee a hearing and a vote.

4.He strongly supports women’s reproductive rights and, for gay people, full civil rights and marriage equality. (So far, he has not accorded the same to transgender people, but we will see…)

5.He has set up an interfacing Governor’s website that enables, and invites, conversation with voters. His well-known “selfie photo” activity is nothing less than in invitation to voters — all voters, and not only voters — to communicate directly with him on a personal as well as official level.

6.He has demonized or degraded no voters, no residents, no one, not people needing public assistance, not even undocumented immigrants. There isn’t one ounce of “us against them” rhetoric in his voice. Just the opposite.

7.He has moved to oust extremist conservatives from the GOP State Committee, and instead, is building a Republican organization that supports what he supports.

All of the above, I applaud. Massachusetts (the nation, too) needs two useful political parties. The “conservative movement” model is to have the two parties oppose one another fundamentally. I reject that model. American government works, given a chance and its leaders’ good faith. The proper role of the two parties is to agree on the objectives and advocate as best each party can, how to achieve those objectives. This, Governor Baker is doing. He campaigns to all the voters,  not to preach to them, as the “conservative movement” does, but to listen — to take notes, even, as he often does — and to talk about what the voters who he is listening to want from his governance.

Baker understands that reform government is not an imposition but a conversation.

Baker understands, as the “conservative movement” seems not to, that it’s not the efficiency of government, not its size, that tells. The “conservative movement” talks of limiting the size of government — unaware of, or indifferent to the politics that elect Republican Governors in our state : to be a watchdog on a very large budget and the legislature that enacts it. Were Massachusetts’s government small, and the state budget far less than it is, our three to one Democratic voters would see no need for a Republican watchdog. The election of Republican Governors in Massachusetts is predicated upon its government being large.

Baker’s model is centrist, but also forward and thus a bit to the left of center on many issues, especially energy, criminal justice reform, and economic development.

Progressives seem just as frustrated by baker’s cautious centrism as do his right-wing opponents. He is said to ‘lack vision” — as if entire reform of the mission and mindset of state administration is not enormous. But progressives are forced to acknowledge that the “lack of vision” is how the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature proceeds as well as the Republican Governor. Co-operation reigns here, not confrontation. And so their criticism criticizes itself.

Lastly, baker has, I think, found the right and proper answer to Trump-ism. If there is a good will component to Trump support, it’s that government and politicians have failed ordinary people and so “throw them all out.” Baker on the very day of his inauguration said, “at the end of the day, people want government to serve them effectively.” He is right. that IS what people want of government. Not how big it is but how good it is.

None of the above is to suggest that baker’s administration always gets it right. The MBTA recently issued two orders that do not compute at all : cutting back late night  service at the same time as it offered a 9.3 percent fare increase. Is the T that tone deaf, that it expects the public to accept less service for more money ? How does that carry out Baker’s dictum about “people want government to serve them effectively” ? I read that MBTA management is now looking to offer alternative late-night service. I am glad they evidently see their mistake.

Baker also has yet to take the lead on the current bill to grant public accommodations civil rights protection to transgender people.

Yet failures of his reform mission remain few and remediable. It’s still the case that baker is building a fresh and effective brand of Republican politics here in Massachusetts. We should be grateful. Someday maybe the entire nation will be grateful for it, too.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



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