^ local government apostle : Governor Baker at kickoff, 70 miles west of, Boston,of St Representative Susannah Whipps Lee’s re-election campaign. (Worcester Sheriff Lew Evangelidis on the right)
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On July 18th, at a campaign kickoff for State Representative Susannah Whipps Lee of Athol, Governor Baker spoke as one seldom hears from mainstream elected officials these days. I wish that all my readers could have heard what Baker had to say and how he said it. I can’t reproduce his speech here, nor anything like it, but I will do my best, in this article, to bring his message to you.
“It’s a long way from Beacon Hill to the rest of Massachusetts,” Baker said, speaking to activists in Lee’s District 70 miles from Boston. “We get that, Karyn Polito and I. It’s why we do not just tell communities how to do things but instead encourage communities to implement State policy in their own way.
“Because,” Baker added, “government works better when it’s local. People judge how they’re doing based on how things are going in their won community.” If we want people to feel that life is working for them, Baker was saying, we need always to remember that to the people we are governing, “works well” means working well in that community. “This is why,” said Baker, “Lieutenant Governor Polito and I give so much attention to community compacts.” (More than half the 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts have signed these compacts, intended to upgrade local government’s practices and modernize its outreach.)
Usually, these days, when one hears talk about local government it’s in a context of distrusting either State or nation or both. Baker intended no such distrust, nor to evoke any; he is, after all, Governor, not a selectman. Nor was there the slightest overtone, in anything Baker said, of untying any locality to “Beacon Hill.” Baker’s point was to strengthen “Beacon Hill” by committing our “351 towns and cities” to carrying each its own burden, on its terms, in tandem with one another and, perhaps, sharing practices with one another.
That said, Baker was just as firm, in his words, that all politics is local, just as the late Tip O’Neill famously said; that participation in democracy begins in the precinct and carries out its most necessary missi0ns in the precinct, door to door and neighbor with neighbor. He was saying all this, of course, because Susannah Whipps Lee represents towns little visited by “Beacon Hill” deciders but in which actual people live, who are — so Baker insisted — just as important to the State as those who live in the Capital City : and so, he wanted to add, is their representative, Susie Lee.
These were points crucial to Baker’s talk : distance matters, more than it should, perhaps, but it matters, and its presence creates a burden upon the equality of those who live distant from “the center.”
This burden can probably never be lifted; but baker’s theory of governing from locality to center, rather than the other way around, alleviates as much of this inequality as is practicable. His theory takes onto his shoulders, as Governor, some of that burden, and the over 200 Athol, Orange, Templeton, Warwick, Wendell, and, yes, Phillipston activists who heard him, in that restaurant room 70 miles uphill from Boston seemed to thank him for bringing more to them than just a Beacon Hill gesture.